Do you need expensive camera gear to enjoy a photo safari?

(via Experiential Travel, the Experiential Photographer of the Year 2015 is now open for entries)

Do you need expensive camera gear to enjoy a photo safari?

The short answer is no and I have done some analysis of 28,000 photographs to get this answer.

Some people worry that they might not get the most out of a safari if they don’t invest in big lenses and expensive cameras.  So I used a feature in Lightroom to analyse all the photographs I have taken in Africa.  That’s 28,000 images.

The first question I asked was “what focal length do I shoot at?”  Remembering that my principal interest is in wildlife, I was surprised by the result depicted on the graph below.  This is the number of images taken in each of the common ranges of focal lengths:

As you can see, less than half were taken at extreme telephoto lengths of greater than 200mm.  This is significant because the $179 entry level Sony W830 point and shoot camera zooms out to 200mm (35mm equivalent).  Moreover, the next level up, the $349 Sony WX350 zooms to 500mm (35mm equivalent.)

So, you don’t need a big expensive camera to get a useful range of focal lengths.  But what about Aperture?

I remember a friend (a pro photographer) telling me that it’s not the big numbers that make a lens expensive, it’s the small numbers.  That’s smallest f-stop that a lens will go to.  Bear in mind that a small f-stop means a large aperture or hole through which the light passes.  That means the smaller the number, the bigger the aperture which in turn means more glass to catch that light for the aperture.  More glass equals more money.

It is true that I have some very nice glass, but I was interested.  Do I use it all?  What aperture settings do I shoot at in Africa?  So I asked Lightroom:

Nope.  I shoot almost half of my photos at f6.3 and above.  Again, this is significant because the Sony W830 can achieve f/6.3 and Sony WX350 can get to f/6.5. This is at the telephoto end of their range.  They both achieve lower (better) f-stops at the wide end of their range.

And if mega-pixels is an issue, they have 18.5 and 20.1 megapixels respectively.  This almost as much as many of the pro-level DSLRs and more than some.

Now, this is not a recommendation of these two cameras.  I just chose these two models at random.  Every manufacturer makes cameras like these.

Nor am I saying that point and shoot cameras are equivalent to pro-spec DSLRs.  They’re not.  But I am saying that if you enjoy using a point and shoot at home and you like the photos you get from it then you are very likely going to enjoy using that camera on Safari and like the photos you get from it.  And don’t be worried about being “out-gunned”.  I know plenty of pro-photographers and pro-videographers who now use mirrorless cameras and tiny gear generally.

Enjoy!

Want to win a photographic Safari in Botswana with Experiential Travel so you can test out these tips for yourself? Check out the Experiential Photographer of the Year 2015.

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