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peteb48 Feb 23, 2007 6:19 PM

South Africa in October for 16 days. What would be a good camera for animal pictures under $900? Also, I would like to use the camera for lacrosse game action before I go on the Safari.

mtclimber Feb 23, 2007 6:56 PM

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You might want to take a look at the Nikon D-40 kit and adding the Nikon 70-300mmVR lens. I have seen excellent results from the particular pairing and was amazed. Best of all it fits within your proposed budget. Here is a sample shot.


robbo Feb 23, 2007 8:01 PM

If you can wait a month or so, you might consider the Olympus SP-550 UZ, which will have a stabilized 18X optical zoom, extending from a wide angle of 28mm to a telephoto of 504mm. Of course, DSLR's with good telephoto lenses will probably do better. However, the SP-550 will be easier to carry around.

Ask Sarah what she thinks of this choice. She has tons of experience with all kinds of cameras.

JohnG Feb 23, 2007 8:44 PM

A word of caution regarding the Nikon D40 - most of the lenses available in the Nikon system will not autofocus with that lens. I'm quoting a post from rjseeney (one of our very knowledgeable nikon users here):

Only AF-S lenses will autofocus with the D40. THose lenses are the 18-70, 18-55, 55-200, 18-135, 18-200, 105VR, and the 70-300VR. No third party lens will AF either, except the the few sigma HSM lenses. The good news is the available lenses cover most shooting situations. The bad news is aside from the first three listed, they are all over $300. Also none of the excellent bright prime lenses are on the list. Hopefully that will change in the future as Nikon adds more lenses to the AF-S line. Other lenses will work, just with no auto focus.

So, of the 40 odd lenses in the Nikon system, as I understand this post, the selection of the D40 limits you to using just 7 lenses (7 out of 40)and still having autofocus. That's really a huge disadvantage in my opinion. So right off the bat you lose one of the major benefits of the nikon system - the wide range of autofocus lenses. PLUS the majority of third party lenses. So keep that in mind if you're tempted to save $200 now you'll pay the rest of that camera's life by restricting what lenses you can actually use.

IMO you are much better off getting the D50 for a little more money now and opening yourself up to ALL AF lenses made for nikon cameras. For sports and wildlife I would argue - manual focus is not an acceptable solution.

So, from the nikon camp I agree the 70-300 is a great lens - but go with the D50 instead

Canon 400D (better choice than 350 because of improved focusing) and Pentax are other options.

It's tough to stay under $900 and get the equipment you'll need from a DSLR.

A superzoom camera is definitely more affordable. But you won't get the same quality- especially not action photos. No question the superzooms and a DSLR are two different leagues when taking action photos. The focus systems of the digicams aren't as advanced and the depth of field is too large (i.e. you get a lot of annoying backgrounds in the shots). But you can spend $600 and get a very good superzoom camera or spend closer to $1100 - 1200 to get a good SLR solution.

An alternative lens for Canon or Nikon cameras is the Sigma 70-300. It's < $200 (the canon and nikon versions are around $550). it's the budget lens solution until you can afford a better lens.

robbo Feb 23, 2007 9:15 PM

John is absolutely right when he says that DSLR's picture quality is superior. However, I think he slightly overestimated the cost of superzooms, which now seem to run from $230 to about $500. The most popular superzooms are under $400.

peteb48 Feb 24, 2007 6:45 AM

I really appriciate evryones input. I have a lacrosse game today and one of the parents takes terrific action shots. I going to find out what he uses and report back. I'm also going to investigate the superzooms which I did not know about. Easier to carry is a plus. Great actions shots probably override though.

audioedge Feb 24, 2007 8:50 AM

Sarah - the pics you post as examples always look too sharpened... do you use unsharp mask or are they straight out of the camera?


JohnG Feb 24, 2007 10:10 AM

peteb48 wrote:

I really appriciate evryones input. I have a lacrosse game today and one of the parents takes terrific action shots. I going to find out what he uses and report back.
That's a great way to approach it. It's always great if you have someone like that who shoots what you want to shoot at a quality you want to achieve. That way you can be sure if you buy that equipment - the EQUIPMENT won't be the limiting factor.;) It kinda stinks to spend a lot of money and find out you bought something not up to the task you want to use it for.

mtclimber Feb 24, 2007 10:48 AM

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The kind of shooting required on a safari can be accomplished with any of the consumer DSLR cameras: Nikon, Canon, Pentax, or Sony. when the properequipment is used. I was just giving you a sample photo from a friend's recent African Safari. He did not have much photographic experience and he was very pleased with the resulting photos. All in all, for most folks, a safari is a once in a lifetime experience/ Therefore, most folks really want to return with the best possible photos.

Keep in mind that both the Pentax brand and Sony brand DSLR cameras incorporate in camera body IS which therefore does not require VR, IS, or OS equipped lenses.

Could the Olympus SP-550 do the same kind of job? We do not yet have a professional review of the SP-550, so that is difficult to say with a great deal of certainity. However, when released you can just about be certain that the SP-550 will be selling at or near it MSRP, which is very near the price of the consumer level DSLR cameras. A consumer level DSLR cameramight probably provide a bit more long term flexibility.

In the final analysis, the equipment used is a personal choice. I was just sharing with you one set-up (in this case: a Nikon D-40 and the Nikkor 70-300mmVR lens) that did work very sucessfully. At least for me, knowing what equipment really did work very well in an actual safari situation is more valuable than equipment ideas spawned through brain storming and theory, but has never received actual real field use.


JohnG Feb 24, 2007 11:12 AM

mtclimber wrote:

At least for me, knowing what equipment really did work very well in an actual safari situation is more valuable than equipment ideas spawned through brain storming and theory, but has never received actual real field use.

Now, now - let's not get so testy. I agree, field tested equipment is important. But I think it's irresponsible to give such narrow advice and focus only on the immediate need without regard to what happens when the safari is over. It's worthwhile for people to know the benefits AND drawbacks of any purchase - especially a camera that limits you to using 7 out of 40 lenses (assuming you prefer autofocus).

It's not unlike someone pointing out all the big white lenses you see pro nature photographers with so you should therefore buy Canon - without pointing out that those lenses cost $4000 - $7000.

I realize you like the d40 very much - but buyers should be aware of the, IMO, vast limitation the $200 cost savings buys them. At least then when they decide to make the purchase they do so with a better understanding of the big picture. In the end, every purchase is a trade-off and no camera is perfect.

It is also worth noting that the D40 has 3-area AF vs. 5-area of the D50. Think that makes a difference when shooting lacrosse or tracking a moving animal?

Field tests are wonderful - if you interpret them properly and don't extrapolate too much from a single photo (although I do very much agree photos are important when making decisions).

And, don't get me wrong - the D40 is a great camera for what it is - but it is NOT, imo on par with other entry level cameras - it is an entry level camera that has been stripped of features other entry levels have just to reduce price a bit. If a purchaser is OK with those limitations and the affects that will have on their ability to pursue their photographic goals beyond a single event then it can be a great camera. Just like any other camera can be if the feature set is a good match for the user.

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