The quality of my photographs has expanded in recent years, with the purchase of a Sony digital SLR camera, along with a fabulous lense designed for shooting animals and birds from long distances. I call it "spycam" when I use it around cities, as I can zoom in on unsuspecting humans, with the same degree of magnification, that allows me to capture tiny birds some distance away. Naturally I use "spycam" with discretion and respect of individuals privacy. I carry my Sony and zoom lense, along with a way more compact Nikon that allows me to have a less prominent camera with me in some situations, or if weight is a consideration on long days sight-seeing or hiking.
Both have automatic point and shoot options as well as manual over-rides, which gives me sufficient scope to meet virtually every photographic scenario possible.
I also needed a camera capable of shooting in high resolution and raw settings and under minimal light conditions, without resorting to a flash, just in case I ever wanted to exhibit, or sell any of my photos professionally.
Given I knew I would be shooting live animals and birds in action in the wild, I wanted a camera that offered me real scope in the settings I could select.
In choosing my Sony A58 camera, I went to my local Camera House retailer in Ballarat. There Sue, the wonderfully knowledgable and extraordinarily helpful proprietor, let me have hands on with a range of cameras and we played around until I found one that I found suitably lightweight, user friendly, easy to operate and not too prone to camera shake, when a zoom lense is fully extended. Camera shake, results from instability when the lense wobbles in the hands of the photographer, causing blurred images. Use of a tripod, or resting the lense on other fixed and stable items can also prevent camera shake. The lense was a considerable upgrade to the basic camera lense and cost way more than the camera itself. Its magnification capacity can also be doubled, using the camera's internal zoom mechanism.
Another bonus with my Sony, is that its batteries are recharged externally. Meaning, when one battery dies, I simply load in the other and don't lose any opportunity in shot-taking, due to the camera being tied down to an electric socket, whilst the battery recharges!
The camera trial, taking the best part of a day, included loading the cameras with cards and letting me head out into the street to experiment and get the feel for each camera I tested. Given I was making a very big investment, Sue's willingness to entrust me with her valuable stock was overwhelming. This made me far more confident I would not be making a very expensive mistake with such a major purchase!
As for my beloved little compact Nikon Coolpix P300. It is my constant companion. It lives in my handbag, so I am always ready to capture shots at a way higher resolution rate than a mobile phone could offer and with way more settings to match conditions I am shooting under. It too has a manual over-ride and lots of settings. Its zoom capacity is adequate for all but distant wildlife shoots. The only negative with it, is that the battery recharger is internal rather than external, so it is vital to always have a second, or even third battery charged up and ready to go as, once its zoom is engaged, it eats up the power, as the zoom function is controlled by the camera mechanisms, rather than by adjusting the lense itself, manually. I purchased it in 2010.
With my Nikon, Sue, at Camera House Ballarat, also helped me find just what I wanted in a compact camera at the time.
Both my cameras are capable of taking good quality videos.This is not however a function I tend to use, prefering to specialise in still photography!
My next camera will be a simple one, capable of underwater photography, with some zoom, for getting marine shots in the Galapagos and wet conditions in Amazon rainforest.
The best advice I can give to any ameteur photographer is to try before you buy and make sure you give yourself time practising shots and familiarising yourself with your cameras functions and settings well before your departure.
I had a fairly decent pre-safari lead up with my Sony, even so, there were many settings and funtions I was learning whilst on safari, which was at times very frustrating. Indeed, over a year later and I am still learning and experimenting with some of my camera's functions.
I also have a tripod, which can be useful for landscape and night photography, but it is a luxury extra that I never take when "travelling light". The carbon ones are extremely light-weight, but useless in strong wind gusts. To my mind it defeats the purpose of having one!
On safari, carrying a tripod was out of the question. I did however learn to rest my camera lense on the bean bags supplied in our vehicles, or other stable items like posts, or even rocks, which really helps overcome camera shake.
As for camera cases, I have a range of them. One includes a small Berghaus daypack where the bottom is designed as a camera bag, and the top unzips seperately with my other bibs and bobs, like a handbag. Another is an orange Krumpler, that doubles as a handbag, if I am on a city based photography shoot around Melbourne or Ballarat. The Krumpler is extremely tough, but quite heavy in its own right.
I also have a large, rectangular Pacsafe handbag, that can house both my Sony and Nikon, with the Sony in a meduim sized all purpose padded tote I purchased at 'Katmandu'. This makes my camera gear look way more like a regular handbag. It also fits in my ipad, at a squeeze; ideal for long flights!
I carry a range of destination based travel double adaptors for recharging all my electronic gear. 'Dick Smith' stores have been reliable for double adaptors for destination power currents, whereas most of the travel specialist dealers tend only to have single power adaptor sockets.Other people suggest using a single adaptor, but carrying a powerboard to attach to it, which may be feasible should you not be travelling alone!
Also don't forget to purchase enough memory cards for your camera before you head off. I took 2,000 photos in 3 weeks on safari and a similar number in Europe this year over 7 weeks.
Don't forget to purchase lense cleaning equipment. It's amazing how dirty camera lenses get in dusty conditions and these spots of dust will remain as a mark on your precious photos!
I also strongly recommend travelling with at least one or two sets of safari shirts and trousers. They are readily available in colours other than khaki. They come highly recommended due to their very practical pockets, great for housing spare batteries, lense caps and cleaner, insect repellant and a bit of cash to purchase items from local vendors. They are durable, light and easy to handwash, as well as drying overnight. My Nikon shoot and point fits easily into a pocket within my safari gear.
My safari wear often frees me from the need to carry a handbag, as a woman, or indeed just hang my camera around my neck and leave the camera bag behind in the hotel!
I stash my chargers, adaptors and non portable lense cleaning gear in a smaller version of my Katmandu, all purpose padded travel tote.
Another useful source of information is Lonely Planet's 'Guide to Travel Photography.
Some examples of photographs taken with my Sony A58 and Nikon Coolpix P300