How to Choose the Right Lens for Traveling


So, you’re going on a trip? Do you know what gear you’re going to bring with you? Once you’ve tackled which camera body you like, the next step is likely to choose the lens or lenses that will be coming along with you. For some, this can be as straightforward as bringing the one or two lenses you own. For others who seem to have acquired a few too many lenses over the years, this process can be a bit more daunting. You don’t want to travel unprepared, but you also don’t have the luxury or time to bring your entire stable of glass with you on your holiday vacation.

Where are you going?

This might seem obvious, but it is important to consider where you are going, and what you expect to be photographing. You wouldn’t necessarily want to bring an 18-55mm kit lens on your African safari where the action will likely be hundreds of feet away, just as you probably don’t want to lug a 300mm f/2.8 lens around the streets of Paris during a day of sightseeing. Choosing a lens or kit of lenses for your travels should focus wholly on what you expect to be photographing; just because you “always use a 50mm prime” doesn’t mean that lens is going to get you very far in some unique circumstances that you’re bound to experience on your trip.

What do you like to photograph?

Here’s another obvious but important consideration that may even contradict the tip above. Using the example of bringing the appropriate lens for the appropriate scenario, you also need to really consider what and how you like to photograph. If you’re a photographer who likes to photograph with wide-angle zooms, don’t force yourself to work with a super telephoto prime just because it’s the status quo for the location. Lens choices can be one of the few tools you can employ to really emphasize your personal vision of a place, which is critically important when traveling, since your time to experiment and return to the location may be limited.

Get your priorities straight

There are those trips dedicated to photography, and those trips where you would simply like to make some photographs along the way. For the dedicated photo trips, by all means pack the whole kit of lenses you could ever possibly need, assuming you have the space. For more casual photographic endeavors, maybe pare down your kit to a handful of more general options to cover the greatest range of subjects as effectively as possible. Weight and size is likely a concern for all traveling photographers, too, so take into account the difference in packing those 24, 35, 50, and 85mm primes versus the single 24-70mm zoom. On the other hand, if you can get by, a 35mm and 85mm two-lens kit gives you a faster pair of lenses and less overall weight if you can sacrifice the wide and mid zones of the zoom’s reach.

Don’t fear the primes

A zoom must seem like the ideal single lens solution for traveling, but a zoom can also make you complacent. Of course, the all-in-one 28-300mm lens will cover pretty much anyone’s focal length wants, but does it actually cover your needs? There is merit in recognizing and using a handful of prime (single focal length) lenses to fulfill your specific vision versus opting for the wholly inclusive lens that may not ignite the creative spark or hone the edge you desire. Prime lenses are generally faster than most zooms and are lighter in weight. And the single focal length often compels you to confront and interact with your subject, rendering more dynamic and creative imagery, rather than just grabbing a shot from across the street because you can zoom in enough. The restrictive nature of a prime lens can force you to interpret and work around how best to photograph a subject, rather than relying on the zooming action to merely frame the subject comfortably without moving your feet.

Comparing an f/1.8 to an f/1.4

On the topic of configuring a kit of primes, take into consideration that you may be able to squeak an extra lens into your kit, save some weight, and just save some money if you opt for the f/1.8 primes versus the f/1.4 primes. For example, looking at Nikon’s G-series lenses, the total weight of a 35mm f/1.8, 50mm f/1.8, and 85mm f/1.8 kit is 1.9 pounds. If you opt for gaining that additional 2/3 stop of light with the f/1.4 set of the same lenses, your total lens kit now weighs 3.3 pounds, and the physical size of the lenses is also a good deal larger.

Then again, a zoom isn’t a bad thing

As much as the author’s biases lean toward prime lenses, there still is an incredibly valuable reason many zoom lenses exist, and it’s hard to argue that travel photography is not one of the best arenas for bringing your zoom lens along. If you are trying to keep your kit size to an absolute minimum while still including more than one focal length, a zoom is likely your best option. If you’re visiting a location where sand, dirt, water, or other elements are quite present, a zoom is a solid option because it eliminates the need to change lenses during shooting. Zooms also have the benefit of letting you go from wide angle to telephoto in under a second, as opposed to the lengthier process when swapping lenses becomes necessary.


Another reason for choosing fast prime lenses over a zoom is that the speed of the primes may make the need for a stand-alone flash unit unnecessary. The onboard flash on most modern DSLR's will more likely provide for your flash needs.

I'm been a big fan of primes since they are generally lighter, faster and sharper - plus you still have a zoom option by using your feet as the author mentions. There is still a place for zooms though, as many times I find myself in areas where your mobility will be limited. This is especially true when you're visiting higher security places like the Capitol in Washington DC.

Also -  please remember that using your feet while looking through your viewfinder to compose a shot has killed many photgraphers trying to shoot in dangerous places like canyon rims.

I like the Canon 1DX and 1D Mark IV.  I shoot mostly sports, girls fastpitch, and use a Canon 28-300mm lens with the 1DX.  In a dusty environment changing lens isn't a great idea.  The Canon 1D Mark IV is used mostly for areas where distance isn't a problem and I use a Canon 24-105mm lens with that camera.  Yes, weight becomes an issue when traveling and walking constantly around the ball fields but the results are great.

I have made many trips to many places and carried many different outfits.  If forced to choose one camera and only one lens, I would opt for my Leica M-6 and 50mm Summicron f/2 lens.  Wish I could afford the digital version.  Thanks for the interesting article and all the helpful comments.

1 Sony RX10 (I,II,or III) and batteries is all you need for a Holiday.  You can shoot video or take pictures.  Who carries a DSLR or Mirroless with a bunch of lenses on Holiday these days ?, or is that called werk-cation..

Here is what I do when we go on a "staycation" to Door County, Wisconsin.  I bring all of my lenses: 50 (f1.8G), 18-55, 55-300, 10-24 wide angle, and my 150-600, along with my hot shoe flash, both tripods (a 20+ year old Velbon and a Monfrotto w/gimbal head), and one body.  When we are out walking around the town, I carry light by eliminating my 50mm and 55-300mm from my shoulder bag.  Basicially, if you know your territory by research or previous visits, stripping to the basics in weight, is benificial.  In my opinion, being over prepared is better then shorting yourself in the end and regretting the shot that was missed.

In regard to prime lens for traveling, I think it's of no use. Prime lens is known for its bokeh capability. Vacation photos or photos when travel must show everything clearly. Why would anyone want to blur the background?

Many reasons. Wanting to make a subject stand out, artistic considerations, creativity, etc.

I'm not any professional but to this day, I must have spent a fortune for photo equipment since my first camera, the Minolta Maxxum 7000 and 28-85mm zoom lens and the zoom flash. That whole kit cost me one whole paycheck and a half when gold was priced for a few hundred bucks an ounce. I switched to digital with an $800 floppy drive Sony FD7 then FD88 then the superduper Sony Carl Zeiss F707. It's fate, all of a sudden, Sony bought Minolta to make their first DSLR. I jumped onto an A200 then A33 then A58 then A99. My last purchase was the mirrorless Sony A7 a few years ago. It made a big dent to my bank account when I stocked up legacy Canon, Minolta, Nikon, Pentax, East/West German lenses. Those legacy lenses filled a room, just kidding. It's known as some addiction involving gear acquisition syndrome. I think it's a bad addiction.

Anyway, I learned and I adapted. For me, DSLRs got no place in traveling any place. In the past few years, I shot around town, at home, in the backyard with the lighter Sony A7. When I traveled to any place, North South East West or out of state or out of the country, I only carried, no, I only pocketed two cameras. I owned two Sony HX50V's that I used 99.97% of my photograpic time. The IQ never disappointed and the power zoom was second to none.

By the way, the extra batteries for HX50V are small to be pocketed, too. The HX90V with Carl Zeiss lens may give better IQ, But I didn't want it because the HX50V can do video and still at the same time.

This article states only a difference of 1/3 stop of light between f1.8 and f1.4... I believe it should read 2/3 stop, but then again, it doesn't change much to the weight comparaison...

The difference between f/1.8 and f/1.4 would be 2/3 of a stop.  Stating that it is 1/3 of a stop would be an error in the article.  Thank you for pointing out this error, hopefully we will have this fixed soon. 


I'm not a pro, but I did study photography as a major before I quit it half a life time ago. It's so much easier now with digital that it's up to the user what they prefer. I've tried a few things but I've been using same set up for past few years. Slowly carrying less and less.

I still use my D80 with my Nikon 18-200mm lens when I travel. Paired with it I carry a Sony RX100 III for low light or when I just don't feel like carrying the extra weight of the DSLR. When I finish for the day, I dump the photos to my iPad.


At home, depending what I am doing I do have a few old prime lenses I bust out to work with but seems too much a hassle for vacation.



Several decades ago, when electronic still photography was mostly a dream in engineers' eyes, I owned a sweet little OM system. In a tiny case (about 8x4x6) that would barely hold my 5D2 body and one lens, I could carry six or seven lenses and a flash. I was fond of Olympus's 16mm fisheye, and took some great shots with it.

The system is, alas, gone, sold off when I was caught in a serious economic crunch. It will probably never be replaced, as used-equipment dealers love to gouge. It's unlikely anyone will ever again make such tiny full-frame SLR lenses. This is particularly unfortunate, as Olympus has finally reduced the size of its digital bodies to OM proportion.

PS: Mr Fralick, when you "zoom with your feet", you do indeed change perspective. Perspective is controlled only by the distance from the photographer to the subject, and nothing else whatever.


Well, it is interesting to hear from people, that in my opinion are 'equiptment' snobs... I have also experienced those who carry too much gear with them on trips, and miss the shot because they didn't have the right lens on, or delayed a tour group so they could get 'the shot'.  I have a lowly Canon 70D, and use a Sigma 18-300 for travel.  No, not the lightest, or most compact, but I own it.  I can get sufficiently wide angle.  I can zoom.  And on my last trip it worked great.  In Greece last June I got some pictures that, you couldn't have gotten with a 70mm prime, not matter how much closer you would have gotten, because you would have completely lost the perspective, and unless you have a 100 million megapixel sensor I don't think you could have cropped with any resolution left.  No, I'm not a professional photographer, but I do want more that I can get with a cell phone or P&S.  I don't worry about having the right lens at the right time, because I have the range covered.  If the light is lower I turn up the ISO, and with image stabilization I can take good pictures with a pretty slow shurtter.  In my opinion this setup has taken some extremely good photos, and comparable, or better, than others I have seen.  And, I don't have to spend hours at the computer, with Photoshop, trying to crop and adjust the living daylights out of my picture to try and make something good out of something bad.  I take a number of shots at different zooms and usually find I got something quite good.

But, for all those others that might sneer, if it works for someone, don't put them down either.

Just my $0.02.


I agree. In fact I think. I basically use the DSLM for most shots, but the cell/P&S for times I don't want to carry a lot around, such as when we go to dinner or want a convient street camera. I find that the best way to shoot is using auto or program mode, that way I don't miss as much and use precious time, taking pictures with my wife on a trip is like trying to take great photos while in the middle of a huricane. For B&W photos I still like film, but I now rely on digital exclusively when I travel, take color shots, and convert and adjust the with software and print on a printer or use the film camera and rephotograph a digital 8x10 color print onto Tmax negative film, develop and print via traditioal methods.


Two years ago, I went on a Downton Abbey themed guided tour in England.  I knew we would be in many very low light situations where a flash would likely not be allowed.  I also wanted to focus on the experience and not make photography a centerpiece of my trip.  I ended up leaving my SLR behind and just taking a Sony DSC-RX100 III and my iPhone.  There were times that I would have liked a longer zoom, but I was able to have both of these on me at all times.  As mentioned by another poster, the image density on the Sony allowed me some flexibility in post processing.  At Buckingham Palace, I wanted to read a sign that was too far away to read even with my meager zoom on the Sony, but I could zoom in on the image after I took the shot and read the sign very clearly.  I also really like the camera placement flexibility that articulating rear displays afford me.  Flat on a wall, overhead, low shots, "selfies", etc can be a lot easier when I can see what I have framed with being directly behind the camera.  Of course, new apps also allow this via phone control on many cameras, but with two devices to juggle.

I find myself now living in two worlds of loving SLR quality and flexibility, but also loving the convenience of the high quality mirror-less digital cameras that are always with me at a very low weight and space premium.


With the newer high resolution cameras, lens choice is a different ballgame. I shoot with a Canon 5DSR, and the quality of cropped shots (either in-camera or in post) using my 50mm 1.2 prime is better than the quality of shots I get with comparable zoom from either of my zooms - a 17-40 F 4.0 or a 70-200 F 4.0, and not by a small margin.

Canon warned potential buyers of the new bodies about this issue, and they weren't kidding. So much so that you'd be mad to buy two primes with focal lengths too close to one another. I'm going to sell my zooms and get 24mm and 135mm primes, and use my feet and crop to make up the difference. Add to this scenario the fact that you can shoot jpeg cropped to get a feel for the way you wanted your shot at the time, and raw to have an uncropped version (with the crop data if you want it) onto two separate cards, and you can have the uber-quality of primes with a zoom "solution" and it is a very effective idea worth some good amount of thought.

I agree with the "zoom with your feet" and "cropping for content" to a point, but what you can't do with either is change perspective. I love wide angles for street shooting and landscapes, but also like the compression effect a telephoto gives to pics. So while many primes can produce optically superior results, the highest quality zooms offer much more flexibility in my opinion. For that reason, I went with the Fuji X system as my travel setup. I can use the 10-24mm and 55-200mm zooms (10-24 is superb) and bring a low light lens (35mm 1.4) that fills the gap and gives me wide aperture performance (it, too, is absolutely stellar). With those lense, I'm at about half the weight of my Canon DSLR gear. I give up little in performance, though I have to confess I'm still not a huge EVF fan.

Don't overlook the weight factor, by the end of the day if your back is giving out you're not in the mood for great photos.  And too much gear means too many choices to make;  when a photo may appear and be gone in an instant, it's no time to dither about what lens to install.  I have pared my travel kit to my Nikon D7000 with the 18-70 lens from my first D70 kit, and the 70-300.  That range covers just about anything you might see, particularly if you go on escorted tours where things move fast and your choices are limited. And the weight is minimal.    If I need wider I can make wider,  up to a panorama,  with the 18 and images stitched together in Photoshop. If I need longer the resolution of the D7000 provides a reasonable amount of cropping without losing too much quality.  In 10 foreign tours, this kit has done everthing I have wanted it to do.

Excuse the double post, don't know how that happened!


Don't overlook the weight factor, by the end of the day if your back is giving out you're not in the mood for great photos.  And too much gear means too many choices to make;  when a photo may appear and be gone in an instant, it's no time to dither about what lens to install.  I have pared my travel kit to my Nikon D7000 with the 18-70 lens from my first D70 kit, and the 70-300.  That range covers just about anything you might see, particularly if you go on escorted tours where things move fast and your choices are limited. And the weight is minimal.    If I need wider I can make wider,  up to a panorama,  with the 18 and images stitched together in Photoshop. If I need longer the resolution of the D7000 provides a reasonable amount of cropping without losing too much quality.  In 10 foreign tours, this kit has done everthing I have wanted it to do.

One should not rule out the humble Canon SL1 for travel.  Excellent image quality and very light weight.  

I have three different camera system including a digital Hasselblad and Canon 5Dmk3 I use for my studio business, but  those cameras haven't seen the inside of an airplane since I got a mirroless Fuji XE1, then XE2 and XPro2.  The weight and size is so much less than dslr, optics are small and excellent and the benefits for travel are many.  The author of this article is sadly behind the times when it comes to travel photography.  There's a reason even some Nat Geo photographers have gone to Fuji mirrorless X series.

You may be fortunate enough to be a pro who is able to afford three different systems in three different formats - but most people have to make due with the equipment they already own. To then brand the author as 'sadly behind the times' and talk about Nat Geo photographers is very unfair, since I believe the article is meant for a much wider audience.

I have 2 camera systems with both prime and zoom lenses. I use the Nikon D7000 and D50, N50 for film. For the Nikon I have a Tamrom 18-200 mm zoom, Nikon prime 35mm,f1.8, a 50mm f1.8 and an 85mm f1.8. For travel I use the Olympus 4/3 system consisting of an Olympus OMD and/or a Pen EP1. I have an Olympus micro 4/3 14-150mm zoom, 70-300 mm zoom withmicro 4/3 converter, 9-18 mm zoom with micro 4/3 converter , prime lenses consisting of Olympus 17mm f1.8, 45mm f1.8, 60 mm macro f1.8. and a Reticon 7.5 mm fish eye. I will soon be going on a trip and I will only take the Olympus OMD, the new Olympus micro 4/3  14-150mm zoom with UV filter, a polarizer, an on camera flash diffuser.  Don't forget a spare battery and charger and extra memory cards also need to be carried. The way that airlines are restricting carry on lugage forces critical size and weight decisions. I consider carrying only a good point and shoot if it will suffice. I used to carry both an DSLR/DSLM and P&S for convience but got a ood set of lenses for my cell phone which I now use as my P&S for times I don't want to lug the camera.

For many travel destinations, including safaris, weight is also a very strong argument for micro 4/3 systems which are a lot lighter, especially for extreme telephoto shoots. 

Although not one of the fastest, I love my nikon 16-85mm f3.5-5.6 for traveling...Very sharp and versatile!

I take in my travels 3 lenses for my APS-C, SLR (Pentax K5). A 16 - 85mm 3.5-5.6 (24 - 128 equiv.) zoom used in the vast majority of the photos I take, a 50mm 1.4 prime (75mm equiv.) and a 200mm 2.8 prime (300mm equiv.). All fits in a relatively small bag and is not too heavy. In cities, usually the 200mm stays at the hotel, but in open spaces I take the three of them. When light begins to diminish I use  the zoom only in the wide angle range an the 50mm for a closer look. The 200 only comes out in rather long shots or when I need a compressed perspective so I can "create" patterns or to bring in distant subjects or when I want to to unobtrusevly take photos of people. This "combo" works fine for me and the kind of Photo I like best.