Photography / Buying Guide

5 Recommended Full-Frame DSLR Lenses for Travel Photography

         

An ideal lens for travel photography needs to be compact and versatile. For example, the 70-200mm f/2.8 lens that is made by several manufacturers is a stalwart for pros and enthusiasts alike, and certainly fits into the versatile category, but these lenses are far from compact so they will be left out of this particular discussion. Also left out will be “fast lenses,” which is shorthand for a wide maximum aperture. While certainly an important factor in choosing a lens, we will downplay it for now, given that most fast lenses are either large-body zooms and, therefore, not compact or small primes and not particularly versatile. Also, this article will discuss lenses for full-frame DSLRs, leaving those strictly compatible with APS-C format cameras for another article. Of course, “full-frame” lenses can also be used on APS-C cameras—just be sure to calculate the crop factor of the sensor to get the equivalent focal length for the lens.

Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM Lens

This is perhaps the epitome of an all-purpose travel lens for the Canon EF mount—supremely versatile from wide-angle to portrait-length telephoto and with a constant f/4 maximum aperture throughout the zoom range. The lens features optical image stabilization to control blur when shooting in dim light or at telephoto lengths, and a USM motor for fast, accurate, and quiet autofocus action. Manual-focus override enables precise focus placement at any time and its minimum focus distance is 1.5'. As an L-Series lens, you can expect not only the best in optical design but also a durable, weather-resistant build that is just 4.2" long.  

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR Lens 

While the Nikon 24-120mm f/4 would be the comparable lens to the above Canon, I prefer to mix in some long zoom into this stew. The 28-300mm is about as versatile a lens as you’re going to find, ranging from inclusive wide-angle to long telephoto reach, and it measures just 4.5" long. It really is a do-everything lens; ideal for travel. It does extend quite long when at 300mm and a drawback might be the relatively slow maximum aperture at the telephoto end, but its VR II Image Stabilization system with 3.5 shutter-speed-stop equivalence will reduce blur, and its optical design consisting of aspherical and extra-low dispersion glass elements minimizes aberrations. A Silent Wave AF motor provides fast and quiet action and manual focus override is supported. If you use this lens on an APS-C format camera, its 35mm focal length equivalence is 42-450mm.

Sony 16-35mm f/2.8 ZA SSM Vario-Sonnar T* Lens

Although Nikon and Canon also make high-end 16-35mm lenses, I went with the Sony A-mount lens. The Sony is slightly heavier than the offerings from the other two makers, but not significantly. While those two have image stabilization in the lens, Sony features its SteadyShot I.S. in its DSLR cameras. All three are exceptional pro-level lenses. This Sony ultra-wide-angle zoom is ideal for architectural interiors and exteriors; it is also useful for landscapes and wide cityscapes and for including everybody at the dinner table. It features its Super Sonic Wave Motor for smooth and silent autofocus and offers a focus hold button and an auto clutch to prevent the manual focus ring from rotating when in autofocus mode. ED and Super ED glass elements reduce aberrations and Zeiss T* lens coating reduces flare. When used on a Sony A-mount APS-C format camera, the equivalent focal length is 24-52.5mm.

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G ED VR Lens

Small is the most notable feature of this Nikon FX lens. It measures just 3.2" and weighs 1 lb. With a focal-length range from full wide-angle to portrait length telephoto, it will cover almost all of your travel-photo needs. The Silent Wave Motor provides fast and quiet autofocus, VR image stabilization benefits shooting in low light, and an optical design with one ED and three aspherical lens elements reduces aberrations. Some distortion at its widest angle might be the only complaint about this lens but, for considering its size and price, it is a perfect travel companion.

Canon EF 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM Lens

Size and affordability are what distinguish this lens, but it doesn’t hurt that you can go from wide angle to full telephoto with a simple turn of the zoom ring, either. No one will mistake this for the famed 24-70mm f/2.8 but, for carry-ability and versatility, it will take on all comers. An ultrasonic autofocus motor provides smooth AF action, and manual-focus override is supported on its internal lens system. It may be best used just in daylight, as its variable aperture is not particularly fast but with optical image stabilization and a steady hand, you’ll be just fine with this “walk-around” gem. 

Discussion 33

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I am fan of Canon system and L lens. I recently returned from a trip to Japan and I really suffered with my gear. Then I decided to buy a mirrorless Fuji T-10 with 18-55 mm f2.8-4 System for some ocassion that I don`t need that much quality and carry weight all day long for a few street shots. But I came back with a lot in my mind. Should I still keep carying all that weight? I do own many zoom lens and prime lens. Basically I like to take pictures of cityscape and people. What should I carry on my next trip among my sort of lens:

1) Body: Canon 5D mark III

2) Lens:

   Prime: All Sigma ART Series 1.8:  20mm, 35mm and 50mm

Zoom Lens all L Series:

Canon 16-35 f2.8

Canon 24-105 f4 IS

Canon 70-200  II f4 IS

Canon 28-300 f3.5-5.6 IS

From my 3 previous trips, I really used a lot the 24-105 f4 most of the time. I hardly used the 70-200mm (twice) and the 16-35 mm was not used at all. I am considering for my next trip buy a 24-70 f 2.8  and carry the 28-300 and a prime lens such as the 20mm OR 35 mm for extreme night city shots after dark. I usually mix outdoor photography and city scape shots but I love to the pictures of street light and around sunset.

What do you recommend? I am really tired of carying on a lot of weight.

Hi Sergio -

Based on what you are describing and the fact that you travel, I like the 24 to 105 f4.  It is probably the most versatile focal length for you.  If you need the additional speed, then do pick-up the 24-70mm f2.8. 

Please contact us via e-mail if you have additional questions:  AskBH@BandH.com

I don't see the point of using an FX body with so so lenses. When I need something light to travel with, I have a D5300 with a 35mm DX 1.8g... doesn't get much better for high quality/lightness. I'm still under the impression if I'm lugging an FX body, I want the best glass on it as well, so that means, 24-70, 50mm 1.8g, 70-200... Also the investment in the lighter glass is still expensive, and not worth it to me, could get the d5300 and 35mm for the same price as those 24-120 lenses. 

klizzo...thanks for the comment and you make a good point. As the first paragraph mentions, we limited our selection to compact zooms for full-frame and did discuss a selection of recommended APS-C lenses for travel in this article. However, while a 35mm f/1.8 lens is an affordable and lightweight option, many travellers prefer the versatility a zoom can provide. When we compare weights, the D5300 plus 35mm weighs about 1.6 lb and the D750 plus 24-85mm is 2.6 lb, arguably a significant difference, but for the expanded perspective options and full frame format, perhaps worth the lug.  In general, I do agree with your thoughts on the worthiness of lesser lenses on better cameras, but the above lenses, while not all fast aperture "pro" models are very good lenses for versatile applications. Thanks again for the comment, it is the type of constructive critique that makes for a good convresation.

Question. Why does "everone" still use the wrong mm lengths for APS/DX lenses? I understabd thet a full frame 16mm is 24mm on an aps, but why sholu lenses for APS/DX cameras still use the mm of a FF when they cannot really be used on a FF camera?

Geoffrey...I encourage you to check back in tomorrow when my colleague Todd Vorenkamp will unveil his latest masterpiece, "Last Word on Crop Factor", which I will link in this comment section, but the short answer is that focal length is a physical measurement of the lens, not the barrel's physical length, but the distance from the optical center of the lens (where the light rays converge into focus) to the focal plane. That measurement does not change based on the size of the sensor. I realize this has created much confusion in the digital era with crop sensors, but to refer to APS-C designated lenses by only their "equivalent" focal lengths would be inaccurate and thus we are stuck with these dual descriptions. 

Geoffrey,

Keep in mind that the crop factors can also vary from camera and this needs to be taken into consideration also. Most crop sensor cameras from Nikon and Canon are 1.5 or 1.6 crop factor. However, my older 2007 introduction, Canon 1D Mark III is an APS-H sensor and has a crop factor of 1.3. So, for example, my 85mm EF lens has the viewing angle of about a 110mm lens. It is a bit of an oddball sensor but I enjoy the camera. I do agree that by purchasing full frame lenses you can leave yourself well positioned to get a full frame body in the future. Certainly something to consider if you think that might be a future possibility. That is the approach that I am following as I plan to one day have a full frame camera also.

Best,

Todd Ferguson 

Because the mm is referring to the focal length of the lens, not the field of view.  A 16mm lens on a crop sensor camera is still a 16mm lens, the only difference is the top and sides are cut off due to the sensor not including the full image circle, resulting in a field of view that appears to be *similar* to a 24mm.  However all other things, depth of field, background to subject compression, etc. remain exactly the same as they would on a 16mm lens.

What do you think, talking about travelling of course, about a AF-S NIKKOR 70-300mm VR ED IF f/4.5-5.6.

I know that it`s not a wide-angle that covers all needs, mainly for close subjects, but mounted in a D 610, it made good results for me in daylight situations when travelling.

Nathan,    I love that 70-300 Nikon.  I am a retired school teacher and for the money, that lens is great.  However, some might feel that for travel, it might be a bit much for walking around.   Served me well in the mountains of Haiti.

As a professional wildlife photographer I have come to depend upon the Nikon 70-300mm telephoto and use it more than any other lens I own. It consistently produces superb images, sharp as a tack and with good contrast. While it's true that there is always some degree of risk of motion blur when shooting handheld with a 300mm lens I've found that with good technique this lens is capable of producing great images when used handheld to capture bald eagles, osprey, and other birds in flight. While it is true that it's a bit handicapped by its relatively small 5.6 aperature in low light I haven't found this to be much of a problem. As for its weight...well let's just say that as an ex-ice climber used to packs holding 30 lbs of ice screws, biners, and runners I don't exactly sag under the weight of this lens.

boatphotog- Thanks for the professional insight!

Thanks for the comments Natan and Tom. I would agree that the 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G is a good, sharp telephoto zoom lens for travel, especially when you consider cost. I would also agree that it is best used in daylight and at tele lengths with a tripod. However, personally and in the context of the article, if i were choosing one lens for a trip, it would have to offer wide-angle and standard length perspectives. Thanks again for the input.

I've used and continue to use the Nikon 28-300 mm while outback travelling and can't fault it but for cities and overseas travelling I put my bid for the fixed lens APS-C fitted (badly named) Nikon Coolpix A - a greatly neglected little camera. I took it to Japan and got my best folio ever.

I have a question about using a full frame telephoto lens on a crop camera. A friend of mine says doing this does not extend the reach of a telephoto...so I am confused about what this means..." If you use this lens on an APS-C format camera, its 35mm focal length equivalence is 42-450mm." If I were to use this lens on my D90, would it be like having a telephoto that goes to 450mm? Thanks for your help.

Gail,

The focal length of the lens never changes... But with a crop sensor the angle or field of view angle is narrower than on a full frame sensor. This has the effect of cropping the image down to fit onto the smaller sensor. So a 50mm lens on a 1.6 crop camera would give the same angle of view as an 80mm lens on a full frame sensor.

Best,

Todd Ferguson 

Thanks for your response...but I'm still a bit confused, especially by the word "equivalence". With your example of a 50mm lens on a 1.6 crop camera, does the image as seen from an angle of view as an 80mm lens appear closer? Or is it the same with less of the surrounding edges of the photo that you would normally get with a full frame sensor? Thanks again.

Gail,

It would be the latter.  The edges you would get on a full frame would essentially be cropped off by the smaller sensor, giving the appearance of the photo being closer. But that is just because the photo is cropped by the smaller sensor size.  If you have a good photo shop nearby go and try the same lens on a crop body and a full frame body and you will grasp it better.  Bottom line is the focal length is always the focal length of a lens.

Best,

Todd Ferguson 

Right.  I would add this: If you are planning to go up to a full frame camera in a few years you should consider buying a FF lens now and use it with APS/DX now, with a croped image and leter as a full image. For example a 24mm FF/FX on your APS/DX would be 35/37mm now and 24mm later, with a FF camera. Get it? The confusion is cause by the fact that camera/lens companies still use the "Wrong" mm for their APS/DX lenses. It would be eaiser for most if they said: A 28-70 on FF is equilivant to a 42-105 on a DX camera but they should call a lens for a DX camera a 42-105mm lens, not call it a 28-70, since it is not made for FF usage. OK?

G.

These comments are all correct. The only thing you get with a smaller sensor is a smaller field-of-view.

The idea of "35mm equivalent" focal length is marketing garbage.

Gail, Todd, Geoffrey and wayne....Thank you all for working through an issue that can be confusing for sure. Gail, I hope things are a bit more clear and while its true that the focal length is the same regardless of the sensor size, there is a benefit of knowing, in quantifiable terms that are more familiar than angle of view, what your perspective will be when you put a certain lens on a certain camera.  Actually, tomnorrow we will be posting a new article explaining crop factor which I will link and here is a video that may also help.

Your comment on 16-35mm choices is not fully accurate re: available f-stops, as Canon has had a 16-35 f2.8 (L series) for years (now in its second generation), although an f4 is cheaper.

Bela...Thank you, you are absolutely correct, the f/2.8 version now included in the hyperlink in that section of the article. 

I am a serious traveler and photographer. I have made a decision to use only my fixed 35 mm camera for trips. I have a Full Frame Sony RX! R and have come to love the quality and compactness of this fine camera. 

 I would never take a 28-300 mm along for travleling since I m a perfectionist in terms of picture quality.I had a fabulous week in Venice Italy - and had the  Sigma 35 mm 1.4 A on my Nikon D4S with me. Just wanted to tell how much I agree with you and share the idea of having one brilliant glass with you. You learn of a lot of compositon and photography.

Interested to hear how you selected the Sigma lens over the comparable Nikon options. 

Made some substantial research over the net (DXOmark reviews etc) added up with value  this Sigma lens is just a shining pearl - adorable. 

Tamas: Thanks for the input. Sigma is making wonderful primes. Seems like you did your research and that showed in the results and it must have been great to just travel with the one lens. 

Alright Lynn!  Great camera. Enjoy.

Hi John, thanks for sharing this. As a travel photographer, in the last years I gradually moved from shooting with zoom lenses (including the Nikon 28-300, great all-around lens!) to fix ones. This decision made me discover much more the pleasure of travel photography, because it "forced" me to study the subject before photographing it and created a much more intimate relationship with my travel (versus a more "point-and-shoot" attitude). It might sound weird, but in a certain sense traveling only with fixed lenses can be seen as something of challenging, but at the end it isn't. And the result, I think, is much more rewarding.

It's just my opinion, but I would like to know what others think...

Bernardo...thank you very much for that comment. The angle of the article leaned toward the one "all-around" lens to take while traveling and was meant somewhat more for the casual photographer on vacation. That said, I completely agree with your perspective that a prime lens forces a more intimate and challenging experience that may result in better photos as well as more fulfilling interactions. As you implied, that insight may be born out of the experience of starting with a zoom lens and "graduating'" to prime lenses.   Thanks again for the comment and let us knnow what fixed lens you take for travel shooting....

Thanks for sharing important topic hope it will help us all

Great job 

Thanks Ravi.