Best Travel Lens – How to Select the Right Travel Lenses for Any Brand

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If you are looking for the best travel lens to bring on your next vacation or once-in-a-lifetime hiking adventure, you have come to the right place. 

Best Travel Lens - How to Select the Best Travel Lenses for Any Brand

In today’s article, I will share how I approach lens selection for my travels. I developed a particular lens selection method that worked for me when I shot with Canon and Sony. It works for me today as I shoot with the Fujifilm brand. 

First, the key point when selecting the best lens for travel photography is to align your selection with the type and style of travel photography that you enjoy the most. 

I am confident that my travel lens selection method will help you. 

Defining the Best Travel Lens

If you ask 10 different travel photographers to define what constitutes the best travel lens, you will likely get 10 different answers. 

For example, someone who is leaving for a two-week hiking trip in the mountains will have a different lens selection than a photographer exploring Iceland in a camper van. 

The Holy Trinity Lens Selection Approach

There is a popular approach to lens selection called the “Holy Trinity.” 

If you assemble three lens kits with the following characteristics…

  • 16-35mm f/2.8
  • 24-70mm f/2.8
  • 70-200mm f/2.8

…the kits will work for pretty much any type of photography. 

The “Holy Trinity” kit covers an incredible focal range from 16mm to 200mm. And, since the kit includes fast f/2.8 lenses, you can easily increase the zoom range by using Lens Teleconverters. The 1.4X teleconverter will extend the reach of the 200mm lens to 280mm and the 2X teleconverter will extend it to 400mm. 

You can use a kit like this for any type of photography—from astrophotography to wildlife, sports photography, and everything in between. 

I call this a “just in case” lens selection approach.

The “Holy Trinity” approach does not work for me because I am a minimalist about my photography equipment. I prefer to bring only essential gear with me and leave “just in case” items at home. 

Shot with Fujifilm XT2 and Fuji 18-135mm lens

Here is my straightforward strategy for lens selection for my travels. 

Travel Lens Selection Questionnaire 

I ask myself a simple question:

“If I had to go on an extensive two to three-week trip and could only bring one lens, what lens would I take?” 

When you set such strict boundaries for yourself, the answer about what constitutes the most versatile and valuable lens for your travel photography becomes straightforward. 

Once you define your number one travel lens selection, you move to the next step of the selection process. 

You ask yourself another simple question:

“If I had to go on an extensive two to three-week trip and could only bring two lenses, what lenses would I take?” 

Since you pinpointed your first choice in step one, all you need to do is select a second lens. 

Finally, you repeat the same exercise once more by asking yourself:

“If I had to go on an extensive two to three-week trip and could only bring three lenses, what lenses would I take?” 

I usually stop at this point because I rarely take more than three lenses on my travels. 

Shot with Fujifilm XT2 and Fuji 10-24mm f/4

My Travel Lens Selection

Let me demonstrate how my travel lens selection method works for me. 

  • In my travels, landscapes are the most critical part of my photography. 

  • Cityscapes are my second choice. 

  • Street photography and environmental portraits are the third most important part of my travel photography. 

When I select my ideal travel lens, I ensure it covers all areas of my travel photography: landscapes, cityscapes, street, and environmental portraits

My Travel Lens Selection #1

This makes lens selection very obvious, regardless of what camera brand I use: 

  • For a full-frame camera, it would be a 24-105mm f/4 lens.
  • For a crop sensor camera, it would be a 16-70mm f/4 lens. 

The 24-105mm (16-70mm) lens is wide enough to shoot landscapes and cityscapes. If I need to shoot a much wider scene, I can shoot multiple frames at 24mm (16mm) and combine them into a wide-angle panorama. 

This type of lens covers the following focal lengths—24mm, 35mm, and 50mm—which are perfect for street photography. 

Finally, I can achieve a decent bokeh effect when shooting portraits at 105mm f/4. 

My Travel Lens Selection #2

My second choice would be a wide-angle zoom lens that would be used exclusively for landscape photography. 

  • For a full-frame camera, it would be a 16-35mm f/4 lens. 
  • For a crop sensor camera, it would be a 10-20mm f/4 lens. 

My Travel Lens Selection #3

My third choice would be a fast, prime lens that I can use in low light conditions for portraits and street action. 

  • For a full-frame sensor, it would be a 50mm f/1.4 prime lens.
  • For a crop frame sensor, it would be a 35mm f/1.4 prime lens. 

Please note that my lens selections are very similar regardless of the camera brand I use.

Shot with Fuji 10-24mm f/4

General Requirements for the Ideal Travel Lens

Since I do not know what specific camera brand you use, I want to give you a few general requirements to look for when selecting a travel lens. 

Later, I will provide specific lens recommendations and we will run them against the requirements. 

1. Compact Size and Weight

Ideally, you want a travel lens that does not break your back and does not attract unwanted attention. For that reason, I never switched to a full-frame setup. Even though I love Sony’s full-frame cameras for their versatility and image quality, the size and weight of full-frame lenses were always a prohibitive factor for the switch. 

2. Useful Zoom Range

For my ideal travel lens, I always choose a zoom lens over a prime lens. I refuse to fiddle with multiple primes. I prefer to have one zoom lens that covers the most useful focal length and stick with it. 

Plus, in recent years, zoom lenses have drastically improved in optical quality, making them almost as good as prime models. 

3. Good Image Quality

When you bring only one lens with you for a once-in-a-lifetime travel adventure, you must ensure your lens does not compromise the quality of your captured memories. 

4. Effective Optical Image Stabilization

Most of my landscapes are shot on a tripod using aperture values between f/8 and f/11. As a result, I do not carry faster f/2.8 lenses because f/4 is good enough for me. But, in case I need to shoot handheld in low-light conditions, optical stabilization becomes indispensable. 

In general, efficient image stabilization extends the usefulness of any lens. 

5. Suitable for at least Three Types of Photography: Landscapes, Street, and Portraits 

This point is self-evident. You do not want a “one-trick pony” as your primary lens. 

6. Wide Enough for Vast Landscape Scenes 

I find that, for my photography, the sweet spot is 24mm on a full-frame sensor or 16mm on a crop sensor camera. 

I would not go any narrower than a 28mm and 18mm. 

Even though I like ultra-wide-angle lenses (15-20mm on full frame and 10-15mm on APS-C), at such a focal length you reach an area of perspective distortion where the foreground elements of the scene appear much larger than in reality. At 24mm, the distortion is minimal and almost unnoticeable.  

These days, I often use a 20-24mm focal length to shoot ultra-wide scenes instead of using a 15-18mm. Since I cannot fit the entire composition into one shot, I take multiple shots with 24mm and combine them into a wide-angle panorama in Lightroom. 

I find these wide-angle panoramas look more natural without the distraction of a perspective distortion. 

Shot with Fuji 10-24mm f/4

7. Durability

This is another self-evident point. When you are in the middle of nowhere, the last thing you want is to lose your main lens. 

8. Weather Sealing

One of the reasons I switched from Sony to Fujifilm is to have a true travel setup. For a long time, I dreamed of having a full weather-sealed camera and lens combo. This was impossible to achieve with Sony APS-C cameras. 

After traveling to the Pacific Coast of the United States and Hawaii on many occasions, I realized that my equipment was always at risk of being ruined by the saltwater dust that is always present in the air. Since then, weather sealing became one of my top priorities for cameras and lenses. 

What is the Ideal Travel Lens?

There is no such thing as the perfect lens. There is always a compromise on certain aspects. So, you simply select the model that checks most of the requirements and ignore the lesser-important details. 

The Best Fujifilm Lens for Travel Photography (My Setup)

For two years, my primary lens was the Fujifilm 18-135mm. 

If you run the lens against my nine requirements, it checks most of the boxes. Where it falls short for me is in the area of size and weight. It is a bit too big and heavy for my taste. 

Another issue where I was not wholly content is that it is 18mm at the wide end rather than 16mm. 

1a. Fujinon 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 OIS WR

Fujinon 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6
BEST FUJIFILM TRAVEL LENS

Filter Diameter: 67mm, Mount: Fujifilm X (APS-C), Min Focus Distance: 1.5’/45cm

  1. Compact Size and Weight: I wish it was smaller and lighter (490g; 76 x 98 mm)
  2. Useful Zoom Range: Yes (27mm-200mm equivalent)
  3. Good Image Quality: Yes
  4. Effective Optical Image Stabilization: Yes (5 stops)
  5. Versatility: Yes
  6. Wide Enough for Landscapes: Yes, but 16mm would be ideal
  7. Durability: Yes
  8. Weather Sealing: Yes

For that reason, I am currently testing Fujifilm’s new 16-80mm f/4 lens. It has the potential of becoming my primary travel lens. I am willing to sacrifice a zoom reach at the long end (135mm) to get a smaller, lighter, and wider lens. 

Shot with Fujifilm XT2 and Fuji 18-135mm lens

1b. Fujinon 16-80mm f/4 OIS WR

Fujinon 16-80mm f/4
BEST FUJIFILM TRAVEL LENS

Filter Diameter: 72mm, Mount: Fujifilm X (APS-C), Min Focus Distance: 1.15’/35cm

  1. Compact Size and Weight: Yes, barely (440g; 78 x 89 mm)
  2. Useful Zoom Range: Yes (24mm-120mm equivalent)
  3. Good Image Quality: Still in process of testing
  4. Effective Optical Image Stabilization: Yes (6 stops)
  5. Versatility: Yes
  6. Wide Enough for Landscapes: Yes
  7. Durability: Yes
  8. Weather Sealing: Yes

My second choice is the ultra-wide zoom Fujifilm 10-24mm f/4 lens. I really, really love this lens. It is relatively compact for such a focal range and offers unparalleled image quality. 

2. Fujifilm 10-24mm f/4 OIS

Fujinon 10-24mm F/4
BEST FUJIFILM WIDE ANGLE LENS

Filter Diameter: 72mm, Mount: Fujifilm X (APS-C), Min Focus Distance: 9.5″/24cm

  1. Compact Size and Weight: Yes (410g; 78 x 87 mm)
  2. Useful Zoom Range: Yes (15mm-36mm equivalent)
  3. Good Image Quality: Yes (exceptional)
  4. Effective Optical Image Stabilization: Yes (5 stops)
  5. Versatility: Yes
  6. Wide Enough for Landscapes: Yes
  7. Durability: Yes
  8. Weather Sealing: No

The only shortcoming with this lens, from my perspective, is the lack of weather sealing. In harsh weather conditions, I find myself switching it with the Fujifilm 18-135mm. 

My third lens in my travel setup is the Fujifilm 35mm f/1.4 prime. It is a unique lens. It is one of the oldest lenses in the Fujifilm lineup and it shows. It has a very noisy and slow autofocus, but I live with it because of the image quality it offers. 

Shot with Fuji 10-24mm f/4

3. Fujinon 35mm f/1.4

Fujinon 35mm f/1.4
MY TRAVEL PORTRAIT LENS

Filter Diameter: 52mm, Mount: Fujifilm X (APS-C), Min Focus Distance: 11″/28cm

  1. Compact Size and Weight: Yes (187g; 65 x 55 mm)
  2. Useful Zoom Range: Fixed (50mm equivalent)
  3. Good Image Quality: Yes (exceptional)
  4. Effective Optical Image Stabilization: No
  5. Versatility: Barely (street, portraits)
  6. Wide Enough for Landscapes: Barely
  7. Durability: Yes
  8. Weather Sealing: No

According to Fujifilm’s lens engineer, when designing the 35mm f/1.4 prime, they had the choice of making it optically perfect or optically distinctive. They chose the latter. From an optical perspective, it is one of my favorite lenses of all time. I hope Fujifilm introduces the Fujifilm 35mm f/1.4 M2 with modern autofocus soon. 

Shot with Fuji 35mm f/1.4

The main shortcoming of this prime lens for traveling is its lack of weather sealing and image stabilization. 

Bonus Selection

I have another lens that I use fairly often. It is a specialty lens that I keep for one purpose—astrophotography. 

The Samyang 12mm f/2 is a manual focus lens that is tiny, inexpensive, and offers surprisingly good image quality. 

4. Samyang 12mm f/2

Samyang 12mm f/2
ASTROPHOTOGRAPHY LENS

Filter Diameter: 67mm, Mount: Fujifilm X (APS-C), Min Focus Distance: 8″/20cm

I never hesitate to bring it with me even on demanding trips because it takes up almost no space in my bag and its weight is next to nothing. 

Best Travel Lens for Sony APS-C Cameras

I’ve shot with Sony APS-C cameras for almost 4 years and here is travel lens kit I used:

1. Sony 16-70mm f/4

Sony 16-70mm f/4
SONY ALL AROUND TRAVEL LENS

Filter Diameter: 55mm, Mount: Sony E (APS-C), Min Focus Distance: 14″/35cm

  1. Compact Size and Weight: Yes (308g; 66 x 75 mm)
  2. Useful Zoom Range: Yes (24-105mm equivalent)
  3. Good Image Quality: Yes
  4. Effective Optical Image Stabilization: Yes
  5. Versatility: Yes
  6. Wide Enough for Landscapes: Yes
  7. Durability: Yes
  8. Weather Sealing: No

2. Sony 10-18mm f/4

Sony 10-18mm f/4
SONY WIDE ANGLE TRAVEL LENS

Filter Diameter: 62mm, Mount: Sony E (APS-C), Min Focus Distance: 10″/25cm

  1. Compact Size and Weight: Yes (225g; 70 x 64 mm)
  2. Useful Zoom Range: Yes (15-27mm equivalent)
  3. Good Image Quality: Yes
  4. Effective Optical Image Stabilization: Yes
  5. Versatility: Yes (not long enough)
  6. Wide Enough for Landscapes: Yes
  7. Durability: No (made of plastic)
  8. Weather Sealing: No

3. Sigma 30mm f/1.4

Sigma 30mm f/1.4
SONY E MOUNT PORTRAIT LENS

Filter Diameter: 52mm, Mount: Sony E (APS-C), Min Focus Distance: 12″/30cm

  1. Compact Size and Weight: Yes (265g; 65 x 73 mm)
  2. Useful Zoom Range: Fixed (45mm equivalent)
  3. Good Image Quality: Yes
  4. Effective Optical Image Stabilization: No
  5. Versatility: Yes
  6. Wide Enough for Landscapes: Barely
  7. Durability: Yes
  8. Weather Sealing: No

Best Travel Lens for Sony Full Frame Cameras

I’ve shot with Sony APS-C cameras for almost 4 years and here is travel lens kit I used:

1. Sony 24-105mm f/4 G OSS

Sony 24-105mm f/4
SONY ALL AROUND TRAVEL LENS

Filter Diameter: 77mm, Mount: Sony EF, Min Focus Distance: 1.25’/38cm

  1. Compact Size and Weight: No (663g; 83 x 113 mm)
  2. Useful Zoom Range: Yes
  3. Good Image Quality: Yes
  4. Effective Optical Image Stabilization: Yes
  5. Versatility: Yes
  6. Wide Enough for Landscapes: Yes
  7. Durability: Yes
  8. Weather Sealing: Yes

2. Sony 16-35mm f/4 OSS

Sony 16-35mm f/4
SONY WIDE ANGLE TRAVEL LENS

Filter Diameter: 62mm, Mount: Sony E (APS-C), Min Focus Distance: 10″/25cm

  1. Compact Size and Weight: Almost (518g; 78 x 98 mm)
  2. Useful Zoom Range: Yes
  3. Good Image Quality: Yes
  4. Effective Optical Image Stabilization: Yes
  5. Versatility: Yes (not long enough)
  6. Wide Enough for Landscapes: Yes
  7. Durability: Yes
  8. Weather Sealing: Yes

3. Sony 50mm f/1.8

Sony 50mm f/1.8
SONY EF MOUNT PORTRAIT LENS

Filter Diameter: 49mm, Mount: Sony EF, Min Focus Distance: 1.5’/45cm

  1. Compact Size and Weight: Yes (186g; 67 x 60 mm)
  2. Useful Zoom Range: Fixed
  3. Good Image Quality: Yes
  4. Effective Optical Image Stabilization: No
  5. Versatility: Yes/No (not f/1.4)
  6. Wide Enough for Landscapes: Barely
  7. Durability: Yes
  8. Weather Sealing: No

Best Travel Lens (EF-S) for Canon APS-C Cameras

It is not easy to find quality lenses for Canon crop sensor (APS-C) cameras. Canon treats the APS-C system as an entry-level format and trying to push photographers toward a more expensive full-frame system.

1. Sigma 17-70mm f/2.8-4

Sigma 17-70mm f/2.8-4
CANON EF-S ALL AROUND TRAVEL LENS

Filter Diameter: 72mm, Mount: Canon EF-S, Min Focus Distance: 9″/22cm

  1. Compact Size and Weight: No (465g; 79 x 82 mm)
  2. Useful Zoom Range: Yes
  3. Good Image Quality: Yes
  4. Effective Optical Image Stabilization: No
  5. Versatility: Yes
  6. Wide Enough for Landscapes: Yes
  7. Durability: Yes
  8. Weather Sealing: No

2. Canon 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5

Canon 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5
CANON WIDE ANGLE TRAVEL LENS

Filter Diameter: 77mm, Mount: Canon EF-S, Min Focus Distance: 9.5″/24cm

  1. Compact Size and Weight: Almost (385g; 84 x 90 mm)
  2. Useful Zoom Range: Yes
  3. Good Image Quality: Yes
  4. Effective Optical Image Stabilization: No
  5. Versatility: Yes
  6. Wide Enough for Landscapes: Yes
  7. Durability: Yes
  8. Weather Sealing: No

3. Canon 35mm f/2.8 Macro IS

Canon 35mm f/2.8
CANON EF-S PORTRAIT LENS

Filter Diameter: 49mm, Mount: Canon EF-S, Min Focus Distance: 5’/13cm

  1. Compact Size and Weight: Yes (190g; 69 x 56 mm)
  2. Useful Zoom Range: Fixed
  3. Good Image Quality: Yes
  4. Effective Optical Image Stabilization: Yes
  5. Versatility: Limited (not fast enough)
  6. Wide Enough for Landscapes: Barely
  7. Durability: Yes
  8. Weather Sealing: No

Best Travel Lens (EF) for Canon Full Frame Cameras

1. Canon 24-105mm f/4L IS

Canon 24-105mm f/4L
CANON BEST ALL AROUND TRAVEL LENS

Filter Diameter: 77mm, Mount: Canon EF, Min Focus Distance: 1.5’/45cm

  1. Compact Size and Weight: No (795g; 83 x 118 mm)
  2. Useful Zoom Range: Yes
  3. Good Image Quality: Yes
  4. Effective Optical Image Stabilization: Yes
  5. Versatility: Yes
  6. Wide Enough for Landscapes: Yes
  7. Durability: Yes
  8. Weather Sealing: Yes

2. Canon 16-35mm f/4L IS

Canon 16-35mm f/4L
CANON WIDE ANGLE TRAVEL LENS

Filter Diameter: 77mm, Mount: Canon EF, Min Focus Distance: 11″/28cm

  1. Compact Size and Weight: Almost (615g; 83 x 112 mm)
  2. Useful Zoom Range: Yes
  3. Good Image Quality: Yes
  4. Effective Optical Image Stabilization: Yes
  5. Versatility: Yes
  6. Wide Enough for Landscapes: Yes
  7. Durability: Yes
  8. Weather Sealing: Yes

3. Canon 50mm f/1.4 USM

Canon 50mm f/1.4
CANON EF PORTRAIT LENS

Filter Diameter: 58mm, Mount: Canon EF, Min Focus Distance: 1.5’/45cm

  1. Compact Size and Weight: Yes (290g; 74 x 50 mm)
  2. Useful Zoom Range: Fixed
  3. Good Image Quality: Yes
  4. Effective Optical Image Stabilization: No
  5. Versatility: Yes
  6. Wide Enough for Landscapes: Barely
  7. Durability: No
  8. Weather Sealing: No

Best Travel Lens (DX) for Nikon APS-C Cameras

1. Nikon 16-80mm f/2.8-4

Nikon 16-80mm f/2.8-4
NIKON BEST ALL AROUND DX TRAVEL LENS

Filter Diameter: 72mm, Mount: Nikon F (DX), Min Focus Distance: 1.2’/35cm

  1. Compact Size and Weight: Yes (480g; 80 x 85 mm)
  2. Useful Zoom Range: Yes
  3. Good Image Quality: Yes
  4. Effective Optical Image Stabilization: Yes
  5. Versatility: Yes
  6. Wide Enough for Landscapes: Yes
  7. Durability: Yes
  8. Weather Sealing: No

2. Tokina 11-20mm f/2.8

Tokina 11-20mm f/2.8
NIKON DX WIDE ANGLE TRAVEL LENS

Filter Diameter: 82mm, Mount: Nikon F (DX), Min Focus Distance: 11″/28cm

  1. Compact Size and Weight: Almost (560g; 89 x 92 mm)
  2. Useful Zoom Range: Yes
  3. Good Image Quality: Yes
  4. Effective Optical Image Stabilization: No
  5. Versatility: Yes
  6. Wide Enough for Landscapes: Yes
  7. Durability: Yes
  8. Weather Sealing: No

3. Nikon 35mm f/1.8

Nikon 35mm f/1.8
NIKON DX PORTRAIT LENS

Filter Diameter: 58mm, Mount: Nikon F (DX), Min Focus Distance: 1.5’/45cm

  1. Compact Size and Weight: Yes (200g; 70 x 53 mm)
  2. Useful Zoom Range: Fixed
  3. Good Image Quality: Yes
  4. Effective Optical Image Stabilization: No
  5. Versatility: Yes
  6. Wide Enough for Landscapes: Barely
  7. Durability: Yes
  8. Weather Sealing: No

Best Travel Lens (FX) for Nikon Full Frame Cameras

1. Nikon 24-120mm f/4G

Nikon 24-120mm f/4G
BEST ALL AROUND FX TRAVEL LENS

Filter Diameter: 77mm, Mount: Nikon F (FX), Min Focus Distance: 1.5’/45cm

  1. Compact Size and Weight: No (710g; 84 x 103 mm)
  2. Useful Zoom Range: Yes
  3. Good Image Quality: Yes
  4. Effective Optical Image Stabilization: Yes
  5. Versatility: Yes
  6. Wide Enough for Landscapes: Yes
  7. Durability: Yes
  8. Weather Sealing: Yes

2. Nikon 16-35mm f/4

Nikon 16-35mm f/4
NIKON FX WIDE ANGLE TRAVEL LENS

Filter Diameter: 77mm, Mount: Nikon F (FX), Min Focus Distance: 11.5″/29cm

  1. Compact Size and Weight: No (680g; 82 x 125 mm)
  2. Useful Zoom Range: Yes
  3. Good Image Quality: Yes
  4. Effective Optical Image Stabilization: Yes
  5. Versatility: Yes
  6. Wide Enough for Landscapes: Yes
  7. Durability: Yes
  8. Weather Sealing: No

3. Nikon 50mm f/1.4G

Nikon 50mm f/1.4
NIKON FX PORTRAIT LENS

Filter Diameter: 58mm, Mount: Nikon F (FX), Min Focus Distance: 1.5’/45cm

  1. Compact Size and Weight: Yes (280g; 73 x 54 mm)
  2. Useful Zoom Range: Fixed
  3. Good Image Quality: Yes
  4. Effective Optical Image Stabilization: No
  5. Versatility: Yes
  6. Wide Enough for Landscapes: Barely
  7. Durability: Yes
  8. Weather Sealing: No

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What to Read Next:

  • John Gunkler says:

    It’s too bad you didn’t look into Olympus cameras and lenses. They have incredibly good IS (so good that pros are leaving tripods at home unless they are doing long exposures!), the best weather sealing in the industry, and minimal weight.

  • Kingsley Watts says:

    A have a fuji system and use exactly the same lenses as a travel kit. I think the whole point of Fuji is staying small and light so the big 2.8 lenses don’t really make a lot of sense – for that I have full frame Sony. When you test the XF 16-80mm lens make sure you have updated the firmware. It makes an incredible difference with the focussing and sharpness.

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