We're going to Africa for Safari next month. We're amatures for sure, but want to be able to capture this once-in-a-lifetime trip. We'll probably only use this camera for this trip so we want the best quality we need but don't want to pay a bundle. Animals in the wild and at a distance will likely be the bulk of our shots. Any advice would be appreciated. Thanks!
Well, to start with you are probably going to want a long telephoto or zoom lens -- at least out to 300mm. I don't have any experience with it, but the Tamron 28-300 zoom has a pretty good rep, and should give you most all you need in a single package.
Now for the camera. Since you are going on safari, I would presume you won't have access to all the comforts of home every day -- especially electrical power to recharge a digital camera. Also, since you said you probably won't use the camera again, that means you won't be shooting thousands of images over years, which is where a digital SLR becomes cost-effective relative to 35mm. So, I would recommend a fairly inexpensive 35mm SLR, like one of the Canon Rebel series -- Nikon has an equivalent, I am sure. Get auto-focus, auto-exposure, but extra bells & whistles (e.g. eye-controlled AF) is probably not necessary.
If you want digital pictures, simply have the lab scan the film to CD when you have it processed.
Oh, and I would recommend a tripod, and that you buy your film here -- you might want to go for the ISO 400, and maybe some ISO 800 -- but be careful, some airport scanning machines will hash up film something fierce.
Also, I would suggest you review the following article from the New York Institute of Photography:
Whatever camera and lens combination you decide on, you need to spend the next three months practicing with it. The worst thing you can do is buy a new camera to take on a once in a lifetime trip, and find you messed most of the pictures up because you were unfamiliar with the equipment.
That being said, a 100-300 zoom will probably do you better if you've never used super telephoto lenses. It's better to get sharp images that can be cropped if need be than close up unsharp images.
I also suggest a bean bag for shooting from a vehicle window. A zipper pillow case or something similar would work. Just loosely fill it with dirt and fold it over a few times when you're on location. Tripods are not good from moving vehicles. Make sure you investigate what kind of picture opportunities you'll have. You might need a small table top tripod also. My goal would be fewer better images than lots of mediocre ones.