As a professional travel photographer, I’m often asked about camera gear, and in particular, folks contact me to ask me what the best camera lens for travel photography is. Often people have bought a camera with an interchangeable lens, like a mirrorless or DSLR camera, and are looking to upgrade their kit to meet their needs.
I’ve already written a guide to the best cameras for travel photography, but as that only covers camera and not lenses, I thought it would make sense to follow up with a guide to the best camera lenses – specifically for travel photography purposes. After all, a camera is not much good without a lens!
Of course, this guide does assume you have a camera with interchangeable lenses, so that means a mirrorless camera or a DSLR camera. Within those two groups though there are myriad camera and lens manufacturers. And for the most part, lenses made for one camera system won’t work on another system.
So for this post, I’ve first put together a general overview of what to look for when picking a travel lens, which will give you some pointers in terms of features to consider. That way no matter what brand and kind of system, you’ll know what to look for when shopping for a camera lens.
I’ve then provided specific recommendations for the more popular camera systems out there, including Canon, Nikon, Panasonic, and Sony. Even if your particular manufacturer or camera mount isn’t mentioned, you should be able to get a good idea from this post of what to look for in a travel lens, which specifications matter, and an idea of price.
Speaking of price, as well as a guide to the best lens for travel photography for each camera brand, I’ve also suggested a couple of options for the best travel lens under $500USD for each camera. I know that lenses are expensive, and not everyone has a huge budget to spend! Let’s get started.
What to think about when picking a lens for travel photography
Picking a lens to travel with is a bit different to picking a lens for other situations. Not only will you be concerned with image quality, but also size and weight.
Whilst it would be wonderful to have a wide range of expensive lenses to take with us on all our trips, the reality of travel is that there is only so much we can take with us, and when you’re out and about all day sightseeing, you probably don’t want to be carrying too much.
So for travel photography, it’s better to try and focus on getting a smaller number of lenses that work well in a wide variety of situations. That way you are likely to actually take them with you and use them.
Of course, there are always going to be compromises – it’s hard to find a lens that does everything well, doesn’t cost too much, and is lightweight! But for travel photography, I think there are some good travel lens options out there.
You have a few options for lens types. My suggestion would be to invest in two lenses – a walkaround lens and a fast prime. If you only want to invest in one lens because you don’t see yourself changing lens often, or carrying more than one lens, then you will want a good walkaround lens, and that’s what this guide will be focusing on.
What is a walkaround lens you ask? Well, it’s a lens that “does everything”. It covers a good range of focal lengths, meaning you can get wide angle shots as well as zoom in on further away objects. It’s basically a one size fits all lens for your travel photography needs.
You will often find that if you invest in a camera that it will come with a lens that will suffice as a walkaround lens. These will work fine but tend not to be the top quality lenses.
If you are more serious about photography and your budget allows, I’d recommend that you buy your preferred camera “body only”, and then invest in a nicer walkaround lens, such as the ones I recommend, rather than the standard kit lenses. Don’t be surprised if the lens is more expensive than the camera either – good lenses are expensive, and a worthy investment.
Price considerations – how much to spend on a camera lens for travel photography.
Speaking of money, I’ve done my best to provide a range of lenses across various price points. More expensive lenses tend to be more capable, but can also be heavier, so aren’t always the best solution for travel photography.
For the budget-conscious reading this, I’m also providing my suggested best travel lens under $500 for each category. I appreciate that not everyone has a big budget for a new lens, so I want to provide some good value options at around the $300 – $500 mark.
Now, before we dive into individual travel lens recommendations, let’s take a look at some of the key terminology and other considerations you need to be aware of when looking for a lens for travel photography.
Inside a lens, there’s a hole that lets the light through to the camera’s sensor. This hole is referred to as an aperture. An aperture can change in size, with a bigger aperture letting more light in, and a smaller aperture letting less light in.
An aperture can be thought of as the pupil of your eye. When it’s bright outside, it is smaller so less light gets in. When you’re in a darker environment, perhaps at night, it opens really wide to let more light in.
The important number for lens apertures is how big the hole goes, which will dictate how well the lens will perform in low light situations. A wider aperture also allows for greater control over depth of field. See my guide to depth of field for more on that.
When you look at the specifications for a lens, it will always have the widest aperture listed as one of the key specifications. It will be a number, something like 2.8, 4.0 or 5.6. It may also be written as f/2.8, which is the formal way of denoting aperture. The smaller the number, the wider the hole.
Some lenses, and in particular the walkaround lenses we are going to be looking at, will have what is known as a variable maximum aperture. This means that the aperture will actually change as you zoom in and out, or change focal length. This is because as the lens barrel gets longer, the maximum aperture get smaller.
So for example, you might see a lens with an aperture of f3.5-5.6. This means that at the wide angle, the aperture is f/3.5, but when you zoom in, the aperture will drop, down to f/5.6 when you are fully zoomed in.
For travel photography, as with most photography, the wider the aperture the better – more light getting in means better low-light performance, making the lens more versatile for a range of photography situations.
The trade-off is that wider aperture lenses tend to be bigger, heavier, and more expensive. This will be considered in the lens selection.
The focal length of a lens is directly related to how much magnification it provides. It’s a number that’s measured in millimetres (mm), with the general rule being that the higher the number in millimetres, the more magnification you get, and the smaller the number in mm, the less magnification you get.
If you’ve previously used a compact camera (aka point-and-shoot), you’ll be used to this being described in terms of optical zoom – for example, a camera might have 10x optical zoom. That means that the difference in magnification between the most zoomed out setting and the most zoomed in setting is 10x.
In focal length terms, each doubling of the focal length results in a doubling of the magnification. So a 100mm lens will essentially make everything twice as big as a 50mm lens.
Unfortunately, matters get a bit confusing after this, because focal lengths have a different effect on different cameras. This is because camera’s have different sensor sizes, which affects the focal length, in what is known as a crop factor.
To take the example of the Canon DSLR camera systems. There are two main types of cameras available, the APS-C size cameras such as the consumer Rebel line, and the full frame size sensors in more professional cameras like the Canon 6D or 5D line.
Some of Canon’s lenses will work on both of these camera systems, but they will give different focal lengths. On the full frame cameras, the focal length will be as expected. On the APS-C sensor, there is a “crop factor” of 1.6, because the sensor is smaller. So a 100mm lens on an APS-C sized sensor will give the same result in terms of the image as you would be able to achieve with a 160mm lens on a full frame camera.
Thankfully, lens manufacturers all use the same focal length standard, so when buying lenses for your particular system, all you need to know is the crop factor. You can then multiply this by the focal length to get the equivalent focal length.
Don’t worry if this isn’t quite clear, for the lenses I recommend I will list both the focal length and the equivalent focal length where relevant. Equivalent focal length is what you need to really worry about, as it will let you compare lenses more effectively.
For travel photography, you want a lens that goes from fairly wide (16mm – 30mm) on the wide end, through to fairly zoomed in (70mm – 150mm) on the narrow end. This will give you good flexibility, letting you shoot wide scenes such as buildings on city streets, through to zooming in on the details. A good benchmark lens is a 24-70 f/2.8, which is generally known as the walkaround lens of choice for professional photographers.
There are some walkaround lenses which offer much greater focal lengths, well past 200mm, including some of the recommendations in this guide. Just be aware that there are always trade-offs to consider, and whilst these can offer tremendous versatility, it’s often at the expense of weight and image quality, and in particular, image sharpness, at the longer end of zoom range (beyond 200mm usually).
I’m not saying not to invest in these lenses, just to be aware that there’s no such thing as a perfect lens for all situations!
When you buy a lens, it’s always a good idea to pick up a UV filter to protect the front. You may also want a polarising filter (read about polarising filters here), or a neutral density filter (see my guide to neutral density filters here).
You’ll notice that these filters come in different sizes, and the filter thread size on the lens, measured in millimetres, tells you what that size is. It’s basically just a measurement of the diameter of the lens, which is the end you put the filter on. Ok, that was an easy one.
Camera lens manufactures have all kinds of fun terms they use for image stabilisation. These include IS (Canon), OIS (Panasonic), VR (Nikon), OS (Sigma), VC (Tamron) – the list goes on.
Whilst the names and underlying technology vary, the aim is the same – to compensate for any movement introduced by the person holding the lens (that’s you), to help you shoot at lower shutter speeds without getting blurry photos.
As a general rule of thumb, the minimum shutter speed you can hand hold a lens for is the inverse of the focal length. So if you have a 200mm lens, you would not want to shoot at shutter speeds slower than 1/200th of a second. A 50mm lens would be 1/50th of a second.
Image stabilisation technologies exist to help you get shots at lower shutter speeds than that, and they are usually rated in terms of how many extra “stops” they give you to play with. A “stop” is photography dialog for a halving, or doubling, of the light.
So if you went from 1/100th of a second to 1/50th of a second shutter speed and didn’t change anything else, that would be 1 stop.
Modern image stabilisation technologies offer between 3 and 5 stops of stabilisation. To put that in practical terms, if you are shooting with a 200mm lens at 1/200th of a second, 3 stops would let you hand hold down to 1/25th of a second. 5 stops would let you hand hold and still get sharp images as slow as 1/6th of a second!
As you can see, image stabilisation can make a huge difference, and it is definitely worth thinking about when looking for a lens. Of course, as with everything, there are tradeoffs, and an image stabilized lens will often be more expensive and slightly heavier than an equivalent non-stabilized version.
Weight is a pretty key consideration when it comes to picking a travel lens, as the idea is that you’re going to be using the lens for travelling. I don’t know about you, but the less I have to carry the better, especially if I’m going to be on my feet all day. So definitely keep the weight of your purchase in mind.
As well as weight, you’re going to want to factor in the size of the camera lens. Portability can be an important factor for a travel photography lens, particularly if you’re travelling and prefer to pack carry-on only. So consider how big the lens is in physical terms when making a decision.
Well, that sums up some thoughts on the various factors, features and terminology you need to consider when looking to buy a travel lens. Now, let’s dive into some specific recommendations across various camera systems to give you some idea of what’s available at what price point.
The Best Micro Four Thirds Lens for Travel Photography
Micro Four Thirds camera are a popular choice for photographers. These mirrorless systems are lightweight and portable, yet offer everything you would expect from a bigger SLR style camera, including full manual controls and great image quality. There are a number of manufacturers, with the most popular being Panasonic and Olympus. We use and love our Panasonic GX8 which is a staple part of our travel photography gear.
Both of these manufacturers have their own proprietary lens stabilisation system that takes advantages of stabilisation technology in both the camera body and the lens. This means that whilst lenses will work across different micro four thirds cameras, to take full advantage of the stabilisation technology you need to match brands – so a Panasonic lens needs to go on a Panasonic camera body for the best results.
In terms of crop factors micro four thirds cameras have a 2x crop factor, so you need to double focal lengths to get the equivalent focal length.
With a 16-28mm equivalent focal length, this is the lens to get if you love shooting really wide. Personally, my wide angle lens is the lens I use the most, so this is what I’d go for on this camera system, even if it’s not quite as flexible across shooting situations as something with a greater focal range. It doesn’t have image stabilisation, but as the lens is so light that’s less of an issue, and image stabilisation on a wide-angle isn’t as critical.
Price: ~$1,100 USD
Weight: 11.11 oz / 315 g
As a walkaround travel lens, it’s hard to argue with this 12-60mm lens from Panasonic, which offers a 24-120mm equivalent focal length and sharp results throughout that focal length, even shooting wide open. The aperture stops down a bit as you zoom in, but this is a lightweight lens that will do pretty much everything you could want, and includes image stabilization (Power O.I.S).
Price: ~$1,000 USD
Weight: 11.29 oz / 320g
My choices for the Olympus micro four thirds system are essentially their versions of the Panasonic lenses above. This is the wide angle, with a focal length equivalent of 12mm – 28mm. With a fixed f/2.8 aperture this is a very fast lens at all focal lengths, although this does make it a little bit heavier. It also comes with dust and weather sealing. It doesn’t have lens based image stabilisation, but the majority of Olympus MFT cameras have in-body stabilisation which makes up for this.
Price: ~$1,150 USD
Weight: 1.17lb / 543g
With a focal length equivalent to 24-200, this is pretty much the perfect walk around length for travel photographers. It is water and dustproof, and features image stabilisation equivalent to an incredible 6.5 stops when used with a compatible Olympus camera. That added focal length does add some weight and bulk though. If you’d prefer a lighter lens and a faster aperture at the expense of focal length, check out the cheaper Olympus M.ZUIKO Digital ED 12-40 F2.8 instead.
Price: ~$1,150 USD
Weight: 1.23lb / 561g
Best Micro Four Thirds Lens Under $500
This is essentially a slower version of the Panasonic 12-60mm lens above, at half the price. It’s also significantly lighter than that lens. Impressively for a lens at this price point, it comes with image stabilisation as well as a splash and dust-proof body, making it ideal as a travel lens. At a similar price point there’s also the slightly heavier 14-140mm f/3.5-5.6 lens from Panasonic, but whilst you gain a lot in focal length, you lose out on that weather resistance, so it’s up to you.
Price: ~$500 USD
Weight: 7.41oz / 210g
This lens has a fantastic 28 – 300mm equivalent focal length, meaning it’s going to let you get pictures of nearly everything you could want. It also has weather sealing and a reputation for sharpness. Ok, so that variable aperture makes it a bit slower than more expensive lenses, but that saves weight and cost, and at this price point, this is a bargain.
Price: ~$500 USD
Weight: 10 oz / 284h
The Best Mirrorless Lens for Travel Photography for Sony Cameras
For the purposes of this guide, I’m going to be talking about Sony’s E-mount lenses, which work on their mirrorless camera systems including APS-C models like the a6000 as well as full frame mirrorless models like the a7 II.
Note that there are two types of E mount lenses, “FE” lenses, which will work on both full frame and APS-C sized Sony cameras, and non FE lenses which are designed for APS-C sizes sensors only. While you can use a non-FE lens on a full frame camera, it will reduce the image resolution and field of view to be equivalent to an APS-C sized sensor, so I’d advise against that.
There are also “G” series lenses, which are Sony’s more professional lenses – similar to Canon’s “L” series. These offer greater image quality and performance, usually with a higher price tag to match.
Some Sony cameras offer in-body image stabilisation, but ideally you’ll want it in the lens. Sony’s image stablisation technology is known as OSS (optical steady shot).
With an equivalent focal length of 27mm – 158mm, and a fixed aperture throughout that focal length, this lens is ideal for travel photography. It’s also a G series lens, which means it is higher quality lens compared to their standard, non G lenses. It’s primarily designed for Sony’s APC-C sensor cameras, so not really recommended for their full frame bodies, but it is very well priced.
Price: ~$600 USD
Weight: 15.06oz / 427g
With an E mount lens for APS-C camera compatability, this lens is firmly aimed at travel photographers wanting a great Sony walkaround lens at a price that won’t destroy the bank. With image stabilization and good performance across a good focal length, this lens is a great bargain if you’re looking for an easy upgrade from the kit lens.
Price: ~$600 USD
Weight: 15.06oz / 427g
Covering the classic focal length of 24-70 on a full-frame camera (36-105mm on an APS-C), this is a relatively fast lens that offers excellent image quality and portability at a relatively affordable price point. There’s also an f/2.8 “G” version of this lens which is approximately twice as expensive and also heavier, but may be worth it if you need that extra stop of light.
Price: ~$1200 USD
Weight: 15.03oz / 426g
Covering a truly staggering focal range of 24-240mm (36-360mm APS-C), this Sony FE lens is perhaps the ultimate walkaround lens for the Sony system. It may have a variable aperture, but given how well Sony’s cameras perform even at high ISO ratings, you probably won’t notice that too much. If you want a lens that can shoot everything from far away wildlife to portraits to landscapes, this is a great choice at an excellent price point. Just be aware that it is heavier than the other options due to that extended focal length.
Price: ~$1000 USD
Weight: 1.72 lb / 780g
If you’re after something wider, then this is the lens to go for, especially for full frame cameras (APS-C owners should instead consider the cheaper 10-18mm f/4 for wide angle work). With a relatively fast fixed aperture, super-wide capabilities and even image stabilisation, this is the lens for landscape and architecture photographers to look at.
Price: ~$1350 USD
Weight: 1.14lb / 518g
If you’re on Sony’s APS-C sensor system, then you might want to consider this lens instead of the 24-240mm lens above, as it offers a wider 27mm equivalent at the wide end. It’s also a relatively light lens given the focal range, making it a good choice for travel photographers trying to keep the weight down.
Price: ~$850 USD
Weight: 1.16lb / 524g
Best Mirrorless Lens Under $500 for Sony
Whilst this might not be the fastest lens, especially at the longer focal lengths, it does cover a useful focal length and offers optical image stabilisation. It’s also very light and a great price. Being an FE lens, this will work on both full frame and APS-C sized Sony bodies – on the latter it would offer an equivalent focal length of 38 – 105mm, which is useful for many situations except particularly wide work. A good value lens.
Price: ~$400 USD
Weight: 10.41 oz / 295 g
If you’re looking for a bit more range, perhaps to compliment the kit lens that came with your Sony camera, this is one of the better priced telephoto zoom lenses from Sony that is also incredibly light for the focal range on offer. Of course, it’s not the sharpest lens in the world, especially at the 200mm end (315mm equivalent), but it does feature image stabilisation and is a bargain to boot.
Price: ~$350 USD
Weight: 12.16 oz / 345g
The Best DSLR Lens for Travel Photography for Nikon Cameras
For the longest time, the two main choices for photographers looking for camera gear were Nikon and Canon. That has certainly changed, but these two manufacturers definitely account for the highest percentage of cameras sold today. Because they’ve both been around for so long there are literally hundreds of lenses to choose from for each system, both made by the manufacturers themselves, and lenses made by third parties.
Sifting through these choices to find the perfect travel lens is definitely a challenge, but I’ve narrowed down the various options to some of the best options to help you make an informed decision.
An ideal walkaround lens at a good price point for Nikon full-frame users (known as FX in Nikon speak). This lens covers a very wide focal range with a reasonable fast aperture, and offers image stabilisation (Nikon calls it VR, for vibration reduction). Owners of Nikon’s APS-C sized sensor camera bodies (DX format) should consider either the 18-300mm lens below, or the Tamron 18-400mm f/3.5-6.3, which will give a bit more flexibility on the wide end.
Price: ~$950 USD
Weight: 1.76 lb / 800 g
Users of Nikon’s crop sensor cameras (known as DX) will definitely want to check out this lens, which offers an excellent range of focal lengths and image stabilisation (Nikon calls it VR, for vibration reduction) in a lightweight and inexpensive package. There’s also an 18-200 version which is marginally cheaper, but as it weighs the same I’d go with this one.
Price: ~$700 USD
Weight: 1.21 lb / 550g
Nikon’s 24-70mm f/2.8 lens is one of the most popular lenses for photographers of all types, particularly on full frame bodies. It’s fast aperture throughout the focal length makes it great for low light photography and portrait work, and the relatively wide angle makes it a great landscape lens. It even has image stabilization! It is expensive and heavy (consider the Sigma equivalent too), but if it’s the only lens in your bag you might not mind so much.
Price: ~$2400 USD
Weight: 2.35lb / 1070g
This lens is only for crop sensors, but it offers an excellent range of focal lengths, a fast aperture range and it is known for producing very sharp images. It’s also very light, making it a great option for travel photography, and features image stabilisation.
Price: ~$1000 USD
Weight: 16.93 oz / 480g
Best DSLR Lens Under $500 for Nikon
For a DX camera, this is an excellent Nikon lens that covers a wide focal range, has image stabilization, and produces sharp images. It’s very well priced for what you get, is relatively light, and will serve you well as a travel photography walk around lens.
Price: ~$500 USD
Weight: 1.08lb / 490g
FX format users on a tighter budget should definitely consider this lens, which offers reasonably fast performance and a good range of focal lengths in an affordable and lightweight package that also includes image stabilisation.
Price: ~$500 USD
Weight: 1.02 lb / 465 g
The Best DSLR Lens for Travel Photography for Canon Cameras
Like Nikon, the Canon camera system has been around for a long time, and there’s an incredible selection of lenses to choose from, both directly from Canon, and from third party manufacturers like Sigma and Tamron. This huge amount of choice can be overwhelming, but I’m going to do my best to provide a few options to get you started.
Note that Canon has two main lens mount systems – EF, and EF-S. EF lenses will fit on all Canon’s cameras, whilst the EF-S lenses will only fit EF-S mount cameras, which is essentially all the consumer focused models such as the Rebel series. Canon has its own stabilisation system, which it calls IS (image stabilisation).
This ultrawide Canon lens is incredibly sharp, and an excellent choice for landscape and architecture lovers. Whilst the f/4 aperture isn’t too wide, this lens features image stabilisation technology that promises up to four stops of stabilisation, which makes this a great choice for low-light work. It’s also not too heavy. APS-C owners should consider the cheaper and significantly lighter 10-18mm IS instead.
Price: ~$1100 USD
Weight: 1.35 lb / 615 g
This is the walk around lens of choice for many full frame Canon professionals as it offers sharp performance and a fast fixed f/2.8 aperture across the frame. This lens is great for everything from portraits to landscapes, and is one of the most popular lenses amongst Canon shooters. It is quite pricey and fairly heavy though, so do also consider the Sigma equivalent which is significantly cheaper and includes image stabilisation, which is notably absent from this Canon lens.
Price: ~$1900 USD
Weight: 1.77 lb / 805 g
If the Canon 24-70 above is a bit pricey, or you’d prefer image stabilization and a slightly longer focal length, then the excellent EF 24-105 f/4 L is a great choice. Despite the longer focal length, it’s actually a slightly lighter option. This lens will work with both full frame and crop sensor cameras, on the latter it will have an equivalent focal length of 38 – 168mm.
Price: ~$1100 USD
Weight: 1.75 lb / 795g
There are lots of third party options for Canon, with Tamron being a popular choice for value oriented buyers. This Tamron covers an excellent focal range in a relatively lightweight design. This 28-300mm is a great walkaround lens choice covering a wide focal range, especially for full frame shooters who don’t want the weight or cost of Canon’s L series lenses.
Price: ~600 USD
Weight: 1.19 lb / 540 g
Owners of APS-C Canon cameras should definitely consider this incredible Tamron lens, which offers a mind blowing focal length (29 – 640mm equivalent) on Canon’s crop sensor cameras. It also has image stabilisation and an aperture range which is not too bad considering that incredible zoom. It’s also very well priced, and less heavy than you might expect for the focal length.
If you’d prefer a first party lens walkaround lens for your Canon APS-C camera, another option is the Canon EF-S 18-200 f/3.5-6.3 IS, which is a tiny bit lighter, but loses a lot of that lovely focal length, and is also slightly more expensive.
Price: ~650 USD
Weight: 1.56 lb / 710 g
Best DSLR Lens Under $500 for Canon Cameras
If you’re looking for a lens that covers a very wide focal range, produces sharp images, and won’t break the bank, look no further than this excellent Sigma. This will only work on Canon’s APS-C range such as the Canon Rebel line, or Canon SL2, but it offers excellent performance, image stabilization and an incredible focal range (29mm – 480mm equivalent) in a well priced and lightweight package.
Price: ~400 USD
Weight: 1.28 lb / 584 g
Lovers of wide-angle photography should shortlist this Tokina lens for Canon’s EF-S camera mount. With a very wide f/2.8 aperture, and a superwide focal length, this lens is perfect for landscape photography, low-light photography, and even taking pictures of the stars. Well priced too!
Price: ~400 USD
Weight: 1.21 lb / 550 g
Well, that sums up my guide to the best travel lenses for travel photography! I hope you found it informative and useful in your quest to find the perfect travel lens for you. Before you head off, I want to share with you a few more resources that will help you on your photography journey.
- My guide to picking the best travel camera – after all, a lens isn’t much good without a great camera to pair it with!
- My series of Photography Tips, which I am always expanding and updating with posts like this one
- My always expanding series of Photography Location Guides, to help you get the best shot in locations around the world.
- An overview of my Travel Photography Gear, in case you wondered what a professional photographer has in his bag
- A Beginners’ Guide to Improving your Travel Photos for those starting out in travel photography
- Our reasons why you need a travel tripod
- And, if you’re serious about improving your photography, I run an incredibly comprehensive online travel photography course, which will teach you everything you need to know about photography and allows you the chance to get personal feedback from me and ask me as many questions about photography as you wish. Check that out here.
And that’s it for my guide to picking the best camera lens for travel photography. I’ll be keeping this post updated as new lenses are released for the various systems, so you can always check back for advice if you need it. I’m also happy to answer your specific questions about picking a lens for your camera system – just pop them in the comments below and I’ll do my best to give my thoughts and advice!
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