About 4 years ago, I wrote a lengthy blog post about my experience shooting on safari with the Fujifilm X-T1. In that post, I shared some of the challenges I had and the changes that I wanted Fujifilm to make to improve the experience and results. I had an interest in this: my complete Canon kit for safari shooting weighed about 30 pounds by the time I included all the lenses and bodies. The same kit with Fuji gear weighed about 10 pounds and packed smaller!
Since that post, I’ve continued bringing Fujifilm gear on safari and now it’s the only gear I bring. This last October, I brought the just-released X-T3 along with an X-H1. I even have an X-E2 that I had converted for infrared photography. My lenses were all Fujifilm as well: the 100-400mm, the 50-140mm, and the 18-55mm. For infrared, I also brought the 14mm and the 35/1.4 since those work well for infrared and are compact.
In August, I took a workshop instead of giving one and went to the Palouse, a mostly agricultural region in Washington State (and little bit of Idaho) that has become popular among landscape photographers. I joined Kevin Raber from the Luminous Landscape for a week of photography there. We had a great time, a great group, and we spent loads of time shooting, talking about photography, exploring, probably eating too much food, and making new friends.
There’s a town named Palouse but the Palouse region contains many small towns, rolling hills of wheat and beans to the horizon, and all the trappings of farming areas such as harvesters working the fields, barns with rusty, abandoned trucks in them, etc. Sometimes we photographed sweeping landscapes and other times we got in close for abstracts of rusty, colorful cars. More ›
After our final morning at our Serengeti camp, we hit the road and reached our lodge in Tarangire National Park by nightfall. I always enjoy Tarangire because it has the highest concentration of elephants and baobabs on the northern circuit and those are some of my favorite subjects. It’s chock full of plenty of other wildlife too; I’ve had my best leopard sightings here, lions in trees, large families of giraffe, antelope, and birds. And this time, there were more zebra than I’m used to seeing – we saw plenty of large herds.
It was time to leave the northern Serengeti and move on to another camp; this one just south of the central Serengeti. We spent the day winding our way south, making an all-day game drive of it. We saw many of the more common animals – wildebeest, zebra, and giraffe – but as we got closer to camp, we spied a serval in the grass. People talk about the “big cats” – lions, leopards, and cheetahs – but a serval is one of the “small cats” and seeing them is a very rare and special sighting. This is only the second serval I’ve seen myself. The grass was a bit tall but the serval was kind enough to pose for a few shots before it disappeared into the grass. Not the most cooperative subject.
It’s a treat to wake up at a true mobile, tented camp in the middle of the Serengeti. We spent three nights here and I think it’s the most authentic way to experience a traditional safari.
On our first day, we took breakfast with us so we could drive to the river early. I was very encouraged by the massive herds of wildebeest that we drove by. It’s impossible to predict exactly when the herds will be in place to make the crossing so it’s a small gamble when you book your airfare. In other years, I might have missed by a couple of weeks.
We drove north to the Kogatende airstrip then east along the southern side of the Mara River, looking for herds massing near the riverbank. Watching the herds cross is a waiting game because they are unpredictable and get spooked easily. You wait some distance back from the river so the herds don’t get scared away and then, once they look like they are starting to cross, you move forward as fast as you can without spooking them (which means pretty slowly). And as much as you want to be alone while doing this, many other people in the area have the same idea so there’s a bit of jockeying for position as well. More ›
The next morning, we awoke to low cloud cover and a beautiful sunrise. After breakfast, we left Natron and drove up through Loliondo towards the northern Serengeti. The light developed beautifully as we drove north up the west side of Lake Natron. More ›
We stayed at Lake Natron Camp, a beautiful camp set next to the flats of Lake Natron and with an outstanding view of Lengai. It’s a desert-style camp, designed with lots of shady places, a swimming hole, the Rift Valley escarpment behind us, spacious tents with great views of the lake from their front door, and the food was outstanding (special diets handled well too: my gluten-free meals were excellent).
For wildlife photographers, Lake Natron is best known for its high density of flamingos – about 2.5 million lesser flamingos. There were also plenty of zebra and wildebeest around who left evidence that they even came through camp while we slept. The camp was sprinkled with plenty of desert rose which I think of as a Bonsai version of a baobab but with pink flowers on top. More ›
I don’t typically travel to Tanzania in July but when I mentioned to my Tanzanian operator that I wanted to see the migration herds when they crossed the Mara River and also that he had some new camps that I hadn’t seen yet, it seemed like a great opportunity to kill two birds with one stone.
One of the camps is in the northernmost part of the Serengeti to allow easy access to the herds when they cross the Mara River. There was a bit of a gamble though since you can’t predict when the herds in the area will actually decide to cross. And in the bigger picture, you can’t predict the weather well enough to even know if the herds will arrive and cross in the weeks before or after you’re there.
Another camp new to me was on the edge of Lake Natron, an area I had wanted to see for a long time. The area is known for high concentrations of flamingos, lots of other wildlife, and stunning landscapes. More ›
UPDATE 12/15/2014: I’ve caught some grief in online discussion groups for the images in this post and it made me realize I should have been more clear about my intentions. You can find articles everywhere online that show off the best a camera can do. The images here are not those. My goal was to illustrate challenges the X-T1 has and where Fuji needs to improve the X Series features if they want to better serve certain markets (sports, wildlife, etc.).
The other goal I had for this post was provide an answer to the question I’ve received more than once from my clients: should they bring their mirrorless camera on one of my safaris? Until now, I’ve had to say, “I don’t know.” With this experience, I can give them a more balanced answer.
As always, our camp was located in an incredible setting in the middle of the Moru Kopjes, south of the center of the Serengeti, our final park on this safari. We were there for 4 nights and were treated to excellent wildlife sightings, the calls of lions and hyena in the night, and vibrant sunsets as we ate dinner while watching the migration herds go by on the plains below.
This year, the migrations herds came south early so they were right around our camp for our entire stay. We had many opportunities to shoot them as they wound their way south: More ›