If travel photographers had one wish, they’d be able to summon the exact lens they need at any moment. But when you’re walking a lot and carrying your gear on your back, you have to bring only the best lenses. We know picking lenses for travel can be a dilemma – on the one hand, you don’t want to pack anything too cumbersome that may prevent you from making the most of your travels, but on the other, you don’t want to limit your ability to capture those once-in-a-lifetime shots.
#1 All-in-one zoom lenses
When you’re travelling, you want to keep your kit as light as possible. That’s where the humble all-in-one zoom lens comes in. Also known as superzoom lenses, these lenses offer multiple focal lengths in a surprisingly compact package. Think of them as the jack-of-all-trades for travel photography.
To zoom in on a scene, you rotate a ring on the lens barrel. The level of zoom varies between models, but generally, an all-in-one zoom lens provides at least a 10x range. To figure out the zoom range, simply look at the product name. It will list a measurement in millimetres – for example, 30-300mm.
There are a few major benefits of using all-in-one zoom lenses:
They’re portable– If you want to ditch the camera bag, these lenses may suit your style as an adventurous travel photographer.
They’re versatile– Along with saving space, superzoom lenses allow you to play around with focal lengths without switching lenses and potentially missing the shot. In other words, you can easily react to what’s happening in front of you.They can protect your camera – Since you’re not swapping (or dropping) lenses, you reduce the risk of dust, dirt and moisture reaching your sensor. A camera is an investment, and using an all-in-one zoom lens can help you to keep it in good condition.
They help you to experiment with composition – With an all-in-one zoom lens in your kit, you can quickly frame, crop and recompose your shot without physically moving away from – or closer to – your subject. This is especially appealing for travel photographers who capture wildlife and other scenes that are better shot from a distance.
- They offer value for money – A good all-in-one zoom lens can cost over a thousand dollars – but this is much cheaper than purchasing three, four or five different lenses.
They’re weather-sealed– The high-end lenses are designed to withstand the elements, which gives you peace of mind when you’re travelling to different climates where water, dust or wind may be an issue.
Best for: Those who want to be prepared to photograph a bit of everything and only carry one lens.
What we use: Sony FE 24-240mm f/3.5-6.3 Zoom Lens. This 10x superzoom lens has in-built optical image stabilisation and a dust- and moisture-resistant design, so we don’t need to worry about it getting damaged during our travels. It’s compact, making it an ideal vlogging companion.
#2 Wide-angle zoom lenses
Wide-angle lenses offer a 180-degree view of a scene, so they’re brilliant for capturing the beauty of immense landscapes, such as beaches and mountain ranges. By opening up the scene without compromising sharpness, wide-angle lenses pull everything into the frame in focus – from the foreground to the background.
If you’re interested in architecture, a wide-angle lens will help you to capture the size and significance of landmarks and old heritage buildings. They’ll serve you well in tight indoor spaces, too. For example, when a wall stops you from backing up and fitting more scenery into the frame, a wide-angle lens can step in.
When you’re shopping for a wide-angle lens, remember that the shorter the focal length, the wider the field of view – and the more scenery you’ll be able to fit in your frame. The most common wide-angle focal lengths are 14mm, 20mm, 24mm, 28mm and 35mm.
Once you’ve mastered the wide-angle lens, you can experiment with taking abstract and artistic photos using an ultra-wide lens, such as a fisheye. One thing’s for sure: your images will stand out among a sea of travel photos.
Best for: Travel photographers who want to capture panoramic photos of natural landscapes and architectural buildings.
What we use: Sony 16-35mm FE F2.8 G Master. With a versatile zoom range and a speedy f2.8 maximum aperture, this lens stands out for its handheld and low light performance – so we end up with smooth, blur-free images even if we leave the tripod at home. It’s durable and designed for full-frame E-Mount cameras.
#3 Prime lenses
In a nutshell, prime lenses have a single focal length and a maximum aperture between f2.8 and f1.2. They don’t zoom, so they can take some time to get used to. But there’s a reason why some of the most famous photos in history were taken with these lenses. They require skill and patience – but stick with it, and the results can be incredible.
- The image quality is excellent – Prime lenses have less distortion, and they separate the foreground from the background for crisper photos.
- They’re compact – These lenses tend to be smaller and lighter than zoom lenses. If space and weight are your major concerns, think about adding a prime lens to your kit.
- They adapt to low light – Thanks to their faster and wider aperture, prime lenses let more light into the camera. If you’re working with less-than-ideal lighting, these lenses will help you to reach the right exposure without increasing your ISO or lowering the shutter speed.
- They produce a creamy bokeh – Do you know those photos where the background is beautifully blurred, yet the subject is nice and sharp? That’s bokeh, and a prime lens will help you to get that effect.
- They promote creativity – Since prime lenses don’t zoom, the only way you can change your perspective if by physically moving or cropping the photo in post-processing. By encouraging you to move, prime lenses can help you to hone your composition and end up with more creative photos.
Best for: It depends on the focal length. A wider lens is perfect for landscapes and street photography, while normal to short telephoto lenses (50-90mm) are popular for portraits. Recently, pancake-style prime lenses have been flying off the shelves. They’re portable and ideal for travelling.
What we use: Sony FE 50mm F1.8 Lens. Weighing under 200 grams, this prime lens is our most lightweight lens. It has a maximum aperture of f1.8, allowing for some nice blurred backgrounds in our travel photos and portraits. It works well in all lighting conditions, which is why it’s our choice for travel photography.
Our tips for protecting your lenses
Just like your camera, your lenses need to be looked after. While you’re travelling, take the climate into account:
If you’re shooting in high humidity, throw a silica gel packet in your camera bag to draw away moisture.
If you’re shooting in the snow, pop your camera gear in a plastic bag before going inside, and then store it in the coldest part of the room. That way, it’ll warm up slowly.
If it’s raining or windy, wait until you’re undercover to swap your lenses. Dirt, dust, sand and water can all damage your lens.
The right lens can boost your travel photos
Let’s be honest: Travel photography is a competitive field. The challenge is always finding a fresh perspective on a destination – and a good lens can help with that. Some professional photographers will argue that a superzoom or wide-angle lens is essential, while others will say a prime lens is all you need. Whether you pack one lens or a range of them is a matter of personal preference, but hopefully this lens buying guide in partnership with Ted’s Cameras has made your decision a little bit easier!
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