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Camera gear for Pantanal

Many people reach out on what camera gear to bring when visiting the Pantanal. We are sharing our experiences and views when it comes to the best camera gear set-up that enables you to capture unique shots in each  and every situation.

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When planning a trip to photograph specific species, it is crucial to be well-prepared. This includes having a clear understanding of the conditions under which you will be shooting, the expected distance to your subjects, and the available lighting. By knowing these factors, you can determine the most suitable equipment to bring along. In some cases, it may even be beneficial to consider renting a prime lens if you do not already own one.

Photographing in the Pantanal

Black Skimmer Pantanal

Black skimmer fishing. Image taken with a 500mm F4 lens

Since the Pantanal has so much to offer in terms of wildlife species I decided to do a break down. Providing you with my experience on photographing specific species of wildlife. My experience is based on using full frame sensor camera’s.

Bird photography

If you’re planning on birding, I suggest packing telephoto lenses with a focal length of 400mm or higher. Ideally, go for a 500mm or 600mm lens as it will provide sufficient range in most scenarios. Additionally, depending on the lighting conditions and the type of shot you want to capture, you can use extenders to further extend your range. 
It’s worth noting that if you’re using a crop camera, the recommendations mentioned above may vary. In such cases, a 300mm or 400mm lens could suffice. For instance, if you have a crop factor of 1.6x, using a 300mm lens would give you an effective range of 480mm.
More and more lodges are started to feed birds in the early morning with fruits, creating great settings to photograph birds like the toucans or chestnut-eared aracari from close distances. 
Toucan portrait, birds of the Pantanal.

Tocu Toucan portrait. Image captured using a 500mm lens + 2x teleconverter @ 1000mm

Wildlife photography

Jaguar portrait image, jaguars of the Pantanal, jaguar photography tour

Jaguar portrait. Image captured using a 500mm lens + 2x teleconverter @ 1000mm

When it comes to wildlife photography, I always make sure to have two cameras with me. One is equipped with a 70-200mm zoom lens, while the other has a 500mm telephoto lens.

This setup allows me to easily switch between lenses and capture different types of images, such as close-ups or animals in their environment. It’s important to be prepared for any situation during a game drive or safari, as you never know what you might come across.

I’ve had instances where Giant anteaters were just a meter away from me, and other times I needed a 500mm lens to fit them in the frame. For action shots, I prefer having some space around the subject to avoid cutting off any parts of the body or wings and ensure that the animal stays within the frame. 

At other situations I was taking portraits of Toucan that was enjoying fruits at a lodge and a jaguar relaxing at a riverbank and used a 500 tele-lens + 2x converter to fill the image with just the head of the subject.

Advise: When possible be ready with 2 bodies and 2 type of lenses. It enables you to switch quickly and capture different shots. It as well prevent the changing of lenses which can cause sensors getting dirty (dust spots).

Jaguar photography

Let me share my photography setup that has been working great to capture the images I am after. 
My primary setup is the Canon R6 mark II and the 500mm F4 prime lens. The capabilities of both camera and this lens are truly remarkable when it comes focusing and capturing fine details and distant subjects.
Additionally, I trust upon the 1Dx and the versatile 70-200 2.8 lens paired with a reliable 1.4x tele converter on the secondary camera body. This allows me to get up close and personal with these magnificent creatures while maintaining flexibility in framing my shots.

However, after careful consideration and evaluation of my photographic needs, I am contemplating making an change by replacing my current 500 F4 tele-lens with the 400 F2.8 tele-lens instead. The image quality, smoother backgrounds through its wider aperture capability are wonderful.

Moreover, the 400 F2.8 tele-lens boasts exceptional performance in low-light situations, ensuring that I can continue capturing breathtaking images even in challenging lighting conditions. However, with my new Canon R6 Mark II, high ISO’s are not an issue anymore. Both camera performance have improved a lot and as well the availability of post processing noise removing software. 

In terms of advice, I recommend having a zoom range of at least 400mm based on a full frame camera. This could be achieved through various options such as bringing in a 400/500 or 600 prime lens or opting for versatile zoom lenses like the 100-400 or 200-400 or for example the new RF 100-500mm. Additionally, don’t shy away from using extenders as they can provide you with more creative options and have the potential to yield incredible shots that you’ll be proud to showcase.

I understand that opinions on extenders may vary among photographers, but personally, I have found them to be invaluable tools that have expanded my photographic possibilities and allowed me to capture unforgettable moments and intimate portraits. Learn more about my view on and experience with teleconverters.

jaguar drinking water, jaguars of the Pantanal, jaguar photography tour

Jaguar drinking water. A 500mm F4 lens was used to capture the image

Tripods and monopods

Jaguar on sandbank, jaguars of the Pantanal

Jaguar on a sand bank. Image taken with a 70-200 F2.8 lens.

In my personal experience, I have only used a tripod once during my trip to Pantanal, specifically when I was photographing ocelots from a hide. However, for all other occasions, I prefer shooting handheld and occasionally using a monopod. As a result of this preference, I made the decision to leave my tripod at home and instead travel with just a monopod.

This choice was particularly beneficial during boat rides as tripods are impractical due to their space-consuming nature and lack of flexibility.

Additionally, considering the rocking motion of the boat, I highly doubt that using a tripod would result in better shots. Another factor to consider is the camera angle in relation to the subject.

Personally, I strive to capture images from as low an angle as possible in order to create more visually appealing photographs.

To conclude

My preferred camera gear for the Pantanal is a primary camera body equipped with a 400 or 500mm telephoto lens and a secondary camera with a zoom lens. eg. 70-200 and bringing teleconverters along to extend the reach. Enabling you to switch quickly and have a great range for both animals in their environment and full frame images.

What are your thoughts or do you have any questions for us? Please share those in the comments.

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