Technical drivel

You’re probably not interested in all these details… and if that is true, then just skip to the next post! 🙂


It’s a once-in-a-lifetime safari, so cameras are important.

Both Sarah and I have finally joined the digital age and bought digital cameras. The last photo camera we owned was a Canon AE-1 film camera, so it was probably about time.

Sarah bought a Sony hx-80. The big attraction to her was the 30x zoom, and it was an excellent choice for that reason alone. She has managed to get better shots than I a bunch of times because her camera’s zoom range is a lot longer. It is a terrific little camera and we’ve been very pleased with the photo quality.

So if you are not a gadget person and are going on safari, then just get a 30x optical zoom point and shoot camera like Sarah’s Sony, and you’re done.

However, I am a gadget person. After much agonizing, i bought an olympus OMD-EM5 II with a 14-150mm zoom. I also bought a significantly faster 25mm Leica prime lens on kijiji for evening, market/ street, and indoor pics. The camera is a micro 4/3, so multiply both lens focal lengths by two for the equivalent 35mm lens size.

Most people overlook the olympus camera in favour of Nikon/ Canon/ Sony. I bought it largely based on this article,  and on Marks’s comment that it was the camera he’d buy now if he was buying another camera. The fully articulating screen is certainly one of the best features, but now having taken thousands of photos, I can say that the article is quite accurate in terms of what the camera is good at doing.

I looked seriously at the nikon D7200 & D7500, but they are a lot bigger/ heavier, especially with the larger zoom that i wanted. And these Nikon models did not really come on sale on Black Friday this year, so that dampened my enthusiasm. The olympus sale price ended up being less than half the cost of the Nikon sale price. I’m not saying the Nikon isn’t worth twice the price: I just couldn’t justify spending that much more.

I also looked at bridge cameras like the Sony RX10 mark III and IV, and Panasonic FZ1000 and FZ2500. While these may have been the perfect safari cameras with maximum flexibility and zoom range, I was concerned that they would be something I’d outgrow as soon as I returned home because of the small sensor size and lack of gadgetry & features .

Mark and Kirsten each have the Sony a6000, which are excellent APSC cameras. However, I thought the lenses were just too expensive: i felt it’s like buying an inkjet printer- the cheap printer is offset by the high priced ink cartridges.

Perhaps one day I’ll be disappointed with the image quality of the micro 4/3 sensor, but the EM5 does seem to be the perfect weatherproof travel & all-round camera that I was looking for. It’s small enough that I hope I’ll continue to dig it out to use it when we’re off doing things. The image quality is better than a point & shoot and the bridge cameras that i was looking at, and it has a ton of professional features that I am slowly learning how to use. I may print some 11×17 or smaller prints for the house, but otherwise it will all be for web based and home display purposes: the photo quality should be perfect without needing to go to an APSC or full frame alternative.

My favourite feature of the olympus is the articulating screen, as I really enjoy candid/ street photography. And while photo geeks decry large zoom lenses, the 14-150mm was the lens I used for 99.9% of the pictures I took on safari mainly because the safari pictures could be anywhere from wide angle to super telephoto and I didn’t want to waste time switching lenses. I may get different lenses now that I’m home… but maybe not because I think the zoom lens plus my 50mm equivalent prime lens is good enough for my purposes.

The one piece of advice I would offer to any photographer is to go on safari with the largest zoom lens you can carry/ hold steady/ travel with. It is a balancing act of size vs weight because the fly-in safari’s limit you to only 15kg for all your checked baggage. Sometimes it is 15kg for all checked ~and~ carry on luggage. And they really do check weight on some flights, although they are flexible enough to combine the weights for all people in your party – so 30kg for Sarah and I, or 60 kg for all 4 of us.

In 35mm equivalent terms, my max zoom was 300mm. Mark’s lens was 450mm equivalent and Sarah’s 30x zoom was equivalent to 720mm. The larger zoomers like Mark’s and Sarah’s just offered much better photo options for small or distant animals & birds… and there are ~lots~ of small or distant animals & birds on safari. My max size of 300mm was undersized for some shots, and I feel that something with a max size of 450-600mm would have been ideal. One budget telephoto option is to do what Mark did: he bought his large sony pro zoom lens on kijiji just before he left on safari, and intends to sell it on kijiji for what he paid for it now that he is back home. At $1400, he could not justify keeping it in his bag, unused, now that the safari is over.

Telephoto lenses can’t do everything though: They really are only good for animals a hundred or so metres away – any longer and you start getting distortion in your photos from the heat waves rising off the ground.

I used just under 128GB of SD cards. Sarah used just over 64GB. My camera was new when we left, and it now shows 4732 shutter actuation’s. That’s a lot of pictures that I now have to do something with!

I had an extra camera battery, and Sarah had to remember to charge her camera every night because a full charge would not quite last two days. I went through a full battery in a day a few times, and went through two batteries in a day once at the very end of the day when I had been shooting a lot of video.

Don’t forget video cameras because the movement and sound really bring the safari back to life. Both Sarah’s and my cameras have video modes, but I also brought a new Garmin Virb Ultra 30 video camera. It is comparable to the top-of-the-line GoPro series of cameras, with the added feature that it ties in with all my other garmin exercise technology stuff that I use to record my outdoor activities like biking. It is waterproof to scuba diving depths, and provides remarkably good quality video both in, and out, of the water.


I brought a no-name 12V car cigarette lighter multi-port USB charger, and a Targus multi voltage USB charger. Many cameras, phones & watches run on USB, so a multi port USB charger is almost mandatory. I thought the Targus was ideal for travel.

I brought the appropriate plug converters (do a google search for whatever country you’re visiting) and I tried to find a power bar so that I could plug more than one charger into our one adapter. However plug adapters are two prong, and they do not sell two prong power bars. So I used a 6′ extension cord with multiple sockets on it similar to this one. This is the kind of light duty cord you can find anywhere that you’d use to extend the plug from a table lamp so it could reach a wall outlet. This does not change the voltage or frequency, so make sure whatever you plug into it can deal with the 50/60Hz and 100-240V. Most things like cameras, and computers can.

Many places where we stayed had universal power bars where literally anything could be plugged into it. However I don’t believe this does voltage or frequency conversion… so heed the same warning as the previous paragraph.

Personal stuff

Bring enough toothpaste, ~waterproof~ SPF 50 or greater sunscreen, and bug spray to more than last your vacation. They all have to be travel sized unless you’re going to check your luggage. We were running very low on toothpaste and just ran out of sunscreen on the last day. We had looked at replacement waterproof sunscreen, and the only stuff we could find in Zanzibar was a too-expensive $45 for a regular size bottle.

We bought some non-DEET bug spray recommended by our travel clinic… but ended up bringing some DEET too just in case. I liked the non-DEET spray: it seemed to work well, and it is not corrosive to plastic or nylon.

Oh… check your travel toothbrush before you leave to ensure it will last the trip too. Oops.

Sarah brought a first aid kit including some basic treatment for diarrhea, and a prescription to cover potential food poisoning/ water contamination. See your doctor and you can buy it before you go.

We brought 8×40 binoculars. These were bulky. Mark and Kirsten have a much smaller pair (8×25?) that also seem to be quite good. Safaris were all in the bright sunshine, so we did not really need the extra light gathering of the larger binoculars. We used binoculars every day, but one pair between two people was fine.

I had a day pack and a carry-on size soft suitcase. Sarah had a cloth handbag, and a MEC kit bag on wheels that we bought 19 years ago and it refuses to die. The MEC bag was only partly full because of the 15kg weight restriction, but gave us flexibility to add my laundry as the days passed.

I had two pair of pants that zipped into shorts, about 6 T shirts, similar socks and undies, one pullover, a rain jacket, one pair of running shoes and a pair of sandles. We all had rashies
(UV resistant T shirts ) for swimming/ snorkeling/ kite boarding, sunglasses, hats, a bathing suit, and a micro fibre camping towel. We each had a mask and snorkel. I ended up buying a cheap pair of UV resistant sunglasses for kite boarding because I did not want to wear my expensive progressives out on the water.

Sarah did some laundry, but we used the hotel services for most things. Even hotel laundry was all hung out to dry, so we were limited to having laundry done when our itinerary had us staying for multiple nights.

Electronics other than cameras

We used our cell phones as quick cameras & for web access through wifi. You can leave your phone on (but turn data off) , and it does not cost if you do not answer the call, use data, or respond to a text message.

I love the app called Whatsapp – it provides free text, video and voice phone calling whenever wifi is available, and is the easiest way to keep in touch with family wherever they are.

Wifi Internet was available most evenings, and we’d connect through a VPN if we were doing anything more confidential than just surfing. We also brought a laptop for Sarah’s work and for my photo editing, and I brought my android tablet just for off-line reading and writing, and web site updating.

We never did get a local SIM card for our cell phones. We should really look into that… although I did not want to be bothered on safari so maybe it’s not a bad thing.

And of course, I’m wearing my garmin 935xt watch. The funny thing is I’m averaging close to 20,000 steps a day while on safari even though we are sitting almost constantly. The accelerometers in the watch are being tricked into counting the bumps in the road, rather than my actual steps. They are bumpy roads!

Web stuff

This web site uses wordpress with the free theme called twenty fourteen. I used mail poet 3 for the email sign up,
WP Sitemap to generate the list of posts, and Smart Slider 3 to display photos. The backend has wordfence, google analytics for WP, and an anti-spam program to monitor comments. Web site maintenance is a lot easier than it used to be!

A closeup from Sarah's camera. It's a great picture
My camera from the same distance at about 2/3 of full zoom. No way can I match Sarah's camera's zoom, and sometimes it makes a difference
Some power bars could take any plug
A closeup from Sarah's camera. It's a great picture
My camera from the same distance at about 2/3 of full zoom. No way can I match Sarah's camera's zoom, and sometimes it makes a difference
Some power bars could take any plug
previous arrow
next arrow

4 thoughts on “Technical drivel”

  1. “we used hotel services for most things” –> whoa whoa whoa. Speak for yourselves! Pretty sure Mark, Kirsten, and I all hand-washed 😉

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *