Choosing the right Camera – Travel & Wildlife

Doing a bit of travel blogging and promoting tourism quickly taught me to go prepared. I always stand amazed at how quickly an opportunity arises, albeit rather unexpected. Perhaps, the old adage rings true: ALWAYS EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED

There is a place called Dyer Island more or less two thirds of the way between Cape Town and the southernmost tip of Africa, Agulhas, where Indian and Atlantic oceans do meet. Dyer Island is where Jacques Cousteau used to spend much time, researching sharks, from his vessel Nautilus. I happened to have spent a fair share of my fifty-odd years in that neck of the woods and personally know some of the shark ticklers. I also know two of the first ever shark spotters. On April 9, 2017, the unthinkable happened in the least expected of places – St James, Cape Town. Twice on that Sunday afternoon did we see a shark breach the surface between 600-800m offshore. Don’t ask me for photo’s as I only had a little compact with me, not capable of capturing such action instantly at that range.

Some time ago, I had stalked fallow deer and came quite close to them, same as gnu (wildebeest.) As I visited a dusty region, I did not want to switch lenses at all, lest there would be dust ingress. A DSLR camera isn’t designed to transport the land you are treading upon. Fitted with a Canon EF 18-55mm lens, I was hopelessly under equipped for my task. Video of the fallow deer reminds of twelve mice jumping a fence.

If you are a frequent traveler in Africa or similar environments, best advice is to invest in a decent camera which is sealed, by design and manufacture, against weather and the environment. Extensive research brought me to a great solution in the form of Canon’s EOS 80D combined with a Canon 28-300mm L EF IS lens, offering weather and environment sealing, same as the camera. It allows for close-up shots as well as reaching far enough to capture most of the wildlife. Of course, a teleconverter aka lens doubler can be added, with a Polaroid filter to complete the package. This setup will afford the photographer a perfect solution for at least 95% of the time, with much of the remainder an agreeable compromise. Using a decent tripod is strongly recommended for super zoom shots and cinematography.

Said 80D also is an excellent video camera, at entry professional level for the cinematographer. Being weather sealed and of greater performance, it beats its nearest competition by a fair margin. It can also shoot up to around 960 still images on one battery charge, Its only downside is its use of an APS-C sensor, not a full frame. Then again, it has NFC & WiFi, making it ideal as it can also be controlled via a smartphone or tablet.

There is a much cheaper solution, as this bundle can easily set you back around R60k. A Canon Powershot SX60 will cost around R6k and offer super zoom of 18-1265mm, offering fantastic wide angle capability while that faraway little springbok can be turned into eyebiltong with ease, yet there is a catch! Also weather sealed and therefore won’t melt if a few raindrops comes in contact with it.

You get what you pay for – compact cameras sport small sensor chips, same as smartphones. Trouble starts the moment that you venture beyond Instagram and want to print, especially for publishing purposes. You will soon find that no camera can even come close to the quality a good DSLR offers.

My lay advice would be to buy the camera body that suits your needs the best, but invest in the best glass that you can buy. Canon’s L-series lenses are known to be especially crisp and effective even in low light conditions. They have an alternative to the 28-300mm, the 100-400mm which has a wider scope at zoom but then you will need to live with a more restricted short end.

Non-branded lenses may be okay but they lose some functionality in live mode.

Finally, I own a Canon Powershot A810 compact, basically a toy, yet it packs a lot of punch. It is utterly reliable and almost unbelievably tough, in that it had fallen twice now and was soaked by the frisky waves of the Atlantic ocean. I bought it used at R450 (about USD35) and fitted my own Sandisk 16GB SD card. It even takes reasonable video at FHD resolution.

Happy clicking!