Namibia Preparation Follow-up (Podcast 378)

by | Jul 9, 2013 | Fundamentals, Gear, Podcast | 8 comments

On May 4, before I left for Namibia, I released a quick video Podcast (episode 371) to walk you through my preparation for the trip. In that video I said that I’d let you know if anything didn’t go according to plan, and in general everything went really well, but some recent follow-up questions from listener Ken Goldman on Facebook started me thinking that it might be worth doing a quick round-up to close the loop on this.

Ken asked what I left behind, but wish I had brought, and what I had packed and discovered you never used, and on thinking about this, there were a few things, so here we go…

Stuff I Should Have Taken

There were really only two things that I should have taken but didn’t, and I found out about this very quickly. I should have taken some medication for an upset stomach and some packets of electrolyte sports drink powder. On the second morning of the trip I woke up with a bit of an upset stomach that knocked me out of whack for the first 36 hours or so, and I hadn’t brought anything for it.

The guidance I received before the trip said that they would have some medical supplies, and as I didn’t know what kind of problems I was likely to run into I only took things that I knew I might need. Luckily our guides had some packets of electrolyte rehydration powder, so I dropped one into my water canister and drank it through that second day, and that really helped to sort me out, but I was lucky that the stomach upset fixed itself in the first day. This could have put me out for a week without medication.

Stuff I Could Have Left Behind

There weren’t many things that I could have left behind, but on this particular trip, although we were able to shoot plenty of wildlife, it wasn’t a wildlife safari, so I could have gotten away without taking the bean bag I showed you in the video. Again, this is something that we were told we’d need, but didn’t really. The bean bag I bought turned out to be a bit of a waste of money really, because although it’s one of the top brands, my friends at Gura Gear released their Sabi Sacks, a new type of beanbag that I’ve since had a chance to try, and they are great! Check out the Sabi Sacks at Gurugear here.


I also found that most of the places we stayed at did washing, and although I’d heard that many places won’t wash underwear, it was not a problem. Having said that, I only had one lot of washing done, and did about three lots of my own washing in the sink in a few of the lodges that we stayed at. This means the washing line that I took got used, as well as the washing powder, but you have to be careful with washing powder. One lodge that we stayed at had a water recycling system that was so finely balanced biologically, that we were not allowed to use our own soap or shampoo to wash with, or any kind of detergents.

The good news is the soap that they provided for us to use got my clothes pretty clean and left them smelling nice too, so this was not a problem. Also note that washing dries incredibly quickly. I could get back to the lodge at 5pm, do a batch of washing and get that hung up by say 5:30pm, and it would be dry before I went to bed later that evening.

The result was of course, that I probably could have taken even less clothes than I did. I took about 12 sets of underwear, which was about right. Having a number of long days and some evening shoots towards the end of the trip, I didn’t have the time or energy to wash any clothes, so it was nice to not have to because I had enough underwear. Trousers though, I wore two pairs of lightweight quick drying outdoor pants for the majority of the time, and I even went back to the jeans I’d travelled in a few times, when the temperature dropped a little, but those three pairs of trousers were enough. I didn’t use the fourth pair.

I could have gotten away with four quick drying shirts, and note that two of my shirts were long sleeves. This helped me to keep the mosquitos away and to keep the sun off during the day. The 13% deet mosquito repellent worked fine too, except for one evening when I went to dinner with a short sleeved shirt on, and was bitten in about five places. Other than this, I was fine.

Malaria Medication

That leads me to another medical factor, in that I mentioned I would take some malaria pills that I would take after I contracted malaria, if that was to happen. I probably should give you some background on that though, as it turns out this was probably not the best way to do this. Firstly, if you recall my scare with that brain tumor two years ago now, you might also remember that just a few days after I left the hospital after my surgery, I was readmitted to hospital with quite sever liver failure due to a reaction to some of the medication I’d been put on.

Because of this, the doctor that I went to see to get my vaccinations for Namibia decided that it would be better not to risk having me take some preventative malaria medication, to reduce the risk of me having problems with my liver. That sounded like a good plan at the time, but then I learned that once you get Malaria it can take up to 10 years for it to work out of your system, and some say you never really get rid of it. If I’d have known this, I might have taken a risk with the preventative medication instead, and that is probably what I’ll do for my next trip.

What went Well?

Things that went particularly well are the lightweight down jacket and fleece that I took. The down jacket was great, as I expected, for dawn shoots, before the temperature started to jump up. There were quite a few times when I wore it out of the lodge before sunrise, and kept it on for a few hours, as the sun started to do its thing. Then I would either pack it away into one of its pockets, as it’s designed to be packed, and put it into a free space in my Bataflae bag, or I could just strap it to the side of my bag, as you can see in this photo of me at Deadvlei, kindly shot by Christine Roberts, a great photographer from Melbourne, Australia, who I’ve had the pleasure of traveling with a few times now. Thanks again for these Chris if you’re listening.

Martin in Deadvlei by Christine Roberts

Martin in Deadvlei by Christine Roberts

The fleece was perhaps a little less necessary, as I could have used the down jacket in its place most of the time, but I did prefer to wear the fleece when there was more of a chance that I’ve been roughing it a little. Fleeces are harder to rip than a lightweight down jacket, and I also found myself using my fleece to cover gear on the seat of the vehicle quite often, both for security reasons, and to stop it from getting too hot in the midday sun.

The lightweight nylon sacks that I used to keep my shirts, trousers and underwear all separate worked really well. As I had to use a soft bag, if I hadn’t used these sacks my stuff would have been all over the place inside the bag, and it would have driven me crazy! I got used to what was in which colored sack over the first few days, and really liked being able to just reach for the yellow sack for socks, blue sack for shirts etc.

On security,  we did hear of one problem where someone in the same hotel got back to his car to find a young man stealing his camera gear. They apparently struggled a little, and the guy hurt his hand hitting the robber, but he was able to apprehend him, but apparently he escaped through the back door of the police station that they took him too. That kind of makes you wonder if the police are really too concerned about this sort of crime, which is disappointing, but the guy didn’t lose anything, except a day of shooting while they got his hand seen to.

The thing to bear in mind it would seem is that if you are traveling in a car, try to make sure that gear can’t be seen from outside, although we got the feeling that the robber was probably targeting car parks that he knew photographers used. The good thing about us being in a group like we were is that we could ask the guides to stay with the vehicles if we thought necessary, but most of the time we were in places so remote that it just wasn’t a concern.

Also note that many of the lodges that we stayed at didn’t even had locks on the doors, and some of the ones that did have locks, had the same key for all of the locks. A couple of times I found myself walking into the wrong lodge, wondering why things looked different from when I left. Jeremy Woodhouse, the tour leader actually walked into someone else’s lodge at one place and found two people in bed, after he’d turned the light on! Luckily they didn’t wake up, and he made a hasty escape, thanking his lucky stars that he hadn’t found them in the middle of something a little more awkward to just walk away from.

The GoPros

Ken also asked if I’d used the GoPros that I’d packed, and the answer is Oh Yes! I was able to find a cross-bar clamp in the airport at Hong Kong on my way over, so a number of times I clamped a GoPro to the top of the car while we were on a game drive, and one afternoon I clamped a camera to the bottom of the front bumper, and got some pretty neat footage of the rocky ground zipping along as we off-roaded tracking wildlife. This sort of thing does take a little bit of extra time though, so I only did it when it wasn’t going to waste anyone else’s time, but I still got some nice footage that I’ll use in a future video slideshow.

Also note that although I’ve been very disappointed with the GoPro HERO3 for the first five months I owned them, they are now working fine. If you listen to TWiP, you might have heard me talking about this, but basically when I bought two GoPros at the end of last year, ready to use on my Japan Winter Wonderland Tours, they would crash every two or three times you start shooting video, and the only way to reset them was to take them out of their waterproof housing and take off the extended battery, and then remove the internal battery.

It drove me crazy, and the first two firmware updates didn’t really help. Then, on the first few nights of our safari, a firmware update was released, and I was able to very painfully download it over the hotel network. After this third firmware update though, the cameras finally started working pretty much normally. They froze a few more times, which I hope will go away completely in the future, but I can now finally say that I’m happy with my GoPros, and I’m looking forward to using some of the footage at some point soon.

Camera Gear

As for the camera gear that I took, that all went as well as I’d expected to. I had the 1D X and 5D Mark III with me, as well as the 14mm, 24-70mm, 70-200mm and 300mm lenses, all at f/2.8. I also had with me two 1.4X Extenders and a 2.0X Extender. I carry two 1.4X Extenders so that I can use one on each camera, and I often actually do this. Some people don’t like the 2X Extenders because it doesn’t give the greatest image quality with some camera/lens combinations, but if you know those combinations, it’s still a very workable alternative to carrying longer glass.

For example, the 2X Extender Mark III works fine with the 70-200mm f/2.8 Mark II and the original 300mm f/2.8 IS lenses on the 1D X, but on the 5D Mark III it gets a little soft. Basically, the 18 megapixel 1D X has larger photodiodes than the 5D Mark III at 22 megapixels, so the lens and extender combination doesn’t have to resolve the light to as small a point to make a sharp image. Because of this, if ever I was going to use the 2.0X Extender, I ensured I used it with the 1D X and not the 5D Mark III. Images from both cameras are as sharp as tacks with the 1.4X Extender on either lens.

All of my lenses got plenty of use, and although they got a bit crunchy with the sand and dust, it pretty much worked its way out over the couple of weeks after I got home. I did start to have trouble with some of the buttons on my 5D Mark III battery grip not working, and I think that might have been from the sand. Note that I wasn’t laying the camera down in sand as such, it is blow around and gets everywhere, however careful you are with your gear. I have sent the battery grip in to Canon for fixing, and having a bit of a saga with them over that at the moment, but otherwise, everything gear-wise worked out very well.

Oh, and the slightly lighter Really Right Stuff BH-40 ball head that I bought for this trip was excellent too. I love my BH-55 and will continue to use it when weight isn’t an issue, but when I have to travel light, or perhaps walk a long way with my tripod, I’ll be happy to use the BH-40 from now on. It was as solid as a rock with everything up to my 300mm.

One last thing I should note on my lens selection though, is that Canon released their phantom lens, the 200-400mm with the 1.4X Extender built in just as I left for Namibia. It was too late to do anything but knowing it was out there, boy did I wish I had one with me. Although working with the 300mm and Extenders was workable, there were times when I wished I’d got the flexibility of that new lens.

Anyway, the long and short of it is that after I got back, my local camera store, Map Camera in Shinjuku had a deal where they promised to pay their top used gear price for some 180 items until September, so I decided it was time to take the plunge. I sold my 24-70mm, the 300mm f/2.8 and the 600mm f/4 as  well as my 135mm f/2 lens, which I really wasn’t using enough to warrant keeping, and my 1Ds Mark III. That all came to about $50 more than the price of the 200-400mm, which is now sitting in my lens cabinet.

Canon EF 200-400mm F4 L Extender 1.4X Lens

Canon EF 200-400mm F4 L Extender 1.4X Lens

I did have to pay out some cash, to buy the new version of the 24-70mm f/2.8 lens, which I’d been resisting, but I figured I’d get that upgrading while I was at it, so that’s new now too. Both new lenses are excellent, and I’ll be doing a review of at least the 200-400mm in the coming weeks, once I’ve had a chance to really take it through its paces, but so far it is looking every bit as impressive as I’d hoped, if not better, so stay tuned for that.

Don’t Forget that Photographer’s Vest!

As I came back through Johannesburg Airport, a lady watching people through the check-in queue asked how much my backpack weighed. I told her it was way over as I put it on the scales, and she confirmed with a huge roll of her eyes, and told me it was more than twice the allowed weight, followed by an announcement that I would need to check the bag.

I told her that there is no way I would check my camera bag, and that I was going to move half the stuff in the bag into my vest pockets. The cool thing here is that she knew that I was well within my rights to do this, and walk on the plane with the same amount of weight, so she told me to ask the clerk at the check-in desk if it was OK to carry the bag on. Unfortunately, I forgot to ask this, but it didn’t seem to be a problem.

Show Notes

Original Namibia Preparation Video:

Music by UniqueTracks


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  1. RammellPhotography

    Great blog Martin – good detailed summary.

    I can’t believe Jeremy walked in on those people! 🙂

    Glad you had a good time, and I can’t wait to see some of your photographs made using the 200-400mm lens.

    Last year I took a trip to Donna Nook here in the UK to photograph Grey Seals. I must admit a lot of my gear became quite ‘crunchy’ too. Especially the buttons on my 7D. The Back button focus (which, I don’t actually use) was stuck too.

    On the trip back from Donna Nook in Lincolnshire I just brushed and tapped away at the camera and gently got the sand out of the nooks and crannies.

    My 70-200 f/2.8 II’s focusing ring was also a little crunchy, but, that slowly worked it’s way out of the lens after a few weeks.

    When we go back to Donna Nook later this year to shoot the Seal’s again I’ll definately be investing in some waterproof gear!

    • Martin Bailey

      Hee hee. It’s actually really easily done. The lodges all look the same, and when it’s dark, it’s sometimes hard to see the room numbers with your head-light. 🙂

      Most of the sand worked out of my gear too, except for the 5D battery grip. I’m not sure it’s sand that caused it, but that’s in a bit of a bad way. The sand in Namibia is so fine that it just gets in everything.

  2. t.linn

    Thanks for another interesting post, Martin, and congrats on the new lenses. At some point I will pick up the 24-70 f/2.8 II but the 200-400 is beyond my financial reach so I look forward to living vicariously through your use of it. : )

    Though I haven’t checked, I’m guessing the 200-400 is significantly heavier than the 300 f/2.8+extender combos you were using on this trip. Do you think the heavier weight of the 200-400 would have impacted you at all on your trip or not really?

    • Martin Bailey

      Yes, the 200-400 is 1,070g heavier than the 300mm V1, and 745g heavier than the 300mm with the 2X Extender fitted. It’s hand-holdable for a short time, but basically this is a tripod, monopod or beanbag lens. With a reach up to 560mm though, it’s a lot lighter than my old 600mm f/4 at 5,360g, and it’s replaced both my 300mm and 600mm, so in total, this is a big downsize for me. It makes taking a long lens overseas much easier, and with this much versatility! Woohoo!

      • t.linn

        Woohoo indeed! : )

      • Martin Bailey

        I guess the other thing Martin is that with most of your shots, particularly i Antartica it seems, you’re shooting upwards of f/8 a lot of the time, so, there isn’t much need to obsess with this lens starting at f/4 either. To have one lens that covers 20mm – 560mm and be f/4 throughout the range is very impressive.

        I had short debate with a guy on twitter who called me lazy for purchasing a 1.4 extender for my 70-200. “Zoom with your feet” he told me. Whilst I don’t necessarily disagree with that sentiment when it comes to things like street photography, portraiture and weddings, I’m not sure it applies when shooting cars at Le Man when you can’t get any closer to the track or wildlife when you’re stuck on a boat.

        I wonder what he’d think of the 200-400+1.4 🙂

  3. Bruce Leventhal

    Thanks for the update. Your experiences with sand in Namibia match my own with the Samburu Region in Kenya. The good news is that the sand rarely gets into the optics… the grinding seems to be a temporary inconvenience. I look forward to hearing your thoughts about the 200-400L. Having just returned from another two week trip to Costa Rica where we concentrated on birds, monkeys and amphibians, I found myself shooting my 300 f2.8 IS v1 + 2x mark iii a lot. Ever since I replaced my 7D + 5D markII combo w/ a pair of 5D mark iii’s, I’ve had to ditch the 1.4x for a 2x. So far, I think I’m getting great detail, but I know the lens suffers a bit when the 2x is used.

    Regarding your malaria med decision, I was puzzled when you described the intended application prior to your travels. Given that your liver may have been compromised just two years ago, there is merit to advice. Nevertheless, I think I would have taken the Malaria meds during my travels (as I’ve done in two prior trips to Africa and Corcovado) as contracting malaria would be much harder on the liver than the medications.

    • Martin Bailey

      Thanks for the comments Bruce!

      On Malaria, it was a calculated risk. The doctor brought up a map of high risk areas, and we were not going to be in them. The north-eastern corner of Namibia is highest risk, starting from the Etosha area. If we had planned to go to Etosha, I would have taken preventative medication for sure.


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