Today I responded to a gear question on a digital photography forum. It was specifically in reference to an African Safari the gentleman was planning and what lenses/cameras he'd need, etc. Well it got me thinking about my Tanzanian safari and let me tell you, the memory flood gates opened wide.
I remember the first day, we were in Tarangire National Park riding around in the Landrover, kicking up dust in the morning sun. The first animal any of us saw was a giraffe and it was about 75 yards away. We all pulled out our cameras and started snapping away pictures like it was the Oscars and Angelina Jolie was walking up the red carpet. By the end of the trip we would pass giraffes within 10' ft. of the 'rover and say "Oh, it's just another giraffe... we don't need to stop."
Africa tickles the senses. By morning you can smell all the aromas of the grasslands, the flowers and dew. By night the sounds of the wild lull you to sleep, like one of those new age waterfall sound tracks you get at best buy. Your vision is constantly overloaded by amazing landscapes like your living inside a portrait.
Africa is bigger than any of us. Spending time there reminds us just how small we are in the greater scheme of the planet. I've never been humbled like I was in Africa, and not a day goes by that I don't dream of returning.
And now on to the advice I gave in the forum. Here is my full post unedited...
I went to Tanzania on a 14 day safari 2 years ago and all I brought was a 30D and a 35mm f/1.4, I couldn't afford much more than that and while I wished I had more range at times, I was very happy with the results I got.
Having done that I have some advice and mistakes I can share.
First off, the animals will be a lot closer than you anticipate (Lions would use the car as shade...). So a 24-105 should give you plenty of coverage in general. If your looking for shots of leopards in trees or lions off in the distance, then you'll probably want that 100-400. But most other animals will at some point be very close to you. Personally, I like having a wider lens on to give the animals context within the environment.
While traveling in the 4x4, you'll get covered in dust. It's unwise to lens swap unless you absolutely have too. With that in mind, your lens should give you a range your comfortable with. Every night when you get back to base camp, clean your sensor.
I can't speak to the whole of Africa, but when I was in Tanzania, from 10am-3pm the light was horrendous. Good idea to have a polarizer and maybe some ND filters. After 3pm, everyday like clockwork, these puffy clouds would roll in and the light was beautiful.
If your going to be walking through towns (Urban and tribal), take some gaffers tape and cover the Canon logo on your camera body and lenses. When people see Canon or Nikon they can get intimidated or decide your a good target to rob.
One final piece of advice, if you want animal pics just go to the zoo. Your chances to get close ups are a lot better, its cheaper, and overall its easier. If your going all the way to Africa use the opportunity to be creative. Maybe try a lensbaby or Holga. Utilize all the elements together (Wildlife, landscape, people, etc). Looking through a 400mm you can lose yourself in the lens and forget where you are. Try to bring the location into your shots and never forget that your in an amazing place. I still have dreams from my time in Africa and not a day goes by that I don't wish to return.