Lens Choices for Photography in Pilanesberg National Park

Andrew Beck All Authors, Andrew Leave a Comment

Pilanesberg National Park is an incredibly popular destination for travellers and photographers alike. Just two hours north of Johannesbrug it provides the ideal escape to the bush for the day or weekend and yet still delivers fantastic wildlife sightings and photographic opportunities. Anyone who has been to Pilanesberg and visited the Mankwe hide will no doubt have seen the familiar shadows of telephoto lenses hanging over the edge of the hide as photographers search for that perfect shot of the illusive malachite kingfisher. In the first of a series of blog posts I will look at lens choices for photography in Pilanesberg National Park.

Photography in Pilanesberg National Park

It is obvious that Pilanesberg is a popular destination for photographers, so I thought I would share my thoughts on the ideal choice of lenses for this destination. This is very subjective and we must remember that whilst we would all love to own and take only the best lenses with us, it is not always possible (although you could always rent one here).

So, I thought I would break the recommendations up into “The Dream Team” and the “Real Deal”. Think of the Dream Team as the pick of the crop and as ideas on what to rent if you are looking to treat yourself, and the Real Deal as the lenses that most people will already have access to.

Photography in Pilanesberg National Park

What makes Pilanesberg a little different from many other destinations is that there are two distinct “types” of photography that you will be doing. The first will be for general game from your vehicle, and the second for bird photography from one of the hides (more than likely Mankwe Hide).

Photographing Wildlife from a Vehicle

Whether you are staying at one of the camps or lodges in the region, you are not allowed to venture off-road to get closer to game in Pilanesberg. This often means that your subjects will be a little further away from you than you would like. On the flip side, I have had sightings of many game species literally on or next to the road. The key here is versatility and, especially if you are shooting off of a single camera body, I would suggest using a lens that will allow you to compensate quickly for the range in distances you will need to cover.

Photography in Pilanesberg National ParkPhotography in Pilanesberg National Park

The Real Deal

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Photographing Birdlife from a Hide

This is where it gets interesting. No matter what focal length you are photographing off it just never seems to be enough when it comes to photographing birds. The hides in Pilanesberg, and Mankwe Hide in particular, provide excellent opportunities to photograph birds at close quarters. To get decent full frame images of birds such as Pied Kingfishers, Starlings, Cormorants, Darters, Swallows and many more that perch close to the hide you should be safe with a 300mm lens. If you are set on capturing images of Malachite Kingfishers and other birds which dont always perch as close to the hide as one would like, then I would recommend lenses with a focal length greater than 300mm.

Photography in Pilanesberg National Park

The Real Deal

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Dont forget about the Landscapes

Pilanesberg is without a doubt one of the most scenic parks in South Africa and the opportunity photograph the rolling hills and valleys with a wide angle lens are everywhere. One of the most incredible views is from the Lenong View, perched high upon one of the hills in the centre of the park.

Photography in Pilanesberg National Park

The Dream Team

The Real Deal

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What would I take?

Taking all of the above into account and looking at it from a fairly realistic perspective (knowing that we can’t all afford the the big toys) I would take the following gear:

  • Canon: 100 – 400mm, 70 – 200mm f2.8, 16 – 35mm f2.8
  • Nikon: 80-400mm, 70 – 200mm f2.8, 12 – 24mm f4.0

Andrew Beck

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Comments 0

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  3. Mike

    Great summary.
    I shoot Canon, and found after much trial and error that for the most part when driving around the best option was the 70-200/2.8 on the crop frame. Found using the 2x was a little too much length for this application.
    Hides, sure… Plonked the 2x on for those but tbh I’m seriously considering losing the 2x and going for the 1.4x to preserve that extra stop and improve image quality somewhat.
    You forgot the sleeper lens on the wide side and that is the (very good) 17-40/4 which has to be my favourite lens on the full frame. Yes, it isn’t the 16-35, but for the difference in price……

    1. Andrew

      Thanks for the feedback Mike!

      I have shot both the 70-200mm and 300mm with the new 1.4x and 2x converters and I would tend to agree with you regarding the us of the 1.4x over the 2x converter. From an image quality perspective I think the 2x converter works very well with both lenses but I noticed a definite reduction in the speed with which the lenses achieve focus and track with the 2x converter. Guess thats the price we pay though!

      If you want to put the 1.4x converter through its paces before making the switch please feel free to swing by the offices before your next trip.

      The 17-40mm is a great little lens too!

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