Click for the homepage of The Safari Guide, your resource to a safari holiday in Africa

North Face Jester Backpack Review

This review was originally written by Perry Rosenbloom, over at OutdoorEquipment.com, and given to to Safari-Guide.co.uk for exclusive publishing.

North Face Jester Backpack Review

The North Face Jester Backpack is a jack of all trades. Whether packing for a day at the beach, on a walking safari, or hiking, it does it all.

Looking for a great, highly versatile everyday backpack? The North Face Jester is the best fit for you!

One of the most recognizable brand names in the outdoor gear industry, The North Face began over 40 years ago by assisting adventurers and athletes get to the world’s most remote places with their innovative mountaineering equipment and apparel. Throughout the ensuing decades, the company diversified and now offers skiwear, outerwear, packs, tents, sleeping bags, footwear, performance apparel and various other accessories.

Meticulously researched, designed and developed, The North Face products are built to stand up to whatever Mother Nature throws at them. While the Jester backpack isn’t for super technical, high-altitude climbs, it’s made with the same dedication to quality craftsmanship as any other piece of gear from this storied brand.

Overview of The North Face Jester Backpack

The North Face Jester backpack is a super-comfortable backpack that’s ideal for dayhikes and afternoon adventures.

The pack has a big main compartment with several exterior pockets for stashing a variety of gear. All Jester styles feature a stitched, foam-padded back panel for comfortable wearing, a removable hipbelt and top handle for easy carrying.

Jester is available in men’s and women’s styles and retails for around £40 – £45 in the UK, or $55 to $60 in the US. Other North Face daypacks like the Recon and the Big Shot go for almost twice as much, making this one a bargain.

Advantages

The packs feature FlexVent™ injection-molded shoulder straps for the the utmost in carrying comfort. Women’s Jester styles actually feature women-specific shoulder straps.

On the outside of the pack you’ll find dual side mesh pockets, great for water bottles, plus there’s a crisscross bungee system for quickly attaching a bike helmet or jacket. There’s also a front organization pocket with a key clip, perfect for smaller items.

Although it’s not padded, the removable hipbelt helps to stabilize the pack, while the sporty, reflective exterior makes you more visible at night.

Disadvantages

The Jester could use more exterior pockets for organizational purposes. It also would be better suited for dayhikes if it was hydration bladder compatible.

The North Face Jester Specifications

  • Use - Day Hikes, Walking Safaris
  • Gender - Men’s, women’s
  • Frame - Frameless
  • Material - Polyester
  • Weight - 1lb. 14oz.
  • Capacity - 1,830 cu.in.
  • Dimensions - 18.5 x 13 x 7 in.
  • Loading - Panel
  • Access - Panel
  • Exterior pockets - 3+ main compartment
  • Bungee system — Yes

Review Summary

The Jester isn’t a backpack that will get you to the top of Mt. Everest, but it will be right there as you navigate a walking safari or explore a day hike.

With plenty of room for water, a rain jacket, binoculars, camera, first aid kit and more, this backpack makes a great daypack for any adventure.

Where to Buy

UK: Amazon.co.uk

North Face Jester on Amazon.co.uk

USA: Amazon.com

North Face Jester on Amazon.com


Related Products & Further Reading

About the Author
Perry Rosenbloom is the founder of OutdoorEquipment.com, a website focused on video gear reviews & testimonials. Every weekend, he and his wife hike, bike, climb & camp and record outdoor gear reviews & testimonials. The site is still small, but he has a decent library of backpack reviews that give a good taste of what’s to come.

Share

Special Offers on Winter Sun Safari Holidays

With Christmas, new years… and winter rapidly approaching (in the northern hemisphere), safari lodges and travel companies who have not yet filled their bookings are now starting to offer some great special offers and late deals on their winter sun holidays in Africa. Below are some of the best ones that caught my eye:


10 Days, Tanzania Safari: Serengeti, Ngorongoro & Zanzibar

Special Offer: Book and get a bonus 3 day Masai Mara Safari

This camping safari begins in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania and travels to Zanzibar and then north through Tanzania, before ending in Nairobi, Kenya:

  • Day 1: Dar es Salaam to Zanzibar – A ferry from Dar es Salaam takes you to the “Spice Island,” where we have the option to spend the next 3 nights.
  • Days 2 & 3: Zanzibar – Zanzibar offers a wealth of experiences for the visitor, the quiet streets of the old Stone Town still retain their Arabic influence, from the Medina-like shops to the palaces of the Sultans. Options include a trip to the beautiful beaches and giant tortoises of Prison Island, a full day scuba diving in Nungwe or a fishing trip in a traditional dhow.
  • Day 4: Zanzibar to Dar es Salaam – Leaving Zanzibar in the afternoon, you return to the mainland and another night in Dar es Salaam.
  • Day 5: Dar es Salaam to Arusha – On the way you will pass The Pare and Usambara Mountain ranges before driving through the town of Moshi which is at the base for Mount Kilimanjaro climbing expeditions you can catch a glimpse of this magical mountain’s snowy summit – a photo opportunity not to be missed!
  • Days 6 – 8: Arusha National Park / Optional Ngorongoro Crater & Serengeti Excursion – Enjoy a game drive in the Crater and go past the ‘Cradle of Mankind’ on your way to the Serengeti National Park. You will cross the vast plains as your safari takes you through the southern and central areas in the park. Tonight you will spend the night in the wild surrounded by the sounds of the African wilderness. In the morning, you head off for another game drive and explore the landscape in search of the resident wildlife. With some luck, we may see some of Africa’s ‘Big 5’!
  • Day 9: Arusha to Nairobi (Kenya) – Setting off early you continue your journey to the Capital City of Kenya, Nairobi and go to your campsite on the outskirts of the city. Acacia Camp Nairobi is ideally situated right next to the Nairobi National Park, and is close to the giraffe sanctuary and elephant orphanage. The famous Carnivore Restaurant is also in close proximity.
  • Day 10: Nairobi – after breakfast you can spend the rest of the day at your leisure to enjoy some of the many options available in this bustling city; visit The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, where you can view the orphaned baby Elephants at feeding time, or head to the Giraffe Centre in Langata, if you haven’t had your fill of game viewing, then Nairobi National Park offers some great day trips or if you haven’t quite got all those souvenirs you wanted, take a “Matatu” to the local curio markets close by the campsite. Why not try the fair on offer at the famous Carnivores restaurant.

Special Offer: Book and get a bonus 3 day Masai Mara Safari
Price: £495 per person / USD $784 per person

Click Here for more details, to read the reviews and to book the holiday


5 Days, South Africa, Luxury Safari in Kruger National Park

Special Offer: 10% discount

Spend 5 days enjoying this private small group Kruger National Park safari with a qualified field guide viewing the wildlife from an open game viewing vehicle.

Safari includes:

  • Return road transfers from Nelspruit airport to Kruger National Park.
  • All accommodation in private en-suite accommodation in two locations (fresh linen and towels).
  • Conservation and entrance fees.
  • All private guiding and game drives in our open-sided game viewing vehicle
  • All breakfasts, dinners, gamedrive snacks and refreshments courtesy our safari chef.
  • Refreshments include: South African beer and wine and sodas at dinner, all fresh juice and bottled water.
  • All safari activities as per itinerary (including two gamedrives a day and a morning guided bush walk).

Price: £ 902 / USD $1428 per person (approx)

Click Here for more details, to read the reviews and to book the safari


11 Days, Cape Town to Namibia adventure safari

Special Offer: 25% discount on scheduled departures before end December 2012

Cape Town township tour, spectacular views at Fish River Canyon, giant sand dunes of the Namib Desert, Swakopmund – Namibia’s adventure capital & game viewing at the famous Etosha National Park.

Join this fantastic 11 day tour from Cape Town, South Africa to Windhoek, Namibia at a discounted rate of 25% of the tour price. Discount is applicable to set departures dates only – 13th October 2012, 10th November 2012, 24th November 2012, 8th December 2012 and 22nd December 2012. Hurry whilst seats last!

Daily Highlights Include:
01 Depart Cape Town, Township Tour, Citrus Area
02 Gariep (Orange) River
03 Fish River Canyon
04 Sesriem, Namib Naukluft Park
05 Desert Walk, Bushcamp
06 Swakopmund
07 Swakopmund
08 Spitzkoppe, Bushman Paintings
09 Estoha National Park, Game Drives
10 Estoha National Park, Game Drives
11 Windhoek BL

Special Offer: 25% discount on scheduled departures before end December 2012
Price: £296 / (USD $470) per person – 25% discount is included

Click Here for more details, to read the reviews and to book the safari


2,4 or 6 Days, Botswana Luxury Lodge Safari

Special Offer: Get a free helicopter flight, luxury night in Johanesburg or in Cape Town

Stay for 4 or 6 nights in luxury lodge accommodation in Botswana’s top game parks to qualify for a free helicopter flip over the Okavango or a free night at Cape Towns 5* Mount Nelson Lodge or the 5* Westcliffe Hotel in Johannesburg

Enjy your safari at one of 3 5 star safari lodges in Botswana:

  • Khwai River Lodge, Moremi
  • Savute Elephant Camp, Chobe National Park
  • Eagle Island Camp, Okavango Delta

Safaris include
-Luxury air conditioned accommodation
-All meals (3 per day plus afternoon tea)
-All drinks
-National Park fees
-Emergency medical evacuation insurance
-Safari activities per camp (walking safaris/makoro safaris/game drives/cultural village visits)
-Inter-camp transfers by light craft

Special Offer: Get a free helicopter flight, luxury night in Johanesburg or in Cape Town
Price: £998 / USD $1581 per person

Click Here for more details, to read the reviews and to book the holiday


Further Reading

Share

Top Christmas and New Year Safari Getaways

Going on a safari holiday over the Christmas and New Year period may not be for everyone, but if you are looking to escape the cold northern hemisphere’s winter and enjoy a warm festive period then what could be better than a safari holiday adventure?

Below are some of my top safaris, (many that have been discounted for the festive period) that you could be going on this year, however it is important to remember that many places do get booked up early, so to avoid disappointment I recommend that you book early:


Luxury Tented Big 5 Safari in the Greater Kruger Park, South Africa

Spend Christmas and New year hosted in luxury, on this BIG 5 Safari.

Located along the Makutsi river, in the Greater Kruger Park in South Africa, you will go on day and night safari in Open 4x4s and walking safaris.

The Safari Lodge
The Safari Camp overlooks the Makutsi River, tucked deep in the Big Five Karongwe Game Reserve in Limpopo, South Africa. It offers an African Safari experience where the warm atmosphere, friendly staff and fine cuisine compliment the excellent Big 5 game viewing.

You can enjoy the wildlife exploring the surrounding lush vegetation from their own private game viewing deck or from the lounge overlooking the river. Cool down in the pool or simply relax on the deck enjoying the sounds of the bush whilst reading a book.

The luxury Safari tents are positioned under majestic Jackalberry, Apple Leaf and Tamboti trees and can sleep 2 people. On suite African toned bathrooms offer revitalizing showers with wash basins. The safari tents are fully equipped with tea and coffee making facilities, toiletries, hair dryers and personal safes.

Christmas & New Year Special Offer: 25% discount for any dates between 20 Dec.12 – 05 Jan.13 provided you book prior to 30th September 2012
Price: USD $1,330 USD $998 per person / £630 per person (25% discount is included)

Click Here for more details, to read the reviews and to book the holiday


14 days Tanzania wildlife Safari & Zanzibar Beach Holiday

You can choose to spend Christmas Day on Safari visiting the best of Tanzania’s wildlife parks and New Year relaxing on the beautiful beaches in Zanzibar or the other way round. Private Safari departing any day of your choice.

Private Safari
This Private Wildlife Safari means that you can be accommodated at Lodges, Luxury Camping or even budget camping depending on your preferences located inside or outside the National Parks.

The parks are located on the doorway to the Northern circuit National Parks of Tanzania, 120km Tarangire, 130km to Lake Manyara, 190km to Ngorongoro and 320km to Serengeti from Arusha town.

All these parks are the home to small and large animals including birds and reptiles, also inside the parks there are standard to luxury lodges, luxury Tented camps to budget camping sites.

Experience and enjoy the nature, wildlife and habitat of small to large mammals, birds and reptiles in their natural areas.

As this is a private safari it is ideal for families the proposed itinerary can be designed specifically to meet your requirements and pace.

Price: USD $2,990 per person

Click Here for more details, to read the reviews and to book the safari


11 Days Big 5 Safari and Beach Holiday in Kenya

The perfect Christmas winter sun holiday and safari: a Kenyan Safari that rates among the best in Africa, visiting the main National Parks, abundant with wildlife and ending off the holiday with 4 days of relaxation on Kenya’s beaches.

Day 1: Nairobi – Masai Mara
Day 2: Masai Mara Safari
Day 3: Masai Mara – Nakuru
Day 4: Lake Nakuru – Naivasha
Day 5: Naivasha – Samburu
Day 6: Samburu
Day 7: Samburu – Nairobi
Day 8 through to 11: Relax on the beach at the Mombasa Continental Resort

Christmas & New Year Special Offer: 10% discount
Price: £981 (USD $1,554) per person – 10% discount is included

Click Here for more details, to read the reviews and to book the safari


10 Days Cape Town and Kruger National Park in South Africa

Spend the festive season in sunny South Africa visiting the countries two main attractions: The Kruger Park and Cape Town. On this safari and holiday getaway, you can experience both in one personally tailored tour for just you and your travel companions.

Starting in either Johannesburg or Nelspruit in South Africa, you will head straight into Kruger National Park to begin the search for the Big 5, as well as all the other fauna and flora. Here you will spend 5 nights into two areas of the Kruger. This allows the guides to show you as much as possible, remember Kruger is the size of a small country and many people underestimate how much there is to see.

After the safari holiday, you will fly down to Cape Town and be met and taken to the four star guest house that will be used as you base for this part of the holiday.

Her tou will see Table Mountain by cable car, visit Robben Island made famous for housing Nelson Mandela during part of his 27 years of imprisonment. You will also head into the wine lands to taste some of the world’s finest wines and travel around the peninsula to visit the Cape of Good Hope nature reserve, otherwise known as Cape Point. As part of the trip you will also visit the penguins at Simons Town and take a walk around the small, but very scenic Hout Bay harbour.

Price: £2,312 (USD $3,662 per person

Click Here for more details, to read the reviews and to book the holiday


Further Reading

Share

Vanguard ICS Vest Review

Vanguard ICS System

Not long ago I wrote a review of the Vanguard ICS Photography Belt & Harness System, which really impressed me and made for an alternative, lighter and less cumbersome way to carry my binoculars and photography equipment whilst on safari.

But because I had not ordered it, I didn’t get to test and review the ICS vest that can also be used with the rest of the ICS collection. My thinking at the time being that with the amount of gear that I used, the Vest was not necessary. This in a way, is part of the beauty of the ICS System – you can mix and match the different belts, bags, harnesses and vests until you get a setup that works for you and your equipment.

Vanguard ICS Vest

I have now also acquired the ICS vest and thought to finish off my Vanguard ICS review properly, I should write about it and give you my thoughts and opinions:

I guess the ICS Vest is intended for photojournalists and sports photographers who require quick access to their equipment, which also means that it has the potential to make an ideal photographers vest for travel and safaris.

Unlike most standard photography jackets or vests that come all in one, the Vanguard ICS Vest actually consists of two parts, the ICS Harness that hangs on your shoulders, which is then threaded through and attached to the “webbing” that fits around your body. It can be used just like this, or if you want you can attach the ICS belt (sold separately) and a variety of camera and lens cases (also sold separately) to the vest and belt to suit your particular requirements.

On the Vest there are a variety of fastening points where you can securely hold your camera even with a large zoom lens attached and within the vest there’s a number of pockets designed to hold small accessories like memory cards, filters, batteries, etc.

Fit and Comfort

I have tried a few other standard photography vests, jackets and travel vests in the past and have never jelled with them. I often found that I could not get them to fit correctly and that they were often too long. For me they tended to hang down well below my waistline, which some photographers possibly don’t mind, but it really irritated me as the lenses in the lower pockets would bounce around when walking. They were mostly uncomfortable and I would be a little nervous of turning around too too quickly, fearing that my lens would swing into a brick wall.

The ICS Vest comes in two sizes, small and large, add to that the fact that it is extremely customizable (see below), it means that you should be able to set it up to fit your body perfectly which will ensure that your equipment does not move about too much and the vest stays securely in place to make it as comfortable as possible even when carrying heavy gear.

On its own the ICS Vest is lightweight, and when used correctly with an appropriate number of bags it distributes the weight evenly. How comfortable the vest is when fully loaded depends largely on how well it fits and the padding. If you are going to be carrying a lot of gear, I highly recommend pairing the vest with the ICS belt as it will further improve the weight distribution add stability and it has the advantage of a greater number of loops to attach your camera and lens cases to.

Padding
The shoulder straps on the vest are very well made and will take much more weight than you could ever hope to carry. They are about 7.5cm wide at the point that takes all the weight and are well padded. Indeed they have an added padded flap on each shoulder to add to the overall padding in this area. Whilst I may not use the heaviest gear, I never had any problems with aching shoulders even after long walks carrying all my equipment.

Length Adjustment
The length of the harness part can be adjust in two locations and therefore you can accurately adjust how far down on your body the webbing and attached belt will sit: On the front thre are two straps with the looped metal belt buckles on each of the harness straps and then on the back there is what Vanguard call their “innovative adjustment system” – This “system” not only lets you change the overall length of the vest, but you can also thread a shoulder bag/zoom bag through it to carry on your back, effectively turning the bag into a backpack. This is not something that I have yet tried, but because of the many straps, buckles and Velcro fasteners on the back, I am sure that there are a number of ways that you could adapt it to carry a bag on your back.

Circumference Adjustment
The body section of the vest has as a sturdy metal zip in its centre and for added security it is held in place with a robust strip of Velcro down the entire zips length. On each side of the vest there two straps that enable you to adjust the circumference of the vest to fit your body snugly. Too loose and your equipment will flop about, too tight and it will be difficult for you to breath – so here again, I really like the fact that you can adjust the looped straps to make the vest fit you perfectly.

Sweating
The body webbing part of the vest fits very snugly around your body and apart from two mesh panels on the back and one behind your shoulders, it is not breathable. This is great for cooler or cold environments and indeed when I first tested the vest on a winters morning it kept me nice and warm. But on a long walking safari under the hot African sun, you will sweat quite a bit especially around your stomach area. In these situations, you may consider removing the body webbing part from the vest and just use the ICS Harness attached to the belt, which covers far less of your body and will be much cooler. Again it is this flexibility of the ICS system and being able to adjust it to your current needs is it’s real strength.

Carrying Capacity

How much you can carry using the whole ICS system depends very much on which parts you are using and how many of the Bags and cases you want to carry.

The Vest itself has a variety of fastening points where you can securely hold your camera even with a large zoom lens attached and I like the two very handy Velcro fastening loops on the shoulders that allow you to thread your camera strap through and so stops your camera from sliding off your shoulder.

Within the body section of the vest there is a pocket on each side that can be zipped closed. These pockets almost cover the entire area of the front part of the vest and are about 17cm tall and 14cm wide. They are designed to hold small accessories, personal items, money or even a small booklet like a guide book or to take notes with.

For details on the carrying capacity of the rest of the ICS system, including the cases, bags and belt, take a look at my review of the Vanguard ICS Photography Belt & Harness System.

Video: Vanguard ICS Collection

Below is the Vanguard promotional video that that demonstrates how all the ICS photo products fit together and includes a section on the ICS Vest pointing out it’s main features and how to put it all together with the rest of the collection:

Conclusion

Vanguard advertise the ICS vest coupled with your choice of the other ICS components as the perfect photography carrying solution and in many regards I have to agree with them. Just like the rest of the Vanguard ICS system, the vest is made to a very high standard and combined with the belt and your choice of camera and lens bags it really is a great lightweight and far less bulky alternative to a camera bag. It is for this reason and it’s flexibility that I recommend it as the ideal camera equipment carrying solution for activities like walking safaris where weight and size are very important factors.

A few points to keep in mind:
1) Because the vest has a number of metal buckles and loops, it can make some noise when moved about, which means you have to take extra care if you want to get really close to timid wildlife and birds.

2) The body webbing part of the vest fits very snugly around your body and so it is warm. This is great for cooler or cold environments, but on a long walking safari under the hot African sun, you will sweat quite a bit. Here you may consider removing the body webbing part from the vest and just use the ICS Harness attached to the belt, which covers far less of your body and will be much cooler.

3) You also need to keep in mind that unlike a Camera Bag which encloses all your equipment, the Vest is designed so that you wear all your equipment. This means that it is all pretty much on display and therefore may not be ideal if you are at all concerned about standing out from the crowd. I am thinking of specific instance like when travelling it is sometimes better not to advertise that you have a bunch of expensive camera equipment with you. In these instances I recommend getting a bag – something like the excellent Vanguard Skyborne 45 Camera Backpack that I still often use.

Build Quality: 9/10 – Very well made using high quality materials. All zips, buckles and fasteners work well and are secure
Design: 9/10 – I love how flexible the Vest and the rest of the ICS system is and that you can mix and match which parts of the ICS system you want.
Carrying Capacity: 8/10 – The Vest itself can carry quite a bit, combine that with as many or as few bags as you need to suit your requirements.
Style: 8/10 – You do look a little like you have joined the SWAT team with it on and I will leave you to decide if this is a good or bad thing, but what I will say is that you definitely look like you mean business!


Cost and where to Buy

At the time of writing, the Vanguard ICS Vest costs around £64 in the UK and £99 in the US. Below are some links to where you can buy it and the rest of the system both in the UK and USA:

UK: Amazon.co.uk

Vanguard ICS System on Amazon.co.uk

USA: Amazon.com

Vanguard ICS System on Amazon.com


Further Reading

Share

Vanguard Nivelo 245BK Tripod Review

Safari & Travel Tripods

Like most travel gear, the ideal safari and travel tripod needs to be as lightweight and as compact as possible. It also needs to be strong and sturdy enough to easily carry the weight of your camera without any movement or creeping. The best travel and safari tripods are also quick to set up and take down – this ensures that you don’t miss that one in a life time shot that you have travelled all the way to Africa to get whilst you were trying to get your camera set up and into position.

Vanguard Nivelo 245BK Tripod

Main Specifications & Highlights

  • Extended height: 1.61 meters
  • Folded height(mm): 370
  • Maximum loading capacity: 3kg (6.6 lbs)
  • Lightweight design: Weight 1.41 kg’s (2.51 lbs)
  • Central column reverses for macro photography
  • Legs can be positioned at 25 and 50-degree angles
  • Quick setup
  • 5 leg sections

Size and Weight
Even before you have unpacked it, the size of the box that it comes in lets you know that the Vanguard Nivelo 245BK Tripod is compact. Fully collapsed, it is only 37cm tall, which is much more smaller than a full sized tripod and as compact most top level travel tripods. This small size can be attributed to the 5 section legs and the invertible central column that can be stored in between the legs. This allows the tripod to collapse down into a very small package making this Vanguard tripod easily fit inside most full sized camera bags.

With all 5 legs sections out and locked at 20° and the main central column fully extended the tripod stands at 1.42 meters tall (55.9in) – this includes the height of the tripod head and which I measured from the floor to the base of the platform. With the central column fully retracted the height extends is 1.19m (46.9in). Vanguard advertise that the tripod’s maximum height is 1.61m, which is achieved by unscrewing the twist lock on the central column allowing it to extending it even further.

Weighing just 1.41 kg’s (2.51 lbs) it is ideal as a lightweight travel tripod, yet is still capable of securely carrying fairly heavy equipment (see Sturdiness & Carrying Capacity below).


Sturdiness & Carrying Capacity
This Vanguard Nivelo tripod has an advertised maximum loading capacity of 3kg (6.6 lbs) which is more than enough to carry most superzoom bridge cameras, the new compact mirrorless, interchangeable lens cameras, DSLR-like cameras or even some lightweight DSLRs, which these days can tip the scales at just 0.5kg with a small lens.

The test the tripod and it’s head, I used the excellent Fujifilm FinePix HS30EXR, which at 687g (24.23 oz) is one of the heaviest bridge cameras on the market and it had no problems holding it. To test the head even further, I attached my 2.2x Raynox DCR-2025PRO Super Telephoto Conversion Lens to the camera which not only adds some weight, but as you can see from the photo shifts the balancing point of the camera quite considerably.

Even with this rather ungainly looking set-up, the Vanguard 245BK tripod and the head had no problems holding the camera completely still without any creeping what so ever – although you do need to make sure the levers on the head are fairly tight.

So in terms of sturdiness and load carrying capacity, it understandably cannot match a full sized tripod like my Vanguard Alta Pro 263AT, but if you take into consideration it’s low weight and just how small it folds down to, and remember it’s designed to be a travel tripod, it will make an ideal base for your camera whilst on safari.


The Tripod Legs
This Vanguard Nivelo 245BK Tripod uses twist locks to open and close the leg sections. I love the fact that you only need to twist one lock on each foot to loosen all the other twist locks on that leg, which makes setting up and folding away the tripod especially quick.

The legs themselves have a maximum diameter of 24mm and considering how light this tripod is and in comparison to other tripods in this class, I thought that even when fully extended they feel relatively strong. They open and close with a nice smooth action, without being too loose. Each leg can move independently of each other and can click stop and lock at 2 positions: at 25° and at 50°. To move the legs from one of these locked positions, you just push the button located on the shoulder of each leg (see image above).

The 5 leg sections enable the tripod to fold up into it’s very small size and because all sections can be locked and unlocked at once, it does slow down setup times which is great.

Rubber Feet
The 245BK tripod comes with rubber feet, which will provide plenty of grip on a large variety of surfaces. It is a small thing, but the feet cannot be unscrewed and replaced with spiked feet, a feature which you sometimes fined of full sized tripods and which can help gain stability in some situations.


Adjustable Leg Angle Stops
Just like many far more expensive full sized tripods, the tripod legs can be independently locked into place at two different angles (25° or 50°’s) – this added flexibility has really helped me out in the past and can give the tripod a far more sturdier base at the wider angle. Being able to have diffident legs at different angles can also help and I can remember one occasion when I was taking some bird shots, but was positioned on the side of a steep embankment where I had my tripod legs at different lengths and different angles!

Invertible Central Column

The central column feels very strong and has a couple of grooves cut into it that prevent it from twisting when it’s lock is loosened. For me this is both a good and a bad thing as I do sometimes like to pan about by just loosening the central column on another tripod that I use.

The column itself is 29cm long, but you can also loosen the collar around it, which release an inner tube allowing you to extend it to a length of almost 51cm which is great, but does make it a little less sturdy.

Under this collar is a orange rubber buffer, which adds a little suspension to the system and helps to cushion the blow when you drop the column down with your camera attached to the tripod. It is a small thing, but even so it’s a nice touch.

Invertible Central Column - Ideal for Macro Photography

Macro Photography
A nice feature is that the main tripod shoulder has a section cut out of it and you can invert the column. This means that you can position your camera between the legs of the tripod, which makes an incredibly sturdy set-up for macro photography. This feature also helps to make the tripod as short as possible when you are packing it away.

The Pan-Tilt Head

Essentially the included head is of a Pan head design, but to keep it’s size and weight to a minimum it does not have long levers as you would usually find on standard pan heads. Instead you control it’s movements with a couple of knobs (one for panning, one for tilting).

With this and all Pan head designs you can independently control each of the camera’s two axes of rotation: left-right (yaw) and up/down (pitch). This can be very useful if you have already gone to great care in leveling the tripod, but need to shift the composition slightly. It is also great, if like me you also often use your camera to shoot films, or if you also use a video camera as it allows you to easily “pan” over a wide area taking 360 degree smooth panoramic shots or follow a slowly moving Zebra for example.

One of the most annoying things on any tripod head is if it creeps/slips under a heavy weight. To test for this I attached my 2.2x teleconverter lens to the Fujifilm HS30EXR camera on the tripod and took a photo with an exposure of 30 seconds (the maximum my camera can do). I then checked to see whether the image had even the slightest motion blur which it didn’t, showing that there was no camera creep at all.

Taking Portrait Shots
The Pan-Tilt Head makes it really simple to take portrait shots – you just loosen the knob that controls up and down movement and tilt it so that the camera is at 90°, tighten and you are ready to go.

Quick Shoe and Bubble Level on the Vanguard Nivelo 245BK Tripod

Quick Shoe
The addition of a quick release shoe on the head is one of the biggest improvements of this Nivelo 245BK tripod over the lighter and even smaller Nivelo 204BK Tripod.

The advantage of this is that it enables you to quickly and with minimum effort either attach or take your camera off the tripod when you want to take hand held photos or when you are packing away.

Bubble Level
The bubble level is located on the quick release plate lever, which will also you to get perfectly level when shooting in the standard landscape mode. This tripod does not have a second bubble level for when you are shooting in portrait.

Conclusion

Overall I thought that the build quality is good and I was very pleasantly surprised with the strength and stability of the Vanguard Nivelo 245BK Tripod. This is even more impressive when you consider it’s low weight and compact design and it is for these main reasons that I have no hesitation in recommending it as a very good option as a safari and general travel tripod if you are using any superzoom bridge camera, the new compact mirrorless, interchangeable lens cameras, DSLR-like cameras or even a lightweight DSLRs.

I also really love the invertible central column which allows you to position your camera between the legs of the tripod making a very sturdy set-up for macro photography.

Cost & Where to buy

The Vanguard Nivelo 245BK currently costs about £120 in the UK and about $150 in the US – take a look at the links below to check the current prices and to buy:

Buy in the UK UK: Amazon.co.uk

Vanguard Nivelo Tripods on Amazon.co.uk

Buy in the USA USA: Amazon.com

Vanguard Nivelo Tripods on Amazon.com


Further Reading & Related Products

Share

Vanguard BBH-200 Ball Head Review

It is no secret that Vanguard’s Pistol Grip Ball heads are a big favourite of mine and I use the GH-100 more than any other tripod head and now that they have brought out an update to it with the new GH-200 Pistol Grip ball head, I was really tempted to get one as it looks to be even better.

The only real gripe that I have with these and similar pistol grip ball heads is that they are relatively bulky and heavy compared to a standard ball-head, which when you are looking to travel a light and compact as possible which is often the case on safari, it is not ideal and that is where something like the new Vanguard BBH Ball heads really have the advantage.

Vanguard BBH Ball Heads

There are three different sizes of the top-of-the-line Vanguard BBH Ball heads, the smallest is the BBH-100 that has a max load of 10kg, then there is the BH-200 that can carry 20kg’s and the largest being the BBH-300 that as you would have guessed by now is rated to carry 30kg’s. Apart from their size and weight difference, they all look and work in a very similar way.

Naturally and as you would expect they all come with the standard ball head controls that give you a huge freedom of movement, but the BBH heads also have a few unique features that really makes them stand out from the competition:

Rapid Level System
Something that really interested me and was one of the main reasons I chose to get a BBH ball head was Vanguard’s unique “Rapid Level System” – By just pushing the orange slider on the front of the tripod head you can quickly lock your camera in place to be perfectly level with the base.

Trying to get your camera perfectly level especially whilst in the field or on safari using a ball head has always been a bit of a painful and fairly slow process, this is especially true if like me you use long telephoto lenses and your set-up is less than perfectly balanced. So how well do the heads and their “Rapid Level System” work? Well below is my full review of the Vanguard BBH-200 Ball Head.

Vanguard BBH-200 Ball Head

With a wildlife hiking holiday on the horizon, I was looking to go as lightweight and compact as possible with my equipment, but did not want to sacrifice at all on stability or usability and that is what lead me to the BBH-200 ball head that is fairly compact and lightweight but is still rated to carry a load of 20kg’s which would be fine for my needs.

Main Specifications & Highlights

  • Weight: 0.53kg
  • Height: 11cm
  • Swivel: 360°
  • Tilt: -30°~90°
  • Two spirit bubble levels
  • Supports up to 20kg (44 lbs)
  • Open body design
  • Solid Magnesium Construction

Packaging

The first thing I noticed upon opening the box is that the BBH-200 is packaged really well using a high quality foam that has been cut to the exact shape of the tripod head. Most people may not give this a second thought but for me it is significant for two reasons:

1) It shows a good attention to detail and that Vanguard really care about and believe in their product.
2) You can use this foam cut-out by fitting it into one of the sections in your camera bag. This way when you are not using the head, it can be stored really securely within your bag ensuring that there is no chance of it damaging itself or more importantly more delicate equipment within your camera bag during transportation.

First Impressions & Build Quality

Handling the BBH-200 for the first time, I was immediately impressed with it’s build quality. Without testing it to destruction, it looks and feels as though it has been built like a tank, but with enough style to compliment any camera.

I hope that my photos do the BBH-200 justice as the engineering that has gone into the main body of the head looks to be second to none, this relates to a very smooth movement of both the pan and the ball itself and from first impressions, this Vanguard BBH Ball head just oozes quality.

Weight
The Vanguard BBH-200 Ball Head is made from solid magnesium which has the properties of being very strong, yet lightweight and has been described as being the “lightest useful metal”. Because they have used such a strong metal, they have also been able to cut away much of it and so this “open body design” reduces it’s weight even further.

It actually weighs 530g which for a mid sized ball head and one that is rated to carry 20kg’s is fairly light – for comparison and to put this into context the best Manfrotto pro ball head, the 054 Magnesium Ball Head which is designed for their carbon tripods weighs 674g and it must be said has max load of only 10kg’s.

Or compare this to the Arca-Swiss Monoball Z1 Ballhead, one of the best (and most expensive) tripod ball heads on the market which weighs 680g, but it must be said that it is rated to carry 55.3 kg off-axis.

The Controls

Main Lock Lever
Located on the left side of the head is the main locking lever (image above), this layout means you can lock and unlock the ball with your left hand whilst keeping a firm grip on the camera with your right hand. This is a sensible and intuitive layout that works very well giving you great confidence, especially if you are shooting with a telephoto lens attached.

The lever is made from a type of hard plastic, which is not as deluxe as metal ones, but it does have the advantage of being a bit lighter.

I found it very smooth to operate and it’s length offers good leverage to tighten quickly and easily, with only a slight movement of the lock handle enough for secure tightening and when locked down, it is really solid and I experienced no creep whatsoever.

It is fairly large, giving you plenty of leverage and so which makes tightening it securely really simple. The size also makes it very easy to use even with thick gloves on, perfect for those who need to shoot in cold conditions.

A nice touch is the ability to have the main locking lever positioned exactly the way you want – so if the handle is in an uncomfortable position, you just have to pull it outwards and you can rotate it freely without releasing or tightening the ball joint and replace it in a position that is more comfortable/convenient for you.

Panning base lock
At the front of the ballhead there is a smaller lever that is for locking and unlocking the pan base (image above), which you have to turn it about 90° to go from fully loose to securely fastened. Even when this lever is fully loose, the pan base still has some smooth resistance against spinning which is great as if you forget to tighten it, the camera usually remains stable enough and does not rotate by itself.

Rapid Level System Switch
As you would expect the Vanguard BBH Ball heads come with the standard controls that give you a huge freedom of movement, but they also have their unique “Rapid Level System” that is operated by pushing the orange slider on the front of the tripod head (see image below). What this does is enable you to quickly lock your camera perfectly level with the base. So once you have levelled your tripod, you no longer have to fiddle about and use the bubble level every time you move the camera and then want to return it to the level as you do with all other ball heads.

In use, it basically feels like there is some kind of notch at the center point for the ball head and you just wiggle the ball around a bit until it notches right into the center position.

This feature is excellent and really makes these Vanguard BBH Ball heads stand out from the competition as trying to get your camera perfectly level especially whilst in the field on safari using a ball head has always been a bit of a painful and fairly slow process. In practice it works really well and saves you a ton of time, but you do still need to tighten the main lock lever once it has clicked into place as there is a small amount of play when locked, but with the ball still loose within the head.

Movement

As with all ball heads, you get a huge freedom of movement because the design utilizes a ball and socket joint to allow movement of all axes of rotation from a single point. On top of this these BBH heads also have a separate panoramic rotation axis on the base of the head.

Completely loose, the ball moves very freely and easily within the head, but what I like is that it is fairly simple to adjust the main locking lever to give you just a little amount of friction that enables you to tweak the position of your camera to get it just right.

Vertical drop slot
There is one vertical drop notch on the right side of the head (some ballheads have two), this is basically a cut out that you can position the ball neck into and which allows you to position the camera in the portrait/vertical orientation. It can also be used if you need to shoot at a hard downward angle.

I should also mention at this point that a good tripod and careful setup should be used when using the drop notch, especially with heavier cameras and long telephoto lenses as the off-center weight can tip an inadequate or inadequately-positioned tripod over – leading to costly repairs.

If the problem of not having the weight of the camera centered over the tripod is too great for your set-up, you should consider getting an L-Plate. With one of these L shaped plates mounted on the ball head, you actually have two plates in one: one for horizontal shots and one for verticals.

Panning
There are actually two ways of panning using the BBH-200 Ball Head:

The standard way is to use the panoramic rotation axis on the base of the head. To pan you just release the Panning base lock at the front of the head which frees up this axis. Even when this lever is fully loose, the pan base still has some smooth resistance against spinning which is great as if you forget to tighten it, the camera usually remains stable enough and does not rotate by itself.

Another way of panning using this Vanguard Tripod head is to lock the camera in the level position using the Rapid Level System Switch, but don’t then tighten the main ball lock lever. This way the ball can swivel 360° within the joint, but will remain level with the base which I found with my lighter set-up worked really well.

Camera Mounting

Quick Release Plate
The camera is attached to the ball head via a quick release plate and the BBH-200 comes with a Vanguard QS-60 universal quick shoe included. A thumbscrew on the side of the plate loosens or tightens the clamp as desired which also has a safety pin (shown on the image above) to prevent the universal quick shoe from accidentally sliding out of the plate – which could be a very costly mistake!

The quick shoe can also slide forward and backwards about 2.5cm within the plate before clamping it, helping you to get your set-up nicely balanced.

On the plate there are two bubble levels – one for finding the level when the plate is in the standard position and one for when you are shooting portrait shots and the ball neck is in the vertical drop notch.

Conclusion

This Vanguard BBH-200 Ball Head gave me everything I was hoping for and more:

The Rapid Level System is for me an excellent feature and one that really sets this head apart form the others that I was considering. Movement and adjustment of the ball is fast, smooth and accurate as is the panning base.

Fully tightened it is secure as you like and I never experienced any creeping at all even with my longer telephoto lenses attached or when I tested it using my heavier and longer spotting scope.

The quality and workmanship of it is great and it is lighter than most of it’s competitors and is far lighter and more compact my favourite Pistol Grip Ball head and so I shall definitely be using it where these features are important like on long hikes or walking safaris.

Video of the Vanguard BBH-200 Ball Head

The video below was created by Vanguard and highlights some of the main features of the BBH Ball Heads:

Cost & Where to buy

The BBH-200 currently costs about £200 in the UK and about $200 in the US:

Buy in the UK UK: Amazon.co.uk

Vanguard BBH Ball Heads on Amazon.co.uk

Buy in the USA USA: Amazon.com

Vanguard BBH Ball Heads on Amazon.com


Share

Braun 1-for-All-Switch (Universal Battery Charger)

Every year I go on safari, I seem to take more and more electrical equipment: there is my camera, camcorder, laptop and mobile phone. On top of this, my wife has her camera, phone, Kindle and her MP3 player. All of which need to have their batteries charged during the holiday.

If I was to take each of their chargers along, combined they would almost need a carry bag for themselves, which for travel is far from ideal. The answer is to use one universal battery charger that can charge all of these devices and more.

For the past few years I have been using the Braun 1-For-All-Plus Universal Battery Charger, which I really love and highly recommend to anyone looking to cut down on their number of chargers.

This year I have been given Braun’s newer model to test, the Braun 1-for-All-Switch (model no. 59407) and below is my review:

Braun 1-for-All-Switch Review

Like the previous model, this universal charger will charge virtually all rechargeable lithium-ion and NiMH/NiCd batteries used in camcorders, digital cameras, MP£/MP4 players and mobile phones, including size AA and AAA batteries. What is new on this model is a nifty USB port that enables you to charge many devices, including things like an Amazon Kindle and MP3 Players via a USB cable without having to remove the battery from the device.

What I really like is that you don’t need to worry about what voltage is required for different batteries as within the Braun charger there is a micro-processor that automatically detects the voltage required and adjusts the charge for lithium-ion batteries (3.6-3.7V/7.2-7.4V) and all NiMH/NiCd batteries. On top of this the Braun 1-for-All-Switch has a reverse polarity, overload, short circuit and overheating protection as well as defective battery recognition.

Charging Lithium-ion batteries: Like the older version this charger this Braun 1-for-All-Switch has a spring loaded sliding top that holds different sized Lithium-ion batteries batteries firmly in place. Then under this sliding top, there are two contact plates that can be easily be adjusted from on-top or under the charger via two sliders to line up with the – and + contacts of your battery.

To test it, I used it with a few different camera and mobile phone batteries and the charger was easily able to accommodate and charge them all.

Charging AA and AAA batteries: The Braun 1-for-All-Switch can charge two rechargeable AA or AAA batteries at one go. The batteries fit into two slots one either side of the charger and are once again held firmly in place by the spring loaded slider. I personally would have preferred it if the charger could accommodate four batteries at one time, but I guess then the device would have to be quite a bit larger.

I have been using the 1-for-All-Switch to charge my Ni-MH AA batteries that I use for my camera for a few months now and as you would expect it charges them with no problems at all.

Charging via the USB port: A new feature on the latest Braun Universal charger is the USB 2.0 port that enables you to charge many electronic devices via a
USB cable without having to remove the battery from the device. This worked really well for me as I use the USB port on the Braun Charger to charge my wife’s Amazon Kindle with it as well as her MP3 player which has a USB connection and fits directly into the charger (see photo below).

What is also pretty cool is you can use the USB port to charge a device as well as simultaneously charging a Lithium-ion battery or two AA, AAA batteries.

LCD display
At one end of the Braun Universal Battery Charger there is a LCD display that displays the status of the batter being charges and how much more charging is needed until it is fully charged. Unlike the older version that also gave you a percentage figure, this just has an icon which is less accurate but still gives you a good idea of how long there is to go.

12V car cigarette lighter
As well as the standard 1200mA switching power adapter, you can also use the included 12V car cigarette lighter to power the charger. This for me is excellent as I often travel long distance whilst on safari, or am located in areas where there is no electricity and so can if need be charge all my devices in the car.

Conclusion

Like the previous model, the Braun 1-for-All-Switch Universal Batter Charger really is a superb product and for my money is the ideal solution when travelling especially for safaris as you only need to bring the one charger with you for all your devices. I highly recommend it and not only will it be travelling everywhere with me, but when at home I keep it handy as it saves me having to search for a particular charger.

Specifications

The Universal charger BRAUN 1-For-All-SWITCH is able to charge virtually all old, present & future lithium-ion batteries 3.6-3.7 V/7.2-7.4 V, Round batteries 3.0 V/3.6 V (CR123, 18650, LIR123A), NiMH/NiCD batteries AA/AAA 1.2 V, Prismatic batteries and NiMH/NiCd blocks 9 V used in camcorders, digital cameras, MP3/MP4 players and mobile phones.

  • Input: 100 – 240 V/12V DC 800mA
  • Li-ion charge output rating: 3.6-3.7V, 900mA max. 7.2-7.4V, 900mA max.
  • NiMh/NiCd output rating: 2*1.4V, 800mA max. 9V, 100mA max.
  • USB output rating: 5.3V, 600mA max.
  • Dimension: 117(L)*67(W)*30(H)mm
  • Weight: 80g

Cost and Where to Buy

Buy this shirt in the UK UK: Amazon.co.uk

Braun Universal Battery Chargers on Amazon.co.uk

Buy this shirt in the USA USA: Amazon.com

Universal Battery Chargers on Amazon.com


Related Links

Share

Sony Cyber-shot HX200V Superzoom Bridge Camera

Ideal Safari Camera: Sony Cyber-shot HX200V

The Sony Cyber-shot HX200V Superzoom camera was announced on the 28th February 2012 and looks to be an ideal camera to take on safari. The Sony HX200V has a high quality 30x optical zoom lens and is GPS-enabled.

It’s crammed with desirable features like a 3.0-inch tilting LCD and an EXMOR R CMOS sensor and carries an 18 megapixel EXMOR R sensor coupled to a BIONZ image processor. It sports a manual focus ring for those who would choose to do so, as well as a 3.0-inch 921k-dot tilting LCD.

30x (27 – 810mm) Zoom

The 30x optical zoom is the camera’s main attraction and the feature that is most desirable for use as a safari camera. That focal range starts at an equivalent 27mm and extends all the way to 810mm with a maximum aperture range of f/2.8-5.6. The Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* optic is comprised of 11 elements in 10 groups.

The Sony Cyber-shot HX200V also incorporates a new Auto Focus system which Sony says will produce focus times as fast as 0.10 seconds. This is achieved by using a new focus algorithm and a new motor that judges the distance to its subject and moves in just one direction to bring the object into focus. This saves time as previous systems worked in two directions, bringing the object further out of focus before locking in on the correct focus.

HD Video Capture

Another great feature is especially for those going on safari with the camera is the ability to capture full 1080 HD video at an impressive 60 frames per second. The Sony HX200V also has an updated Optical Steadyshot system that is said to reduce blur from rolling motions in video mode.

ISO sensitivity ranges from 100 up to 12800. The HX200 will accept SD, SDHC and SDXC memory media.

Cost and where to Buy:

The Sony Cyber-shot HX200V will be available from March 2012 and will cost in the region of $480 / £350.

UK: Amazon.co.uk

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX200V on Amazon.co.uk

USA: Amazon.com

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX200V on Amazon.com


Related Articles:

Share

Four New Family Safaris for 2012

If you are looking for a safari holiday that you can enjoy with your children – below are some of the best family safaris on offer for 2012:


3 Day Family Safari in South Africa

This three day family Safari in a Malaria Free BIG 5 reserve makes the ideal excursion as part of your longer stay in South Africa.

This safari takes place in Pilanesberg National Park in South Africa’s North West Province, it is one of the largest national parks in the country and is located right next to the world famous Sun City.

Ideal for families as you are actively encouraged to bring your children to enjoy this affordable Big 5 Safari. Included is a spacious vehicle and chalets, safe environment with swimming pool, mini golf and kiddies playground.

Pilanesberg NP is a Big 5 reserve that supports healthy populations of Lion, Leopard, Black and White Rhino, Elephant and Buffalo and a wide variety of rare and common species like the nocturnal Brown Hyena, the fleet-footed Cheetah, the majestic Sable, Giraffe, Zebra, Hippo and Crocodile and other animals. Over 300 bird species have been recorded.

Cost: £475 (USD $736)

Click Here for more details, to read the reviews and to book


6 Day, Fun Safari, Tanzania

This 6 day, 5 Night Safari in Tanzania takes you to Arusha National Park, Tarangire National Park, Lake Manyara, Ngorongoro & the world famous Serengeti National Park.

Basic Itinerary

Day 1: Arusha National Park – In the morning drive to Arusha National Park for game viewing. Lunch at Momela and there after lunch proceed with game viewing, dinner and overnight, Arusha.

Day 2: Tarangire National Park – After breakfast transfer to Tarangire national park for game viewing, lunch, dinner and overnight, Tarangire.

Day 3: Lake Manyara National Park – After breakfast transfer to Lake Manyara national park for game viewing, lunch then after lunch drive to the park again for a second half game viewing. Dinner and overnight, Manyara.

Day 4: Serengeti National Park – After breakfast transfer to Serengeti national park via Ngorongoro conservation area, with your lunch box and game viewing enroute. Dinner and overnight, Serengeti.

Day 5: Serengeti National Park / Ngorongoro Crater – After breakfast take a half day game viewing in Serengeti park, lunch Serengeti, then after lunch transfer to Ngorongoro for Dinner and overnight.

Day 6: Ngorongoro Crater – After breakfast, with packed lunch descend into the crater for a full day game viewing. Evening drive back to Arusha.

Cost: £879 (USD $1360)

Click Here for more details, to read all 7 reviews and to book


6 Day, Private Family Safari, South Africa

Currently offered with a 10% discount this South African safari is ideal for those families looking to get away from it all, have a once in a lifetime experience but without having to share!

Located at Kruger National Park where the operator provides private family safari itineraries with no more than 8 people sharing on a full service basis. Neil is accompanied on safari by his hospitality chef, who takes care of the meals – from great cooked breakfasts, light lunches and fantastic dinners – all their cuisine is traditional South African and all this in an incredible outdoor setting.

The Safari includes private road transfer from Johannesburg Airport to Kruger and return. All accommodation, conservation and entrance fees.

All private guiding and game drives in their private open-sided game viewing vehicle.

All meals and refreshments courtesy of your own private hospitality chef.

Refreshments include: South African wine, beer, bottled water and fresh juice.

All safari activities as per itinerary (including two game drives a day and a night drive/bush braai activity).

Cost: £1094 (USD $1692)

Click Here for more details, to read all the reviews and to book


10 Day, Family Wildlife Safari, Kenya

Enjoy 10 fantastic Days with your family safari visiting the most popular wildlife reserves in Kenya.

The safari departs from Nairobi and takes you to Amboseli National Park, located about 250 km South of Nairobi and lying at the base of the incredible Mt. Kilimanjaro. Amboseli is famous for its big game as well as amazing scenic beauty as the entire landscape is dominated by Mt Kilimanjaro.

After Amboseli there is a day/night break in Nairobi so as to cut short the driving distances, before proceeding to Sweetwaters Game Reserve. While in Nairobi, you can enjoy “The Nairobi Safari Walk”, which is quite an adventurous experience, as well as visit the Giraffe Centre, with a chance to feed these most graceful animals.

Sweetwaters Game Reserve is a private sanctuary near the foot of Mt. Kenya and contains a wide variety of wildlife. Among the highlights at the reserve include a visit to the Chimpanzee Sanctuary located within the reserve, which is the only one of its kind in Kenya, a visit to Morani the tame rhino, the Visitors Information Centre and the optional night game drive.

This Kenya safari then proceeds to the floor of the Rift Valley, to Lake Nakuru National Park, world famous for flamingos that carpet the lake. The park is home to a variety of wildlife, including the endangered black rhino.

Lake Naivasha is the next stop on this adventure, where the family will enjoy a boat ride on the lake and a guided walking safari at Crescent Island, one of the few places in the world where one can walk freely amidst wild animals as there are no predators.

Last but definitely not least is the visit to Maasai Mara, arguably Kenya’s most popular game reserve. Here you will have the best opportunity of spotting the Big Five (lion, leopard, buffalo, rhino and elephant) as well as many other species.

Cost: £1925 (USD $2980)

Click Here for more details, to read all the reviews and to book

View all available Family Safari Holidays in Kenya.




Further Reading

Share

Benro Travel Angel 2 Tripod Review

Having recently reviewed the excellent Benro GH2 Gimbal Head, which I really loved, I was keen to explore what Benro Tripods there were for a photographer going travelling on Safari.

Benro Travel Angel 2 tripodBenro Travel Tripods

Looking at their product range, there is quite a large selection of Benro Travel Tripods to choose from, with their very successful Benro Travel Angel series being the most ideal for taking on safari. What is more is this range has just been updated and thanks to Kenro, the UK distributors, I was lucky enough to get the chance to be one of the first to try out one of their new Travel Angel 2 Tripods – below are my findings and full review:

Benro Travel Angel 2 Tripods

The new Travel Angel 2 range comprises six models with both aluminium and carbon fibre versions. I had the “snappy” named Benro A1682TB0 Travel Angel 2 Tripod Kit to review – an aluminium model with 4 leg sections.

Main Specifications of the Benro A1682TB0
Sections: 4
Max Height: 1.59m / 62.6 in
Folded size: 44cm / 17.32 in
Weight: 1.75kg / 3.89 lbs
Max load: 8kg / 17.6 lbs

Benro Travel Angel 2 Tripod with carry case and Benro DJ-80 Ball Head

Size and Weight
The first thing you will notice after taking the Benro Travel Angel 2 Tripod out of the box and it’s carry case, is the size. Fully collapsed, it is much more compact than most traditional full sized tripods. This compact size can be attributed to the 4 section legs that are also able to fold backwards on themselves (so up towards the center column at 180°). This allows the tripod to collapse down into a nice and small package. At 1.75kg (3.89 lbs) and just 44cm (17.32in) when folded down, the Benro A1682TB0 can easily fit inside most full sized camera bags.

With all 4 legs sections out, with the central column fully retracted the tripod stands at 125cm (49.2in) – excluding the height of the tripod head and measured from the floor to the base of the platform. With the central column fully extended the height extends to 152cm (59.8in). Benro advertise that the tripod’s maximum height is 1.59m (62.6 in) – I can only assume that this is achieved by bringing the legs inwards from their fixed stop at 24° or if they are also taking the height of the tripod head into account?

Weighing 1.75kg / 3.89 lbs, it is perhaps not the lightest travel tripod out there, but for me it is easily light enough and for me the added stability it has over some super light models is far more important. If you do want a lighter tripod, the travel Angel 2 series also has a number of carbon fibre models that weigh a lot less.

Benro Travel Angel 2 Tripod

The Tripod Legs
This Benro A1682TB0 Travel Angel 2 uses twist locks to open and close the leg sections and have anti-twist legs that prevent the legs from spinning as you turn the twist locks. The anti-twist legs help you to quickly setup and breakdown the tripod, even with one hand and are actually an excellent feature and one that you don’t always find on a tripod in this price range. Setting up can be especially quick, because you can open all three twist locks on each leg with just one hand at the same time and pull on the bottom section to extend all sections in one quick action. This also works when locking all of the sections after you have collapsed the legs.

The legs themselves open and close with a nice smooth action, without being too loose. Each leg can move independently of each other and can click stop and lock at 2 positions: at 24° and at 80°. To move the legs from one of these locked positions, you just pull out the plate with the Benro logo on (see image above).

Adjustable Leg Angle Stops
I really like the way that the Benro Angel 2 tripod legs can be independently locked into place at two different angles. My personal, but larger and heavier Vanguard Alta Pro 263AT Tripod can also do the same thing and this added flexibility has really helped me out in the past. It enables you to use the tripod at almost ground level for unique perspectives. Being able to have diffident legs at different angles has also helped when I was taking some bird shots, but was positioned on the side of a steep embankment. Other times this feature has been useful include when trying to fit my tripod in a tight space, like in and around a bench where I take many of my product photos.

Legs Open - Benro Travel Angel tripod

The first click stop for the legs is at the traditional position of about 24°. From here and with a 4 leg sections fully extended, the tripod is at it’s least stable, but was still perfectly adequate for my set-up. To add stability, you could always add some weight to the spring-loaded hook located at the bottom of the center column.

Benro Travel Angel 2 Tripod

You can then open the legs and fix them at the wider 80° position, which allows you to get much lower to the ground, which can be useful when taking macro or photos from a more unique perspective. One thing to note is the center column has to be extended to roughly half it’s length when the legs are in this 80° position.

Center-Column Hook
The Travel Angel tripod comes with a hook, located on the bottom of the center-column which allows you to hang additional weight from here. Because this is located at the tripod’s center of gravity it will have the effect of increasing stability. Although I never needed to use it, it could be useful to those who are using very heavy and long telephoto lenses.

The Benro Travel Angel 2 Tripod as a walking stick

Tripod + Monopod + Walking Stick
Know as a Transfunctional Tripod, a nice feature on the Travel Angel 2 Tripod is that one of the legs can be converted into a monopod. To do this you just unscrew the detachable leg that has the foam handle on it and is marked with a blue ring and then screw on a head plate that enables you to attach your camera to you new monopod – excellent!

But wait, there is more! You can also use this leg as a walking stick – Instead of attaching the plate that you attach the tripod head to, you can just screw on the “walking stick” head that comes with it’s own compass – this feature is ideal for those who also enjoy walking. A nice touch is my tripod also came with a good quality wrist strap that will prevent you from dropping your walking stick.

Included Extras

Benro have shown some good attention with some of the included extras that come with the Travel Angel Tripods:

Carry Bag
The included carry case looks to be really well made, it is well padded and has an internal zipped pocket and a shoulder strap. This case will provide your tripod and tripod head with some extra protection during transport when you are travelling or going on safari.

Spiked or Rubber Feet
The tripod came initially set-up with rubber feet, but these can be unscrewed and replace with the included stainless steel spiked feet – again this is a nice touch and will help to ensure you have the most stable platform possible, no matter what situation you find yourself in!

Benro B0 BallHead

Benro B0 Ball Head

My tripod kit came with Benro’s B0 Ballhead that can take an advertised maximum load of 17.6 lbs (8 kg). All BENRO B-Series Ballheads, including this one have two independent manual drag and locking controls as well as a panning control and use a Universal Arca-Swiss style Quick Release mounting plate system. Also included is a built-in bubble Level that helps in making sure that you don’t get uneven pans and head movements.

This B0 ball head easily held my Fujifilm FinePix HS20EXR bridge camera even with the Raynox DCR-2025PRO Telephoto Conversion Lens attached, and I am sure it would easily hold most DSLR cameras, I would hesitate in recommending that you use it with a DSLR and a long telephoto lens as I am sure you would get some creep and you would be far better off getting a beefier head.

For me the big omission to this ball head is the lack of a safety lock on the PU-50 Quick Release Plate and so the only thing separating your camera from the ground is one knob that you must make sure is tightened before moving the camera otherwise it could turn out to be a very expensive mistake.

Conclusion

Whilst the Benro A1682TB0 Travel Angel 2 Tripod may not be the lightest, most compact travel tripod available, it is still small and light enough to make it an excellent choice for travel and would make an ideal safari tripod. The fact that it is so sturdy also more than makes up for the few extra grams.

Because you can also convert it to a monopod and use it as a walking stick is a nice bonus. So overall I thought that the Benro Travel Angel 2 was a well made good quality tripod and is in my opinion very reasonably priced making it excellent value for money.

Cost and Where to buy

Benro Travel Angle Tripods are available on Amazon in both the UK and the USA:

UK: Amazon.co.uk

Benro Travel Angel Tripods on Amazon.co.uk

USA: Amazon.com

Benro Travel Angel Tripods on Amazon.com


The promotional video below from Benro is of the older original Travel Angel Tripod, but will give you a good idea of some of this newer versions main features and highlights:

Further Reading

Share

The New Vanguard BBH Professional Tripod Ball Heads

Press Release:

New for 2012 is VANGUARD’s top-of-the-line, professional tripod ball head, BBH Series ball head for professional photographers delivers in all of the key areas – accuracy, precision, convenience and ease of use. No matter the camera’s position, its Rapid Level System enables photographers to guide their camera to be perfectly level with the base, quickly and efficiently.

When the level position is attained, BBH holds the camera in place. This, coupled with use of its two bubble levels to ensure the tripod’s balance, enables perfectly accurate 360-degree panoramic photography and videography. This magnesium ball head has a unique open body design that helps maintain a lighter weight. The ball also boasts a scratch-free, oxidized surface for ultra smooth moment. BBH can be positioned at accurate 90-degree angles in one second. Other features include two bubble levels, a ¼ to 3/8” adaptor on the base and a universal standard clamp that enables quick shoe movement but holds securely in place.

BBH is available in three sizes at street prices of around $169-249.

UK: Amazon.co.uk

Vanguard Tripod Heads on Amazon.co.uk

USA: Amazon.com

Vanguard Tripod Heads on Amazon.com


Share

Benro GH2 Gimbal Head Review

Benro GH2 Gimbal Head

My usual equipment for wildlife photography includes the use of a superzoom bridge camera like the excellent Fujifilm FinePix HS20EXR with a teleconverter lens like the Raynox DCR-2025PRO Super Telephoto Conversion Lens attached to it. One of the big advantages of this set-up is that it is small and light enough to get away with using it with most standard tripod heads (my personal favourite being a pistol grip like the Vanguard GH-100 or the newer Vanguard GH-200.

Using Heavy Photographic Equipment and Long Telephoto Lenses
However I recently got the chance to test and review the new Kowa Prominar Telephoto Lens/Scope, a unique lens that can be used as both a spotting scope and a proper telephoto lens but will only attach to an SLR camera. A fantastic piece of kit, which is cheaper and lighter than many other 500mm lenses designed for SLR cameras (it weighs less than 2kg), but this combined with the SLR camera body meant that whilst my pistol grip could hold it, the set-up was far from ideal. This is because it is difficult to get well balanced and you have to fight the natural tendency of the equipment to want to tip over due to gravity. The only way to stop it tipping over is to use tension control, making moving your camera to aim in a different direction difficult.

Benro GH2 Gimbal Head

Gimbal Tripod Heads

This is where a Gimbal Head really help as they balance your camera and lens at their natural centre of gravity to make them feel almost weightless. This means that tension control is not necessary because your camera and lens cannot flop over and what is more you can move it about and aim it with just one finger.

Benro Professional GH2 Gimbal Head

So I now knew that I needed a Gimbal head, but which one to get? The Rolls Royce of Gimbal heads is probably the Wimberley MKII (WH-200) which is a fantastic piece of kit, but costs around £550/$600, I also looked at the Induro GHB-2 (£420/$490) as well as the Benro GH-2 which is available for around £300/$350.

Designed specifically for for heavy telephoto lenses, The Benro GH-2 gimbal head very similar to the Wimberley WH-200, in fact I think it is based on it, yet costs only half the price.

Overview
Weight 1.44kg
Max Load: 23kg
Length: 24.2cm
Width: 8.9cm
Depth: 24.1cm
Base Diameter 56mm

Build Quality & Setting Up
Inside the rather plain black and gold box, the GH2 comes in two main pieces, the main arm and base mount and the height adjustable mounting plate. As far as build quality and engineering go I thought it looked really well made and once assembled the whole mount feels as solid as a single piece. This is very important as this head has to securely hold some pretty valuable photographic kit.

Size and Weight
Weighting 1.44kg’s the Benro GH2 Professional Gimbal Head weighs the same as the same as the Wimberley MKII (WH-200) and their dimensions are also very similar. Designed to accept a range of telephoto lenses, right up to the very large 800mm ones, it is about as compact as you can get.

Close up of the Base Mount on the Benro GH2 Gimbal Head

Setting Up
Getting the GH2 ready to use is fairly simple. As mentioned earlier, it comes in two parts and these just slide and lock together with the mounting plate lever. You will also need an “international style” lens plate to attach to your lens foot. If you decide on a Benro one, look for the PL Series like the Benro PL100 Lens Plate.

The next step is to attach the GH2 Gimbal Head to your tripod. I was using my trusty Vanguard Alta Pro 263AT Tripod that I highly recommend, but you can use most sturdy standard tripods. Went attaching it, just make sure that the Panning Lock Know is tightened and that you keep the head upright to prevent any chance of cross-threading. Once it is tight you can now attach your lens.

First attach the lens plate securely to your lens foot, then make sure that all knobs on the head are tight as you do not want your lens to fall off at this point! Then undo the quick release knob on the mounting platform of the Gimbal head and slide the lens in – make sure it is correctly seated and tighten the knob securely. A mistake her could be a very expensive one!

If you look at the photos, you will see that I mounted the camera on the plate so that the quick release knob was facing away from me – I guess you could call this backwards, but as I knew I was not going to be using it very often (I don’t often change lenses), I just liked to have it out of the way. Whatever the case, it does not make a difference to how everything works.

At this point it is not important if your camera body is attached to the lens or not – I find it a little easier without as there is less weight and find it easier to later attach the camera to the lens when it is supported and securely held in the Gimbal head.

Close up showing the Vertical Balance scale on the Benro GH2 Gimbal HeadBalancing
Once the camera is attached it is time to get the system all balanced, so make sure you are set up as you will be using it in the field – So the camera has it’s batteries and your lens hood is extended etc.

To set the horizontal balance – First carefully loosen the Tilt knob and then the QR knob and slide the camera and lens forward or backwards along the QR clamp until you can feel that your set-up will stay level by itself. You can now tighten the QR knob.

To set the vertical balance – Now tilt the lens and adjust the vertical level by loosening the Mounting plate lock lever and moving the plate up and down until you find that the lens will stay at exactly the angle you pointed it at.

That is is – you now have a perfectly counter balanced set-up, making your camera and lens feel almost weightless!

One point to mention here is if you often use different lenses on your camera, you may wish to make some markings on the scale so that it will be easier and quicker to get it all counter balanced correctly when changing lenses.

Ease of Use
Once your equipment is correctly balanced, you can now fully appreciate just how well and just how much easier it is to use heavy equipment and long lenses with a Gimbal Head like the Benro GH2.

Unless you are carrying it, the weight of that long lens and SLR camera just vanishes and makes you instantly wonder how you ever managed to use a ball head! Instead of struggling with the tension controls, you can now just move your camera into almost nay position with just one finger and it will stay in that position without having adjust any knobs or levers – excellent!

I don’t use the Tilt and Panning lock knobs very much out in the field as the wildlife and especially the birds that I mostly shoot always tend to be on the move. Although if you are lucky and what you are shooting stays till, it is great to tighten these up and get the setup as still as possible, or even better a timed shot of the subject.

Available Movement
With this Benro Gimbal head, you get a huge amount of flexibility of movement and the best bit is it is very quick, this is because apart from changing from landscape to portrait, there are no knobs to adjust. The possible movements include:

Pan 306° – With the Panning Lock knob loose, you can rotate the camera a full 360° around the tripod. This movement is also very smooth, which really is important if you shoot video with your.

Vertical Movement – This Gimbal head allows for almost 180° of vertical movement – so from horizontal, you can tilt the lens upwards until it is almost pointing to something directly above you and downwards you could take photos of the feet on your tripod!

To go from landscape to portrait, I just loosened the collar around my lens and rotated the camera and lens..

Conclusion
For my money the Benro GH2 Gimbal Head is a fantastic piece of kit, it is well made and very sturdy, but at the same time you get all the ease of movement that you need to ensure that you can react quickly enough to get the shots you need.

The fact that it is much cheaper than it’s main competitors, without sacrificing any functionality or performance is a real bonus and is why I would say that it offers really good value for money.

BuyCost & Where to Buy

Good places to check the price of the Benro GH2 Gimbal Head are below:

In the UK: Benro GH2 at wex photographic (Warehouseexpress.com)

Or take a look on Amazon in both the UK and USA:

UK: Amazon.co.uk


Benro GH2 Gimbal Head on Amazon.co.uk

USA: Amazon.com


Benro GH2 Gimbal Head on Amazon.com



Share