Picking lenses for when you travel

Picking lenses for when you travel

Following the articles(1, 2) I wrote about my equipment I started receiving all kinds of questions on my Instagram account.

“What lens did you use here? Is this a good lens?” so I decided to share with you a few ideas of how i pick my lens for trips and things like that.

Before we go further please bear in mind two things:
1. I am not a professional photographer. I just love taking pics and I am always studying, practicing, wanting to get better.
2. This post is not for the people who are OK with snapshots from holidays and don’t care too much if they take pictures with a phone or with a DSLR.

Considering how far phone technologies have come if all you do is see the pics on your phone, tablet or even a small laptop you really don’t need a fancy camera.

I got some lovely photos with my phone and I am sure a professional would do things even better.

This post is for the people who love photography, who study the locations before they go there, who need some help in picking the right tools for each job.

Now, while I am no authority on photo shooting, bellow you can find my thoughts and experiences on what to pack for a photo holiday.

I will skip the part where I ask you to consider what type of photographer you are. Do you love city scapes? Do you love landscape? Street? That will come later.

We will just focus on a photo holiday and the first thing you need to ask yourself is:
Where will you go?

Will you visit:

1.a city
2.rural areas
3.nature trip(split between water and mountains)

If you are visiting a city, then what type of city  are you visiting?

If you visit New York maybe you need something different than if you visit Rome.

So here is what I would do.

If i were to visit a city like New York(Singapore, Tokyo, Hong Kong, etc) I would bring 3 lenses.

Don’t roll your eyes yet and let me explain.

For all demonstrations I will use the lenses available for Fuji X mount because this is my system now.

I would bring a wide lens. Something like the 10-24/f4 or the Samyang 12/f2.

My thinking is this.

While New York or any of those cities is super crowded capturing all those skyscrapers from a vantage point with a wide lens would get you some great pictures. Areas like the Brooklyn Bridge would also fit the bill nicely for a wide lens.

Also in this type of cities a fast lens with an aperture of f2 would rock. Imagine taking pictures in NY or HK at night. You really need a fast aperture for handheld photos(not getting into ISO sensitivity now or other things and maybe you re not a fan of carrying a tripod like I do)

Also these cities offer real gems when it comes to street photography and this is where my thinking differs from many street shooters.

I hate moving close to my subject and framing him.


What I love is to use a zoom and surprise people going on about their business with no visible interruption from my part.

But that’s just my style.

So for that I would use the Fuji 50-230. I would pick this over the 55-200 because of weight, size and similar picture output(or at least too little difference to justify the cost, size differences)

Taking into account that I hate manual focusing on holidays my dream kit for New York would look like this:
1.Fuji 10-24
2.Fuji 50-230
3.Fuji 35mm f2 for night and street photos.

An even lighter kit would be:
1.Fuji 18-55/f2.8-4
2.Fuji 50-230

But these are just suggestions. From this point you need to think “what do I want to photograph?”

And build the kit according to that.

For me, being the second time there, I would focus more on street, people, food, etc so my 50-230 zoom would be my first choice.

Other than that I could easily pick either my 18-55 or a 23mm f2 prime for night, cityscapes, etc.

So that would be New York.

But what about Rome?

Well, Rome is a city but I would approach it differently from NY.

First, there are no skyscrapers.

Second, the most important monuments are illuminated during the night.

Third, the city is a maze of small streets, beautiful doors, walls, restaurants, etc.

I think I would split Rome in two parts.

During the day I would bring my kit lens 18-55. That way I could take many pictures on different lengths without changing lenses.

However, for night pictures I would bring either the 23mm f2 or the 35mm f2.

That really depends on your style and the focal length you enjoy more.

I think 55-70 is enough for great street pics in Rome. I really don’t think I’d bring my 50-230 here even though I could get some amazing shots with it.

I am not a fan of bringing 2 bodies on my trips or changing lenses too often so I think I would push heavier on my 55 for street pics and hope for the best. (places like New York, Tokio are exceptions to the rule and I would still think hard before packing many lenses)

As a matter of fact my dream for Rome is to try and photograph it at 23mm (35 equivalent) for more than 85-90% of the pics.

I just love that focal length and most of my pics are taken there. 35mm (50 equivalent) is my next favorite focal length.

I think this pretty much covers cities.

Ps: forgot one important aspect.

If you are a fan of churches, dimly lit interiors, architecture, etc. then upon visiting a city you definitely should arm yourself with a fast prime.

I have seen some amazing pictures from inside bookstores, inside churches or palaces and that f2 to f2.8 aperture looked amazing.

You could pull it off with the kit lens from Fuji (since it starts at 2.8) but if you already have a fast prime (23/35/50/doesn’t matter) it will suit your purpose better.

While there are so many cities in the world I think most of them fall in these two categories.

Before moving forward, I must tell you an important thing, another thing I forgot to mention in the beginning (getting old).

This is a guide for people with a tight budget (10-24 mentioned above is an exception and it is easily replaceable).

Yes, if you have the money and a strong back you could get the 16-55 plus the 50-140 from Fuji but… Look at their pictures and size and tell me if that’s what you want to carry with you on a holiday.

Rural areas.

When I am talking of rural areas I am mostly thinking small villages of Italy, France, Spain, etc.

From my experience you rarely need a wide lens here if you don’t go outside the towns, into the wilderness.

Upon visiting Matera or Locorotondo for example in Italy or St Ives in Cornwall, UK for my style of shooting I could do well with one lens.

18-55 kit lens from Fuji.

If you are worried about night pictures and a fast aperture you could take the 23mm f2 or the 35mm f2.

Things change a bit when you move in Cornwall from small village to small bays and the magnificent coastline and here depending on your budget you could have:
1.an expensive set up including the 10-24 plus the 35mm f2
2.a manual, cheap setup including the Samyang 12 plus the 18-55 kit
3.the kit lens plus the new 16mm 2.8 prime(not the 1.4)

If you checked all my pics from the UK(Cornwall, Devon, Dorset and some from the Cotswolds) you will see that I used a 16mm lens on my ex Sony body.

Yes, sometimes, it felt too tight (Lulworth Cove for example). Yes, sometimes I wanted more reach (very few times) but in the end, I was more than happy with one single prime lens and the pictures I got.

To this day, I consider the pictures from that trip to be some of the best I ever took and that rather says it all about how many lenses you need to take good photos that you will like.

Therefore, in my opinion, if you plan to just stick to small villages, I think that one lens would be all you need.

However, if you plan to shoot outside, well things change here.

That is because there is a huge difference between photographing sea scapes and mountain scapes.

If you plan to go on a holiday on a location like Lefkada for example my guess is that you wouldn’t need a zoom unless you want to photograph windsurfers and kites.

What you do need for lefkada is a wide lens and here the 10-24 fits the bill perfectly.

Unfortunately that is expensive so what options do you have?

Well the kit lens is great but I found sometimes, as stated above, that 18 is a bit too narrow so I would go for the 16/2.8 lens plus the kit.

I would use the kit for day pictures while saving the 16 for those amazing sunsets on this beautiful part of Greece.

Yes, Lefkada has peaks and there are people who go deep inside to climb and see the waterfalls but the majority of people stick to the beaches and the world famous sunsets.

So besides shooting at 23(my fav lens size) the 16 would be my first weapon of choice

I have been dreaming to visit Lanzarote for the last year and in studying the island and places where to take photos I realized that my 18-55 kit would suffice with the addition of a wide, fast prime. I do not intend to bring my zoom lens to this island and I am sure that the pics will come out, as I want them to.

Now, when photographing mountains, well, things are very different.

Yes, you would need a wide lens but a zoom is also necessary.

That is because the mountain offers many possibilities to cut, frame, select special parts of scenery and you will need a zoom for that.

Look at the picture bellow.

I used the 18-55 lens here at its widest point (18). However, a zoom would have helped me isolate that little house on the right part and maybe frame it for a nice picture.

In addition, when it comes to mountain holidays, I think that a fast prime would be nice.  Some of the best starry nights photos were taken in the mountains and if you play it safe and have some good company, some night pics might appear in your portfolio.

The thing is that while hiking, you would want to keep your bag light so the above combination (18-55 plus 50-230) plus a small prime (16/23/35) would be perfect.

I think that what I wrote above fits most travels and holidays.

I use zoom lenses now, because I like to enjoy seeing and visiting more and spending less time with changing lenses, thinking of focal lengths, etc.

However, I think that I still am a prime shooter and if it were up to me and if budget allowed I would fill my bag with small, delicious primes covering 16 to 50 and maybe adding the 50-230 zoom to cover those focal lengths.

As I return to some cities I visited in the past, I try to shoot every holiday in that spot with one focal length.

In addition, I think that is a great way to learn more about your camera and photography than zooming in and out all the time.

My favorite focal length is 23(35 full frame equivalent) and I do plan to use this length on many of my pictures in the following trips.

However I am aware that for cities like Rome, Frigiliana, Locorotondo, the 23 would be a bit wide so that is the reason 35(50 full frame equivalent) is my next favorite focal length.

These places are so rich in details, the streets so narrow that I think that these two focal lengths are all I need for a great shoot.

So….there you have it. My ideas and what I would bring for each type of holiday.

I hope that this would be of use for you when you plan your next holiday. If, of course, you are a photography fan like I am.

As more holidays will come I plan to stand true to my commitment and use only certain focal lengths.

I truly think that will boost my confidence and help me become a better photographer in time.


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