Pack light and take incredible safari images with your Swarovski binoculars and iPhone. Ever wished you could capture the view through your binoculars forever? With clever accessories to create high-quality images and video with magnified Swarovski clarity, use this safari essential to discover exciting photographic solutions.
Giving advice on how to record your safari is either very simple or very complex. The level of complexity depends on the quality at which you want to record your safari in images and video - and your knowledge of how to use the various cameras available today.
The first choice to make is on what type of camera to use for your safari. The best camera for your safari will always be one you will actually use and know how to use. This camera is also the one you're not too worried about damaging and you shouldn't find it a pain to get it out to take a photo or video.
Therefore, as a starting point in deciding what camera to take on safari, we would recommend that you consider using your smartphone. It is always in your pocket or bag and you always have with you. The big positive is that you are no doubt already an expert in how to use your smartphone - and probably also on how to record images and videos with your smartphone. By applying some basic photography principles - such as the rule of thirds - you will easily capture some great safari scenes. We say "scenes" on purpose as the main issue with using a smartphone camera on safari is that it has no lens, which means that you will be frustrated when all your lion photos and videos are small dots in your image or video. A smartphone is great for capturing safari scenery, but you need to attach it to something which will allow you to get closer to the subject you are viewing. Fortunately, that technology already exists.
We have very successfully used our iPhone 6s with the photography system developed by Swarovski Optik for use with their range of high-end binoculars and spotting scopes. The beauty of this Swarovski system is that it uses two items you will definitely have with you on your safari: binoculars and your smartphone. You would not need to take along other expensive and bulky cameras and lenses. That is certainly one up-side of this system. The other up-side is that you know how to use your iPhone (which automatically makes most of the decisions on light, white balance, and so on for you) and you know exactly how to view your safari images and videos straight away, delete those you don't want to keep, and share the good ones with family and friends.
The best binoculars to use for this system are the Swarovski EL 10x42 binoculars, which are definitely the finest safari binoculars anyway - and you will get substantially better close-up images and have greater control over framing using your iPhone attached to your Swarovski binoculars than if you just used your smartphone.
There are a few challenges, however. For one, you will need an iPhone 6s - which is no hardship as it is a great phone and, given that it is slightly older, it is also less expensive than other, newer iPhones. For the best light transmission - and indeed to get the best images - you should also only use binoculars from the Swarovski range on to which the iPhone adapter fits. Given the price tag of a pair of Swarovski binoculars, this means that your investment in your binoculars may be substantially more than you initially expected.
We see this as an up-side though, as the viewing experience through a pair of Swarovski binoculars is simply incredible and they are our binoculars of choice in the field. You will never need another pair of binoculars. It is the characteristics of superior light transmission, field flattener lenses, and colour fidelity technology which ensure that the subject you view and the images and video you take are bright, high-contrast images.
Back to the challenges. You will need to practice, practice, practice to get this right and be able to quickly attach your phone on to the eyepiece of the binoculars so that you hardly see any edge - and then point, frame the image, and take the image or video. While I take all my images holding the binoculars in my hands, a monopod would be a good idea for low-light photography.
The next step in your choice of camera to use on your safari would be to take a compact digital camera. If you go down this route for your safari, spend a little more money to get a camera with a decent optical zoom. Ignore any digital zoom numbers as the digital zoom zooms on the image on your camera and does not use the glass - the optical surfaces - of the lens to zoom in on the subject.
The plus sides of compact digital cameras are of course the small pocket-sized, easy-to-use interface, the built-in zoom, and the simple to understand program modes of the camera. This is perhaps the closest to point-and-shoot photography on safari, with the ability to get a little closer to the subject with the built-in zoom. These cameras are great for walking safaris too, as you can quickly and easily take them out of your pocket to take images and video of the scenes you see on the walk without the weight and bulk of the larger single lens reflex cameras with monster-sized lenses attached.
There are downsides to taking a compact digital camera on safari with you. The smaller lens aperture (opening at the front of the lens which allows light in) means that you will get less light through the lens which will affect low-light photography and potentially also the brightness of images. As a result, you will probably get a few blurred images if the subject and camera are not completely still. The optical zoom on the lenses are usually limited and even those with longer zooms will suffer from a lack of light as you go over a focal length of 100mm. The ideal focal length for wildlife photography is usually around 300mm, with the option to extend or shorten that depending on various factors such as distance to the subject.
That brings me to digital bridge cameras for your safari. These are cameras which resemble single lens reflex cameras (SLRs) but which have a lens permanently attached to the front of the camera. While I have never used a bridge camera, I have seen images taken through them and the results are impressive. Unlike the smaller compact digital cameras, digital bridge cameras have very impressive optical zooms, with some offering up to 80 times zoom power. That most certainly will have you covered for everything from panoramic photos and videos to intimate wildlife photography on safari. These bridge cameras also offer high-resolution image and video capture, all the modes from fully-manual to fully-automatic, have wi-fi connectivity to make viewing, downloading, and sharing images that much easier, and are relatively compact. This makes them, pound for pound, really great to travel with and allows you to take great photographs and video on safari. We are looking into potentially stocking bridge cameras as they are such fantastic all-rounders. Perhaps the one downside is that you won't get quite the same light transmission as the aperture of the lens is limited by the compact size of the lens.
This brings us to SLR cameras for your safari. There are downsides to using a SLR camera body with separate lens, but we feel that this is still the best option for safari photography if you want to capture the best possible safari images and video. The disadvantages are really centred around the bulk of the camera body and lenses when you travel - and some of the lenses can be very big to allow for maximum light transmission through larger apertures. You will, however, have maximum control over photography and videography and, as long as you pack a good mix of lenses, you will be kitted out for all scenes and situations on safari. These are probably better suited to game drive safaris over walking safaris where I think the bridge cameras described above are a great option.