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My girlfriend and I will be going on a 3 day/2 night safari in Kenya (Masai Mara). I'm looking for an inexpensive way to upgrade our equipment in the best way possible. We know next-to-nothing about photography.

She has a Canon EOS Rebel Ti1, with just the standard lens (18-55mm). I have an iPhone and a broken Canon S95 (it takes photos, but most buttons don't work so it's stuck on a lot of settings - no flash, for example, but it can zoom).

First for her and her SLR:

I assume we'll need some kind of zoom capabilities. I was looking at lenses like this 75-300mm which at $109 seems very inexpensive. I assume that 300mm will get us close enough, but I am completely confused about things like EF vs. EF-S, image stabilization (needed?), etc. I'm also confused about why a seemingly identical lens can cost 5 times the price. (That's one of my biggest questions!) Would that lens (the first one I linked to be appropriate).

Also I'm concerned that this is not versatile enough - will having this zoom lens all the time prevent her from taking photos of things that are closer to us? Or is 75mm "close" enough?

For me:

I'm considering getting something like the Canon SX510. From what I hear, it's so cheap because it will be awful in low light. But it has 30X zoom, and the majority of what we see will be during the day, and some of the reviews on Amazon say it's good in low light. Is there something else I should consider? This ($200) is the price range I'm looking at. I hate big cameras and there's a good chance I will never touch this thing again. If it can't fit in my pocket comfortably, I'll never use it - so you should assume this will be solely be for this trip (and maybe something similar that would happen once every few years). I could go significantly higher if there was something that had serious zoom and was tiny.

That's some background. I guess I could sum up the question as "if I have a SLR with a 55mm lens, what's the best way to get TWO safari-worthy cameras for $400 or less?"

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Best option would be to rent some proper cameras/lenses. Or if you have the cash but don't want to 'spend' it then buy some really good kit s/hand and then sell it when you come home for what you paid for it... –  James Snell Feb 7 at 19:09
    
@JamesSnell Thanks, I'll look into renting. But can you comment about what's not proper about the lens I linked to for her? Obviously it's not as good as something that costs $1000, but I'm having trouble what, specifically an inexperienced photographer who "just wants to zoom a lot if there's a lion far away" will be missing out on. What's the downside to the cheap lens, practically speaking? –  user25632 Feb 7 at 19:14
4  
"How do I photograph this for $400 when serious shooters spend five figures+?" I honestly do find this question very interesting. –  Dan Wolfgang Feb 7 at 20:01
1  
Related: How does Canon EF 75-300 f/4-5.6 III USM perform for photographing distant objects?; there are a vast number of questions covering this on the site - search will give you lots more, but the short version is: it's unstabilised and it's poor optically. –  Philip Kendall Feb 7 at 20:05
1  
The EF 75-300mm f/4-5.6 is known to be a stinker of a lens. –  Michael Clark Feb 7 at 20:05

6 Answers 6

For someone who isn't an experienced photographer and doesn't have much inclination to learn a lot before your safari you are probably better off going with a superzoom such as the Canon SX510 you are considering. There are some trade offs with such a camera, but if you are planning on doing most of your shooting during the day you won't notice it as much.

If you want to add more reach to the Rebel T1i the best 'bang for the buck' on the budget end is the EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS II. It gives image quality comparable to the more expensive EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS, you just can't use an EF-S lens on a full frame camera (which you don't need to worry about with the Rebel). I've seen some pretty good deals on the 55-250 lately. A good place to watch for alerts on deals from a variety of sellers is the The Digital Picture. If you subscribe to notifications from their facebook page you can keep an eye out for limited time deals.

For someone who doesn't know how to use the stuff, renting better gear won't make a lot of difference in your results. And the price of rentals can add up in a hurry if you don't live near a good rental house: You have to allow a couple of extra days to make sure they arrive via FedEx/UPS before you leave for your trip and then you probably want to give yourself a cushion on the other end of the rental in case your return flights are delayed for any reason.

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Thanks, I actually wrote my comment above (about looking at the EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS) before I saw this. And yes, you're right about me not wanting to learn too much (or more importantly spend too much) before we go - I hope that's not offensive to more serious photographers, but I love taking photos, and I couldn't be happier with the quality that I get with my S95 in very low light. I never would have taken most of those photos if the camera didn't fit in my pocket. This is literally one of the few times in my life that I have need for this level of zoom, so budget is a big concern. –  user25632 Feb 7 at 20:49
    
Another advantage of the 55-250 relative to either of the 70-300 lenses is that 55mm is going to be a lot more usable than 70mm if you find the need to take a quick picture of something relatively close, and you can still easily crop later to get more "zoom" at least for sharing on the web and small prints. –  Icycle Feb 7 at 21:56

Focal length determines the field of view of a lens (what kind of an angle it looks at, not how close you can look at. The minimum focus distance is what tells you how close something can be. A 70mm lens on an APS-c camera (such as the T1i) will actually have the field of view that a 109mm or so lens has on a full frame camera. That's a pretty large amount of zoom, but will still be useable for head and shoulder shots at reasonably close ranges (6 feet) or full body at 20 to 25 or so feet.

The difference in cost between lenses means a ton to the quality of the lens. A $109 telephoto lens is going to have very marginal quality, have lots of artifacts, poor focus and will probably have severe issues with lens flare if you point it anywhere near towards the sun. It won't be dust or weather proof at all and is likely to get dust in to your camera, potentially getting dust on the sensor which will then negatively impact all your images and may require cleaning to remove. It will not be well built and will easily break from minor trauma.

For the price, you would be much better off to rent a lens (and maybe even a better camera) for the duration of the trip. It's relatively cheap to get decent quality rentals from someplace like lensrentals.com.

Outside of rentals, there isn't really anyway to get two safari ready cameras, even with what you currently have, for $400. With rentals, you can probably make a very nice setup, with damage waiver insurance, for about $200 including lenses and cameras that are the lower end of professional and will be able to deal much better with the dust and produce much, much better quality images.

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what's wrong with that lens? its horrible. I have it..

55-250mm IS is interesting though, and it is very cheap ;200$. efs means more lightweight but you cant use it on full frame. but I can imagine that faster focus USM would be handy on a safari when you spot something interesting and want to capture it before it runs away. 70-300 USM IS is pretty cheap, too, in the US; 400$ atm, which is dirt cheap. it will be heavier, though, but retain resell value better.

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I think you'd be happiest with a superzoom bridge camera for the safari. When we went in 2008, we had a 26-pound baggage limit on some of the internal flights. A long lens for the Rebel would be heavy! It may be a once-in-a-lifetime trip, but I suggest taking a good pair of binoculars (heavy enough) and a camera such as the FZ200 or Fuji bridge camera. I have a Fuji S1 (weatherized, 24mm-1200mm equivalent,f2.8-5.6,3-stop image stabilization) on order to replace the FZ18 I took to Africa. Check Flickr for sample photos from the various superzooms. I just wish I'd captured more of my photos in RAW. You won't get National Geographic image quality, but I got surprisingly good photos with my little (and light!) FZ18. And a polarizing filter is valuable, too.

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Also I'm concerned that this is not versatile enough - will having this zoom lens all the time prevent her from taking photos of things that are closer to us? Or is 75mm "close" enough?

On your APS-C sensor, it is definitley not very versatile on its own. A 75-300mm lens will be great for wildlife shots, but it will be pretty bad for landscape photography. The problem is not so much with things close to you, but with the angle of view - you can get a frame-filling shot of that lion 30 meters away from the safari, or zoom in on its head, but if you want to show the entire pride around him and the tree they're under, you'll have to switch lenses.

So either get a lens that also covers low focal lengths, or be prepared for the occasional switch with the 18-55mm kit lens - or use the iPhone for wide-angle shots.

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On safari, the majority of the action occurs at down and dusk which is darker than it is around cities. There are things to see in the daytime too but animals are more doing less interesting things then.

The main issue with an ultra-zoom camera or cheap telephoto is that not long the quality is low but it gets really dim towards the long end of the zoom. The SX510 you mention has an F/5.8 maximum aperture at the long end, some popular wildlife lenses like the Sigma 50-500mm F/4.5-6.3 are just as dim.

Instead you should consider a long and bright telephoto lens. Something like the Canon EF 200-400mm F/4L 1.4X costs just over $10,000 but since this is a one-time thing, you can simply rent it. 5 day rentals cost less than $400 or if you do not think you need that much reach, the excellent and even brighter Sigma 120-300mm F/2.8 can be rented for half that much.

The main point is that you do not have to equip yourself for safaris unless you plan on doing a lot of those. For a short one-time thing, it's probably best to get the lens for a short time. That way you won't be storing and taking are of unused equipment.

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