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Follow this link to see our equipment archive page: Equipment & Gadgets - archive

After deliberating for some time, in 2011 Alison finally swallowed her loyalty to Canon and switched to the Nikon Coolpix P510 'bridge' camera - a much lighter combination. At the time it out-performed all the other bridge cameras available, with its 16 mega-pixel resolution, 24-1000mm zoom lens and full HD compliant video format. It took a little getting used to, particularly focusing under challenging conditions - the manual focus takes a lot to master. After a couple of quick tests the built-in GPS unit was never considered viable as many 'fixes' were up to 1 Km from the actual location.
Nikon Coolpix P510 16 mega-pixel camera with 24-1000mm zoom lens
Canon EOS350D 8 mega-pixel camera with Sigma 50-500mm zoom lens and Canon x2 converter
After toying with a Canon compact camera and found it wanting I bought another Canon EOS 350D body (I'd damaged the auto-focus of the previous body and it wasn't worthwhile repairing) and reverted to using the Sigma 50-500mm lens. This combines an excellent zoom lens with a reasonable 8 mega-pixel resolution camera (for PC slideshows at least) using low level of compression retaining image quality. After reviewing the photos taken with this combination I'm toying with using the Canon x2 converter (we just have lying around) as well to get an even longer zoom. Keep a watch out for the results in future years.
With the ever increasing weight of our hand-baggage and limited allowance on internal flights I researched and bought a Hudl Android tablet to back-up our photos. This beat the competition for resolution and functonality by miles (scoring 94301 vs the its' closest rival score of 8550 in my spreadsheet comparison). Having resolved the problem of reading the Canon's CF cards and the Nikon's micro-SD on the third attempt by buying a compatible USB-OTG cable and bought a 16 Mbyte micro-SD card to provide additional storage I looked at other functions it could do.

I've now downloaded:
  • 'ES File Explorer' to navigate the file system, which also has its own image viewer with slideshow function thrown in for free
  • 'GPS Test', 'NMEA Tracker' and 'GPSLogger' to take advantage of the built-in GPS unit - tests showed this up-to-date chipset performed as well as my older Pretec logger without the need for an external aerial and didn't drain the battery anywhere near as much as the (defunct) GPS unit provided with the Nikon camera.
  • Kindle reader so I no longer need to carry my Kindle either
  • 'Google Earth' to display GPS KML tracks - GPSLogger can export KML files directly. This needs WiFi to function, but worth downloading for when it is available. The Android version doesn't have the sidebar and the resolution isn't as good as the PC version - but perfectly adequate for a convenient portable device.
  • 'Night Sky Tools' to identify all those bright stars we constantly see at the Equator. Using the GPS location, built-in compass and Gyro sensors it shows what is in the sky at the moment. This has rekindled my interest in astronomy - probably the next hobby to take up - we've already bought a telescope!
  • I've downloaded a lot of music files, so I can now listen to my favourite tracks while swinging in my hammock on the beach, reading my latest book with a cool refreshing beer:)
  • On returning home I also downloaded some games - Chess, Seduko and Solitaire, so I can take my mind off work and relax a bit at lunchtime.
  • Tesco Hudl 7" tablet running Android
    GPS logger, comprising: Pretec GPS bluetooth logger; external aerial
    I bought the Pretec GPS logger and aerial in 2004 so I didn't have to try and recall where photos were taken - especially as we began to travel the same areas repeatedly. The Hudl will replace this for all but walking safaris in future.

    As well as providing tracks for Google Earth and Google Maps the unit is used to provide geo-location information for all our photos. The trick here is to synchronise the camera's time to GPS Zulu time by taking a photo of the current GPS fix, ensuring the time is displayed (deend son the equipment used, but with the Pretec I used Hyperlink to display the GPS senstences from the BlueTooth virtual port), reading the EXIF data for the photo then creating a CSV look-up file with the sync data. I take repeated sync images and estimate the time slip between them for every photo, based on the photo's date and time. This provides for more accurate positioning. I have to give credit to Ozi-Explorer for this tip.
    Being a CCTV expert I had often considered how the technology I play with every day could improve the safari experience and after toying with many solutions I bit the bullet in November 2009 and bought a night vision scope. I chose the Yukon 24027 NVMT 4x50 as it offered the longest range at an affordable price and was advertised with an adaptor compatible with our Canon cameras - ideal! Unfortunately the reality was a little disappointing. Although the adaptor fitted together quite neatly it didn't position the scope and camera well enough to allow the camera to focus. I managed to rig up a heath-robinson affair which worked, although the combination was flimsy and needed to be used carefully.

    To date we haven't photographed any wildlife at night, so you won't find any examples on the web-site or slideshows. We had high hopes of viewing the many crabs that scurry along the beach, but the scope couldn't distinguish them on the white sandy beach. And there's usually too much light around the camps and lodges for the scope to be highly effective.
    Yukon 24027 NVMT 4x50 Monocular Night Vision Scope
    The best use we have found for it to date is star gazing, especially on Kenya's beaches where the sky is clear. The 'Seven Sisters' have at least 13 stars when viewed through the scope and once your eyes are trained, moving the scope slightly shows many more - but as it needs to move to see this extra 'layer' they are too difficult to count.

    Unfortunately while playing with the camera adaptor and trying to get a combination that worked I fear I have damaged both Canon cameras as the auto-focus no longer works on either of them! The results with manual focus are more difficult to achieve, especially as I now need glasses and consequently the quality of the photos from the safaris around that time were a bit disappointing - in the dog-house again!

    Accessories
    • Of course the longer the shot the more difficult it is to frame and focus so you may need a rest of one form or another. Tripods are O.K. in the open with plenty of space, but are impractical in a crowded mini-bus or 4-wheel drive. Monopods aren't much better and only provide a single point rest. Beanbags are probably the best as they can be moulded to the available support - window frame or sun-roof. Blow-up bags, although less stable also help and reduce packing, especially if you use the free-issue neck supports often handed out on international airlines.
    • Don’t forget to take a lot of film (or memory cards). You can get film at the lodges but it is expensive. Alison has been known to use over a film on a single pride of lions!
    • In these digital days of course you may wish to carry a backup device to download your images daily and recycle the memory cards. You obviously have to balance the added security risk, power availability and added baggage. In the early days we carried a sub-notebook laptop - but I've migrated to a tablet now - see above.
    Reminders
    • Be aware not all lodges provide readily available power sockets to recharge your batteries - check with your operator beforehand!
    • In a safari bus you may have 6 or 7 people all trying to manoeuvre to get the best shot of the same animal. You obviously have to be patient and considerate (otherwise sparks will fly before the end of your once-in-a-lifetime safari)!
    • Be wary of taking photographs of the locals, especially in the countryside. Some cultures believe a photograph somehow steals their soul. You should ask permission beforehand, otherwise you could face a confrontation. One of our friends was asked to hand over her videotape when she took a pan around the hotel lobby and caught a local woman in the shot. In the end she settled for it to be erased.
    • Video cameras have to be declared at customs on entering the country and an additional fee must be paid in many of the parks for videoing.
    • One of the biggest problems with getting the very best award winning shot is your fellow traveller. The old hard-of-hearing or excitable young woman or child will jump up at the first siting extolling their luck at seeing such a rare animal at the top of their voice, only to startle it. All you’ll get then is a shot of their rump as they disappear into the bush. So a quiet word with your party on the first evening pointing out good ‘safari etiquette’ may (but unlikely) afford you some of the better shots.