Choosing Lenses For Trips


If you are a serious photographer, you probably have a lot of different camera lenses.  They are all useful in certain circumstances but it's not practical to take them all with you when you travel, especially if you fly.  So how do you decide which lenses will serve you best on a trip?  Let's look at what you are most likely going to need.


1. Zoom lenses vs. prime lenses


Your goal should be to cover most of your needs with as few lenses as possible so, with a few exceptions, its most practical to take zoom lenses.  They can cover a range of focal lengths instead of just one.  With a few zoom lenses you can cover all of the focal lengths you might want to use without a lot of running around to find the perfect place to stand for the fixed focal length lens you are using.


2. Fast lenses


A fast lens is one that supports large apertures (F stops lower than 4.0) that let lots of light in allowing you to use fast shutter speeds. This is important when you travel because you generally can't control the lighting conditions.  You will often find yourself shooting in low light when the only way to take a photo with an acceptable shutter speed is to increase the aperture and/or the ISO.  If you have fast lenses, you have more flexibility than if you don't.


3. Image stabilized lenses


Most lens manufacturers offer image stabilization in some of their lenses.  These lenses help to minimize blurry pictures due to camera motion.  They actually use motion detectors and adjust the image to counter it.  Your hand-held shots will be sharper, especially low light shots and distance shots.


4. 50 mm telephoto prime lens


Here's one of the exceptions to zoom lenses.  A 50 mm lens is both small and fast.  It won't take up much space and it will probably be the fastest lens in your bag so you can use it at night or when the light is so low your other lenses are not fast enough – even with a high ISO.


5. Wide angle zoom lens


On most trips you often find yourself wanting to capture more of the scene than a standard telephoto lens will yield.  Sometimes you can't back up far enough to get the whole scene in and sometime you want to get close to avoid other people in the scene.  This call for a wide-angle zoom lens or, even better, a ultra-wide-angle zoom lens.  It should cover focal lengths wider than your standard zoom lens (less than 24 mm).  You don't need image stabilization for this lens but the faster it is the better.


6. Standard zoom lens


This is a standard lens that covers the most popular focal lengths from 24 to 100 mm.  If you only take one lens make sure it covers these focal lengths.  Image stabilization will help this lens and, again, the faster the better.


7. Telephoto zoom lens


Telephoto lenses are used to shoot images of things that are farther away that you want to appear closer.  They generally cover focal lengths up to 400 mm.  Their minimum focal length often overlaps with standard zoom lenses and they are sometimes used instead of a standard zoom lens.  Image stabilization and speed are very helpful with these lenses.


8. Super telephoto prime lens


This is the other exception to zoom lenses.  When you need a focal length greater than 400 mm, you need a fast, image stabilized lens so it is more practical to use a 500 or 600 mm telephoto prime lens.  These lenses are very large and heavy, however, so they are not practical to take on a trip unless you plan to do a lot of wildlife or bird photography.


9. Extenders


Certain lenses allow the use of extenders that 'extend' or magnify the focal length of the lens.  A 2X extender, for example, would double the focal length of any supported lens so a 200 mm lens becomes a 400 mm lens and a 500 mm lens becomes a 1,000 mm lens.  Extenders are a great way to increase the focal length coverage of your lenses but they are generally only supported on the best and fastest lenses.


10. Specialty lenses


If you have specific photography goals for your trip, there are other lenses that you might want to take.  A macro lens, for example, can be used to bring very small things, such as flower petals or insects, into to full size view.  A tilt-shift lens allows you to photograph tall objects, like buildings, with a wide-angle lens without distorting the subject.  But unless you have a good reason to take them, specialty lenses are generally a luxury you can't afford on a trip.


All you should need for most types of travel is 5 or 6 lenses (at the most).  As you add lenses to your collection, make sure they complement or replace existing lenses so you can cover a wide range of focal lengths and lighting conditions.  A good lens is an investment that should last a long time.


May your travel and your photography both be rewarding!


   Roger Nelson