Best Lenses for Travel Photography

Best Lenses For Travel Photography

Written By: John

As travel photographers, one of the most important decisions we face is selecting the right lenses to accompany us on our adventures. The choice of lens can make the difference between capturing that breathtaking sunset, dynamic street scene, or intimate wildlife moment with precision and depth, or walking away with subpar, unsatisfactory photos. In my years of traversing the globe and honing my travel photography craft, I’ve come to understand the significance of finding a balance between practicality and image quality – a challenge that every travel photographer grapples with.

To give you some expert perspective, legendary travel photographer Steve McCurry once said, “My life is shaped by the urgent need to wander and observe, and my camera is my passport.” With that philosophy in mind, choosing the right lenses for your journey is akin to selecting the best stamps in your photographic passport.

In this article, we’ll dive into the various factors to consider when choosing the best lenses for travel photography. We’ll take into account the weight, focal length, aperture, and versatility of different lenses and discuss a variety of popular options across the spectrum. Are you ready to embark on your journey to finding your perfect travel lens? Let’s dive in!

Wide-angle Lenses

When it comes to travel photography, wide-angle lenses can make all the difference in capturing the true essence of a place. These lenses allow you to fit more of the scene into your frame, making them perfect for landscapes, architecture, and even group shots. Wide-angle lenses can be categorized into two types: prime and zoom lenses. Let’s dive into the benefits of each type and explore some popular options for various camera brands.

Travel Photography Lenses: Wide Angle

Prime Wide-angle Lenses

Prime wide-angle lenses have a fixed focal length, which means less moving parts and often results in a lighter lens. As a travel photographer, I’ve personally appreciated this weight reduction on long hikes! They also tend to possess sharper image quality compared to zoom lenses due to their simpler construction. A famous quote by renowned travel photographer, Ansel Adams, springs to mind: “A great photograph is one that fully expresses what one feels.” And with a prime wide-angle lens, I find that achieving that level of emotion is a little easier.

Some popular prime wide-angle options include the following:

Zoom Wide-angle Lenses

Zoom wide-angle lenses offer increased versatility by allowing you to adjust the focal length, making them perfect for capturing a wide range of subjects in various settings. One of my personal favorite experiences using a zoom wide-angle lens was when I visited Barcelona. The city’s stunning architecture, bustling markets, and sprawling parks were beautifully captured thanks to the flexibility of my zoom lens. Though often heavier than prime lenses and slightly less sharp, the range and convenience they provide can be invaluable in travel photography.

Some notable zoom wide-angle lenses are:

Whether you opt for a prime or zoom wide-angle lens, the resulting images can be truly breathtaking. In my experience, the key is to experiment with different focal lengths and perspectives, fully embracing the creative possibilities that these lenses offer. Ultimately, making the right wide-angle lens choice for your specific needs and preferences can open up a world of artistic opportunities in your travel photography.

Standard Zoom Lenses

Ah, the Swiss Army Knife of travel photography lenses: the standard zoom lens. As a travel photographer, the times I’ve been thankful for having one of these versatile lenses on hand are countless. Their appeal lies in the fact that they cover a wide range of focal lengths, making them the ideal “all-around” option for various shooting situations. From capturing a cityscape to snapping a quick portrait, a standard zoom lens can tackle it all. In this section, let’s break down some of the most popular standard zoom lenses and their unique features that make them essential for any travel photographer’s toolkit.

Travel Photography Lenses: Standard

The Trusty Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L II

For Canon shooters, the EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II is often considered the gold standard when it comes to standard zoom lenses. Its sharpness, fast autofocus, and constant f/2.8 aperture across the zoom range make it a potent tool in any travel photographer’s arsenal. I remember the first time I shot with this lens; I was instantly hooked. Its ability to capture the essence of bustling city streets and serene landscapes while maintaining superb image quality left me in awe.

Nikon’s Champion: 24-70mm f/2.8 VR

Nikon users won’t hesitate to sing the praises of the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 VR. Its outstanding performance, Vibration Reduction (VR) technology, and edge-to-edge sharpness make it a reliable companion. One notable instance I recall with this lens was when I was traveling through Europe, and I needed something versatile to handle both architecture and candids of people in the streets. The Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 VR checked all the boxes, and the end results were nothing short of spectacular.

Choices for Other Camera Brands

Of course, other camera brands also offer compelling options for standard zoom lenses. Sony users can look towards the impressive Sony FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM, which incorporates various advanced elements to deliver excellent image quality, quick autofocus, and noteworthy contrast. One of my colleagues, a Fujifilm user, swears by their Fujinon XF 16-55mm f/2.8 R LM WR lens. This lens, with its weather-resistant construction and exceptional sharpness, handles various conditions with ease, making it a great travel companion.

Ultimately, a reliable standard zoom lens is an indispensable item in any travel photographer’s camera bag. Their versatility and adaptability to multiple shooting scenarios mean you’ll never find yourself switching lenses constantly, allowing you more time to focus on capturing the essence of your surroundings. And as we all know, in the world of travel photography, it’s often the fleeting moments that leave the longest lasting impressions.

Prime Lenses

Ah, prime lenses — the darlings of many a photographer’s gear bag! As someone who’s spent countless hours photographing various destinations, I’ve had my fair share of experiences with these fixed-focal wonders. In this section, we’ll delve into the benefits and drawbacks of choosing prime lenses for travel photography, and why they might be just the tool you need to elevate your images to the next level.

We often hear about the superior image quality, sharpness, and fast apertures that prime lenses offer. Indeed, these attributes make them particularly enticing to photographers. As landscape photographer Ansel Adams once said, “A good photograph is knowing where to stand.” Prime lenses encourage us to change our perspective and composition by physically moving around the scene, rather than simply zooming in or out. But, as I’m sure many of you can attest, this comes with some trade-offs when it comes to versatility and convenience, particularly when traveling.

The Canon 50mm f/1.4 USM: A Prime Example

For instance, let’s take a look at the Canon 50mm f/1.4 USM. This lens is often touted as the “nifty fifty,” and for good reason! With a relatively compact size and weight, as well as a large f/1.4 aperture, this lens is incredibly versatile for low-light situations and stunning bokeh. However, the fixed focal length might not be best suited for those wide landscape shots or intimate close-ups, meaning you would need to carry additional lenses for those situations.

Nikon’s 35mm f/1.8G: Small but Mighty

In a similar vein, the Nikon 35mm f/1.8G is another prime lens often lauded for its sharpness, lightweight build, and excellent low-light performance. I personally love this lens for street photography as it allows me to get closer to my subjects and immerse myself in the environment around me. However, it might not be as well-suited for larger landscapes or narrow city streets, in which case a wide-angle lens might be a more practical choice.

Balancing Versatility and Image Quality

The examples above demonstrate that while prime lenses can offer fantastic image quality, they do come with certain limitations. It’s essential to weigh the trade-off between versatility and quality when selecting prime lenses for travel photography. Be honest with yourself about the types of subjects you enjoy photographing the most and the situations you most commonly find yourself in. This will allow you to make an informed decision about which prime lenses will best support your travel photography.

While prime lenses may not be the one-size-fits-all solution that many travel photographers seek, don’t dismiss them entirely. Instead, consider incorporating a prime lens or two into your traveling kit to complement your other lenses, and you just might find yourself capturing even more stunning and unique images. After all, isn’t variety the spice of life?

Telephoto Lenses

Ah, the mighty telephoto lens, the ultimate tool for snapping photos of distant subjects. Telephoto lenses are an indispensable asset to many travel photographers, especially when capturing wildlife, sports, and various other scenarios. In this section, we’ll explore the use of telephoto lenses in travel photography and discuss the delicate balance between size, weight, and practicality that you need to consider when committing to a telephoto lens. I’ll also review some popular telephoto options and their respective features to help you make an informed decision.

Travel Photography Lenses: Telephoto

Telephoto lenses generally offer focal lengths of 70mm and above, and they come in both prime and zoom varieties. Prime telephoto lenses often boast stellar image quality and fast apertures but lack the versatility of zoom lenses. Telephoto zoom lenses, on the other hand, provide a range of focal lengths and are generally more practical when your shooting scenarios are diverse. However, they’re often larger, heavier and not as fast in terms of aperture when compared to prime counterparts.

The size and weight of telephoto equipment can sometimes deter travel photographers, but bringing one on a trip can significantly pay off. A high-quality telephoto lens can help you capture crisp, detailed shots that might not be possible with other lenses.

Some popular telephoto lens options include:

  • Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III: A classic option for Canon users, this lens is known for its excellent image quality, speedy autofocus, and versatility. Though it may be a bit on the heavy side for some, its performance and features are worth the extra baggage.
  • Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR (Vibration Reduction): Like Canon’s offering, Nikon’s 70-200mm f/2.8 VR is hailed for its superior image quality and autofocus performance. The added Vibration Reduction helps to minimize camera shake, making handheld shooting more effective.
  • Sony 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS: For Sony mirrorless users, this telephoto lens stands as a great example of what the brand has to offer in terms of quality and technology. Sharpness, built-in stabilization, and weather sealing make this a solid choice for adventurous travel photographers.

For those who prioritize compactness and weight over maximum aperture, the f/4 versions of the above lenses are excellent alternatives, providing similar focal length range and performance while significantly reducing weight and size.

Whichever option you decide on, keep in mind that balancing image quality and practicality is the name of the game when it comes to telephoto lenses for travel photography. Making an informed choice means considering and prioritizing factors like size, weight, aperture range, and price.

One additional tip: consider the wildlife or sports opportunities you’ll encounter in your travels. Having a powerful telephoto lens might be the difference between capturing that distant lion on your African safari or that surfer catching a wave on a sunny Hawaiian beach. And remember, the experiences and photos you collect will make up for the added weight in your backpack.

Specialized Lenses

Diving into the world of specialized lenses can be an incredible experience, as it opens up a myriad of creative possibilities for your travel photography. These lenses – including macro, fisheye, and tilt-shift options, among others – might not find themselves in use as often as standard zoom or prime lenses, but they can make a significant impact when used in the right situations. In this section, let’s take an in-depth look at the capabilities of these unique lenses and how photographers can benefit from incorporating them into their arsenal.

Macro Lenses

Do you remember that time when you stumbled upon an enchanting, colorful butterfly amidst the lush greenery of the jungle? I do. It was a magical moment that I could have easily missed had I not carried my macro lens with me. Macro lenses excel at capturing the fine details of small subjects like insects, flowers, and other small wonders, bringing out their beauty in ways that standard lenses simply cannot achieve. One exemplary macro lens is the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro, a popular choice for its sharpness, exceptional image quality, and ability to take close-up shots with a 1:1 magnification ratio. Similarly, the Nikon AF-S VR Micro-Nikkor 105mm f/2.8G is a fantastic option for Nikon users, providing crystal-clear images and efficient vibration reduction for stable shooting.

Fisheye Lenses

There’s a certain charm in using fisheye lenses that can add a unique, creative twist to your travel photographs. With their ultra-wide angle of view and distinct barrel distortion, fisheye lenses allow you to capture vast, sweeping landscapes, quirky architecture, or funky group shots that set your work apart from the rest. The Nikon 8-15mm f/3.5-4.5E Fisheye is an advanced choice offering both circular and full-frame fisheye effects when paired with a full-frame camera. For Canon users, the Canon EF 8-15mm f/4L Fisheye presents similar capabilities and delivers remarkable image quality.

Travel Photography Lenses: Fisheye

Tilt-Shift Lenses

When you think of tilt-shift lenses, those mesmerizing, miniature cityscapes might immediately pop into your head. These lenses, which allow you to control the plane of focus and perspective, are perfect for achieving selective focus effects and correcting distortions in architecture, cityscapes, and landscapes. The Canon TS-E 17mm f/4L and the Nikon PC-E Nikkor 24mm f/3.5D ED are outstanding tilt-shift lenses that offer superb control, sharpness, and image quality, making them invaluable additions to a travel photographer’s toolkit.

Exploring specialized lenses is akin to embracing a new, untapped dimension of creative expression in your travel photography. While it is important to consider factors like size, weight, and practicality when traveling, these lenses can bring fresh perspectives and unparalleled experiences to your photographic journey. Don’t shy away from trying new lenses or experimenting with their capabilities – that’s what travel photography is all about!

Lens Accessories and Tips

Throughout my own travels and experiences in photography, I’ve learned that having the right lens accessories and knowing how to care for your lenses can make a huge difference in the overall experience. In this section, I’ll walk you through some practical tips for taking care and getting the most out of your lenses while traveling. Trust me – your gear and your images will thank you for it!

Filters: A Little Piece of Glass Goes a Long Way

One of the simplest, yet most effective, accessories you can invest in is a good set of lens filters. Using filters such as UV, polarizing, or neutral density filters can significantly enhance your images by reducing glare, improving color saturation, and providing additional control over exposure. Plus, they’re small and lightweight – perfect for adding to your travel kit without sacrificing precious packing space. I always pack a few filters and have found them to be some of my favorite tools when working with different lighting scenarios or capturing specific effects in my images.

Lens Hoods: An Unsung Hero

Lens hoods might not be the flashiest accessory (pun intended), but they play an essential role in preventing lens flare and protecting your lens from accidental bumps and scratches. Whether you’re maneuvering through a crowded street market or exploring a windy mountaintop, having a lens hood on your lenses will not only improve your image quality but also provide that extra barrier of protection for your equipment.

Keep it Clean, Keep it Sharp

What’s worse than returning from an amazing trip only to find a smudge, dust spot, or fingerprint marring your photos? Ensure to take a small cleaning kit with you on your travels, including a microfiber cloth, lens pen, and air blower. Regularly cleaning your lenses will help maintain optimal image quality and overall lens performance, so don’t be afraid to get up close and personal with your glass.

Packing Smart: Saving Space and Protecting Your Gear

When it comes to packing your lenses for travel, there are a few key factors to consider to ensure your equipment stays safe and secure. Firstly, consider using lens pouches or padded lens wraps in order to store and protect your lenses when not in use. These can help prevent scratches, dings, and other damage caused by gear jostling around in the bag. Additionally, try to organize your lenses and other gear logically within your bag – this can help you access your equipment quickly and easily when a great photo opportunity arises. On some occasions, you might consider adding a travel tripod, especially if you plan on photographing long exposures, landscapes, or night skies. Just keep in mind to choose a lightweight and compact tripod suited for travel.

In summary, investing in the right lens accessories and knowing how to care for your lenses while traveling can not only enhance your images but also ensure your gear stays in top condition. Remember – a few simple precautions and a bit of effort in organization can make all the difference when you’re capturing those once-in-a-lifetime moments. Happy traveling and even happier shooting!


Selecting the right lenses for travel photography is like creating a well-tailored wardrobe that can weather the changing seasons of a distant journey. For every photographer, the choice of lenses will significantly impact their ability to capture memories and tell stories through their images. Balancing factors such as weight, focal length, aperture, and versatility can help ensure that your camera bag is equipped with the optimal lenses for nearly any situation you might encounter on your adventures. For a deeper dive on this topic, we’ve got a great article here on choosing a travel photography lens.

I’d like to leave you with a piece of advice that has always guided me through my travels: Find the lenses that speak to you and encourage your unique vision. It’s in our individual perspective that we truly create unforgettable images.

As we’ve explored throughout this article, there’s a wide variety of lenses suited for travel photography:

  • Wide-angle lenses for capturing breathtaking landscapes and architectural marvels
  • Standard zoom lenses as versatile workhorses suitable for many situations
  • Prime lenses for their unbeatable sharpness, image quality, and low light capabilities
  • Telephoto lenses to bring distant subjects into reach and add depth to your images
  • Specialized lenses, such as macro or fisheye, to introduce creativity and variety

Remember that no two photographers will have the same perfect lens setup, and sometimes the best lens is the one you have with you. Discovering the right lenses for your travel photography comes through experimentation, trial and error, and finding what ignites your passion.

In the end, travel photography is a deeply personal pursuit. It’s up to you to determine how the worlds beyond your door come to life through your viewfinder. As you pack your camera bag, consider the lenses that will help you navigate the visual narrative of your journey.

The Creativv
American digital marketer and founder of with over a decade of experience in event, travel, portrait, product, and cityscape photography.

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