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I am going on a Safari and am ready to upgrade from a P&S to either a DSLR or a mirrorless. I love taking pictures and travel a lot (for fun) so expect to use this camera in multiple settings. I have a few months to learn how to use the camera before my trip.

My top DSLR choice is the Nikon D5100 and for compact system and thinking Sony NEX 5 or NEX 7. I am also open to other models.

My top priorities are (1) picture quality (for safari and general travels) and (2) weight / size (less of a factor but definitely a concern).

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Have you seen this? photo.stackexchange.com/questions/20537/… –  MikeW Nov 23 '12 at 3:12
    
    
If you already know your top priorities, there isn't a remaining question that's on-topic for this site. I don't mean to be rude; it's just not what we're here for. See blog.stackoverflow.com/2010/11/qa-is-hard-lets-go-shopping –  mattdm Nov 24 '12 at 4:20

3 Answers 3

For me, when you go on a safari is really not the time to a) learn a brand new type of camera, b) learn all about wildlife photography technique and field craft, and c) gain supertelephoto photography skillz.

That's a lot of knowledge to gain that most of us get only from years of experience. Wildlife photography, like sports photography, is one of the harder genres to master and requires more specialized equipment than a simple entry-level dSLR/mirrorless kit.

Firstly, I'd also say as someone who shoots birds in flight and owns full-frame and crop dSLR gear and 2x crop mirrorless gear, that you don't want mirrorless for this, unless you plan on shooting a lot of animals that don't move. While for most uses mirrorless is more than equivalent to dSLR in image quality, the tracking AF performance--and more importantly--the supertelephoto glass with fast AF performance simply isn't there yet in the way it is on the dSLR side of the fence. There are really only two bodies that can do tracking AF (Oly EM-1, Fuji XT-1), and those will be top-of-the-line bodies.

Secondly, you'll really really want at least 300mm on APS-C, if not 400mm, 500mm, or 600mm. And these lenses are astronomically more expensive than a simple 70-300 el cheapo telephoto zoom. They tend to start in the US$1000 range and go upwards from there. The more speed you want, the bigger and heavier those lenses are gonna be. And handling them, physically, becomes more of a task than most newbs suppose (see: Roger Cicala of lensrentals demoing how one supports supertele lenses on youtube; as well as his videos on Nikon and Canon superteles.) Those are the type of lenses that National Geographic wildlife photographers use. Disabuse yourself of the notion that just getting a system camera will net you those photos. With a 70-300 zoom lens, you're not going to have the AF speed or the max. aperture, or the reach to get those kinds of shots.

Doesn't mean a 70-300 won't work for you, but it could be that simply using a bridge camera might work as well for you, depending on how picky you are about image quality and what other things you plan to shoot. If your reflexes are good, and you can time a shot, however, a bridge camera won't make you as happy as a dSLR, since the shutter lag time is going to be a bear.

You may also, if you weren't planning on using this setup at home regularly for birding or backyard wildlife, also consider simply renting the gear for the trip, and trying to figure out how much time beforehand you're going to need to learn to use it all effectively.

I would say, learn telephoto lens technique. Keep your shutter speed above 1/focal_length (or 1/focal_lengthxcrop factor, so for a 300mm lens, on a 1.5x crop body, then you want your shutter speed to be 1/450s or faster) to avoid camera shake blur from handholding. Learn how to hold a telephoto lens (actually, make sure you know how to hold the camera) or make sure you have proper stabilization. Learn to shoot short controlled well-timed bursts. And master back-button autofocus with tracking AF.

But above all, with wildlife--patience and timing are everything. Knowing your subject and its habits is everything. Field craft is everything. The longest lens in the world won't help you if you make a lot of noise, alarm the subject with body language or are simply unaware that the wildlife is there.

Practice at a local zoo. You'll see what I mean. Most folks will walk up to an enclosure, talking all the while, expect the animal to pose/perform/do something in the five to ten seconds they deign to give it attention, and then walk away. Whereas if you're willing to just sit in front of any enclosure for half an hour and observe--you'll see something worthy of taking a shot.

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I have a full frame dslr, crop dslr and and olympus micro four thirds mirror less.

For a safari I would suggest the cropped sensor dslr and at least a 300mm lens. The crop sensor will get you closer with the same lens on a full frame dslr (1.5x ish). I think the focus speed of dslrs and the viewfinder will help a lot with wildlife.

While the mirrorless cameras have great quality, and focus fairly quickly and are wonderfully light for traveling they never seems to do as well as a dslr For wildlife (I have a 200mm micro four thirds lens, which at 2x is 400mm on 35mm.). You can get close enough, but the focus and focus tracking aren't quite there on the nondslrs.

A lot of times when I travel I go with a dslr with a normal(24mm 105) zoom a long zoom (100-400mm). And the micro four thirds mirrorless with a very wide ange zoom and a fixed 20 mm.

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Between state-of-the-art mirrorless cameras and cropped-sensor DSLRs, image quality is now close enough that you would not notice the difference until your make some largish prints.

Since you mention safari which generally requires long focal-lengths, it would be a big advantage if your went with a camera with a smaller sensor. The Olympus OM-D E-M5 delivers excellent image quality with a Four-Thirds sensor which gives you a focal-length-multiplier (FLM) of 2X.

This will let you use smaller lenses to get the same reach. The E-M5 also focuses fast enough and shoots at 9 FPS which makes it very competitive with similar priced DSLRs. It is also weather-sealed with the use of a weather-sealed lens for use in adverse conditions. The smaller PEN E-PL5 is not weather-sealed but expected to produce even better image quality due to its lack of anti-alias filter in a more compact and affordable body.

The NEX series use the same sensor-size as a D5100, so while the body is smaller, once you include a long lens, the size saving greatly diminishes. This is already 18 months old but I wrote a blog post showing the size-advantage of Micro Four-Thirds lenses. The lenses shown give an equivalent reach of 600mm, which requires a 400mm on a D5100 or NEX.

So, to answer your question, you can get slightly better image quality with a DSLR at this time but it will cost you significantly in size.

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