Probably the biggest decision you’ll have to make before going on safari is what camera equipment to take with you. This is a big decision, and it’s important to get it right before you go.
When you are on safari, you’re going to see people taking photos on everything from their smartphones through to super high end professional equipment with gigantic lenses.
Choosing a camera is a personal decision where you have to weigh various factors including budget, ease of use, size, and the type of pictures you want to get.
I’ve been a professional photographer for many years, and I also teach photography online. I’ve also been lucky enough to spend time on safari photographing animals in a number of countries around the world.
Based on my experiences, I’ve learnt a lot about what sort of camera works best for safari, and what to consider when choosing a camera for a safari.
In this post, I’m going to tell you everything you need to know about how to choose a camera setup that’s right for you and your safari. I’m also going to recommend some cameras and lenses across a range of budgets and styles.
I recommend reading this post along with my guide to getting great photos on safari, so you’re fully prepared for your trip.
Table of Contents
What to Look for In a Camera for Safari
Before I recommend specific cameras and lenses, I wanted to share the things that are important to look for when choosing a camera for safari. This information will help you to make a fully informed decision, rather than just picking something off a list.
We’re going to assume you are looking for a new camera for your trip, but for those who already own a camera, this can help you decide whether or not your current camera equipment will be able to give you the photos you want on your trip.
Before you even start to think about what kind of camera you want and the features it has, you are going to have to decide on your budget. This will make a big impact on the camera you end up getting, and it’s important to set a realistic budget from the outset so you can then find something suitable that meets your budget.
Obviously, budget will vary for everyone. Don’t forget that your budget should not just include the camera itself. If you are buying a camera where you can change the lens, then you will want to include a lens in the purchase, and these can be just as expensive as the camera body.
Additionally, you will likely need accessories like a camera bag, camera strap, memory card, and spare batteries as well.
In general, the following price estimates in USD should give you an idea of what you can get for your money:
- $200 – $800 – an entry level camera which will help you capture great memories of your trip
- $800 – $2500 – a mid-range camera that will be capable of getting great photos in the majority of situations
- $2500+ – moving up into high end territory now, as you start to spend over this amount you are looking at more professional oriented cameras which will capture amazing images in a wide range of lighting conditions if you put the time into learning how to use them properly.
As you can see, there’s a wide range of price points, and you can easily spend a great deal of money on camera equipment. However, you can also spend less and still get great results.
Type of Camera for Safari
Once you have set a budget, you have to decide on the sort of camera you want to actually take with you on safari.
You have four main options for choosing a camera for safari. These are a smartphone, a compact camera, a bridge camera, or an interchangeable lens camera (DSLR or mirrorless).
Each of these options has advantages and disadvantages, and I’ll quickly go over each option now.
- Smartphone. A smartphone is a good option if you really don’t want to carry any extra equipment and are happy to just get some images to remember your trip. They are generally easy to use and the latest models include some level of optical zoom. However, you will struggle to get great shots of any wildlife further away than several yards, and images taken when there is less light will likely be quite grainy.
- Compact camera. A compact camera is a good compromise between a smartphone and a bigger setup. They are very portable, but models are still available with good optical zooms. They are also easy to use, hence are often also called point-and-shoot cameras. However, some models do include more manual modes and advanced features for those who want more control. The main downsides are reduced image quality compared to a larger setup, and they don’t perform so well in low light.
- Bridge camera. One of the more popular options for safari is a bridge camera, also sometimes known as a superzoom camera. Bridge cameras are larger than compact cameras and they tend to have big zoom lenses that can capture far away subjects. Like with compact cameras, you can’t change the lens like on mirrorless or DSLR. They tend to offer a good balance between image quality, zoom, usability, and affordability.
- DSLR / Mirrorless Camera. If you want the best results in terms of image quality, then a DSLR or mirrorless camera is the option to go for. These have larger sensors so can capture more light than other camera types, meaning you get better results in lower light conditions. These cameras also let you change the lens, so you can pick a lens or lenses which suit your budget and needs. They also have far more manual controls than the other options in the list, so you have more control over how your images look. The downside is that they are larger and heavier, take more time to truly master, and are usually more expensive.
There is no correct answer from the above. Your decision will depend on your budget, how big a camera you want to carry, and how much time you want to spend learning how to use it. Below are different images from a number of different cameras to show you what is possible.
Sensor Size for a Safari Camera
The sensor is one of the most important components inside your camera. The sensor is the digital equivalent of a piece of film. It is what records the light and saves it as a digital file.
Unlike a roll of film, which came in a fixed size for most cameras, a digital sensor can be as big or small as the camera manufacturer wants. Smaller sensors are found in smaller cameras like smartphones and compact cameras, whilst bigger sensors are found in mirrorless and DSLR cameras.
The size of the sensor affects a few things. First, it affects the actual size of the camera and lens. A larger sensor needs a bigger camera body to house it, and a bigger lens to capture the light. A smaller sensor will fit into a smaller camera body.
Larger sensors are also capable of capturing more light, in much the same way that if you leave a large bucket out in a rain storm it will catch more water than a small bucket over the same period of time.
This means a larger sensor will normally perform better when there is less light available, and it will produce less noisy images. You can also use faster shutter speeds.
Larger sensors are however more expensive to produce and as a result tend to be found in higher-end and more expensive cameras.
Common sensor sizes you’ll come across are listed below in order of size from smaller to larger. However, you should be aware that there are a lot of variations, especially in the ultra-competitive smartphone market.
- 1/2.5″ – 5.76mm x 4.29mm (25mm²). Found in smartphones, as well as some compact cameras and bridge cameras. The sensor sizes around this point vary a little but this is around the average.
- 1-inch sensor – 13.2 x 8.8mm (116mm²) found in high-end compact cameras and high-end bridge cameras. The 1″ name is a marketing term which has nothing to do with the size of the sensor.
- Micro Four thirds – 17.3mm x 13mm (225mm²) found in “micro four-thirds” cameras from Olympus and Panasonic.
- APS-C Canon – 22.4mm x 14.8mm (329mm²) found in most consumer-oriented Canon DSLR and mirrorless cameras
- APS-C Nikon, Sony, Pentax – 23.6mm x 15.7mm (370mm²) found in most consumer oriented DSLR and mirrorless cameras from other manufacturers like Nikon, Sony, Pentax, Fuji etc. Nikon calls these DX sensors.
- Full Frame – 36mm x 24mm (864mm²). Found in high end professional DSLR and Mirrorless cameras from Sony, Canon, Nikon etc. So called because it is roughly the same size as a piece of 35mm film.
The important thing to compare is the surface area in square millimetres. This shows the comparative size of each sensor. A full frame sensor for example has more than double the surface area of an APS-C sensor, and over 30x the surface area of a smartphone or compact camera sensor.
That leads to big differences in real world performance.
Generally, the larger the sensor, the better photos you will be able to get. This will be most obvious in lower light situations.
Ideally, for the best photos, you would want an APS-C or full frame sensor for safari as this will gather the most amount of light and be useful in more situations. However, the trade-off is that these cameras tend to be more expensive and larger in size. So I’d recommend getting the largest sensor that fits with your budget and preferred camera size.
Focal Length / Optical Zoom for Safari
A really important specification to think about when picking a camera or lens for safari is the focal length of the lens. This is also often referred to as the “zoom”. The focal length is particularly important if you want to photograph birds, smaller animals and more distant wildlife.
A bigger zoom lens will let you get clearer images of more distant as well as smaller wildlife like birds or small animals.
When it comes to zoom, you will often see the terms optical zoom and digital zoom. The key specification is optical zoom.
Digital zoom is effectively the same as cropping an image after you have taken it, so has no real use as you could do this yourself with an editing application.
Optical zoom involves moving the optical elements in the camera to actually magnify the image.
When it comes to choosing a zoom amount for safari, if you’re picking a camera which has a built-in lens like a compact camera or a bridge camera, then you would want at least a 10x optical zoom. But ideally I’d recommend a 16x optical zoom or larger.
If you’re in the market for one of these cameras, remember that the optical zoom number is just a marketing number. It refers to the underlying focal length, which is the more accurate way of comparing magnification across lenses. Let me quickly cover that for clarity as it can be confusing.
All lenses have what is known as a focal length, which is measured in millimetres (mm). If the mm number is small, say 20mm, then it’s a wide-angle lens, so will get a lot of the scene in the frame. If the number is bigger than 50mm, then it’s a telephoto lens, meaning it magnifies the image.
Here are a couple of examples of the same scene at two different focal lengths so you can see the difference. These are uncropped images.
As you can see from the images above, the 400mm focal length obviously lets you get much closer to the subject. You could crop down the top shot to a similar result, but it would be much less sharp and more grainy as a result.
When a camera has a zoom lens, it means that you can change the focal length, to make the image appear bigger (zooming in) and smaller (zooming out). The optical zoom number refers to the difference between the smallest and largest focal length number.
For example, if you have a camera like the Sony RX10 IV, this has a 24mm – 600mm equivalent focal length. 600 divided by 24 is 24, so this camera has a 24x optical zoom.
If you had a DSLR or mirrorless camera with a 150mm – 600mm lens, this is technically just a 4x optical zoom because 600 divided by 150 is 4x. However, both the Sony and the DSLR camera would give the same result in terms of framing when zoomed all the way in.
The difference is that the Sony would also let you take wide angle shots. However, if you compare a 4x number with a 16x number, the Sony sounds much more impressive! This is why it’s important to understand the underlying numbers, so you can get past the marketing.
In general, for wildlife photography on safari you want a camera with a lens which will let you zoom between 70mm and 400mm. This range will work well for most wildlife photography scenarios, and especially on safari as you normally can’t get out of the vehicle or leave the road, so are restricted by how close you can get to the animals.
Now there are also ultra-telephoto or superzoom lenses out there that start at 400mm and can go up to 1200mm. These lenses are going to be too large and too expensive for most people, but may be of interest to ardent wildlife photographers with big budgets, particularly those interested in bird photography.
Although your main focus is likely going to be photographing animals and birds while on safari, chances are that you are also going to want a camera that you can use to take photos of landscapes, buildings, food, people, etc. as well.
So you may want a camera that can also take wide angle shots (around 20mm). That might be a versatile zoom lens on your existing camera, a separate wide-angle lens, or you might consider using a different camera such as your smartphone for wide angle shots.
Aperture for Safari
As well as focal length, every lens has a specification known as an aperture. The aperture is the hole inside the lens which the light passes through. It’s a bit like the pupil in your eye.
Like the pupil in your eye, the aperture can get bigger and smaller to let more or less light through.
Every lens has an aperture, and the main specification to look out for is how big this aperture will go. Aperture is measured in f/stops, with a smaller number meaning the hole is bigger.
For example, an f/2.8 aperture lens features a bigger hole than an f/5.6 aperture lens.
Generally, the larger the aperture the more desirable. A larger aperture hole lets more light through, meaning you can use a higher shutter speed or a lower ISO, both of which can be of benefit.
You may notice when looking at cameras or lenses that the aperture is shown as a range, for example f/3.5 – 5.6. What this means is that the maximum aperture changes as you change the focal length. At the widest angle, the maximum aperture will be f/3.5. At full zoom, it will be f/5.6.
This is particularly common on compact cameras and bridge cameras with very big zoom lenses, as well as less expensive lenses. This means that the more you zoom in, the less light will be hitting the sensor and so you’ll need to use a faster shutter speed or higher ISO value to compensate.
The more expensive high-end standalone lenses for DSLR and mirrorless cameras may feature a fixed aperture throughout the focal length. These also tend to be the biggest and heaviest lenses.
For safari, the larger the aperture (and smaller the f/stop number) the better, although of course you will have to budget this against weight and cost. In an ideal world, you’d want a lens with a maximum aperture of f/2.8 or f/4 for safari, but this isn’t always practical when cost and weight are taking into account.
Ease of Use and Learning Curve
Cameras are not created equally when it comes to ease of use. A smartphone camera for example tends to be very easy to use, in that you press a button and it takes a photo. They also come with a lot of clever technology, known as computational photography, which tries to get the best results for every image you take. This is also likely a device you are very familiar with and use regularly.
However, other types of cameras are going to have a steeper learning curve, especially mirrorless and DSLR cameras. Of course, mirrorless or DSLR camera will also have an automatic mode which works in the same way as a compact camera or smartphone, in that you can press a button and take a photo, although they are normally missing the computational photography element.
This is why smartphone camera images can look better than shots from a mirrorless or DSLR, especially when taken by a novice user.
The good news is that you can get amazing results with a high-end camera if you take the time to learn what all the buttons and dials actually do, as then you’ll be able to make the camera do what you want it to do. But this does require an investment of time and practice.
The decision you have to make is how much time you want to spend learning how to use your camera. If you really would prefer a more point and shoot experience, then a smartphone, compact camera or bridge camera is probably the best option. You will of course still get better results if you learn its various features, but it should still get good results with its out of the box settings.
On the other hand, if you would like to spend some time really learning how your camera works, then a DSLR or mirrorless camera is a good option. This will have a wide range of shooting modes, including fully manual options, giving you total control over the end result.
If you are planning to get a new camera and want some help in using it and improving your photography there are a lot of books, workshops, and classes out there. For instance, I run an online travel photography course that is designed to help anyone improve their photography.
Every camera sensor has a megapixel count, usually in the range of 12MP through to 50MP+.
The higher the number, the more pixels the camera sensor will record when saving your image. A megapixel just means 1 million pixels, and would refer to an image 1000 pixels wide and 1000 pixels high. 1000 times 1000 is a million, hence megapixel.
More megapixels means the final image will be bigger in terms of image width and height. The advantage of this is that it can let you crop your images more without losing detail.
The disadvantage is that image files are bigger, and higher megapixel images can be slightly grainier.
I would not worry too much about megapixel count unless you plan to do a lot of photography of smaller subjects like birds from a further away distance or plan to print a lot of your images at a larger size. In these cases a high megapixel count (30MP+) will let you crop the shot more and still get a good result.
Otherwise, for smartphones anything over 12MP is good, and for other cameras anything over 20MP will be enough for safari. You can also get away with a lower megapixel count if the camera has a very big zoom, as this negates the need for cropping after the shot.
When you are taking photos and holding the camera in your hand, any movement in your hand can translate into motion blur in your images. This will result in images that aren’t sharp.
This impacts images taken with slower shutter speeds, such as when you are shooting in low light. It’s also more apparent when using longer zooms, which can exaggerate hand movements. This is similar to the effect you get when looking through binoculars or a telescope – even small movements translate to the image being blurry to look at.
Cameras with image stabilization can compensate for this up to a point, meaning your images will be sharper. Image stabilization can be built in to either the camera body or the lens (or both), and I’d suggest picking both a camera body and lens with image stabilization for the best results.
Just be aware that image stabilization can only do so much, it’s not a fix all for image sharpness! So be sure to try to stabilize your camera as well as you can before taking photos, and use an appropriate shutter speed for the focal length you are shooting at.
A safari can be a very dusty place, and cameras tend not to like dust too much. If you are going to a tropical part of the world or visiting a country during its wet season, you are also likely to encounter rain and moisture. Some cameras on the market, particularly the more expensive models, offer weather sealing.
A weather sealed camera normally has various features to prevent ingress of moisture into the camera, such as rubber protection on the lens mounts and memory card slots. This helps prevent water getting into the camera in a rain shower, but also helps to prevent dust getting into the camera.
Dust inside the camera can have a variety of negative effects, from creating unseemly spots on your images if it lands on the sensor, through to causing it to not work at all.
If you have a camera which offers some level of weather sealing, this can protect against both water and dust, meaning you have one less thing to worry about. Ideally, you will want a camera with weather sealing for safari photography, although this is not a feature which is available on all cameras.
Taking photos of moving wildlife can be challenging, especially when it comes to getting and keeping focus. Getting a camera which has a good autofocus system is key.
Modern autofocus systems can automatically identify and track things like animals and their eyes, so all you have to worry about is keeping the subject in the frame.
When looking at a camera for safari photography, check to see what features the autofocus system has. You are specifically looking to see how fast it can focus (faster is better), and if it offers any kind of subject detection or eye tracking. This will make getting sharp photos a lot easier.
The burst speed of a camera refers to how many photos it can take in a second. A high-end camera will be able to take between 12 and 30 images per second. A mid-range camera will be able to do around 4 – 12 images per second.
A higher burst speed means you’ll be more likely to capture specific moments, especially of faster action like a bird in flight or an animal running.
In addition, because burst speed is directly related to the overall technical capabilities of the camera, a camera with a higher burst speed will be better specified than a camera with a low burst speed.
For safari, a camera that can shoot at least five frames per second is a good idea, but higher is always better.
The Best Camera for Safari
I’ve now covered the main features to look for in a camera for safari. I’m now going to provide a list of some of my recommended cameras for safari. This list is not exhaustive as there is obviously a lot of choice out there.
Combining this list with the information on what to look for in a safari camera should give you a good starting point. For those cameras which allow you to change lenses, I also have some recommended safari lenses in the following section.
These cameras are ordered approximately by price, from low to high, but you will of course want to check prices yourself as they do vary. Prices start from around $400 and go to over $3,000 for high end models.
If you want a great value camera for safari that is easy to use and has a good zoom, the Lumix DC-FZ80 bridge camera from Panasonic is an excellent option to consider.
Launched in March 2017, this is the lowest priced option in our list of cameras for safari, but you still get a lot of camera for your money.
First, there’s an image-stabilized 20-1200mm (60x) lens with around five stops of stabilization. That’s paired with an 18.1 megapixel 1/2.3″ sensor which also supports 4K video.
The screen on the back is fixed, but it is touch enabled. The camera is WiFi enabled, and is a lightweight 616g (21.7oz). The main downside is there’s no weather sealing, although that isn’t a surprise at this price point. Battery life is also not spectacular.
However, you do get a great zoom and this is a solid budget safari camera option with a zoom that will let you capture even further away subjects.
Key Specifications: 20-1200mm (60x) focal length, f/2.8-5.9 aperture, 10 images / second, 18.1 megapixel 1/2.3″ sensor
Weight: 616g / 21.7oz
Battery life: 330 shots
Price: Check latest price on Amazon here, B&H here, and Adorama here
Panasonic Lumix ZS70 / (TZ90 in UK)
If you want a compact camera for safari at a budget price point, check out this Panasonic Lumix model. You get a 30x optical zoom lens (24mm – 720mm), a 20.3MP 1/2.3″ sensor, image stabilization, full manual controls and even RAW support.
There’s also an electronic viewfinder, a definite bonus in a compact camera at this price point. This can make composing images in bright sunlight easier. Speed wise it can shoot at up to 10 frames per second.
A newer model was released in 2019 – the ZS80. This adds Bluetooth and a higher resolution EVF but not much else.
We’re not sure that is a sufficient upgrade to justify the price difference, but it’s up to you. If you find them at the same price, then you might as well get the ZS80, otherwise the ZS70 remains our pick while it’s still available.
Key Specifications: 24-720mm (30x) focal length, f/3.3-6.4 aperture, 10 images / second, 20.3 megapixel 1/2.3″ sensor
Weight: 322g / 11.36oz
Battery life: 380 shots
Price on Amazon here, B&H here and Adorama here
Canon have been making a wide range of cameras for decades, and you’re going to find a few of their cameras in this list. This would be our recommended Canon option if you’re looking for a great value compact camera with a good zoom for safari.
For your money you get a 1/2.3″ 20.3MP sensor and a 40x optical zoom (24-960mm) As with other compact cameras with a long zoom, it comes with the tradeoff that the maximum aperture only goes to f3.3, and at maximum zoom, is all the way down at f/6.9. Battery life is also not great at 265 shots and there’s no viewfinder.
Still, it’s one of the best value compact zoom cameras out there especially at this price point, and the price is excellent for what you get. Just don’t expect miracles in terms of image quality or low light performance, especially when zoomed all the way in.
Key Specifications: 24-960mm (40x) focal length, f/3.3-6.9 aperture, 10 1images / second, 20.3 megapixel 1/2.3″ sensor
Weight: 299g / 10.55oz
Battery life: 265 shots
Price on Amazon here, B&H here and Adorama here
Panasonic Lumix ZS200 (TZ200 in UK)
If image quality and low-light performance are more important to you than zoom, check out Panasonic’s Lumix ZS200.
This compact camera comes with a 20.1 megapixel 1-inch sensor, making it around four times larger than standard 1/2.3″ compact camera sensors.
You also get a 15x (24-360mm) lens with a variable f/3.3 – f/6.4 aperture and image stabilization. This is actually a pretty reasonable zoom for most safari situations, with the exception of small distant birdlife.
It also has full manual controls, a touchscreen interface, electronic viewfinder, and RAW shooting.
It’s definitely a slightly more expensive option when it comes to compact cameras for safari, but that optical zoom is a definite bonus especially in the 1-inch sensor category.
Key Specifications: 24-360mm (15x) focal length, f/3.3-6.4 aperture, 10 images / second, 20.1 megapixel 1-inch sensor
Weight: 340g / 11.99oz
Battery life: 370 shots
Price on Amazon here, B&H here and Adorama here.
Canon’s bridge camera offering is another capable option. It features an impressive 21-1365mm (65x optical) zoom lens, which has a variable f/3.4-6.5 maximum aperture. It’s also one of the lightest bridge cameras on the market, if weight is a consideration.
The lens is optically stabilized, providing up to five stops of stability. The 1/2.3″ sensor offers 20 megapixels, which is enough for most users, especially considering the impressive zoom means you shouldn’t need to crop very much.
It has full manual controls as well as RAW support, and you get both Bluetooth and WiFi connectivity as well as 4K video support.
There are some drawbacks. Image quality at the zoom and wide angles is a little soft, and there’s no touch screen or weather sealing. The screen does flip out and tilt though.
My parents have an earlier model of this camera (they provided the tiger photo earlier in the post) and they have been very happy with the results from safaris in destinations around the world.
Key Specifications: 21-1365mm (65x) focal length, f/3.4-6.5 aperture, 10 images / second, 20 megapixel 1/2.3″ sensor
Weight: 610 g / 21.5 oz
Battery life: 325 shots
Price: Check latest price on Amazon here, B&H here, and Adorama here
Nikon are a well known brand well it comes to DSLR cameras, and the Nikon D3500 is an excellent value DSLR. It also comes with the big advantage that you get access to all the Nikon and Nikon compatible lenses, which is a huge choice.
For your money, you get a 24MP APS-C sized sensor, full manual controls and RAW support. Burst speeds are a little slow at 5 frames per second, but battery life is incredible at 1,550 shots. It’s also relatively light for a DSLR.
There’s no weather sealing, and the screen doesn’t feature any touch or flip out technology. There’s also no image stabilization, but a great many lenses are available which do feature this technology. If you want a budget DSLR for safari, this is a good option.
Canon Rebel SL3 (EOS 250D in Europe)
The SL3 (or EOS 250D) is one of Canon’s budget-oriented DSLR cameras. The Canon Rebel line is an excellent series of good value entry-level DSLR cameras (my first DSLR was a Rebel), and the SL3 is no exception.
It’s one of the smaller SLR cameras Canon has made, and it offers great performance for an excellent price. Specs include a touchscreen, 24.2MP APS-C sized sensor, WiFi, 1070 shot battery capacity, 4K video support, and compatibility with all of Canon’s lenses (and a great many third party lenses.).
There’s no image stabilization, but as with the Nikon there are a great many lenses available which do feature this technology. It’s also not weather sealed.
The Nikon Coolpix P950, released in 2020, has a lot going for it. First, you get an impressive 24-2000mm lens, which is an 83x optical zoom. That should be more than enough for any kind of safari photo, and in particular for those of you looking for a camera for bird photography.
The maximum aperture starts at a wide f/2.8, and narrows down to f/6.5 when zoomed in. Given the length of the lens, this is to be expected.
The lens is stabilized, and the stabilization offers an impressive 5.5 stops of improvement. Sensor wise, you’re looking at a 1/2.3″ 16MP sensor, which offers a good balance between size and low light performance.
Image quality is good although softens as you zoom further in. This is quite common on compact and bridge cameras with big zooms. There is a reason high end mirrorless and DSLR lenses cost thousands of dollars after all! However, I think most users will be happy with the performance.
The megapixel count isn’t particularly high, but you are unlikely to need to crop much given you have an incredible zoom.
The P950 has support for RAW photography as well as manual modes that let you set shutter speed, ISO, and aperture. There’s also 4K video support as well as WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity options.
There are a few downsides. Battery life is quite low at 290 shots, and the huge lens means this camera is quite heavy for a bridge camera, weighing just over 1 kg (2.2 lb). There’s also no touchscreen, or weather sealing.
Key Specifications: 24-2000mm (83x) focal length, f/2.8-6.5 aperture, 7 images / second, 16 megapixel 1/2.3″ sensor
Weight: 1005 g / 35.4 oz
Battery life: 290 shots
Price: Check latest price on Amazon here, B&H here, and Adorama here
The Z50 is Nikon’s more entry level mirrorless camera, which features a 20.9MP APS-C sized sensor, which Nikon calls DX sized.
Despite being entry-level, you still get a lot for your money. There’s 11fps burst shooting, 4K video support, a tilting touchscreen display and an OLED viewfinder. You also get Bluetooth and WiFi connectivity, with battery life rated to around 300 shots.
This is a great lightweight mirrorless camera at a good price, however do be aware when comparing this and other DSLR and mirrorless cameras to other cameras on our round up that you will have to buy a lens as well. It is also compatible with most of Nikon’s lenses via an adaptor, which gives you a huge choice.
It even has some weather-sealing, although the pop-up flash means it isn’t considered as weather-sealed as some of its more expensive siblings.
If you like the idea of a bridge camera but would prefer improved image quality and low light performance over a huge zoom, check out the FZ1000 II from Panasonic.
Released in 2019, this camera features a 20.1 Megapixel 1 inch sensor. This means you get better low light performance than bridge cameras with smaller sensors, as well as higher image quality.
Unfortunately, a larger sensor comes with some tradeoffs, namely the zoom. The FZ1000II features a 25-400mm lens, equivalent to a 16x optical zoom. This is definitely on the low end for a bridge camera, but if you’re not too worried about shooting very distant subjects, 400mm is still on par in terms of magnification with DSLR or mirrorless zoom lenses.
When I go on safari, I find a 400mm lens works fine 99% of the time. The only exception really is for small birds, where a longer lens is nearly always helpful.
The other nice thing about this lens is that it features a wide f/2.8 aperture. This drops to f/4 when zoomed in, which is still very respectable. A wider aperture lets more light in, meaning you can shoot at higher shutter speeds and lower ISO values. The lens is also image stabilized, offering 3-5 stops of stabilization.
The display tilts and swivels out from the camera and is touch enabled. You also get WiFi and Bluetooth support, as well as a relatively good battery life of 440 shots. Video wise, you get 4K video support. Despite having a larger sensor, the camera is not too heavy at 810 g (1.79 lbs).
There’s no dust or water protection, which is a shame in a camera at this price point, and probably the main downside. Otherwise though, if you are happy with the zoom range, this is a solid option.
Key Specifications: 25-400mm (16x) focal length, f/2.8-4 aperture, 10 images / second, 20.1 megapixel 1″ sensor
Weight: 810 g / 28.5 oz
Battery life: 440 shots
Price: Check latest price on Amazon here, B&H here, and Adorama here
I appreciate it’s a little jarring to go from cameras to smartphones, but I know that many of you might not want to take anything other than a smartphone on safari. For many shots, a smartphone will work just fine, especially in those scenarios where the animals are very near.
If you are going to take a smartphone for your safari camera, then you might as well pick the best option. The two contenders I recommend are either the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra or the iPhone 14 Pro Max. I’ve put these together because at this point, most people have likely settled on Android or iPhone.
Specs wise they are not dissimilar when it comes to the camera technology. The most important feature, and the reason I chose these two phones for safari photography, is that they both have a relatively good optical zoom (by smartphone standards at least). That means you’ll still be able to shoot wildlife that is a little further away and get good results.
The Samsung S22 Ultra actually has four cameras, each with its own sensor. Most importantly, there’s a 10x (230mm equivalent) optical zoom on a 10 megapixel 1/3.52″ sensor. It’s quite a small sensor even by smartphone standards, but that 10x zoom could definitely come in handy.
The iPhone 14 Pro Max has three cameras. The longest reach it has is from a 2x (77mm equivalent) optical zoom on a 1/3.4″ sensor.
Both phones offer a range of photography focused features, from image stabilization through to powerful computational technology to improve how your images look. If you really want a smartphone for your safari, one of these two options would be our pick.
If you like the idea of a compact camera but don’t want to sacrifice too much image quality, consider the RX100 VII. Released in August 2019, in our opinion this is one of the best compact cameras for safari that money can buy, and we travel with an earlier version ourselves.
The RX100 VII has an 8x optical zoom, equivalent to a 24mm – 200mm lens. That’s about the absolute minimum focal length we’d recommend for a safari. It also has a 20.1 megapixel 1-inch sized sensor like the Panasonic ZS200, which is the closest alternative.
The main differences are that the ZS200 has more zoom at the expense of a narrower aperture. The RX100 has a faster burst rate at 20 frames per second, and it also has a much-improved focus system which can lock on and track subjects very quickly. As you might imagine, that can come in very handy for safari photography.
Sony have used the learning acquired from the focus technology in their high-end professional cameras and it definitely shows.
Image quality in the Sony is also a little better than the Panasonic.
The RX100 also has image stabilisation, a tilting screen and an impressive electronic viewfinder. This is a great all-round compact camera, although it is quite expensive. If the price is too high, the ZS200 offers a great deal at a much more reasonable price.
Key Specifications: 24-200mm (x) focal length, f/2.8-4.5 aperture, 20 images / second, 20.1 megapixel /1″ sensor
Weight: 302g / 10.65oz
Battery life: 240 shots
Price on Amazon here, B&H here and Adorama here
Sony have been making excellent consumer oriented mirrorless cameras for a long time. The A6600 is the current top of their A6xxx range.
The A6600 has a lot of technology packed into its relatively diminutive body. There’s a 24.2 megapixel APS-C sized sensor which can shoot at 11 frames per second. It has Sony’s impressive real-time subject tracking which can recognise and track human and animals’ eyes very quickly.
You also get in body image stabilization, a flip up touch screen, WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity, an impressive 810 shot battery life and weather sealing. All in all, this is a feature packed camera that would be a great option for safari photography when paired with a good telephoto lens.
This mirrorless camera for Canon was launched in 2022, and it is packed with features that make it an excellent choice for a safari camera. In fact, a lot of the technology in this camera, especially around autofocus, is borrowed from Canon’s high-end EOS R3, a camera which retails in excess of $6,000 USD.
At the heart of this camera is a 32.5MP APS-C sized sensor. That is fully image stabilized, and it supports shooting at 15 frames per second (mechanical) and a staggering 30 frames per second (electronic).
Perhaps the most impressive feature though is the autofocus. This can identify and track a range of subjects, including animals and birds. I have used this system extensively and it is amazing how well it can lock onto even a fast moving subject to enable you to get sharp shots every time.
You also get a touch-enabled flip screen, weather sealing, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity, and compatibility with a massive selection of Canon lenses. Battery life is reasonable at 660 shots, and the weight without a lens is also good at 612g/ 21.58oz.
If you are looking for an APS-C sensor camera for safari photography, this would be at the top of my list.
If you love the idea of a bridge camera but don’t want to sacrifice image quality, speed and weather sealing, look no further than the stunning Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 IV. Sony has been leading the way with high performance camera sensors for a number of years, and the RX10 IV is the current pinnacle of their bridge camera offerings.
This is probably the best bridge camera for safari, although as with every decision, there are of course some compromises. The main one being price. This is definitely a premium offering. However, you do get a lot for your money.
To start with, this is a 1″ sensor camera, with 20.1 megapixels of resolution. That is paired with a 24-600mm (25x optical) lens, which we think will be enough for most safari needs.
The lens starts out at a very wide f/2.4, meaning lots of light can reach the sensor. At 600mm the lens stops down to f/4. This is still very impressive, when you consider that a 600mm f/4 lens for a DSLR will set you back five figures! The lens is also stabilized, offering around 4.5 stops of improvement.
You also get one of the fastest autofocus systems in the world, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and 4K video, superb image quality, a touch-enabled screen, a weather sealed body, and a truly impressive 24 frames per second shooting speed. Naturally there are full manual controls and RAW support.
With all that tech onboard, combined with the relatively large sensor and wider aperture zoom lens, this camera does weigh quite a bit. In fact, at 1095g (2.4lbs) it’s heavier than some DSLRs. However, if quality and performance are your key goals, and you just want an all-in-one camera that will just work, then this camera still offers excellent value for money.
If the price is a bit much, then consider the earlier model RX10 III, which offers similar features at a lower price point. You will lose the touchscreen, and the autofocus and shooting speeds are a little slower.
Key Specifications: 24-600mm (24x) focal length, f2.4/4 aperture, 24 images / second, 20.1megapixel 1″ sensor
Weight: 1095 g / 38.6 oz
Battery life: 400 shots
Price: Check latest price on Amazon here, B&H here, and Adorama here
If you like the look of the Sony A6xxx line but want something with a full frame sensor, consider the Sony A7C.
Somehow, Sony has managed to fit a full frame sensor into a body that is almost identical in size and weight to the A6600, making it one of the smallest full frame mirrorless cameras on the market today.
They haven’t cut corners in terms of features either. You get a 24.2MP sensor, 10fps shooting, in body image stabilization, 4K video, WiFi, Bluetooth, vari-angle touchscreen and weather proofing. It also has excellent animal and people tracking with Sony’s eye-tracking autofocus system.
It even manages 740 shots on a charge. A fantastic option if you want something with a full frame sensor but in a relatively compact size.
The only downside is that it can feel a bit small and fiddly in the hands. However, that is a minor niggle for what is otherwise a standout option.
In late 2022, Canon launched the R6 Mark II to replace the already excellent R6. This features improved battery life, a slightly larger sensor, and a much faster burst shooting speed compared to the original R6.
Overall the R6 Mark II is an incredibly capable camera, and even outperforms the more expensive R5 in some areas.
It has a 24.2MP full frame sensor, autofocus that can track people, animals, and vehicles, up to a staggering 40 frames per second burst shooting, Wi-Fi & Bluetooth, 4K video, as well as a flip-out touchscreen. It’s also dust and drip-proof.
The fantastic autofocus system is brilliant on safari, as is the high burst shooting rate.
There’s a lens adaptor which will let you use all EF and EF-S Canon lenses with the camera, which opens the door to a massive choice.
The main downside is that on paper the megapixel count does feel a bit miserly when stacked up against the competition. Honestly though, we don’t think it’s that big of a deal, and it does mean that high ISO and low light performance is fantastic.
You can see our full Canon EOS R5 review here, which covers a lot of the features of the R6, to see if it might be the camera for you.
Sony effectively started the mirrorless camera revolution, and the Sony a7 IV, as the name suggests, is the fourth iteration in their excellent a7 range.
It comes with a full frame 33MP full frame sensor, flip out LCD display, a high refresh rate EVF, WiFi, 10fps burst shooting and a fast autofocus system that includes Sony’s excellent animal and people eye tracking.
It also has good battery life at 580 shots per full charge, and includes weather sealing, meaning it’s an excellent all-round camera and a solid option for safari. The burst rate is a bit slower than the Canon R6, but you do get a higher resolution sensor as a trade-off, as well as extended battery life.
The Nikon Z7 II is the second iteration of the Z7 model, which is towards the upper end of Nikon’s mirrorless camera range. You get a lot for your money. There’s a 45.7MP full frame sensor, weather sealeding, tilting touch screen and it has WiFi and Bluetooth. Battery life is also good enough at 420 shots.
The main downside is reviews suggest the autofocus system, whilst good, isn’t quite up to the performance of the Sony and Canon options. A burst speed of 10 frames a second is also at the lower end in this price bracket, similar to the Sony A7 IV.
However, Nikon users will likely appreciate the familiar interface and the fact that it’s compatible with the whole range of Nikon lenses with an adaptor.
I will admit to being a little bit biased as this is the camera I actually use on a day-to-day basis, and that I have shot my most recent safaris on. I wrote a full review of the R5 here.
In summary though, I think this is a phenomenal camera. Let’s look at the specs. You get a 45 megapixel full frame sensor, with built-in image stabilization. It can shoot up to 20 frames a second. The autofocus system for tracking animals and people is truly incredible. It’s also remarkably versatile as an all-round camera, able to do everything from landscapes to wildlife.
There’s WiFi, bluetooth, a flip out touchscreen, and loads of customization options so you can set it up to work for you. It also supports 8K video, if you want to shoot video. You also get access to Canon’s massive range of lenses, including the older EF and EF-S lenses via an adaptor.
The only real downside is that it’s expensive, and the battery life at 320 shots means spare batteries are an essential purchase. Other than that though, this was my pick for my favourite camera for safari.
Safari Camera Recommendations Summary
If you are finding the above list of recommended cameras and their specifications a bit overwhelming but have a general idea of your budget and what kind of camera you want, here are some personal recommendations of the best camera for safari across budgets and types of cameras:
- Best Safari Camera Under $500: Panasonic Lumix DC-FZ80 / FZ82
- Best Safari Camera under $1000: Nikon Z50
- Best Safari Camera under $5000: Canon EOS R5
- Best Smartphone for Safari: Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra
- Best Compact Camera for Safari: Sony RX100 VII
- Best Bridge Camera for Safari: Sony DSC-RX10 IV
- Best Mirrorless Camera for Safari: Canon EOS R5
Hopefully if you are having a hard time deciding, the above list will give you a good place to start your search for a specific camera.
But if you have any questions, just ask me in the comments section at the end of the article and I am happy to try to provide advice on which camera (and lens) might be best for you given your budget and what you want to do with it.
The Best Lenses for Safari
If you decide to buy a mirrorless or DSLR camera, then you are going to also need to buy a lens to go with it. Whilst some cameras may come with a lens, in most cases this won’t be ideal for safari as it won’t have sufficient reach.
There are a great many lenses on the market, and they are not generally compatible with different camera systems due to different mounting systems. If you want more background on lenses and what to look for in general, see my guide to the best lenses for travel photography, which breaks down all the terminology in detail.
I’m not going to be able to cover every lens out there, but I will provide a quick rundown of what I think are some of the best options on the market across a variety of camera systems and price points. This should give you some ideas for what to look for.
I’m going to primarily focus on longer focal lengths for wildlife photography, but do also consider bringing a wide-angle lens for the landscape opportunities as well. Ideally, for wildlife photography you want around a 400mm lens if your budget will allow for it.
I will also be recommending zoom lenses, meaning you can change the focal length, as this gives a lot more compositional control compared to a fixed focal length lens. There is a small loss in image quality and maximum aperture as a result, but this is very much worth the trade-off in my opinion for most users.
70-300mm lenses for safari
Sony, Nikon, and Canon all have at least one 70-300 lens available, which tends to be a fairly reasonably priced offering.
Most of these lenses have a variable aperture of f/4-5.6 and offer a good compromise between size, weight, image quality and affordability.
For example, see this Canon 70-300, this Nikon 70-300 and this Sony 70-300. This popular focal length is also available from third party manufacturers, such as with this Tamron for the Sony mount. If you are looking for a more budget safari lens, one of these is likely going to be a good pick.
300mm would be the absolute minimum I’d recommend for a lens for safari. However, I appreciate not everyone wants to spend a huge amount on camera equipment, and one of these lenses is a good way to get a reasonable reach in a relatively lightweight package.
100-400mm lenses for safari
The 100-400mm range is one of the most popular for safari photographers. 100mm lets you get quite a lot of the scene in shot, whilst 400mm will let you zoom in quite close on most subjects. Most of these lenses come with a variable aperture of around f/4.5 – f/5.6.
There’s a wide range of choice at the 100-400mm range across a number of systems. At the higher end you have the weather-sealed, heavier options like this Canon 100-400, this Sony 100-400 and this Nikon 100-400.
Generally, I’d advise trying to get the widest aperture you can afford as it will make a big difference in low light situations. However, I did want to make it clear that there are options out there across a range of budgets.
Other telephoto lens options for safari.
If you want more reach but don’t want to spend as much, you can save money by using third party lenses from the likes of Sigma and Tamron for example. Image quality and autofocus speeds might be marginally impacted, but the price difference can be significant.
For example, check out this Tamron 150-600 f/5 – 6.3, which is available in a range of mounts for different camera systems. You get an excellent focal range, image stabilization and weather sealing at what is a very reasonable price. Sigma also do a range of 150-600mm lenses for different mounts.
Lens and Camera Rental for Safari
A high-end camera and lens can be a very expensive investment, which might not make a lot of sense for one-off usage. You obviously want to get great photos on your trip, but buying an expensive telephoto zoom lens or high specification full frame body that you only plan to use once might not make sense.
In this case, consider renting your camera equipment. A company like Lens Rentals will allow you to rent a lens and a camera body at a much lower cost than buying it outright. They also give you the option to purchase the gear rather than return it, so if you love the experience then you can invest having tested the gear out.
This is definitely worth looking into if you want high end gear but don’t want to invest into an expensive setup for long term use. You can browse what they have available here.
Accessories for Safari
Now that you have your camera and lens figured out, I wanted to share some tips for what camera and photography accessories you may want to bring on safari.
You are going to be taking a lot of photos when on safari. Memory cards are not very expensive these days, and it is worth having a backup memory card as well as plenty of memory.
I recommend at least a 64GB memory card. If you are travelling with a laptop then you can back up your photos as you go. If you prefer to travel light, then you will want to pack many more memory cards so you don’t run out of space on your trip.
It is definitely worth bringing at least one spare battery for your camera, and ideally two. These are easy to keep on you or in your photography bag and come in handy when you are out all day.
You don’t want to be half way through a busy day and run out of battery, and then potentially miss some great shots. Modern mirrorless cameras in particular can eat through batteries quickly, so a spare or two is definitely a must in my opinion.
USB Battery Charger / Power Pack
As well as spare batteries, you might consider bringing a USB power pack and USB powered camera battery charger. This will allow you to charge your camera batteries while on the go from the battery pack (or a USB outlet in your vehicle).
Some locations you stay at on safari may also have limited power outlet availability, especially in the more remote areas or if you are staying in tented camps. In these scenarios, they often have USB power outlets from solar panels, but might not have higher voltage outlets.
In these situations, a USB battery charger for your camera batteries will be invaluable. I travel with both a USB battery pack and a USB powered battery charger for my Canon camera batteries, and it has come in handy many times.
Monopod / Tripod
A common question is whether or not you should take a tripod on safari. I would say that in general, for wildlife photography from a vehicle, a tripod is not going to be very useful. There likely won’t be enough room to set it up unless you have a vehicle specifically set up for it.
Another option is a monopod, which is certainly something to consider, depending on your vehicle configuration. If you are also likely to be doing foot-based safaris and have big lenses, then a monopod is definitely something to consider.
For example, I used a monopod when shooting chimpanzees in Uganda, a trip which required a hike through the jungle. A monopod allows for very quick movement of your camera, often necessary in wildlife photography, whilst still taking most of the weight off your shoulders.
A good option if you want to pack a tripod for your safari trip but are maybe also thinking you may want a monopod is to bring a travel tripod that can convert to a monopod such as the recent VEO 3 range from Vanguard.
I’ve been an ambassador for Vanguard for many years now. If you see something on their store that works for your equipment, you can save money using our exclusive Vanguard discount code. This will give you 20% off everything in the Vanguard store.
Just use the code FindingTheUniverse for your discount! This code works in the Vanguard USA, UK, Australia, Spain, and Germany stores.
Photography Bean Bag
For vehicle-based photography, the most useful accessory in my opinion is a photography bean bag rather than a tripod or monopod. I used these every day we did vehicle safaris on our recent trip.
Photography bean bags can be placed on the roof of the vehicle for use when looking out a pop-up top, or over a window or window sill for in-vehicle use.
Photography bean bags are normally made out of a durable canvas (or similar material), and have a zipped opening so you can add or remove the contents. These can be polystyrene beads, or you can simply fill them with something environmentally friendly like dried kidney beans when you arrive in a destination.
I used a photography bean bag extensively on my safari trips, and they are really an invaluable item. You can see some options online here.
Whilst this isn’t camera specific, having the right clothing for your safari can improve your overall experience. If you are comfortable and prepared for the weather, you are also likely to get better photos.
Personally, I prefer clothes with lots of pockets where I can store things like spare batteries, lens wipes and lens caps. Most safaris tend to be hot, so you also want lightweight clothing.
A vest is a popular option for photographers such as those by ScotteVest, and I own a couple of these vests. They are great for travel days and airports as well.
But my preference on safari are the safari focused shirts from the brand Craghoppers. These have a range of features for travel, including being quick-drying and sun proof. They are really lightweight, and are available in safari appropriate colors (light greens and beige are good, blue and black are bad if going to teste fly infested areas). Some models, like the NosiLife line, even come with built-in insect repellent.
The main thing I love about them though is that they have lots of pockets and so it’s easy for me to quickly access a spare battery without having to root around in my bag. You can get them from REI in the US here, as well as on their Amazon store here and in the UK here.
Comfortable Camera Strap
A safari trip is going to involve you carrying and using your camera a lot. You are likely going to be bumping along on dirt roads, sticking your head out of the safari vehicle, and hiking along in forests during your trip. So you want to make sure you have both a secure and comfortable camera strap.
It is likely that your camera came with a manufacturer branded strap such as one from Canon or Nikon. This strap may be fine for some people. For others, especially if you have a heavy camera setup, it may not provide enough support or comfort.
A Good Camera Bag
A safari can be a dusty and bumpy experience, two things that can cause damage to cameras and lenses. To protect your gear in between shoots, I highly recommend getting a good camera bag.
Camera bags are specially designed to provide padding and protection for your gear, and many of them also come with rain covers. This means that you have somewhere safe, protected and padded to put your gear.
Personally, I use Vanguard photography bags and I’ve been an ambassador for Vanguard for many years now. If you see something on their store that works for your equipment, you can save money using our exclusive Vanguard discount code. This will give you 20% off everything in the Vanguard store.
Just use the code FindingTheUniverse for your discount! This code works in the Vanguard USA, UK, Australia, Spain, and Germany stores.
Camera Cleaning Kit
No matter how well you protect your camera and lens, it is inevitable that it is going to get some dust or dirt on it. To help keep it clean, I recommend picking up a camera cleaning kit. These are normally fairly inexpensive and some come with carrying cases which are handy for travel.
They can come with a range of different items. My recommendation is to get one which includes a blower and a lens cloth like this, which will make it easier to remove the dust.
That’s it for my guide to the best safari camera. If you found this useful, you might enjoy some of my other photography content. Here are some articles to get you started.
- I have a detailed guide full of safari photography tips to help you get great photos whatever your camera is
- I have a guide to my favourite photo editing applications, as well as the best alternatives to Lightroom
- Once you’ve taken all your photos you don’t want to lose them! Read our guide to backing up your photos for an idea of how to keep them all safe.
- Wildlife photography can often result in noisy images. See my guide to the best noise reduction software for some ideas on how to get the best out of your photos even when they might be a bit noisy
- We have a guide to how to use a compact camera, how to use a DSLR camera, and how to use a mirrorless camera. We also have a guide to how a DSLR works
- Knowing how to compose a great photo is a key photography skill. See our guide to composition in photography for lots of tips on this subject
- We have a guide to what depth of field is and when you would want to use it.
- We are big fans of getting the most out of your digital photo files, and do to that you will need to shoot in RAW. See our guide to RAW in photography to understand what RAW is, and why you should switch to RAW as soon as you can if your camera supports it.
- You’re going to need something to run your photo editing software on. See our guide to the best laptops for photo editing for some tips on what to look for.
- If you’re looking for more advice on specific tips for different scenarios, we also have you covered. See our guide to Northern Lights photography, long exposure photography, fireworks photography, tips for taking photos of stars, and cold weather photography.
- Color accuracy is important for photography – see our guide to monitor calibration to ensure your screen is set up correctly.
- If you’re looking for a great gift for a photography loving friend or family member (or yourself!), take a look at our photography gift guide,
- If you’re in the market for a new camera, we have a detailed guide to the best travel cameras, as well as specific guides for the best cameras for hiking and backpacking, the best compact camera, best bridge camera, best mirrorless camera and best DSLR camera. We also have a guide to the best camera lenses.
- If you want a camera or lens, but the prices are a bit high, see our guide to where to buy used cameras and camera gear for some budget savings options.
- We have a guide to why you need a tripod, a guide to choosing a travel tripod, and a round-up of our favourite travel tripods
Looking to Improve Your Photography?
If you found this post helpful, and you want to improve your photography overall, you might want to check out my online travel photography course.
Since launching the course in 2016, I’ve already helped over 2,000 students learn how to take better photos. The course covers pretty much everything you need to know, from the basics of how a camera works, through to composition, light, and photo editing.
It also covers more advanced topics, including astrophotography, long exposure photography, flash photography, and HDR photography.
You get feedback from me as you progress, access to webinars, interviews and videos, as well as exclusive membership of a Facebook group where you can get feedback on your work and take part in regular challenges.
It’s available for an amazing one-off price for lifetime access, and I think you should check it out. Which you can do by clicking here.
And that’s it! I’d love to hear about your thoughts on wildlife photography on safari, and am happy to answer any questions you have. Just pop them in the comments below and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.