Probably everyone who goes on a safari will definitely want to have a camera to take some amazing photos that they will want to refer back to for years to come and share with their friends and family when they get back home.
What many of these people don’t ask is if they should take binoculars with on safari? The very short answer is, YES!!
Just think about it, you are in a paradise of wildlife that you have been saving up for and you want to make the most of it in every respect.
If you’ve ever looked through a pair of binoculars you’ll know what I mean when I say, “Wow!”. It is incredible.
If this is going to be your first safari to Africa then I want to help you get the most out of your experience and make sure that you’ve checked all the boxes before you set off.
I want to give you some very good reasons why this is a definite must-have and I’ll also be telling you a bit about what to look for if you are going to invest in a pair.
Don’t Miss Out On The Close-Ups
Let’s think about a few things. How close have you ever been to any type of wild animal? Have you ever wondered what it would be like and have you ever thought that it might be quite nice to stroke a lion or pat a zebra or a giraffe?
Well, that is just me sharing some things on my wish list. And yes, I have actually wondered what it would be like to stroke a lion (and a tiger for that matter). I’m really not being facetious when I ask these things. They are perfectly legitimate ideals to have when you are on a safari.
Any safari guide will tell you that a pair of binoculars is his or her most important piece of equipment. It therefore stands to good reason that you as the tourist will want to take note of this and not find yourself without a pair of your own.
You are going to be in the bush. The animals aren’t in enclosures as they are in a zoo allowing you to get a little closer than you would otherwise do. Chances that you’ll be able to get really close are slim.
Of course, you might get lucky and have a herd of elephants gathering around the vehicle and you may even stumble on a pride of lions taking a nap in the shade seeking shelter from the midday sun.
Here’s hoping that you will have an encounter like this. I tell you when you have a family of elephants close by you realize just how small we actually are. It is something that will take your breath away.
Let’s not get stuck here though. What about a leopard in the distance zoning in on an antelope for dinner? Giraffes assembling at a watering hole for a drink that only happens every few days anyway. You also want to be able to see the giraffes feeding with that unique tongue of theirs.
Are you starting to see why I am so keen for you to know how pleased you’ll be for having brought binoculars with you?
Did you know that the mouth of a white rhinoceros and a black rhinoceros are shaped differently? The lips of a white rhino are square-shaped so that it can “hoover” up the grass. The black rhino on the other hand has more pointed lips so that it can reach in and get the small, sweet bushes that are hidden in amongst the larger foliage.
Just something else that you want to have a close-up of when you’re out there in Africa.
Should I Own A Pair Or Can I Rent?
Most often there will be a pair or two with the guide which can be shared between the tourists but generally these are not the best quality. They’ve taken a beating over time and the lenses are just simply not what they were when they came out the box. That’s a fact.
It’s also inconvenient to have to share with other fellow-travellers when you all want to see the lion lunging at the wildebeest.
There are many safari companies that you can rent binoculars from but there are also some that don’t. You can occasionally rent from the lodge or hotel that you’ll be staying in but this is something that you will have to check first.
There are companies that specifically rent out binoculars. The Safari Store for example does this but their rentals are only available to UK customers (at least this was the case at the time of this writing).
Although this is an option it is not one that I think is the best because the rental for items like this can be quite costly. The other reason is that you don’t own them. If you’ve never used binoculars before and you get to experience the thrill of looking through that lens for the first time you’ll be hooked.
Now when you get back home you’ll have a tool to start up a new past-time like bird-watching :). Talking of which…
An Eye For The Birds
Part of going on an African safari is to not only see the terrestrial life but also the aerial wildlife of which there is an abundance.
Each safari will feature a variety of different birds. What you can expect to see will include eagles and vultures. How often do we get the chance to see vultures feasting on the leftovers after the lions have moved on?
The flying variety is not limited to the predatory types either. You can go in really close and see birds like the Bat Hawk, the Plum Coloured Starling, the Black Stork, and hundreds more.
How To Choose The Best Binoculars?
When it comes to choosing a good pair of binoculars there are a few characteristic traits to guide you in your choice:
- Magnification is obviously important. It’s the point of having them in the first place, but… you don’t want this to be too high. The reason for this is that high magnification requires steadying and is best achieved with a tripod. There is no room on a jeep or vehicle for a tripod which means that it will be handheld and with a very high magnification it is very difficult to keep still.On the other hand you don’t want magnification that is so powerful that it is going to interfere with your field of vision. (I’ll address this below in a bit more detail).
- There is no shortage of light in Africa but there are those special moments at dawn and dusk when there are low light conditions. You should have a pair with a large outer diameter and a good exit pupil. The exit pupil is the little circle that can be seen in the centre of the eyepiece when you hold the binoculars about 11 inches (30 cm) away from you.
Some helpful advice on choosing the best binoculars
- There’s only so much that you can pack for a safari and you have to take into account the weight restrictions that are imposed on your flights to and from. Your binoculars therefore should be light and compact.
- You will be in the wild. In the bush. There are no landscaped roads or highways and the roads are rough. There is always the chance that you might drop your binoculars and you want something that is going to be able to endure a few knocks and bumps along the way. Go for tough. Get a pair that has a rubber covering that comes in a good quality protective carry case.
- Think about where you’ll be walking as well. There is a lot of bush and you don’t want the lenses to get scratched so go for something that has the lenses set back fairly deep inside the body. It also helps to have lens caps to protect when not in use.
- Although you want to go for magnification, you also want to have a good field of view. Two problems with increased magnification are 1) the higher the magnification, the smaller will be your field of vision, and 2) it becomes more difficult to keep an image steady because the slightest movement you make is amplified. You want to go for the middle ground and aim for something that is going to give you the close-up that you’re after and at the same time be able to see what’s going on around the object of your focus.
- As much as I want you to see the importance of investing in a pair of binoculars it must not dig too deep into your budget. This experience might be once in a lifetime – or maybe not – and even though you might find occasion to use them again it won’t justify spending thousands on the best ones available.
- Get the waterproof ones. It does rain in Africa and if you’re going to be traveling in the rainy season get a pair that is waterproof which will not only protect the optics from moisture but surprisingly this quality also helps prevent dust from getting inside.
Are you sold?
I think I’ve made it clear that having your own binoculars is essential. I hope that I’ve stirred up enough excitement for you to want to go out and get yourself some and that you’ll have a good idea what to look for when deciding on what is going to be best for you.
Enjoy your trip and please leave me a comment to let me know if you’ve selected ones that you are happy with. I’d love to hear from you.