Which is the Best Lens for Travel Photography?

| June 20, 2011 | 48 Comments

One of the things that usually find themselves inside the backpack during the early stages of packing for a trip are cameras and lenses, particularly if you take travel photography somewhat seriously. For many, a point and shoot camera is enough (some have superb zooms), but there are others who want to take their photography to the next step and bring home images that could very well be the cover shot of National Geographic’s next issue. Well almost. If you are one of them you’ll probably want to know which is the best lens for travel photography, one that can take care of most situations avoiding the extra bulk and weight.

best all around travel lens

The equipment needed to be able to shoot in a wide range of conditions is  expensive, heavy  and bulky, and thus trying to save money and space becomes essential, particularly on long trips unless you’re a photographer on assignment. Thus the question is: what is the best camera lens for your DSLR that will let you shoot  in a wide range of conditions and give you the flexibility to take my photography to then next level?

I am the proud owner of a Nikon D90, bought it right before my round the world trip together with a Nikon 18-135mm 3.5-5.6 lens and a Nikon f1.8 50 mm lens, plus a tripod and some extra gear. The reasons I bought these camera lenses and not anothers were:

  1. I chose a brand name because it would be part of the kit, saving a few dollars.
  2. After hours of searching online I concluded that the 18-135mm is sharper than the 18-200mm
  3. Lenses with long zooms can suffer from creep, referring to the fact that because of weight, when hanging from the shoulder the lens extends itself because of its own weight. You then run the risk of hitting it against something or simply scraping the glass.

I have to say that after using it for over a year I am very pleased with it. Sure, there are times when extra zoom would come in handy, but I also want the final picture to be as sharp as possible. Plus I didn’t want to have to worry about my lens hitting something because it had extended itself.

As for the 50mm f1.8, I bought it because it is very cheap (just over 100 USD) and I wanted a fast lens I could use during low light conditions and when shooting portraits or close subjects. However I have to admit I have barely used it. The D90 is not a full frame camera (meaning that the sensor if not equivalent to a 35mm film) and has a crop factor of 1.5, which results in the lens being a 75mm lens in reality. As there are no zoom capabilities I found too often that I was not close enough or far enough from the subject, and could not move for one reason or another, thus it not being as flexible as I would have liked. Looking back, if I had the money I would purchase a 18-70mm instead, giving me the flexibility I needed.

But these are only my thoughts! To help you make a better decision I have asked the same question to fellow travel bloggers and experienced professional photographers who were happy to answer this question: Daniel Shah, Daniel Nahabedian, Dave Boskill and Bethany Savlon.

Which is the Best Lens for Travel Photography?

Daniel Shah says:
“I’ll take 18-135mm lens because it will give me possibility to shoot wide as well as tele. For traveling, I would want to buy 10-22 mm Canon or any other that gives me more possibility to take wide shots. And definitely I would want a faster lens like f1.8 18-200 since it would give me more possibility to take faraway subjects in low light conditions.

Currently I just take one lens with me to my treks and adventures i.e. 18-135mm and honestly speaking, brands matter when you are really becoming a pro, not for  beginners.”

Daniel Shah is a traveler, blogger and photographer based in Pakistan.  Read about his trips across the Gilgit Batistan area  and more in his blog www.iexplorepakistan.com or join his Facebook Page with over 11,000 fans!

nikon 18-70

Daniel Nahabedian responds:

“If I planned to travel with only one lens and had the money to invest in a good one, I’d definitely go with an 18-200mm. The idea is to be able to cover a wide focal range so you can be prepared in any situation. 18mm is fine to capture nice wide angle landscapes and the 200mm end is perfect to zoom in that worker in the rice fields from afar. Now the best option of course would be to get a fast lens. Even a f/2.8 is enough in most situations. However fast lenses covering a wide range are not cheap.”

“Is it essential to buy ‘brand camera lenses’? If you have the money, go for it! If you are very serious in your photography, you should invest. Lenses are the most important things to buy. However, if Photography is just a hobby or you are just starting in the field, Sigma or Tamron lenses work very well and deliver excellent results, and they are much cheaper. When I first started traveling, I bought an 18-250mm from Sigma. While not a fast lens at all (3.5-6), I found it perfect in most situations. In low light, I just cranked up the ISO and shot away (noise is easily removable in post-processing.)”

“If I had to take a second lens, I’d either go for a 50mm prime f/1.8 (excellent for portraits) or a 24-70mm 2.8 which could easily replace the 18-200mm for street photography. Both lenses are suitable for full frame or cropped sensors.”

Daniel Nahabedian is a professional photographer who spends a good portion of his time exploring remote locations looking for the ultimate shot. You’ve probably seen several of his photos if you’re an avid used of Stumble Upon, otherwise you better  can see examples of his work in his photoblog www.canvas-of-light.com

tamron 18-270

Tamron’s new 18-270 mm lens

Easily take photos like these!

If you have a DSLR camera or are about to buy one, new paths are about to open in your photography skills trip. While some of them might require some time for you to master, others are actually very simple allowing you take pictures that will have others in awe. Easily and quickly learn these techniques with this photography tips and tricks ebook!

trick photography

Bethany Savlon comments:

“For the beginner or anyone looking for a lightweight, all purpose lens the 18-200 3.5 is a good choice. It gives enough wide angle and enough zoom to cover most of your needs without all the added weight. For someone look to take their photography to the next level the 24-70 2.8 is a phenomenal lens. As far as price the 24-70 is not cheap, usually runs around $1500 and it is also not light weight by any means but the pictures are unbelievable. If you have an 18-200 and have a little bit of extra money and want a fun, lightweight lens try out the 50mm 1.8 or the 35mm 1.8 – both will give you dramatically different photos than the 18-200, are reasonably priced (a couple hundred to a few hundred bucks) and are small and lightweight. I would never consider traveling or shooting a wedding without my 35mm 1.8.

As for brand name, I say always buy brand name when you can, if you can. This can be tough for a lot of people, myself included, because brand name will always cost more. If you can’t afford the brand name then do your research on the generic names and go with that. My other suggestion (especially if you are tough on your gear) is to shop used. KEH sells a lot of great used lenses and they have a great warranty. You can save yourself a LOT of money by purchasing a solid, used lens.

My last bit of advice is try not to get too caught up on needing an expensive lens. You can still take great photos with all different types and brand names of lenses and you shouldn’t go broke trying to just buy one lens. Working with what you have can teach you to create images that other people wouldn’t even think about.”

Bethany is a professional photographer who is traveling around the world with her partner Randy, a professional journalist. Check their photos and read about their trips in their popular blog www.beersandbeans.com.

nikon 18-135

Me holiding a Nikon 18-135mm lens mounted on my D90

Dave Bouskill replies:

“To narrow it down to just one lens is pretty hard. It really depends on your type of photography. Someone who loves to photograph people and  lifestyle will surely have a different lens in mind then someone who loves to shoot primarily landscapes. A lot of emphasis has been put on trying to make the all round do everything lens that offers lightweight, excellent image quality and covers all focal lengths. This has proven an impossibility (for now) so you have to be willing to sacrifice something. Bear in mind I am a Canon user and believe that they make the best lenses out there. I have tried others but have always come back to Canon. Great quality build, reliability and awesome optics.

In my opinion the best all round travel lens for people on a budget that I would choose would be the Canon EF-S 17-85mm f/4-5.6 IS USM. It is an EF-S lens which means it is meant for a crop sensor camera not a full frame. Most people probably shoot with a crop sensor nowadays. This lens has good image quality, image stabilization which can give you up to an extra 3 stops hand held and has a good focal range (28-135 35mm equivalent). This allows you to shoot landscapes and people all within one lens. Exactly what I would look for in an everyday walk around travel lens. The reason I would not choose something like the 18-200 IS is that the image quality is quite bad at the 200mm range and in my opinion IQ far outweighs a little extra reach.

For a full frame camera I would choose theCanon EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM. This has great image quality, perfect focal length and is relatively fast at F4 all the way through the focal lengths. If money was no object the Canon EF 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6 L IS USM is the ultimate all round lens on the market. But at $2700USD is out of most peoples price range.

If I was to bring one other lens it would be the Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM. Sharp as a tack, great for low light photography and shallow DOF work. If money is an issue the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II is substantially cheaper and offers great results if you stop it down to a 2.0. I never leave home without this lens.”

Dave represents half of one of the most popular travel blogs in the web, www.theplanetd.com. Together with Debra they travel the world not only to see but to experience, learn and show what cultures of the world can teach us all. Dave was recently requested by Olympus cameras  to become part of their test team.


These opinions are meant to point you in the right direction, but ultimately it will be you who will make the purchase. Only you know what your budget is, what you will be shooting mostly and your photography experience. If price is a factor the Nikon 18-135 mm (or equivalent in other brands) is great value for money. You can purchase it in Amazon (the widget below includes this and other lenses- buying it from here will not cost you more and will help me keep this site useful) or hit your local camera store if you can, and hold the lenses that have made the final cut. Check their bulk, their weight, their shooting capabilities, their comfort… and then buy!

Other Resources and Articles to Help You Improve Your Travel Photography

These articles and ebooks are for photographers of all levels but special attention has been given to the beginner or amateur. They contain simple and medium techniques, tips and tricks that will help you progress quickly and get better results from your camera, no matter what kind you own.

Trick Photography and Special Effects for Everybody
10 Simple Tips to Dramatically Improve Your Photos
How to Use Depth of Field
30 Free Photography Ebooks

[Photo credits @Flickr: self, kakissel, armno-old, self]

Has this article helped you decide? Do you have a favorite lens of your own? Which lens do you always carry with you, and which would you never carry again? Got any questions? Share your opinion below, and this post too if you think others might find it helpful!

Tags: , , ,

Category: Photography Tips, Travel Photography


48 responses to “Which is the Best Lens for Travel Photography?”

  1. tu bep says:

    Great review! Thanks maitravelsite very much!

  2. manfrotto monoopd says:

    Ball heads are popular because they allow you to set the position using one
    locking mechanism, but it is a matter of personal choice
    so experiment with both and choose the one that suits you best.

    In tight settings (which you’ll often be using with
    nude photography), a tripod will really take a
    toll on the spontaneity of a shoot. You can use photo editing software like Adobe Photoshop Elements, to blur the background and make the hummingbird stand out from
    the background.

  3. giai bong da says:

    Wow, All best lens dslr camera is good quality, and next my travel i will have good photos for my holiday.

  4. abel says:

    It seems the 18-135 lens are very popular amongst everybody!

  5. Vicky says:

    Hi I am considering purchasing a new lens specifically for travel photography. I currently have a 50mm prime lens which I use for food photography and the 18-55 kit lens that came with my cannon XS. I am having difficulties understanding the difference between the Canon EF 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM, Canon EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS UD, and the Canon EF-S 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 IS. Any pointers or suggestions? Please let me know. Thanks so much!

    • maitravelsite says:

      Hi Vicky, I appreciate you stopping by, sorry for taking over a day to get back to you. All of the lenses you mentionare have about the same image quality, so no major difference there. The difference between the first two is the shorter focal length that the EF has, and the EF-S naming in the second refers to Short-backfocus design which is only compatible to APS-C EOS SLRs. The third lens has a longer focal length, which can be helpful if you plan on taking pictures of animals. A big factor to consider is price. How much does each cost? Assuming they all cost the same, I would choose the 3rd, then the 1st and then the second, in that order. I have a 18-135 and sometimes wished I had a better zoom to shoot pics of monkey when in Malaysia or getting close ups of people if I know they perhaps don´t want to have pictures taken. Hope this helps!

      • Vicky says:

        Hi – thanks for all the help! It looks like the 18-200 costs $550, the 28-135 costs $360 and the 18-135 costs $310. If I could bother you with one more question that would be great. The 18-200 is probably out of my price range at the moment so I’ll be deciding between the 28-135 and the 18-135 — is there a particular reason you would prefer the 28-135 over the 18-135?

        • maitravelsite says:

          Hi Vicky! From what I read the AF in the 18-135 is a little bit slow, and 10 mm (equivalent to 15 mm) in your camera in the short range wont help you much, specially if you have a 18-55 lens (this last one is a little gem, you will use it a lot. In fact, if it has the same aperture interval as the 50 mm lens I would sell the 50mm and avoid carrying the bulk, or leave it at home). This said, If you are not too picky about brands and are on a budget, have you considered Sigma and/or Tamron lenses? They are just as good as the Canon lenses in the consumer range (which is the one these are in) , and you can get a 18-200 mm new lens with the same specs as this Canon for under 400 usd, even under 300 (check Amazon or Adorama). Let me know your thoughts 🙂

  6. Its very useful for travel purpose. in my next journey i want to use it for pic great picture.
    Thanks for sharing this useful information.

  7. Elijah says:

    I don’t know if you’ve found what you are looking for, but I suggest the Opteka 500-1000mm. Its a high definition mirror lens and it is best use for taking pictures of wildlife and sports photography. I think it more than fits what your looking for and it cost about $120 on amazon.

  8. ralph rusly says:

    For travelling its better to have a good DSLR instead of carrying around a lens though. but this article is great!


  9. Sarah wu says:

    Such a great review on lens. My fav is 50mm too

  10. I agree with the idea of going with the 18-70mm’s mostly because of how pricey the wide angle lenses can be.

  11. Except for Dave Bouskil, there are no comments on image stabilization. Until his comments, I leaned toward the Alpha with Minolta lenses as the camera stabilizes behind the lens. Am I missing more as Dave implies?

    • maitravelsite says:

      IS is only important, I believe, when using long zoom lenses, at least in the 200 mm range. My Nikon 28-135 (x1.5) doesn’t have it and I frankly don’t think I need it. It is true that when the IS happens in the camera, then you have more lenses to choose from if IS is important for you though.

  12. After years of waiting, I’ve been itching to get a Tamron 28-200 or so. It seems the technology has brought a wider range into my price range. Count your blessings everyone. Please, no comments on my age.

  13. Hi, I’m fairly new to the photography world and I’m just getting the hang of it. I own a Canon Rebel EOS t1i and I have been using the lens it came with (18-55). I will be going to travel this summer and would like to purchase a new lens. Should I get a wide angle lens for scenery? They’re compact and convenient, but I don’t really know. I realize they don’t come cheap, but I would appreciate any suggestions. Please try to keep the price within a reasonable range. Thanks in advance.

    • maitravelsite says:

      Hi there. Wide angle lenses are cool but expensive, and are somewhat limited to sceneries. If you have the budget go ahead with one, otherwise I’d suggest you purchase an 18-70 mm or there abouts and then use photoshop or any other softare to stich them. The end result will be just as good!

  14. Fede! This is a great post. I really needed help with my photography gear lately and I’ve been procrastinating it. I get overwhelmed by the amount of information online – have to read so many reviews you figure out what the general opinion is.

    • maitravelsite says:

      Certainly Lindsay. For every opinion there is an opposite one. But if you realize even in my article there is a general consensus on one kind of lens…

  15. Now you can reduced the weight and size of your travelling camera with this you can save space in bags. For people who loves to travel, traveling is incomplete if they don ‘t have a camera in their luggage . They will miss the opportunity to capture the memorable sights if they don’t have this. Avail one of those on this post before you start your journey. For sure you won’t regret.

  16. Angela says:

    Great advices here, it’s always a big issue for me to undertsand which lens is better for any occasion. I recently bought a wide angle and I’m so enjoying capturing natural landscapes 🙂

  17. great info, now i know which camera and lens go get

  18. Good information for the frequent traveler. The information on the less expensive lenses is particularly important for those just beginning their photo travel adventures, including those with a little less money to devote to equipment! A good beginner photography class might be an even better investment.

    • maitravelsite says:

      Though I think you can save the money by going out and shooting by yourself. The lessons would make the process speedier though, I admit.

  19. Erica says:

    I love my Nikon 50mm 1.8! I use it more than I care to admit – but I have a love affair with low lighting. I definitely need something with a bit of zoom though. I just upgraded my camera and it is on my list of “next please”.

    • maitravelsite says:

      If my lens was a 35mm I’d probably use it more. It is great for low light photos, but isn’t very versatile. The extra zoom would do the trick.

  20. I’ve got to go with a similar choice, but different. My Nikon 18-200mm VR hasn’t let me down yet. It’s a bit on the soft side of focus when zoomed all the way out, but it’s so versatile that it’s worth the small sacrifice. If/when I transition to making money with photographs (fingers crossed) then I’ll likely invest in some more specialized glass.
    Great post! i just found your site on recommendation from Ayngelina from Bacon is Magic.

    • maitravelsite says:

      Thanks Andrew! Haven’t you had any issues with the 18-200 creeping? Would be great to know you’re making some cash, I’d hope to do that soon too 🙂 I’ll have to thank Ayngelina by the way!

  21. dtravelsround says:

    this makes me want to go out and buy a new camera and lens right now.

  22. Sebastian says:

    Thank you so much for this article Frederico!
    I own a D90 for a couple of years already and always wanted to buy new lenses but was never sure which one to buy. I’m planning on buying a new one this summer. Your review helped me to figure out a little which lenses I should consider!

  23. adam jones says:

    i have the all knowledge of cameras and i have couple of canon cameras i have bought from best digital slr camera lensbut just wanna share that if somebody have any kind of problem please contact me
    i have all about handy cam and dslr cameras and their accesories.

  24. moon says:

    There are best cameras lens. There are top slr digital lens available. The Opteka manual focus mirror lens is incredibly compact and lightweight. Using an advanced reflex design, this is a mirror lens that is ideally suited for wildlife and sports photography. It has a fixed aperture of f8.
    Best Digital SLR Camera Lens

  25. Thanks for the review. Traveling definitely calls for photo opps and having your camera handy at all times! I’ve stuck with my point and shoot for so many years, I think it’s time for an upgrade. Would you suggest a DSLR for those who’ve never used one?

    • maitravelsite says:

      There’s always a first time Leah. It all depends on whether you feel like carrying the bulky camera and extra gear with you all the time or prefer a compact, hide-anywhere camera. Do you want to take your photography to the next level?

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