Undoubtedly one of the best aspects of traveling abroad is bringing back wonderful photos to share with family and friends (or sharing them while on the road!). As a professional photographer and avid traveler I get asked time and again, “Which lens should I buy for my DSLR before I go on my trip?” Along with questions about which camera to buy, this is my most asked questions when people need advice. A close third is, “You only bring three pairs of underwear?”
I then ask a few questions about what kind of travel they have planned, locations, sites to be seen, amount of luggage and what they plan to shoot. This all makes a big difference in picking a lens or lenses. Luckily their answers can be grouped regularly into a few pat answers.
“I don’t know. Just general photos and I only want one lens. Keep it simple.”
This answer is one of the easiest because I have a ready answer. 18-200mm. Boom. Done. My reasoning for this lens is from my own practical use over a number of trips. First, it doesn’t require a lens change and on an APS-C size sensor (typical of most consumer level DSLRs, otherwise known as a 1.6x crop factor sensor) the 18mm becomes a 29mm, a decent wide angle. The advantage with the 1.6x is the 200mm becomes 320mm, a very respectable zoom for getting you close to action.
Third, the lens will serve well on a large range of travels. A friend of mine purchased such a lens before our joint trip to Africa for a month. She was very happy with the overall range and focus speed of the lens (in this case, a Sigma version for a Canon camera). For a month of close-ups, medium distance people shots and safari shots from a sizable distance, the lens held its own and did exactly what she wanted.
Lastly, it’s a light lens. Compared to the next set of lenses, these 18-200mm lenses are a pleasure to bring along.
“I want one lens, but I want great quality and am ok paying for it.”
The advantages it offers are in the realm of image stabilization and image quality. At over $2500, it should! The downside, beside weight, is obnoxiousness. You’ll be spotted as a ‘serious photographer’ everywhere you go and it can interfere with access to some areas (where they want a fee for professionals).
Also, on an APS-C sensor, you lose some of the wide range (it effectively becomes a 45mm-480mm) but also gain on the zoom side. This makes it great for safari work.
“I’m ok with a couple lenses and will capture a wide range of subjects.”
Ah, combining lenses. Now you’re getting a little more serious. You recognize that any one ‘do it all’ lens will have its compromises, so why not get two lenses with a slight bit better quality? It’s a great tact indeed.
You can get, for instance, a Nikon 17-55mm f/2.8 and an 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6 and that gives you a huge amount of range and quality. Those lenses are on the higher end, price-wise, so if you’re on a budget, go with the kit 18-55mm f/3.5 and 55-200mm f/4. These lenses aren’t as fast (can’t take photos in less light than the f/2.8 versions) but some lens is better than none at all! In between those two ranges, and Canon, Sigma and others carry lenses in these ranges, there is a lens to fit your budget.
A few notes on buying lenses: 1)Take a serious look at your expected longevity of photography in your travels. If you’re going to be at it a while, invest in a good lens before you invest in a good camera. You get more bang for the buck from a quality lens than a quality camera (with an inferior lens). Lenses also update less often than cameras, so you can be assured the quality from a quality manufacturer will endure. I have kept lenses through four camera changes before because they are worth the cost.
2) Don’t be afraid to try off-brand lenses (brands different than the manufacturer of your camera). There are some quality options out there.
3) Try out your new equipment before you leave. Get to know it in the comfort of your home and hometown. Walk around at different times of day to get a feel for its limits. This will help set your expectations and lower your frustrations while on the road. The last thing you want to do on a trip is bring along the instruction manual for your camera and be learning when you should be out shooting!
4) Lastly, you might have noticed that BorrowLenses.com banner on the side of this blog. They, and other online rental companies, can be a great option for borrowing high quality lenses for a once-in-a-lifetime trip at a fraction of the new cost. I have also penned a post on Digital Photography School listing other online retailers, with many international dealers in the comments section.
Lens choice for travel photography need not be daunting. The important thing is to get a lens and get out there and see what you can do. If you have any specific questions, feel free to email at email@example.com.
31 Days To Better Photography is a series written by professional photographer Peter West Carey on The Carey Adventures.Com. The series is designed to unravel the mysteries of photography so you can take better pictures. Subscribe here to receive all the updates, and bonus material, all month long. Your comments are always welcome.