|Lens Model||Weight lbs||Length Inches||Focal Length mm||F-Stop||Vibr. Reduct.||Price|
|Nikkor AF-S FX NIKKOR 300MM f4E PF ED VR||1.66||5.83||300||4||Yes||Check Price on Amazon|
|Nikkor AF-S FX 80-400mm f.4.5-5.6G ED||3.53||8||400 (80-400)||4.5-5.6||Yes||Check Price on Amazon|
|Nikkor 200-400mm AFS VR f/4||7.4||14.4||400 (200-400)||4||Yes||Check Price on Amazon|
|Nikkor 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G VR2 AF-S DX||1.25||3.82||200 (18-200)||3.5-5.6||Yes||Check Price on Amazon|
|Sigma 150-600mm F5-6.3 DG OS HSM||6.31||10.24||600 (150-600)||5-6.3||Yes||Check Price on Amazon|
|Nikkor 105mm f/2.8 G ED-IF AF-S VR Macro||1.74||4.57||105||2.8||Yes||Check Price on Amazon|
|Nikkor AF-S 500mm f/4G ED VR||8.55||15.39||500||4||Yes||Check Price on Amazon|
When you're looking at a once in a lifetime trip it's essential that you bring the right kit with you. The kind of kit plays a large role in the quality of photos you will take.
Take a look at the photos below.
The photo above was done with a cheap point and shoot. No blurring of the background to ensure subject isolation. The photo looks flat - it is not creative or artful in any way.
What You Need in a Lens
There are many items you're going to need but when it comes to your lenses you want something that is
- within your price range,
- going to get you close enough to the action without letting you down, and
- not going to weigh you down.
One of the biggest complaints from safari photographers is going to be dust in your lenses so it's imperative you bring an air blower.
Best Nikon Lens to Take on Safari
This is an update of an older lens if you're willing to sacrifice the motor you can obviously pick the older, cheaper version. However, the motor in this lens is super fast which makes it ideal for catching quick moving wildlife without missing the shot focusing. This lens also accepts teleconverters, ideal if you're looking to really get macro close to some of the flora. The minimum focusing distance of this is 1.5m which actually makes it downright flexible when you're out and about, while the 400mm maximum means you can also get close from a safe distance. Most users agree that this is a super sharp lens, and the improved VR works even for hand holding. This is ideal for a beginner on safari as it gives you significant flexibility with the autofocusing of a motor. Not only that but it can replace several lenses because of the flexibility, so keep that in mind. Weight wise this is not a small lens, in fact, it's bigger and heavier than the older version. With the included collar you're looking at 59oz! This is a bit of a hefty piece if you've got small hands or are a beginner but if you're only taking one lens make it this one. The lens works with every digital Nikon ever made which is very convenient, that includes both FX and DX formats but it's still pretty short with the fx sensor so if you can afford a 600 do so. A huge downside to this lens is that this model is susceptible to dust, and you may find yourself sending it to Nikon once you get back for having dust inside the lens barrels.
The single biggest disadvantage of a good quality lens with a longer focal length has always been weight. Lugging around an 8 pound-16 inch lens can become a literal pain on a hot day in Africa. Mobility is the key, enabling you to capture that magical moment faster. The AF-S FX Nikkor F4 300mm is 30% shorter and 35% lighter than its predecessor, the AF-S NIKKOR 300mm f/4E PF ED VR. The secret to how Nikon managed this feat is a new lens element called the Phase Fresnel (PF). In combination with Extra-low Dispersion glass (ED) and Nano Crystal Coating, they have managed to make a lens with excellent image quality (virtually no chromic aberration) in a compact body many of its larger rivals cannot come close to. When the lens was released in early 2015 many people complained of a VR issue at shutter speeds lower than 1/200th of a second, but a firmware update seems to have sorted that. Is the 300mm focal a little short for your needs? Add a 1.4 converter and you transform the lens into a 420mm monster, with only a small sacrifice as far as f-stop and added weight are concerned.
This lens is a bit more rugged than the last one, it's actually perfect for wrapping in camouflage tape to avoid being seen in the bush. Like the previous lens, this is also compatible with both FX and DX formats, but it also happens to be compatible with several Nikon film cameras too. This is not the newest model of this lens, the 200-400 VR2 is the upgrade but it also adds a hefty price and more hefty weight too. You're getting quality with this lens, it's rather to be expected for the price tag. It's costly, but you're getting what you pay for in this case. The autofocus is fast and it has a lovely bokeh over long distances. The only problem with this lens is that you need to have at least an intermediate skill level. It doesn't work well with Nikon's own autofocus, meaning you'll need to set your AF system yourself. The size means it's going to be a problem if you have smaller hands though the VR will help some. It weighs an astounding 3.2kg and is a bit of a hulk. The biggest issue that might come up with this lens is that it has a significant drop off at the 400mm mark in f/4 and it's also lacking a front filter ring. This is really a special needs lens, but for the needs of a safari, it's ideal.
If you're only going to take the 200-400mm then you'll also need an 18-200mm with a second body. With both of these lenses, you'll have a good range covered unless you're a stickler for primes and have plenty of spare bodies to cover the in between. This is the second version of the lens and it's worth paying for the VR2. It's very flexible which is important on safari and gives you a wide-angle that many other lenses in this article can't. In fact, you may want to take this lens in addition to any others. Compared to the longer range lenses this is also very lightweight so it will work better handheld if you're not comfortable holding such a heavy lens or don't have a monopod. This lens is going to get you very sharp pictures and has a convenient short minimum focus. The only downside to this lens is that it isn't really built for harsh conditions and many safari pros have mentioned having malfunctions while out. This should be more of a backup than a “one and only” choice. Word of warning, this is a DX lens, not an FX one but you can find other options with a similar range for full frame use.
By far the cheapest long range telephoto option, as you'll often find with Sigma, it has an impressive zoom range and is surprisingly light compared to the other models. Another great lens if you're in the beginner/intermediate range, the quality of the images are excellent. The downside to this lens is that it does have a noticeable vignette which will bother the purists. Like many of the other lenses we've talked about, this is also a beat, it's heavy and it's not going to be something comfortable to hand hold for long periods. You'll see a lot of articles that compare this lens to the Tamron version if in doubt choose this one. The reason for this is that the weather sealing on the Sigma is far superior and you're going to see a lot of problems with dust on the unsealed Tamron. Compared with the similar Nikon it's not as fast, but the lens is still very responsive so your only limit there is going to be the auto-focusing capability of your body. The stabilization system is impressive with this lens, even at 600mm. As far as the range, unless you're paying a lot of money for an early or late shoot you're going to have a lot of harsh sun so don't try for anything more than a 600mm. However, you might also find the 150mm is very restrictive and not wide enough for many safari shots.
This is a good lens for being really close to your subject. You won't have the flexibility of a zoom lens but you'll also have a sharper image to work with and you're also adding the flexibility of a fast aperture. This is a great lens for macro photography in general so it's also a good pick to add if you're taking more than one lens for versatility. The biggest downside here is obviously your limited range, if you're going to a park where you can't get close to the subject this might end up being nothing more than extra weight in your bag for the entire trip so keep that in mind. Since you're not zooming you don't have to worry so much about weatherproofing with this lens. Price wise it's not so far behind the Sigma, but you're getting a lot of range in the Sigma that this lens just can't offer.
If you're going to bring a prime lens bring this one. Almost anyone who has been on safari will tell you that you're going to want the longest range you can afford, the problem is that most long range telephoto lenses are not cheap. By far the most expensive choice, even if you can't afford this one if you're working with an FX sensor rent it. This is the “one” if you're determined to bring a prime since the shorter 105mm may not give you the necessary close-up you're going to need while out and about. This is often the “one that got away” for people who have been on safari, they will tell you they opted for 400mm but wish they'd brought the 500mm. The 500mm is going to get you incredibly close to your subject, even if you can't get physically close which is often the case for visitors. If you're willing to shell out the money the 600mm version is even better. This is a nice durable lens and has a convenient tripod detection feature so that it adds extra stability and counteracts shutter release. It's not a little lens, at 8.5 pounds it's a beast, even compared to the other lenses here.
Nikon Lens Abbreviations - What Do They Mean?
AF - Auto Focus
AF-S - Auto Focus includes Silent Wave Motor
DX - Designed for APS-C DX sized Nikon cameras
ED - Extra Low Dispersion Glass
IF - Internal Focusing
N - Nano Crystal Coat
VR - Vibration Reduction
At the end of the day your lens choices are going to make much more difference when out on safari than at home, but what you do with the pictures afterward can also make a difference with your needs. When it comes to something that is a once in a lifetime trip you want a lens you're comfortable with and know how to use. Don't buy these last minute or you'll spend the trip practicing and waste the shots.