Photography & optics
Don't expect to find any reasonably priced or reasonably available optical equipment in Zambia – so bring everything that you will need with you.
35mm SLR cameras with interchangeable lenses offer you the greatest flexibility. For general photography, using film rather than digital, a mid-range zoom lens (eg: 28–70mm) is best – much more useful than the standard (50mm) lens. For wildlife photography you will need at least a 200mm zoom lens, otherwise most animals and birds will look like mere dots on the horizon.
Compact cameras are fine for shots of people and landscapes, but of little use for pictures of the wildlife.
Auto-focus zoom lenses are a godsend for capturing animals and birds that move in the time that it takes to focus manually, but they need extra care to ensure that they remain dust-free. A few grains of sand or dust in the wrong place will render some such lenses useless.Digital cameras
Digital cameras are improving all the time, and, for most relatively casual photographers, they've probably now reached a stage when they are a more convenient and better bet than film. Even hardened professionals are starting to take a digital camera along with them.
The main concern in taking a digital camera to Zambia is the charging of batteries. If you're flying around to small safari camps, then most camps will have some form of power, even though there is no socket in your tent. (Even the smallest bushcamp will normally have a fridge and a radio, and both will require some power.) If you bring a few sets of spare batteries, and a charger, most camps will usually be able to charge your batteries given 24 hours. Ideally, also bring an adaptor for a vehicle's cigarette lighter, as then they can be charged with you whilst you're on a game-viewing drive.
For a safari holiday, especially if you are doing much walking, a good pair of binoculars is essential. They will bring you far more enjoyment than a camera, as they make the difference between merely seeing an animal or bird at a distance, and being able to observe its markings, movements and moods closely. Do bring one pair per person; one between two is just not enough.
There are two styles: the small 'pocket' binoculars, perhaps 10–12cm long, which account for most popular modern sales – and have only been in production since the 1980s. These were popularised by the makers of compact and auto-focus cameras, and are now often made in the Far East. Then there are larger, heavier styles, double or triple that size, which have been manufactured for years. Many of the remaining manufacturers of these are in the CIS, Germany or Austria.
The small ones are now mass-produced at around US$160/£100, whilst the larger ones vary widely in cost and quality. If you are buying a pair, then consider getting the larger style. The smaller ones are fine for spotting animals; but are difficult to hold steady, and very tiring to use for extensive periods. You will only realise this when you are out on safari, by which time it is too late.
Around 8 x 30 is an ideal size for field observations, as most people need some form of rest, or tripod, to hold the larger 10 x 50 models steady. Get the best-quality ones you can for your money. The cheapest will be about US$60/£40, but to get a reasonable level of quality spend at least US$400/£250.
If you use them regularly, aside from just one holiday, then try to stretch your budget above the US$900/£500 barrier. Once you do this, makes like Swarovski, Zeiss and Leica come within reach which are considerably better than cheaper models – and will hugely enhance your experience of viewing wildlife.
The bush is very dusty, so bring plenty of lens-cleaning cloths, and a blow-brush. Take great care not to get dust into the back of any camera, as a single grain on the back-plate can be enough to make a long scratch which ruins every frame taken.
Tripods are very useful if you're serious, though inconvenient to lug around. A small bean-bag is very useful for resting the camera on the window-sill of a vehicle.
Film is expensive in Zambia, and outside of the main centres supplies are very limited – so bring a large stock of anything that you will want to use. The range of film speeds should be dependent upon the type of photography that most interests you. For most landscape shots, where you will have plenty of light, a slow film (100ISO or less) will give the highest quality of results. For wildlife photography, you will probably need a faster film – 200 or even 400ISO – unless you're using very fast lenses.
Pictures taken around dawn and dusk will have the richest, deepest colours, whilst those taken in the middle of the day, when the sun is high, will seem pale and washed-out by comparison. Beware of the very deep shadows and high contrast which are typical of tropical countries – film just cannot capture the range of colours and shades that our eyes can. If you want to take pictures in full daylight, and capture details in the shadows, then you will need a good camera, and to spend some time learning how to use it fully. By restricting your photography to mornings, evenings and simple shots you will encounter fewer problems.
Especially after exposure, film deteriorates rapidly in the heat. Aim to keep all your film away from direct sunlight, somewhere shady and cool.