Best Lens for Travel Photography

18 may 2022 - travel

Travelling allows you to see so many new exciting environments. Mexico in particular has some of the most diverse scenery in the world, and offers unlimited opportunities to see some truly incredible scenery. It is only natural to want to capture some of it in pictures, but you may find yourself wondering how to travel with photography gear when there are so many options to choose from, and when the equipment can take up so much space.

The lens of the camera is arguably the most important factor in obtaining a good quality image, and it can be quite daunting to pick one. This is why our team of experts has compiled a detailed guide, to keep in mind when deciding on the best option for you, so that you can keep taking great photos while on the move.

What Makes a Good Travel Lens

There are plenty of features to take into account when selecting a lens to use for travel photography. The first and most obvious one is its size. A more compact lens, while being convenient to pack and carry around, can limit the scope of what you can photograph.

This brings us to the next feature: versatility. When travelling it is important to choose the lens that will enable you to capture photos with your intended style in mind. Do you want to have a wide range of focal lengths to play around with? Or is the idea of ‘point-and-shoot’ style photography more appealing?

The next consideration is the lens’ maximum aperture. A wider aperture (which confusingly means a smaller aperture number) allows more light into the lens, allowing you to shoot in all types of situations, regardless of the lighting or time of day. They also mean you’ll be able to create amazing shallow depth of field effects, known as “bokeh”.

Unfortunately, these advantages come at a price. A significant price. A wide aperture drives up the cost of a lens exponentially, and may not be worth it for you. To save on the cost of the lens, we recommend going for a lens with a narrower opening. If you don’t intend to shoot in low light too often, you may not be missing out too much. The main drawback is that you’ll lose some of the capability to create these impressive bokeh effects.

Camera lenses are some of the most expensive pieces of equipment you can find. For this reason, we recommend using Sigma lenses, specifically their Art series. They provide the same image quality as some of the biggest brands, at a fraction of the price. While they may not be built with the same sturdiness, they will be more than strong enough to suit non professional uses.

After making a decision on the type of lens that best fits your needs, you’ll want to look at the way each type performs. Every lens carries unique advantages and disadvantages, and perform at their best under different circumstances.

Option 1: The Zoom Lens

The first lens we are looking at is the 24-70mm f/2.8 Zoom Lens. The biggest and heaviest lens on this list, it is easily the most versatile. Using this lens means you will never be limited to a specific style.

Its large range of focal lengths means it is as ideal for landscapes as it is portraits. The large aperture allows for stunning shallow depth of field effects, and means it works great in dimly lit situations.

Where it shines in its versatility, it takes a hit in its transportability. It contains many optical components, meaning it gets quite heavy. The weight means you will need an image stabilisation system, and the size means it is hard to pack, and also can be intrusive if being used for candid photography.

This zoom lens is sometimes known as the standard among professional photographers. Its size and weight is obviously a disadvantage. If you’re using a full-frame camera, the size might not be of much concern to you. Plus, if your photography encompasses a wide range of styles, such as landscapes and portraits, this lens might win out.

Option 2: The Prime Lens

Next, we will take a look at using a Prime Lens, like the 50mm f/1.4. Its small footprint means it is easy to travel with, and will not take much space in a bag or suitcase. A prime lens is much lighter than a zoom lens, as it does not contain as many parts, meaning you can carry a selection with you if you wish.

If using a selection of prime lenses, we would recommend pairing the one above with a 85mm f/1.4. It is said that the 50mm focal length is the closest to how the human eye sees, giving the photos captured a sense of ‘reality’. The 85mm however, is one of our favorites for capturing intricate details with its long focal lengths. With this pairing, you will have a great range of perspectives covered.

Our preference though, is to only carry a single one. Using a single prime lens means you can spend more time enjoying the journey rather than fiddling around with camera lenses. There are less settings to play with, meaning you can focus on your photography skills. You might find yourself taking less photos, but discover that when you do, they are of higher quality.

Restricting yourself to a single focal length means that the camera is not as effective across all styles, and if using a selection, regularly switching out lenses is a pain. If you intend on using a range of different focal lengths, it might be worth going for the zoom lens. Although, there may be no need for a zoom lens if you only intend to shoot candid or street photography, for example.

A more compact lens is not as distracting as a large, lumbering zoom lens when capturing candid moments, and so the photos appear much more natural. The image quality is also of higher quality for any given length than the equivalent on a zoom lens, due to having less parts.

Where it shines in its versatility, it takes a hit in its transportability. It contains many optical components, meaning it gets quite heavy. The weight means you will need an image stabilisation system, and the size means it is hard to pack, and also can be intrusive if being used for candid photography.

This zoom lens is sometimes known as the standard among professional photographers. Its size and weight is obviously a disadvantage. If you’re using a full-frame camera, the size might not be of much concern to you. Plus, if your photography encompasses a wide range of styles, such as landscapes and portraits, this lens might win out.

Special Mention: A ‘Compact’ Zoom Lens

Finally, we end up returning to the zoom lens. Recently, an increasing amount of brands have started offering incredibly light, compact zoom lenses. In September 2020 for example, Sony announced the Sony FE 28-60mm F4-5.6, “the world’s smallest and lightest full-frame zoom lens”. They announced it alongside the Alpha 7C, which coincidentally is also “the smallest and lightest full-frame camera in the world”.

This could be seen as the best of both worlds in some ways. It has all the versatility and flexibility of a zoom lens, without the need for any image stabilisation thanks to its low weight. Its small footprint means it is very easy to travel with, and means it can be used effectively for street photography.

It is also very modestly priced. Its narrower apertures mean you won’t get the best bokeh, and on top of this, the image quality won’t be as sharp as that of a proper zoom lens, nor of a good prime lens. But, if you value versatility above all else and are on a budget, this could be a very good choice.

It is important to remember to make lasting memories when travelling, rather than getting hung up about the right equipment to use. If there is any lesson to be learnt, it is that there is no be all end all when deciding on the best lens for travel photography.

There are options available to suit the needs of every photographer, but they are merely tools that enable the talent and experience of the user to stand out. As long as the photographer is skilled, any gear of good quality will do. There will always be amazing moments to capture, regardless of the equipment.

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