Big Pictures Small Cameras – Lumix in Africa
The Sabi Sands Game Reserve in South Africa is a private game reserve that borders the Kruger National Park in the Lowveld of Mpumalanga. The reserve is approximately 65,000 hectares and has a non-fenced boundary with the Kruger National Park situated to its east. The Sabi Sands reserve is renowned as a Big 5 game reserve with a very active population of leopards. The Big 5 is the name given to the old hunted species; Lion, Leopard, Elephant, Cape Buffalo and Rhinoceros.
Sabi Sands is situated around 6 hours by road from Johannesburg, but is served by a local airline that run bush hopping planes into the reserve and between the airstrips that serve the lodges. This regular flight service ferries international guests in and out of the reserve. One of the prerequisites is that passengers travel with soft sacked checked luggage and small hand luggage. This is because the smaller planes cannot handle large hard backed suitcases. This makes travelling to the reserve a significant challenge for most photographers that travel with additional equipment.
As a frequent traveler to the reserve and South Africa in general, I have over many years adapted my packing requirements which includes all of my photographic kit. As well as a lightweight ensemble of safari gear which is deliberately chosen to stay comfortable, warm and dry whilst on game drive, I have optimized by photographic bag by choosing Lumix cameras.
Wildlife photography by default requires long focal lengths to be able to get closer to the action.Traditionally these longer focal lengths are expensive large pieces of glass that weight a significant amount. Using them in the field requires bean bags on the side of the game drive vehicles and attention to detail with regards to having a sufficiently high shutter speed to avoid camera shake. Travelling to Africa on safari is an expensive undertaking for many. The reputation of photographing Africa’s wildlife and the Big 5 is often a dream for many seasoned and aspiring wildlife photographers. When travelling at such cost and distances photographers need a system they know is reliable and will deliver quality images under a range of demanding conditions.
The Lumix system has overcome many of these challenges. My default body is the Lumix DMC-GH5. This camera provides me with the best of both worlds; an incredible stills camera with 6K photo capability, together with video functionality that allows me to capture 4K video in broadcast friendly 4:2:2 10 bit. I pair this camera with the Lumix 100-400mm f4.0-6.3 telephoto lens. This lens has an incredible focal range which allows me to get closer to subjects at distance. Because the Lumix systems use micro four thirds sensors the 100-400mm lens has a full frame equivalent focal length of 200-800mm. This makes it excellent for wildlife and bird photography.
The second body as I have as back up is the Lumix DMC-GX8 camera. This camera is an outstanding stills camera that is much smaller and compact than the GH5. It also shoots 4K video which is a very handy feature to have. I pair the GX8 with one of three lenses; the 35-100mm f2.8, or the 12-35mm f2.8, or the general purpose 12-60mm f2.8-4.0. This gives me both medium and wide focal range options.
All of the lenses I use have built in image stabilization and when paired with the GH5, which now has in body camera stabilization this allows me to work handheld at much slower shutter speeds than I would normally need. This gives me more flexibility and latitude when shooting static subjects in low light.
When on drive I always have my two bodies at the ready. Within the Sabi Sands reserve depending on the species and the sighting, it is very possible that you can get very close to the subject. Sabi Sands also permits vehicles to off road for the Big 5 which allows close tracking and better photographic opportunities. For other animal’s no off-roading is allowed and therefore the longer focal lengths are required. Having the two bodies with me means I don’t need to switch my lenses. This is an important aspect especially in dusty environments. Going off road also means that the ride can get very bumpy. Having a lightweight camera system with built in image stabilization makes things much more practical. There is less risk of damaging a lighter weight system whilst off-roading. And with the built-in image stabilization combined with some camera holding skills, sharp images can always be taken whilst the vehicle is moving.
I find the GX8 to be an extremely versatile camera for close up sightings. Thanks to articulating screen, and the top placed exposure compensation dial, I am able to place the camera at arm’s length overhanging the game drive vehicle door. By doing this I am able to get a much lower angle and get more depth and the sky in the frame. Having the exposure compensation dial on the top is particularly handy with this technique because exposure compensation is an important setting to control in wildlife photography. By having the function on the top of the camera I can quickly adjust without having to move the camera from its position.
I find the 6K photo feature on the GH5 to be an innovative addition to traditional photography. In certain circumstances with dynamic action, the 6K photo feature allows a short video burst that captures all the action. Once the clip is acquired, an 18 megapixel JPEG can be extracted in camera. This is an extremely useful feature to have especially for social media sharing as I can transfer the JPEG to my smartphone via the Lumix application which allows very quick sharing to multiple social media platforms.
All of this equipment packs neatly into my camera back pack and comes in well under 12 kilos. Some airlines have 12 kilos as their maximum weight limit for carry on hand luggage, so I know with the Lumix system I will never have any problems at check in. Travelling with the system is lightweight and convenient and allows me more creative options with the lens choices I make. I find that the Lumix system is ideally suited to taking the “Big Pictures” of the Big 5 with such relatively small camera systems.
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