When you’re setting off on a trip, you need to decide which camera gear to take with you. I always recommend travelling light, so you’ll need a great travel lens. But how to find the best lens for travel photography? Here’s my guide to the best lenses for travel, which factors are the most important to consider before you buy, plus some recommendations for specific lenses that work well for travel photography.
What makes a great travel lens?
When you’re buying a travel lens, there are a lot of things you’ll need to think about, from size to weight, versatility, price and more. How much space will you have? How much weight do you want to carry around when you’re going to be out, walking around, all day? And will you take one lens or a combination of lenses with you?
The camera system you use
It goes without saying that you’ll need to buy a lens that is compatible with the camera system that you already have. This narrows things down a bit, but that’s actually helpful as it makes it less overwhelming and easier to find what you actually need.
Size and weight of your travel lens
Lenses can be pretty heavy and some are bulky too. You’ll need to take this into consideration and look for a compact lens. Remember that you’ll that be carrying it around with you a lot at your destination and that your camera and accessories will take up some of your hand luggage space on flights, so you want to keep things to a minimum.
The speed of your lens – the aperture – makes a big difference, especially if you’re taking photos at night or in a gallery where you can’t use the flash. The aperture is shown by the number following the f, e.g. f/2.8 or f/3.5. It functions like the pupil of your eye, letting more light hit your image sensor on a dim evening than it would do on a bright sunny day. So the lower the number, the quicker you can shoot. The best travel lenses will have a relatively low aperture (meaning a fast shooting speed). If you’re still feeling confused about aperture and how it affects your photos, check out the explanation with handy visual guides here.
The Cost Factor when it comes to lenses
Most photographers recommend investing as much as possible into camera lenses because the difference in your photos will be striking. The lens you use can be even more important than the camera that you have in your image quality. I think this holds true, but there are great camera lenses you can find for under $500. Or if you’re on a budget, you could consider buying secondhand. If you can afford to splurge, go for a lens that combines versatility, a compact size, a lower aperture and a wide focal length range – this combination really does make for the best lens for travel photography.
Your destination and the type of photos you’ll be taking
Another thing to think about is where you’re headed and what you’ll be photographing. If you’re headed on an African safari, you’ll need a lens capable of shooting at a distance so you might decide to go for a 300mm. But if you’re taking close-ups or street scenes, you’ll need something different again. So have a think about the kind of photos you’re likely to be taking most often during your trip so you can assess your specific needs and get a lens that fits them. Find out more about the best lens features for landscape photography or night photography by following the links.
How to choose one versatile travel lens that can do everything?
When I travel, I prefer to take just one really versatile lens with me, so that I can pack light and be spontaneous, rather than spending a lot of time fiddling about switching lenses over. So I need to think carefully about the kinds of photos that I will be taking most often. Will I be shooting lots of landscapes, panoramas and sunset shots? Do I want to be able to take photos at night or inside darker buildings like cathedrals and historic sites? All this is vital for making sure that I can capture the best photos during my trip.
If, like me, you’ve chosen to take just one lens with you, opt for one with a wide range of focal length. Now it is true that with a wider the range, you do give up a little quality compared to fixed focal length lenses like a 35mm. But with something like a 24-70mm lens or even an 18-135mm lens, you’ll still be able to create some stunning photos and it’ll be so much more practical and convenient for you.
If you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed by all the options and choices, here’s a great video with some tips on what is most important when choosing a camera lens for travel photography. You don’t have to opt for the exact lenses that Neasan McGuinness uses – his advice and experience is still useful! Now onto my specific recommendations for travel lenses.
5 of the best lenses for travel
The Best Micro 4/3 Travel Lens – The Panasonic Lumix 14-140mm f/3.5-5.6
The Panasonic Lumix 14-140mm really is the best travel lens for the Micro 4/3 camera system. With a wide focal length range and excellent Image Stabilization technology, you’ll be able to capture amazing shots.
- Really versatile due to the wide range of 14-140mm
- Compact and lightweight
- Affordable price
- Good optical alignment and sharpness
- The stabilizer works really well
- The optical quality is lower than some lenses
- The hood is slightly bulky
- Less durable as it’s made of plastic
- Not great for use in high-contrasting light
The Best Fuji Travel Lens – Fujinon XF18-135mm R LM OIS WR
For Fuji cameras, I’d recommend the Fujinon XF18-135mm lens. It is really flexible as you can use it in many different scenarios, making it the perfect travel lens. Despite it having a slower aperture than some on this list, the Image Stabilization technology and the sharpness of the images make up for that.
- Lightweight at just 1.08lbs
- The shooting range goes from 27mm wide-angle to 206mm telephoto equivalent
- You’ll be able to shoot all sorts of photos due to the wide range
- Superb Image Stabilization using the best technology available right now
- Waterproof and weather-resistant
- Well made and durable
- Excellent colors and contrast in photos
- Not great for use in low light, especially the autofocus
- Lack of bokeh
- Aperture speed is fairly slow
- The lens cap can be knocked off easily
The Best Sony Travel Lens – Sony FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM
A lot of travel photographers prefer lenses with a range of 24-70mm, and this Sony FE 24-70mm is one of the best out there. You will be able to create flawless photos.
- Excellent optical quality
- The lens resists dust and moisture which is really useful when travelling
- Extremely quick focus
- Brilliant bokeh
- Creates superior, beautiful photos
- This one comes with a heftier price tag at around $2000
- This lens is on the heavier side for a travel lens at 1.95lbs
- No stabilization
- Harder to focus manually
The Best Canon Travel Lens – Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II
Another camera lens with the favoured 24-70mm focal length range, the Canon EF 24-70mm is a good choice for travel photography with any Canon camera system.
- The aperture is great throughout the focal length
- Spectacular sharpness and colour rendition
- Canon offers 13 months of damage protection, free when you purchase this lens.
- Chromatic aberration is minimised
- You can achieve soft backgrounds thanks to the circular 9-blade diaphragm
- A must for travel lenses, it is water resistant, has dust sealing and fluorine coating on the lens surface to reduce smears, marks and fingerprints
- You’re almost guaranteed to take great photos in any situation with this lens
- Again, on the expensive side at around $1800
- Some barrel distortion can occur at around 24mm
- Feels flimsier than you’d expect for the price
The Best Nikon Travel Lens – Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G ED
The Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G ED combines the best of camera technology to take clear, highest quality images across many different situations. Although it is on the heavier side for a travel lens, it’s definitely worth it in my opinion for the amazing images you’ll get. If you can afford it, go for it – it’s worth the investment.
- Fast, constant aperture of f2.8, making it easier to take photos in low-light situations or create bokeh effects
- The Vibration Reduction is great for smoothing out any inconsistencies when you are shooting on the move or in low light
- Amazing clarity and sharpness for incomparable image quality
- Astoundingly versatile – you really won’t need any other lens with this Nikon 24-70mm beauty.
- Quick autofocus
- If you’re on a budget, this is probably not for you at a pricey $2,300
- At 2.35lbs, some might prefer a lighter lens for travel
If you’re on the search for the best travel lens, you won’t go wrong with any on this list. They combine the best in versatility, lens speed, weight, size and cost – making them handy and practical and ensuring you will take some breath-taking shots on your next trip! Because the lenses all work on different systems, I can’t recommend one over another, but trust me, I’ve searched high and low for the best lenses for travel and these are the ones that consistently come out on top.
Remember, you’re looking for a lens that will perform well in a wide range of situations, from landscape photography and panoramas to low-light and night photography and street shots. So a lens with a low aperture and a wide focal length is key. I’ve had loads of success with my own travel photos by following this formula. Have fun shopping for your new lens and taking some amazing shots with it! I hope you found this article helpful – feel free to drop me a comment or ask me any questions you might have!