Best lens for travel photography in 2020
I have been asked many times what is the top travel camera “at the moment”. I was never asked however what are the best lenses for travel photography.
We spend lots of energy searching for a new travel camera, we go through websites, comparisons, features and obviously best prices.
And the lenses?
Whatever comes with the camera is fine.
Table of Contents
- 1 Best travel lenses for Canon, Nikon and the mirrorless: the quick answer
- 2 Lenses for travel photography
- 3 Best Canon lenses for travel
- 4 Best Nikon lenses for travel
- 5 Best Fuji lenses for travel
- 6 Best Sony lenses for travel
- 7 Best micro four-thirds lenses for travel
- 8 Verdict on the best lens for travel photography
You can read also
- Best travel camera for 2020
- Best compact cameras for travelling 2020
- Travel photography workshops in Melbourne for Mirrorless and DSLR
- Travel photography workshops in Melbourne for iPhones/Android mobiles
- Travel photography trips in Vietnam and Cuba
- Reference Guide to Travel Photography
I personally think it is a bit of a mistake and let me explain why.
The same camera with different lenses, at the same focal length, can perform really differently.
Prof. Marc Levoy published an interesting lecture on lenses with examples of photos. By the way, this is part of an 18-lectures workshop from his original Stanford course, highly suggested to anyone.
Saving on lenses may under perform your camera.
It’s a bit like buying a Ferrari and saving on the engine, maybe even downgrading to a Fiat 500 engine.
This is, of course, a bit of a drastic example but I wanted to just give an idea.
As a rule of thumb, I usually suggest spending as much money for your camera as well as for your first lens, in case this is an all-round.
There is another good point about investing more in lenses.
Usually, when we upgrade to an upper-level camera we tend to carry with us the lenses we already have. That is why it is a good idea to be more selective in what we buy.
If you are after travel photography tips, compositions, tutorials and much more then why not reading and downloading for FREE (no need to pass your email, no worries) this ultimate guide for travel photography. Over 70 pages that may change your way to make (not just take) photos when travelling.
Best travel lenses for Canon, Nikon and the mirrorless: the quick answer
This post (should I call it guide?) goes through a detailed explanation of the best travel lenses you may need for your trip, in which occasion and why.
It covers also another important point that is what you can avoid buying (just to stop accumulating gear and spending money)
If however you have just a spare minute and you want to know only one lens for each manufacturer then here is a quick list:
- Canon EF 24-105mm F4L IS II USM: this is an awesome all-round that you can use in 95% of the cases. It’s a lens designed for full sensor cameras (5D, 7D etc) however it can and should be used also on an APS-C camera (equivalent 36-157mm). I say should because this is a tremendous Canon lens that will last for the life, doesn’t matter if you will upgrade your camera in future
- Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR 24-120mm f/4G ED: I used this lens for 2 years and it was absolutely amazing. It never let me down and sometimes I was pretty tough with it. I used this lens with a Nikon D610 in most, if not all, of my travel photography opportunities. In my opinion, this is still the best travel lens for Nikon
- Fujifilm XF 16-55mm F2.8 R LM WR: I had this lens for some time and I took it with me on a trip with the X-T series. You may read the full review here. It is an equivalent 24-82.5mm focal length which again covers most of the travel scenarios. The very wide aperture at F2.8 is a great bonus when shooting indoor (markets, etc)
- Sony FE 24-105mm F4 G OSS Lens: Can I say finally? In my opinion, this is the best all-round travel lens for Sony A7 &A9 camera. It was announced in late 2017 and I bought it straight away. Sony was really missing this focal range (24-70 can be too small sometimes). Definitely my go-to lens
- E 16-70mm F/4 Vario-Tessar: In my opinion, this is the best travel lens for Sony a6300 or any camera with E-mount. Very similar to the previous lens in quality and construction.
- Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-40mm 1:2.8 PRO: great equivalent focal range (24-80mm) and amazingly wide (F/2.8). It’s a 2013 lens but, I believe, still one of the best in the Olympus MFT range for travelling. You can find some bargains on the net.
- Panasonic Leica DG 12-60mm F2.8-4.0: this is the most exciting and all you need Panasonic lens in the market. True, it’s variable aperture but it’s a small drawback. I used it a lot on a trip with a GH5 and a GX85 and I loved it. Super sharp and very light as well, all I needed for my trekking.
Lenses for travel photography
First thing first, this post is not really about wildlife photography.
In that case, you would need zoom lenses, either for a safari or birds photography, or maybe a macro lens, in case you are interested in the “micro” world.
I own a few lenses that range from 12mm to 200mm focal length.
I occasionally also review a few zoom lenses on some trips, like the Panasonic Leica 100-400mm I had on a zoo safari trip.
What I have been noticing, along my last years of travelling, is that I probably just need 2 lenses in my trips, maybe 3 of them. Sometimes even 1 is enough.
- All-round zoom lens
- Prime 5omm or 35mm
- Super wide-angle
All-round zoom lens for travel photography
My favourite is the range of 24-120mm or 24-105mm or even 24-70mm.
In this post I always talk about 35 mm equivalent focal length; you can read this Wiki post for more info in case you are not familiar with it
You will see later some lens suggestions based on the manufacturer, however, as a rule of thumb, the quicker is the lens the more photo opportunities you will have.
Possibly go for an aperture of f/2.8, or even lower. Unfortunately, these are the most expensive lenses too.
Why do you want to do that?
Because with a smaller aperture value (bigger hole) you will :
- have a smaller depth of field, in case you like to make photos of travel details, and a nicer bokeh, which is the area out of focus in the background (in doing that you give more importance to your subject, think a portrait)
- allow more light into your camera (bigger hole), with the possibility to make photos even in low light environments without a tripod.
Why having a zoom lens starting as wide as 24mm?
Because it is a nice wide-angle to have for most of the travel photos, think panoramas or just even walking in the lanes of a city.
Why 80 to 120mm as the upper value of the zoom lens?
Because you will rarely use over that when travelling.
It may happen of course and you may regret you do not have 200 or 400mm however sometimes we need to make decisions and optimise on costs, and weight too.
I prefer to invest in a better 24-120mm than an even wider 18-300mm which does not perform as well.
It’s more of a quality over quantity. Besides, that kind of zooms tends to be quite heavy as well, something you would rather like to avoid when walking the all day with it.
I like to remind that we do have another natural zoom, our legs. Sometimes we forget about that, we are a bit lazy.
Last important thing.
I always talk about equivalent focal length.
What does it mean? Well if you have a 50mm lens
- on a full sensor camera, then the equivalent focal length is exactly the same, 50mm
- on an APS-C sensor, multiply roughly by 1.5, and your lens is actually a 75mm (it’s in the range 1.5-1.6, based on manufacturer)
- on an MFT sensor, multiply by 2, your lens is now a 100mm
As an example, if you have a Panasonic G85 (great camera by the way) with an MFT sensor, then I would probably suggest a 12-60mm lens, which is, in equivalent focal length, a 24-120mm.
Prime lenses for travel photography
Prime lenses are the ones without any zoom, just one fixed focal length.
There are few benefits with the prime lenses:
- greater quality
They do only one thing however they do it extremely well.
When I travel with my Sony a7R, I always have with me the Sony 35mm.
The quality is just outstanding. It’s super light and so small that I tend to forget it in my jacket.
When I visit markets or small lanes in a city for some street photography, I remove my 24-105mm and install this 35mm instead.
Suddenly people do not notice me, I become a tourist like many others.
With the general-purpose lens, people look at me as a super pro and they become shy, they don’t want to be photographed, or even ask money for it.
When travelling, the smaller camera you have the easier will be to walk unnoticed.
And being seen with a big, supposedly expensive camera+lens, can be a problem in some countries.
The alternative solution to a general-purpose lens would be to have 3 primes that cover possibly the 24mm, 50mm and 100mm focal length
Quality-wise may be probably the best solution, however, when travelling, I do not think it is very practical to keep changing lenses.
Although very small, you always add a possibility that the camera, or the lens, may fall during the change.
Dust may be introduced on the sensor as well.
I usually travel with the 24-105mm on and change it with the 35mm only when I know it works better (markets, lanes, street photography)
Super wide lenses for interiors, and not only
I have also a 12-24mm lens. It is considered to be super wide. Keep in mind that the human eye has a comparable focal length of around 43mm.
This is a lens I typically use for interior and architectural photography.
On a generic trip I usually leave it at home, however, if I know I am going to visit some capital cities, I usually take it with me.
I like to use the 12mm in churches, galleries or tall building when photographing from the ground level.
I use this wide-angle also for some landscape photography, but only when my subject is actually in the foreground.
As an example, think a photo of a pier and you stand at the beginning of it. The pier will appear much bigger.
In most of the trips, you will not need a super zoom lens (say over 120mm).
Personally, I would suggest to buy it only if you will be in a safari or you plan to attend a sport event for which the superzoom is essential.
I always say to use our legs as the first form of zoom. They usually work pretty well.
The bigger is the zoom focal length, the heavier is the lens. If you are travelling and carrying your bag, it will become a real pain, especially for your back.
Superzoom lenses are usually not allowed in stadiums or important sports events.
I have a 70-200mm which I take with me only if I am sure I will attend some local interesting events, this could be a polo game in Mongolia, as an example.
However, if you are attending a polo game in UK you will be most likely asked to not use your camera as they will believe you are a professional photographer and you would need special agreements etc.
Here below I have listed some of the best lenses for travel photography, or at least the ones I would not hesitate to buy, based on the available budget of course.
Best Canon lenses for travel
It was a very hard call selecting the best Canon lenses for travel. For each lens, I explain why you need it and if compatible with your Canon camera.
When you look for a Canon lens you notice that, in the name, there is either an EF or EF-S.
Without going too much into the details, the EF-S lenses were created to work uniquely with Canon APS-C DSLR meanwhile the EF were designed for both, full sensor and APS-C.
If you have an APS-C DSLR and you are thinking to upgrade to a full sensor, sooner or later, it pays off to buy EF lenses.
They are usually more expensive but you will be able to use them with your future DSLR.
In the last years, Canon has also introduced the RF lenses. These lenses can be used uniquely with the Canon Mirrorless EOS-R and EOS-RP.
It seems to me that lately, Canon is concentrating the most of the efforts into the mirrorless world (RF lenses)
These are the Canon lenses that I would not hesitate to buy for my travel photography
All-round lens: Canon EF 24-105mm F4L IS II USM
This lens has been designed for the full-frame sensor, however, as we said, it can be used also on APS-C (remember that the focal length should be multiplied by 1.5-1.6, if this is the case)
It has image stabilisation, for which Canon claims 4 stops of shake reduction. The EF 24-105mm is both dust-proof and moisture-proof
It is not a cheap lens however the quality is really outstanding.
All-round lens: Canon EF-S 18-135mm F3.5-5.6 IS USM
The previous lens can be an expensive option if you have a Canon APS-C DSLR and you are not really sure you are going to upgrade your camera in future.
Also, remember that because you are using an APS-C DSLR the equivalent focal length becomes approx 38-168mm, therefore you are going to miss out on the nice 24mm wide-angle
The alternative is the Canon EF-S 18-135mm F3.5-5.6 IS USM which works uniquely on APS-C DSLR. The equivalent focal length is approx 28-216mm that is really more than usually needed for travel.
It’s also a cheaper option than the previous lens however it is not a sealed lens, which for travel photography is quite handy to have, especially for the dust.
The image stabilisation is also not as great.
The 24-105mm has better quality in the glass elements, according to Canon description, and it has a constant maximum aperture at f/4.
The maximum aperture of the 18-135mm changes is a variable f/3.5 to f/5.6, based on the focal length you use.
This lens is cheaper than the previous one, however, it offers less quality overall.
Prime: Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM
It is small, it is super light, it is an amazing quality lens….it is basically a no-brain Canon lens for travel to buy
This is a #1 Bestseller on Amazon, and for a good reason. It’s rare to find a 5 stars rated lens, with over 1100 comments.
At just over $100 this is a lens to buy and carry with you every time you are in a city or town.
Are you planning to visit the market? Use this lens.
Are you planning some street photography? Use this lens….and I could keep going.
It’s absolutely the best value for money lens you can have.
Super wide-angle: Sigma 12-24mm f/4.5-5.6 AF II DG HSM for Canon
This is what I used with my old camera (although with a Nikon adaptor).
As I previously said, it is not a lens I would always carry with me. It is more for special occasions.
There are other quicker Canon and Sigma lenses, however, they are more expensive, besides being quite heavy to carry around on a trip.
I cannot justify the much higher price for the limited usage of this focal range I do.
Best Nikon lenses for travel
I have used Nikon for a long time and choosing my best Nikon lenses for travel was not that simple.
My workhorse was the 24-120mm. I would never travel without it.
When you look into the Nikon list of lenses you will notice both AF-P and AF-S lenses. Sometimes even the same lens is available in both types.
What is the difference?
The AF-P lenses have a pulse motor, so silent you will not even notice it, fantastic for video also because the autofocus is very smooth.
The AF-S lenses have a wave motor, still very quiet however just enough noisy you can hear it during videos. The autofocus is quicker, perfect for still photography.
You can read more details about the differences in this Nikon article.
The AF-S lenses have two practical switches on the lens itself. The AF/MF and the VR O/OFF.
I used them quite a bit. I find them very easy to use, instead of going through configuration, as you need, instead, with the AF-P.
Not all the Nikon cameras support AF-P as they do not have a firmware to control VR and AF/MF. You may need a new camera firmware, if available.
Moreover, there are FX lenses and DX lenses.
The DX lenses are usually cheaper and dedicated to the APS-C sensor cameras meanwhile the FX lenses are more for the full sensor.
In saying that you could use :
- a FX on a APS-C camera (remember the crop factor of approx 1.6x due to the APS-C sensor size)
- a DX on a Full Sensor Nikon (the photo is automatically cropped by the camera)
And lastly, also Nikon is taking the same direction into the mirrorless world.
In fact, since 2018 Nikon has mostly announced lenses of Z series dedicated to Nikon’s new mirrorless cameras
All-round lens: Nikon AF-P DX NIKKOR 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 VR
The Nikon AF-P DX NIKKOR 18-55mm is one of the best entry-level Nikon lenses for travel photography dedicated to the APS-C sensor cameras.
It has an equivalent focal length of 28-88mm which is great for most the photography when you are travelling.
It is provided as a kit lens in the new models, which is really good value.
There is only one issue. Be sure before you buy it, that your camera firmware does support it (it’s an AF-P lens) otherwise you will not be able to use autofocus.
All-round lens: Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR 24-120mm f/4G ED
This was my workhorse. I sold it 2 years ago at a similar price that I bough it.
It’s one of the best value lenses for travelling in the market I believe.
It has a fantastic wide focal range, from 24 to 120mm. I always experienced a nice contrast in my photos as well as sharpness and colours. And it’s tough, perfect for travelling
It may be not the quickest lens in the Nikon market and if you want one I would probably suggest the NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8G ED, although over 50% more expensive, which I could not justify for my travel photography.
The maximum aperture of 2.8 would help especially in the market and dark environment however in that cases I used a 50mm prime (more on this later) which has a great advantage: it’s very small, especially if compared to these all-around lenses.
Prime: Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G
This was my second workhorse when visiting interiors like churches, galleries etc. and, generally speaking, in low light environments like markets
This is also an amazing lens for portraits.
My only suggestion with this lens is to practice with it before you start your trip.
When used at f/1.8 the depth of field is extremely narrow and it is easy to have some photos when the focus point is not exactly where you want.
We are talking of a DoF of centimetres. It took me some practice before I felt fully confident.
This lens is super sharp with amazing contrast and great colours. On Amazon, it has a 5 stars rating out of almost 1500 comments.
I take it as a good indication of a great lens 🙂 and not just my feeling.
It’s so light I usually forgot it in my bag or jacket
Super wide-angle: Sigma 12-24mm f/4.5-5.6 AF II DG HSM for Nikon
This is a lens I already highlighted in the Canon section.
It’s a good compromise of quality, price and weight. There are Nikkor alternatives, however, they are much more expensive and, most important, heavier.
In saying that, if your travel photography has a predominance of interior and architectural photography, then the Nikkor AF-S 14-24mm f/2.8G may be a more optimal solution.
Best Fuji lenses for travel
My favourite is the 15-55mm F2.8. This is one of the best Fuji lenses for travel and I will explain why.
There are however others that I would definitely include in my list.
Also in the Fujifilm list, there are two families of lenses: XF and XC
The XF lenses are built in metal and offer a larger aperture. They have an aperture ring (except the tiny XF 27mm f/2.8 pancake) and a switch for OIS. They are manufactured in Japan.
The XC lenses are dedicated to the entry-level market, built in plastic material, offering smaller aperture and without aperture ring and OIS switch.
Due to its construction (less “glass” inside) they are usually smaller and lighter. They are not built in Japan.
All-round lens: Fujifilm XF 16-55mm F2.8 R LM WR
This is a lens I reviewed some time ago and I absolutely loved it.
With an equivalent focal length of 24-84mm covers most of the travel photography needs.
It is a tough lens, weather-resistant and dustproof, just perfect for any trip you have in mind.
The maximum aperture, f/2.8, makes this lens great also in a low light condition
I can only suggest it. Read more details on my review
If you do not feel that the maximum focal length of 84mm is not enough for your travel photos, you may have a look at the Fujifilm XF 18-135mm which, with an equivalent focal length of 24-200mm covers really all you need.
It’s cheaper, however, you have to compromise with the maximum variable aperture of f/3.5-5.6 (less performing lens overall)
Prime: Fujifilm XF 35mm F2 R WR
This is a lens I tested only for a couple of hours and I did not want to give it back to the Fujifilm guys.
I still remember the great speed and the sharpness in the produced photos. Best of all is the size and weight. Another lens you can forget in your jacket, so tiny
It is a 50mm equivalent focal range that you can use in low light environments as churches or markets.
Together with a Fujifilm camera, it makes such a tiny package that you will not feel noticed. Amazing for portraits.
This lens is a must-have for your travel photography, full stop.
Super wide-angle: Fujifilm XF 10-24mm F4 R OIS
This is the only super wide-angle lens that Fujifilm offers.
There is actually a prime XF 14mm F2.8, however, I do not think there is much gain if you already own a 16-55mm, otherwise, it could be another option.
It is not a cheap or light lens being a premium gear with lots of “glass”.
Again, if you love super-wide, this is the solution.
Best Sony lenses for travel
I have organised for Sony in two distinct sections.
- A7 section with lenses built for the full-frame sensor
- a6000 with lenses built for the APS-C sensor.
In my opinion, nowadays Sony has some of the best cameras, both with the APS-C and the full-frame sensor.
The dynamic range of luminosity and colours is just magnificent. Probably a notch over the competition.
Best travel lenses for a7
This full-frame sensor camera is one of my favourites.
I actually sold my Nikon stuff two years ago and moved to Sony with the Sony a7R
Selecting the best travel lenses for a7 was however not that easy.
The a7 camera itself is very light, especially when compared with other full-frame cameras, perfect for travelling.
I have road-tested a few Sony a7 and finally, I have bought an a7R, together with the best general-purpose lens on the market and a 35mm prime which I like more for street photography
I have noticed that the lenses tend to be slightly bigger and heavier than my Nikon ones
My favourite all-around is the Sony Full Frame 24-105mm f/4. I use it on a daily basis. Once announced in December 2017 it took me minutes to place the order. It’s perfect for any trip
This is a table of the suggested lenses for travelling and city exploration.
|FE 24-70mm f/4 Vario-Tessar
|A good compromise all-round
|Sony Full Frame 24-105mm f/4
|The best general-purpose in the Sony line-up
|Sony Sonnar T FE 35mm F/2.8 ZA
|At $200 this is a real bargain, small and good quality lens
|FE 16-35mm F/4 Vario-Tessar
|A beautiful Zeiss lens that won’t disappoint. Not that wide
Best travel lenses for Sony a6000
The a6500 and the a6400 are the last models in this happy family. The selection of the best travel lenses for Sony a6000 was based on quality and price.
The result? A great gear package to use in any trip, long or just weekend.
This is a table of the best travel lenses for Sony a6000.
|E 16-70mm F/4 Vario-Tessar
|Best for a6000 with eq.focal length of 24-120mm
|E PZ 18-105mm f/4 G OSS
|Wide eq.focal range at 27-157mm
|FE 50mm F/1.8
|At $200 this is a real bargain, small and good quality lens
|E 10-18mm f/4 OSS
|Good quality and sharp
Best micro four-thirds lenses for travel
I have organised the best Micro Four Thirds lenses for travel in two sections dedicated to Olympus and Panasonic.
Keep however in mind that these lenses are interchangeable on both brands cameras, either company’s lenses will work on the other’s cameras.
There are still a few issues however that make more convenient to stay with the same brand.
Without going into the details I may mention Image Stabilisation as one of them.
What I like the most about the MFT cameras is their size, small, light and still delivering great quality photos.
Best Olympus lenses for travel
In the Olympus world, you can usually find two types of lenses, the M.Zuiko and the M.Zuiko Pro.
The Zuiko lenses were born in 1936, however, the first field of usage was science and healthcare with precision microscopes and endoscopes.
It has been a long way since, and Zuiko is still delivering great quality lenses.
The Pro version is water-resistant and it is made of sturdy and lightweight aluminium alloy, which make it great for travelling.
This is a table of the best Olympus lenses for travel
|M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-40mm 1:2.8 PRO
|It is a 2013 lens, however still my favourite for travel photography
|M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-100mm F4.0 IS Pro
|With an eq.focal length of 24-200mm, it is an all-you-need lens
|M.Zuiko Digital 25mm F1.8
|Small and inexpensive prime at a great max aperture
|M.Zuiko Digital ED 7-14mm F2.8 PRO
|The perfect focal range for a wide-angle lens
Best Panasonic lenses for travel
Panasonic has delivered an incredible line up of cameras and lenses in the last few years.
The Leica DG Vario-Elmarit 12-60mm F2.8-4.0 ASPH Power OIS, announced baclin January 2017 is probably the general purpose that excites me the most of the MFT world. And this offer with tripod, filters etc should not be missed 😮
I also reviewed the 8-18mm wide-angle and I was really surprised by how distortion is so well controlled. Read more here, there are other interesting and surprising findings and limits on this lens
This is a table of the best Panasonic lenses for travel.
|Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm F2.8
|My travel lens for Panasonic cameras, not new however the best
|Leica DG 12-60mm F2.8-4.0
|Most exciting Panasonic travel lens
|Lumix G 25mm F1.7 ASPH
|Great max aperture for an equivalent 50mm
|Leica G Vario 8-18mm F4 ASPH
|Limited list of super wide angles from Panasonic
Verdict on the best lens for travel photography
The great thing about technology is that it keeps updating and upgrading.
The surprising thing is that the gear cost does not increase that much, instead, it tends to decrease.
I still remember the first digital compact I bought in London, the best in the market at 4MP. I paid it 1,700 British Pounds.
With that money today I can buy a full sensor mirrorless or DSLR, or a used camera + lens gear kit and save money for a short trip.
Today we have such a great choice, so wide that it took me days and days to put together this guide.
My favourite lens?
It varies based on the camera however as a rule of thumb I usually invest for a general-purpose travel lens as much as for a camera. It’s always good to start with the right foot.
I would also personally never buy a camera gear kit as the lenses tend to be not as performing as the camera. .
I would buy, instead, the body and just one all-round lens. In a later stage, I would add a fast 40-50mm prime (f/1.4 to f/2.8)
If you think that this post has helped and you want to know much more about travel photography then you should read and download the FREE Ultimate Guide to Travel Photography (no emails required), a 70 pages PDF file.
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Enjoy your travel photography!!