Saturday, December 17, 2011

Gearing up for Southern Africa

The following is a guest post from my good friend, Tom Hennen. He and his wife recently returned from a three week trip to southern Africa. I've asked them both to share some of their experiences in a series of blog posts.


One of the first things I learned about Amy, my wife, was that she wanted to go to Africa. So it was no surprise that six years after we’d met we were finally on our way. What was a surprise was how long we’d be gone, three weeks. Three weeks of scrambling over the tops of waterfalls, game drives and walks, death marches to the bottom of large ravines, ostrich riding, exploring caves, harassing penguins, and petting lions.

Knowing that Africa might be a once in a lifetime trip I wanted to document the trip and take some excellent photographs. When we planned the trip, the little photography experience I had was limited to framing photos with our point and shoot. I didn’t know anything about f-stops, ISO or crop factors. Luckily I had about a year to prepare so we purchased a Sony A580. In order to get comfortable with it I started work on a Photo-a-Week project. Each week I’d post a photograph with a different theme. Many of the early weeks were rough, but I eventually got the hang of it and really learned how to use the camera.

When I started the project I was using the kit lens (Sony 18-55 3.5-5.6) and a telephoto zoom (Sigma 70-300 APO 4-5.6). Between the two of these I was definitely getting the range that I wanted, but I didn’t find it very flexible when walking around. I’d often find myself seeing a great shot but having the wrong lens on. To top it off, walking around with both lenses made for a heavy bag. I knew changing lenses on the trip wouldn’t work since there are so many fleeting moments on game drives. I also knew weight would be a problem since I’d be carrying the camera and equipment around all day. With that in mind I wound up buying a super-zoom, the Sony SAL18-250 3.5-6.3. It’s not quite as long as the 70-300, but the flexibility it afforded was well worth it.


Another concern was how I was going to carry the equipment. Theft is always an issue, no less so in southern Africa. Many camera bags scream “steal me” and since we were going through so many border crossings I thought it was important to have something inconspicuous. After searching for a while I chose the ONA Union Street bag. It had plenty of room for my equipment and other essentials like bug spray and sun screen. Most importantly, it doesn’t look like a camera bag.

With the lens and bag issue settled I had my packing list: camera body, 18-250 lens, charger, spare battery, lens cloth, lens pen, dust bulb, and bag. The only remaining question was if I wanted to bring a tripod...

Sunset on the Zambezi