How I Chose a 24-105mm for a Trip to Switzerland

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When you’re traveling and want to go minimal—particularly if you’ll be backpacking and every ounce counts—you want to take careful consideration of what gear you’re going to bring. I was going to be backpacking in Switzerland for 10 days, and the less gear the better. This led me to bring one camera, a Sony a7R II, and one, yes one, lens. What lens did I choose? The FE 24-105mm f/4 G OSS.

Photographs © Kendra Wiebke 2019

In preparing for my trips I like to research my destination and, then, ask myself a few key questions that will lead me to the ideal gear for that trip. The first question is always: Where am I going to be? Will I be in a city or out in nature? Or some combo thereof? 

Switzerland, as I’m sure you know, is home to some of the most incredible mountains in the world: the Alps. The Swiss Alps are monoliths of nature and where I was going to be staying—Lauterbrunnen—seemed like a real life Middle Earth. That meant wide landscapes. I also knew I might want to photograph things a little farther away because I was planning on spending a day in Zürich. This meant I’d most likely want a zoom lens and something that started wide, which leads right into the next questions: 

How much wildlife will I likely see? And will I want photos? 

I know what you’re thinking: “Of course you want photos of them!” Occasionally, I like just to enjoy the moment and not worry about camera settings. Plus, for this trip, I knew I wouldn’t be seeing all that much wildlife—maybe a fox and some eagles. As it turned out, I did see a fox, some pretty odd ducks, and loads of cows wearing bells. In those cases, having the 105mm was extra nice.  

What types of photos do I want to bring home? 

This very much goes in hand with the first question of where you’re going to be, but also leads to the next question, so it’s something to think about. Consider the types of photos you’ll be wanting and what will be available to you. Landscapes, low-light, night, sunrises/sunsets, etc. I already knew I’d want wide landscapes to capture the massive expanse that is the Swiss Alps. So, what were there other situations?

One of the main reasons I took this trip was to escape into the mountains and hike. That meant I would be capturing moments on the trails; whether those would include people or not wasn’t certain. Even if they didn’t, detail shots are nice to have, and something I’ve learned completes coverage of a destination. 

I now had a pretty good idea that I was going to be wanting a zoom lens that covered the “standard” range. Nearly everyone I asked at this point suggested the 24-105mm and, I have to say, they were not wrong. It did a decent job of doing everything I wanted. 

Are there going to be any low-light situations?

The forecast during my trip was either mostly cloudy or chance of rain, so I thought it unlikely that night photography would be happening. The weather during my trip was largely sunny, with storms in the evening, and we even got snow—in August! Even if there had been clear night skies, I wouldn’t have had the energy to stay up. For any low-light situations, such as dinner, I decided against bringing the camera.

If I had wanted to do either, the f/4 capability of the 24-105mm would have been the only sticking point. Faster lenses with f/2.8 would be more ideal but as I said, I wasn’t planning any low light captures. These situations would also mean I would need a tripod and remember how I mentioned I wanted as little gear as possible? Yeah. Not happening. Last, but not least: 

On my other trips, what focal lengths do I typically use? 

This one is particularly important. For years, people had been telling me to pay attention to what focal lengths I tended to use, and I never did that. But guess what? It helps! A lot. So, if you’re new to picking out lenses, focus on that question! Because, guess what? Over the 10 days I was in Switzerland, I only zoomed to the full 105mm a handful of times and that was only when I saw the “wildlife” I mentioned above. Other than those few moments, I rarely zoomed above 65mm.

There’s an easy sort of way to figure out what focal lengths you favor, as long as you have some basic photo software and a collection of your favorite photos at the ready. Keep in mind this will require metadata in your images, so you can’t just pull your Instagram feed to check them out. Opening up Bridge or Lightroom should give you an option to sort by focal length; this should show you what focal lengths you use most and which you use least.

In Conclusion

The 24-105mm served me very well, and I’m pleased with the photos I brought home with me. After going through all those photos and knowing what I do now, when I return to Switzerland, I will probably go with either the 24-70mm or even the 12-24mm to really get that extra drama. I just didn’t see enough wildlife to really justify the 105mm and while the few shots I took between 70-105mm were just OK; none made the final cut. 

Once you’ve picked your lens, gather your sense of adventure and enjoy your trip! If you’ve considered all the above questions, the lens you pick should give you everything you need to capture the fun and engage with the moment. 

Do you have a go-to lens? Are there other considerations you look at when picking your gear for a trip? Let us know in the Comments section, below!

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