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Mirrorless camera photography at Tangalooma, Australia

Choosing the perfect lens for travel photography

A camera is only as good as its lens.

You could splash out thousands of dollars on a state-of-the-art camera that can operate in outer space and tie your shoes for you, but your photos will still come out looking mediocre if you have a cheap shitty lens.

The camera body itself is mostly just an image processing tool (no shoe tying, unfortunately). It’s really the lens that will turn your photos into something you’ve drooled over in National Geographic.

Last week I gave you my recommendations on choosing a DSLR camera, so now it’s time to look at the best lenses to go along with it depending on your style of travel photography.

Remember: You might get a cheaper price purchasing your lens online, or you could also look into getting your camera equipment second hand – I did this with my lens and saved about $350 off RRP. If the equipment is in good condition, then it should be the same as buying it new but without the warranty.


LENS BASICS

Most camera bodies will come with a kit lens, though you can buy them without. My Canon came with twin lens kit including an 18-55mm and 55-200mm zoom lens. They did the job perfectly at first and were great for me to learn the ins-and-outs of the camera.

Lens types:

  • Wide Angle – usually 20mm or below are considered wide angle. This will fit most of what you can see in the photo. Great for landscapes.
  • Telephoto – above 50mm is usually considered telephoto. This gets up close to objects when you’re standing at a distance.
  • Zoom – allows you to both zoom out to wide angles and in close to objects. You can change between wide angle and telephoto with one lens.
  • Fixed length – features no zoom, and is often used for photos that are similar to what the human eye would see when you are looking at an object.
  • Macro – focuses on objects that are very close to the lens.

What to look for:

  • Aperture/f-number – the aperture defines how much light is let through the lens. The f-number will usually will be somewhere between f1.8 (where you can create a nice background blur) and f16 (where everything in the photo is in focus). Some zoom lenses will have a range of apertures.
  • Zoom/focal length – this is how far you can zoom in or out. A wide angle lens might start at about 10-12mm (for super wide angle such as a fisheye lens) and a telephoto zoom lens might go up to 300mm (for zooming in to an object from a far distance).
  • Weight – There are a number of lenses that take fabulous photos but weigh a ton, and you may regret the heavy lens when you’re lugging it around later. My 15-85mm zoom lens weighs about 550g (1.25 lb) and I wouldn’t want to get anything heavier than that, but if you’re ok with carrying around a heavier lens, go for it!

Lens recommendations

Sydney 1

Landscapes

Lenses that zoom out to a wide angle are great for landscapes, though be aware that super wide angle lenses may warp the photo around the edges. This can make a cool effect but for beginners it’s probably best to start around the 18mm mark.

Lens apertures of f4 and above are also good for landscapes, as they keep everything in the photo in focus. You don’t want to have a tree in the foreground in focus, only to have the mountains in the background blurry.

Zack

Portraits

Lenses with apertures of f1.4-f3 are great for portraits as the subject will be in focus while the background blurs.

I took the above portrait of my nephew with a 50mm prime lens and an aperture of f1.8. This is a common lens (usually referred to as a ‘nifty fifty’) and is fairly cheap, versatile, and very light.

Bali, Indonesia

Animals

Telephoto (or Zoom) lenses are great for animal photography as you can appear to get up close when you’re actually standing at a distance.

The above photo was with my current travel lens zoomed in to 85mm, and I was standing maybe 5-7 metres (16-22 feet) away from the monkey. But if you’re seriously into animal photography and want to catch a few cheetahs and rhinos from a distance on an African safari, you’re going to want a telephoto lens that will zoom in to 200mm or 300mm.

Bali 19

Indoors

You can use various lenses for indoor photography. I’d generally stick to wide angles – under 35mm for photos of objects or portraits, and 18mm or lower if you want to take a photo of a room and fit in as much of the space as possible.

Wide apertures are also useful as they will allow you to use a faster shutter speed when taking the photo (reducing the chances of blur from movement). An external flash is also great if you’re planning on doing a lot of indoor photography.

Bali, Indonesia

General Travel

If you only want to carry one lens with you on your travels, you need a light and versatile lens. I’ve upgraded from my kit lenses to a 15-85mm zoom lens for general travel photography. Before I made the purchase, I did some research on the best lenses for travel photography and I’m glad I chose this one as it does the job perfectly. The zoom range is wider than my old 18-55mm kit lens, and the photo quality is also much better.

Lenses used for general travel photography usually have a large zoom range, often ranging somewhere between 15mm-105mm. These lenses will give you flexibility with zoom for both close ups and landscapes.

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