Photography / Buying Guide

5 Recommended APS-C Lenses for Travel Photography

After our earlier piece recommending five full-frame DSLR lenses for travel photography, we would be remiss not to also suggest five lenses for APS-C-format cameras. DSLRs with APS-C-size sensors are normally more compact and lighter than full-frame DSLRs and, therefore, advantageous when traveling. Remember, however, that the lightweight design often indicates a design containing less metal that may be less prepared for the rigors of unmerciful use. Also, be sure to calculate the crop factor of the APS-C sensor and focal-length equivalency when considering your lens. And while full-frame lenses can be used on APS-C cameras, the reverse is not true. Here are a few of my favorites, emphasizing zoom versatility and compact build. Which of these lenses work best for you when traveling?  

Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-140mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR Lens

I recently used this lens when reviewing the Nikon D7200, and while I could have swapped it out for any number of primes while testing, I found the image quality was more than satisfactory for daylight and dim light, and its convenience factor was off the chart. Its zoom action was smooth and precise and lens creep was never an issue. At only 3.8" long when retracted, it carries on your camera like a prime lens but gives you a 27-210mm focal length equivalent for versatile perspectives. The Silent Wave AF motor works as advertised, which is ideal when using this lens for video recording, and the VR image stabilization is effective in low light and at the telephoto end of the zoom range.

Sigma 18-300mm f/3.5-6.3 DC MACRO OS HSM Contemporary Lens

As part of Sigma’s Global Vision Contemporary line of versatile zoom cameras comes this multi-faceted APS-C shooter in Canon EF, Nikon F, and Sigma SA mounts. With a 27-450mm (28.8-480mm on Canon) focal-length equivalency, there is very little you can’t photograph, including close-focus imaging, with its 1:3 macro ratio. Enhanced Optical Stabilization improves its capability to reduce the blur caused by camera shake, while an optimized hyper sonic motor (HSM) ensures quiet and fast autofocus. Four FLD elements paired with 1 SLD glass element capture sharp, high-contrast images throughout the focal-length range. A wide zoom ring provides ease of control and it measures just 4.0" long. This lens is also compatible with the Sigma USB Dock to adjust focus and install firmware updates, and a version of the 18-300 for Sony A mount and Pentax K mount cameras is in the works.  

Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM Lens

Canon offers several wide-angle to short telephoto zooms for their APS-C format cameras, but I decided on this one mostly due to its fast, constant f/2.8 maximum aperture. It’s a bit longer than some others, but still only 4.4" long, and its low-light capability and shallow depth-of-field control make it worth the extra inch over other similar lenses. Its 35mm focal-length equivalence is 27.2-88mm, which is really all you will need for most of your travel shooting. Optical image stabilization is supported, as is Canon’s Ultrasonic Autofocus Motor, while manual focus override enables precise critical focus. Minimum focus distance is just 1.2' and its optical design minimizes chromatic and spherical aberrations. 

Tamron 18-270mm F/3.5-6.3 Di II PZD Lens 

This versatile zoom lens has a lot going for it, not the least of which is its optical quality and its affordability. It is available in Canon EF, Nikon F, and Sony A mounts. Its broad zoom range is equivalent to a 27-405mm (29-432mm on Canon) in the 35mm format, affording you the perspectives to shoot interior wide angles, as well as to pull distant subjects in close. Its Piezo Drive Ultrasonic Autofocus Motor is impressively fast and quiet; hybrid aspherical and low dispersion glass elements provide sharp, color-accurate imaging. On the Canon and Nikon versions, its Vibration Compensation mechanism is very effective at reducing blur. At less than 1 lb and just shy of 4" long, it will never be a burden to your sore neck or overburdened suitcase.

Sony 18-135mm f/ 3.5-5.6 Telephoto Zoom Lens

At just 3.5" long, this lens is incredibly compact for its focal-length range, which is equivalent to 27-202.5mm in the 35mm format. Its Direct Manual Focus allows you to switch easily between auto and manual focus, and its AF motor is smooth and precise. Dual aspherical glass elements and extra-low dispersion elements reduce aberrations for sharp imaging throughout the zoom range, and a zoom lock switch keeps the focal length where you want it. This is a lightweight, easy-to-use lens that will not disappoint in terms of image quality.

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Nice article.  I've cut my travel kit down to a minimum - one body (a D3), a wide-ish angle prime (currently a 28 f1.8) and a telephoto zoom (a 70-200 f4).  Now the D7200 looks like a way to get lighter with as good or better image quality, I'd keep the zoom, but it's frustrating that I can't find an equivalent prime lens in DX.

Andy..the zoom you would keep is not a DX zoom. So don't could get the Nikkor 20mm f1.8 prime (equivalent to 30mm full frame).

I think that is as close as you can get to the field of view of the 28mm on the full frame.

Thanks Andy. The D7200 comes highly recommended, check out this review. I realize you probably would want a prime lens to replace your 28mm f/1.8, but have you checked out the Nikon 12-24mm f/4G for DX format?  Its prettty great.  Also, you could try the Rokinon 16mm f/2.0 with a 24mm equivalency if you are willing to go to another brand. All the best. 

Why would the Canon EF-S 17-55mm 35mm focal-length equivalence be 27.2-88mm, when it is designed to operate as a 17-55mm lens with an APS-C sensor? Doesn't the 1.6x equivalence only apply to EF lenses with an APS-C sensor? After all, Canon EF-S lenses don't fit Canon full frame cameras. Or have I misunderstood the meaning of your phrase "Its 35mm focal-length equivalence is 27.2-88mm, ... "

John..the references to full frame versus APS-C sensors are all about the field of view at the plane of the sensor. The 17mm focal length produces the same field of view on the APS-C sensor as a 27.2 mm focal length would produce on a full frame sensor. Any lens produces a circular image that is projected back to the sensor.  A smaller portion of that image will project onto an APS-C sensor than onto a full frame sensor(which has the dimensions of a frame of 35mm film). Full frame lenses are designed to project an image that will just cover the full frame sensor. APS-C lenses are designed to project a smaller circular image appropriate to the dimensions of the smaller APS-C sensor. 

There is so much good written about the Nikon 18-200 I am surprised it is not in this list and what about the Fuji 18-135 

Thanks Maddi...both are very good lenses. I went with the 18-140mm Nikkor as I had just finished using it to test the D7200 and I found it a sharp and compact shooter. I didn't mention the Fujifilm XF 18-135mm as this short piece focused more on DSLR cameras but my colleague has that lens and recommends it. 

I have been a big fan of the NIKON P-SERIES (100 & 600), but after buying the D5200 with the Tamaron 16-300 lens for my wife, I had to get one for myself. What a great combo. So I gave her the. 600 for her kit. We have great fun shooting (legally) everything we see!

Thanks for the input Ron, have you seen our review of the Nikon P900?

To what extent does using a Sony A Mount lens on an E-Mount camera with the adapter degrade the performance of the lens?

Thanks for the question Jeremiah. In terms of optical performance, you should be pleased and the Sony Adapter with Translucent Mirror offers a built-in AF motor, aperture-drive mechanism and Translucent Mirror Technology to enable full-time, continuous, TTL phase-detection autofocus. Check the link for caveats regarding STF models and video performance and despite this being one of the best auto adapters available, there are almost always lags and certain performance options not available when using adapters, for example, limited number of AF points, focus lock, etc. Also, and although I have not tested it, light loss is said to be 1/3 stop with the translucent mirror. I would check the many customer reviews in the above link for more input.  Sony also offers a more affordable adapter without the TMT, it allows auto exposure and metadata transfer but uses the camera's AF system and will not offer auto focusing ability for lenses without an AF motor; resolution should be optimized however. Other adapters are also available from Bower, Metabones and Novoflex but auto perfomance should not be expected from these models.

The canon 17 55 2.8 is a keeper. One of the best lenses. I added a tamron 10 24. Great too. With my 60 D .Dream Budget Team. Heavy when you travel but very near "pro" quality. Have a nice summertime vacations.

Thanks for the input Ritchie.

I'd also like to put in a vote for the Canon  18-135 IS STM... it's the most flexible lens I've used & is happy at both ends of the focal length. In some respects it's all you need. Quick focus too ...

Also there are two very small light 'pancake' primes that are worth carrying for that special shot. the 24mm Canon EFS f2.8 & the 40mm Canon EF f2.8.. I also use one these, say when going out for an evening,paired with one of my smaller bodies (600d), when a full bag of stuff would be overkill ..

I learnt the hardway last year when I carried a 70-300, all the way around the mid-west national parks & only used it once !

Thanks Richard T!  Good recommendations and having done the same on more than one occasion, I hear ya about bring a long lens that never gets used!

I was wondering why you'd recommend the Tamron 18-270 over the newer 16-300?

Thanks for reading Eeps.  My main criteria when writing this piece was size and the 18-270mm is slightly smaller and lighter than the 16-300mm and the focal length range is similar. However the difference in size is minimal and the 16-300mm adds not only the slightly broader range but close-up capability and improved optical elements. It is a more recent lens, but both are part of the same generation and include the same AF and VC systems. I believe that both will offer very similar capability, the 16-300mm perhaps a bit better optically while the 18-270mm a bit easier on your neck and wallet.

I wonder if a review of ultra wide APS-C lenses might also be in order.  For landscape photography, the 10 mm - 20 mm.  range is a very versatile option.

I wonder if a review of ultra wide APS-C lenses might also be in order.  For landscape photography, the 10 mm - 20 mm.  range is a very versatile option.

I wonder if a review of ultra wide APS-C lenses might also be in order.  For landscape photography, the 10 mm - 20 mm.  range is a very versatile option.

I wonder if a review of ultra wide APS-C lenses might also be in order.  For landscape photography, the 10 mm - 20 mm.  range is a very versatile option.

Sorry John, this is the first time that I have participated in a discussion and I inadvertently posted it several times.  Please delete the duplicates.