Botswana Okavango Delta D40_6824
I did some research on what gear to bring for a photo safari in Botswana, and the advice was unanimous - the Nikon AF-S 200-400mm f/4 VR lens. Even Canon users belated the nonexistence of such a lens from their favorite manufacturer at the time.
So I got the 200-400mm, and indeed it is the perfect safari lens. It gives f/4 speed, whilst still having a 2x zoom range to allow for some composition flexibility. The focus is lightning fast, which is the difference between getting the shot and losing it in wildlife photography. With the extended ISO range of the D700, the loss of one stop of this lens against the prime 400mm f/2.8 never was an issue, while the reduced weight helps with airport hand baggage limits, and allows some handheld photography. Bokeh and sharpness is superb, as can be seen in the shots in this collection.
The 200-400mm also works fine with the TC14EII 1.4x multiplier which makes up for the loss of the 'DX 1.5x factor' on the full frame D700, infact, I shot most of the time with the 1.4x on. The f/5.6 maximum aperture again was easily supported by the D700, even under the lowlight challenges of early morning game drives and the last shots before the 'sundowners'. Focus speed was very little reduced, while sharpness and bokeh were likewise largely unaffected.
The TC20EII 2x multiplier predictably was a different case. Nikon does not recommend its use with the 200-400mm but I have one for the 70-200mm f/2.8 VR, and so I tried anyway. Surprisingly, AF works with reasonable daylight conditions, but sharpness is affected increasingly with distance of the subject. I got some clear close-ups of eagles in trees but when I aimed to get some zebras across a lake, even at manual focus and reduced aperture, the distance and/or atmospherics gave passable shots, but not the pin sharp results I had been getting used to from this lens. But... in the right conditions it's an option, and at worst it makes for a good pair of binoculars!
My web research into this lens also consistently recommended camera support, so I got the super lightweight Gitzo GM2561T monopod and GH1780QR ballhead. The monopod is technically unable to support the weight of the lens and body as in this photo, but seated in a safari jeep with open sides I only needed to extend two or three stages, so the thinnest monopod stages that would not support the weight were not exposed. I did take some shots standing with all stages extended, but keeping the monopod vertical, and using the ballhead to manouevre the camera. Credit to Gitzo, it worked without problem. The ballhead has such grip that turning the monopod on the lens collar and folding the monopod by the ballhead, as in this photo, allowed me to carry the camera by the monopod as a handle. I'm sure it's not recommended by either manufacturer though!
There was little advice on the various websites on how you get the 200-400mm with a D700 and vertical grip combo, not to mention the 14-24mm f/2.8, the 70-200mm f/2.8 VR, plus multipliers etc., in a back pack that fits in a 4 seater Cessna, and stays under the Botswana 12kgs weight limit per passenger for all baggage. Fortunately once you pass Maun airport no-one checks anything anymore, so I got away with a 10kg backpack, and around 8kg of 'check-in' baggage. We had to rely on hope that the places we stayed at had laundry services...
No-one mentioned anything either about the challenge of swinging this monster from left to right in a jeep without whacking someone over the head... Sorry seems to be the hardest word...
Nevertheless, like this you're armed and ready for the Okavango Delta, and Camp Moremi was the perfect place to start.
Named after Chief Moremi of the BaTawana tribe, Moremi Game Reserve is located on the South Eastern side of Botswana's Okavanga Delta and provides strong contrasts between areas which are largely dry and those that are permanently under water. The thick tree zones abruptly change from lush green to dead wood, stripped bare by elephants. Covering a relatively small 5000 sqm, about 70% is part of the Okavango Delta, and as such often swampy or under completely water. The 4x4 vehicles routinely cross the lagoons, while larger distances have to covered by Cessna, between the many small airstrips. Shorter distances can also be covered by foot to create a more unusual safari experience.
Home to some 500 species including Buffalo, Giraffes, Lions, Hyaenas, Jackals Impalas, Lechwe and Leopards, with the latter hard to find in the dense fauna. Although warned about mosquitos, we encountered few on this part of our trip.
The Okavango Delta is the world's largest inland Delta. The Okavango River starts in Angola as the Cubango River, it then follows the border between Angola and Namibia, and drops across the Popa Falls as it enters Botswana. The Okavango River by then spreads itself some 1.2km wide before encountering the Kalahari Desert's northern Basins where it forms the spectacular Okavango Delta. A partial escape is found in the rainy season, when there is an outflow to the Boteti River, which then discharges into the Makgadikgadi Pans, and so providing the seasonal wetland where tens of thousands of Flamingos congregate.
The Delta is constantly under threat due to the Water conflict between Namibia and Botswana. Namibia wants to construct a water canal draining off the Okavango River as it passes through its Caprivi Strip to relieve local draught. The Delta would likely reduce, or even disappear, which would have a devastating impact on Botswana's tourism, not to mention the impact on the flora and fauna. Botswana itself is continuously under fire for its sustained use of veterinary fence, which protect cattle farms, but also block natural migration routes. Two fences cut right through the Delta.