By Jim Zuckerman
Quite a few of the national parks in Africa require the driver of the safari vehicle to stay on established tracks. This helps to protect the environment because so many tourists visit these parks that the vehicles would turn grassland into dirt and mud. The disadvantage of this policy for photographers is that sometimes an animal is just too far for a strong frame-filling shot.
Therefore, when you travel to Africa, I would recommend bringing the longest telephoto you are able to afford. There will be times when you will get frame-filling shots of lions and rhinos with a medium telephoto like a 200mm (I’ve even taken a full frame shot of a very angry elephant with a 50mm lens!), but in many instances you’ll want a long lens. I would recommend at least a 400mm telephoto, and additionally you should have either a 1.4x or 2x teleconverter. These multiply the focal length of your lens to give you greater magnification.
If you are shooting a less-than-full-frame sensor, then you have an additional multiplication factor. For example, if you shoot the Canon 30D, you have to multiply the focal length by 1.6 to determine the amount of lens magnification you have. If you are shooting with a 400mm and a 1.4x teleconverter, your focal length will be 560mm. With the extra 1.6x factor, the effective lens will be 560mm x 1.4 = 784mm.
The rhino you see here was photographed in the Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania. It was taken with a 500mm lens plus a 1.4x teleconverter. I rested the lens on a bean bag which allowed me to use the relatively slow 1/125th of a second shutter speed.