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In the past I have worked as a safari guide in South Africa and during that time, not only did I have many opportunities to take great wildlife photos, but many of my guests would come out to Africa with the latest photographic equipment. Apart from my interest in wildlife and the outdoors, I am also a keen amateur photographer and so as well as the wildlife, also take a keen interest in the cameras that would come out on safari with us!
Of the many types of cameras, the most popular amongst guests who wanted to take quality wildlife photos were either Digital SLR cameras or Digital Super-zooms. My personal preference for a camera specifically for safari holidays is the Super-zoom and I have written an article on what I believe to be the best digital camera for safari and travel on my Safari Holiday Guide website and yes, it is a Super-zoom, but why a Super-zoom and not a SLR camera?
First let’s take a look at the main characteristics of each type of camera:
A Super-zoom camera main characteristic is it’s a very long zoom range, at least 10x or greater. The lenses are attached to the body of the camera and cannot be removed. While traditionally bulkier and heavier than compact cameras as the technology improves, manufacturers continue to design them to be smaller and lighter. Using lightweight parts there are some that now weigh as little as 14 ounces (about 400g).
SLRs, the largest and heaviest type of digital camera. The offer the most versatility and power as well as interchangeable lenses and will come with a million features including: instant start-up, minimal shutter lag for fast, continuous shooting, a large image sensor, RAW images, and excellent battery life. The new digitalSLRs now also have the best features from the compact digital cameras incorporated into them including on screen help guides and real-time or “live view” framing on the LCD screen rather than only through the viewfinder.
There is no denying that Single-lens reflex cameras are more serious cameras, with the ability to capture fast action or produce high quality images from the most demanding light conditions, so why then do I recommend a Super-zoom digital camera as a safari or travel camera?
Professional photographers will always use SLR cameras, but you must remember that this is their job, they are not going on holiday! A good camera for any holiday should be as small and light as possible. Not only for your luggage allowance on the flights, but also remember as a tourist anywhere in the world, you are a target and there may be times that you would like to conceal the fact that you are carrying around a very expensive piece of equipment. Whilst bigger and heavier than a compact digital camera, Super-zooms are much more compact than a SLR with a reasonable telephoto lens attached to it. On a safari holiday, I would also highly recommend you take a good pair of binoculars and possibly some wildlife books, it just makes sense to have a camera that is as small as possible without sacrificing picture quality too much.
Even though your guide will do their best to get you in and as close to the wildlife as possible and you may even sometimes wish you as close to that elephant bull as he ambles past your vehicle. Most of the time you will be taking photos at maximum zoom. Not only do Super-zooms continue to get smaller and lighter, but their zooms continue to get stronger. For example the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ18 has an impressive 18x zoom, equivalent to 504mm. To achieve this on a SLR will require a very expensive telephoto lens and that is not including the fact that the body of good qualitySLR’s, whilst getting cheaper, could not be described as cheap. The chances are nothing will happen, but the odds increase when you go traveling that your camera could get damaged, lost or stolen and so I would also use this rule of thumb when going on holiday: never travel with anything you can’t afford to loose.
If you are a professional photographer or just want to get the ultimate quality photographs, no matter the cost, size or weight then an SLR with a big telephoto lens is the way to go. If however you main intention is to go on holiday and take some excellent photographs along the way, I would go for a quality Super-zoom camera.