I was recently asked in a blog comment what my favorite lens is and what lens I would recommend for a traveler who needs a new lens. There really is no right or wrong answer to this question. Below I’m going to try to give you my thoughts about my favorite lens to use while traveling and what I would consider based on the style of shooting you are doing. Take it all in with a grain of salt, as these are just my favorites and the workflow I have developed over time for myself.
THE SIGMA 35 / MY FAVORITE LENS FOR TRAVEL
To answer the first question. Right now my favorite lens to use is my Sigma 35 F/1.4. The Sigma 35 has been reviewed a ton online but I’ll add some more to the conversation as it relates to my travel and landscape photography. I love this lens, across the frame it’s really sharp. It annoys me when I’m trying to shoot travel, landscapes, and architecture and the corners are soft. Not a problem I’ve found with my Sigma. The 35mm focal length is a pretty nice spot to be for me. For me it’s wide enough to shoot many landscapes, is a great perspective for street scenes, I even like to shoot some portraits on the lens and while It’s not as flattering as it would be with an 85mm, it’s still a fun look. Some people might complain that the lens is a prime and you are stuck at 35mm. I actually really like this. Primes historically have been higher quality optics than their zooming counterparts. I also like that by locking yourself at 35mm it forces you to work the scene to get a good composition by moving your body and the camera.
Another reason I love the sigma 35mm for travel is its F/1.4 aperture. That’s really large and is great when you are shooting in low light situations or want to get that creamy out of focus background look. The price is around $900 and for a lens of this aperture size and optical quality that a great deal!
WHAT LENSES WOULD I RECOMMEND TO A TRAVELER? /
What kind of lens to get really determines on your shooting style, what kind of images you like to take and how you like to take them. I tend to take my time at a location. I compose, shoot, think about the framing and shoot again. I tend to be more methodical about my approach. If you are a more run and gun person who needs to be fast and nimble because your shooting from the hip, your needs will be really different than my own. Below are my general recommendations for 3 types of shooters.
THE FLEXIBLE RUN AND GUNNER /
For most travelers you want to keep your photography simple. Walk around, explore, see something interesting — shoot a picture. You don’t want to be stuck at a single focal length or have to waste time changing lenses. What you should be checking out is a versatile zoom lens that will let you be flexible. The 24-105mm is a lens I would consider. It lets you cover a wide range of situations from landscapes at 24mm or portaits and detail work at 105mm. When working with this kind of lens it’s easy to walk up to a spot, zoom in on your subject, take a shot, and leave. Don’t fall into this, take a moment and make sure you look around to see if there is a more interesting spot to shoot from. Work the scene!
I wanted to add one more lens option to this section as an alternative to the 24-105mm. If you constantly find yourself shooting wide angle images, I tend to do this a lot when I’m shooting buildings or interiors. You may want to opt instead for the 17-40mm. At 17mm you can get a really wide look and then zoom into 40mm to get a more standard perspective. The 17-40 has served me well in my travel bag. I don’t use it as much as I used to but when I need to go wide this is where I look.
THE SLOW METHODICAL BAG CARRIER /
For people like me that tend to take their time, setup their camera for the situation and compose more methodically, I really would recommend looking at a 35mm Prime lens. It’s my go-to lens in my bag. When I’m traveling I have a day pack and I carry three lenses with me: A super wide lens for churches or landscapes that require a wide angle to view, a middle-of-the-road lens that can cover a lot of ground (my 35mm), and a telephoto zoom (I carry the 70-200 f/4). The majority of the day is spent at 35mm and I switch to the others when I want to get a specific look. The problem with this is you have to take the time to get the shot. Sometimes a shot isn’t worth it and you waste time shooting a photo that really is mediocre. Keep asking yourself is my time really worth it for this scene. If your gut says YES, then compose and create!
THE BUDGET CONSCIENCE (I’M OUT OF CASH) /
If you are on a really tight budget because you spent most of your money on the travel expenses then another great alternative is a 50mm f/1.8. For just over $100 bucks, it’s a fantastic value. It’s small, light, and cheap. The image quality isn’t nearly as good as the Sigma 35 but for the price it’s workable and the size is great for walking around travel destinations. For generic shooting this is a nice lens to keep in the bag. For me, I take this lens with me when I want a lighter load and plan on shooting tighter framed detail shots. Having an aperture of F/1.8 you can knock the background out of focus pretty well at 1.8. I highly recommend this lens to keep handy.
Here’s a bonus tip: RENT! If you aren’t sure what gear to choose or only need certain gear for a specific trip it’s a lot cheaper. I usually rent from LensProToGo they have great service and will help you find the right lens or camera for your needs and style of shooting!