Got back from Tanzania and Rwanda almost a month ago to an over-full plate at home.
Fantastic trip - from Arusha, went to Tarangire, Ngorongoro, central Serengetti, and northeastern Serengeti near the Kenya border - between the 4 camps, great variety of scenery and wildlife.
We had an enclosed land cruiser with pop-top for the entire trip except northern Serengeti where we had an open vehicle with a top. The pop-top had 6 seats in back and limited storage. We put one non-photographer in front and had 3 photographers and one non in the back. I'd say 3 photographers in one of these "6-passenger" vehcles would be the practical limit. There really isn't room to set up a tripod with a long lens - best to hand-hold or rest it on the roof (beanbags would have been nice) - i did set up the tripod for video. The open vehicle was worse to shoot from - no possibility of using a tripod and the top was supported by posts that were always in the way - fortunately we were in an area where i could get out and set up the tripod to video wildebeasts.
What worked -
- Think Tank airport acceleration held 5D2, 40D, 50 f1.4, 24-105, 100-400, 400DO, 1.4X, Flash, etc. and weighed about 25# -- completely impractical to add a computer to the loaded bag. Tripod, head, and some miscellaneous stuff got checked with clothes in a medium sized duffle. Computer went in wife's carryon. No issues with overweight (wife and i together were at least 15# over the 66# allowed together on the flight from northern Serengeti to Arusha) - according to the camp manager, the pilots have scales but don't take the time to weigh luggage. If you check in at an airport with a gate agent and scales you may be charged overweight, but he's not had a problem in many years carrying eqivalent gear. Airport Acceleration was also pretty good bag to work out of in vehicle
- 5D2 and 100-400 good combination for the variety of wildlife and "landscape with wildlife" shots from a vehicle, particularly when the vehicle has to stay on the road as was the case everywhere but the northern Serengeti. We'd all like something better than the 100-400 but a good copy gives better results than i was led to expect on the 5D2 and it's nice to have some extra pixels to crop.
- 24-105 worked fine for people, broad landscapes, etc.
- adding the flash with better beamer for fill flash really improves results - ideally would have both cameras set up with flash, but it's a nuisance to secure the second camera and flash when it's not being used
- after trying a couple different flash brackets, i've settled on the Wimberly M-9 and M-3 attached to the RRS angle bracket. this is a lightweight combination that keeps everything attached to the camera so you can change lenses without getting tangled up in cords. Putting the flash and beamer on the hot shoe is pretty sure to damage the camera when bouncing around on dirt roads
- Feisol CT-3441S with short column - this is about as light and compact as anything useful (with care) for a long lens (but i wouldn't use it with anything heavier than the 400DO or maybe the 300 f2.
. the short column is necessary to set up on the roof of a vehicle and you wouldn't want a long column with a long lens on this tipod anyhow. Mostly i used the tripod for video with the 5D2, starting and stopping the camera with a R1 and not touching it during shooting.
- 4th Generation Design Mongoose M2.3 gimbal head. about the same weight as a good ball head but way better with long lenses (any lens?) and a great pano head. only bitch is that the bubble level should be standard. would have been really nice to have a leveling base as it was pretty nearly impossible to level the tripod in the vehicle so video pans didn't work. i'm finding very few uses for ballheads
- Kingston and Transcend 32 and 16GB cards - no problems
- 40D and 5D2 dust removal - manually cleaned the 40D once, later found a few 5D2 images with spots which were cleaned when the camera was power cycled. Should have done a periodic cleaning during each day. This was a vast improvement over my experience with the 20D and 5D in similar dusty conditions
- Hyperdrive Colorspace - my expensive backup in case something happened to the computer - fortunately it only had to function as a usb drive that cost 1/4 as much. The Colorspace works fine backing up to other usb drives, but the instructions that come with it and the extra-cost usb connector are seriously deficient
- cheap 6 ft extension cord - have found many rooms with outlets in the strangest locations
-400DO this close to the equator, the window of time you need f4 is minimal. performance with the 1.4x and 40D was unacceptable (may be 1.4x focus issue) and didn't use it. used DO for birds and a few distant subjects with the 40D. if you don't need f4, i don't think it's enough better than a good 100-400 to be worth the cost and trouble. However, something with an equivalent focal length of 600mm or greater is really necessary for birds, small animals, distant subjects.
- Amod geotagger - seems like a great idea, but i've never learned anything particuarly interesting when i Google the location after the fact
Didn't work/not needed
- monopod completely useless
- polarizer - at the equator, not much time when the sun's angle works even when there's enough light
- 500D close up - not dung beatle season, found no macro opportunities
What was missing
- bean bag
- central Serengeti filming pass - costs $1000/ day and lets you go off road and shoot at night. Need to apply for the pass 2 weeks in advance.
- 70-200 f4 - a better lens for "landscape with wildlife" than the 100-400 would have been nice, but also would have required a 3rd body as time and dust is very much against switching lenses
- bay battery for computer. the large file sizes from the 5D2 for still and video meant that everything needed to be backed up on external drives - this didn't work well without more battery in computer at camps without power in the rooms/tents (charging was available at all camps)
- soft 2 inch paint brush to dust of equipment