Choosing the Right Travel Lens

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Travel lens choicesI am often asked about which lenses to use for different situations. Since I recently needed to select the lenses I would be traveling with to Maui, I decided to use the opportunity to discuss the lenses I brought and why.

Think about what you will be shooting

You could decide to bring the most expensive glass you can afford. But having a $1,600 lens for taking portrait is overkill when shooting landscapes or waterfalls.

lenses work for different objectsFor this trip to Maui, I knew I would shoot some beaches, water spraying over rocks, lava flows, waterfalls, and maybe some whales. I would be taking few shots of people, since we weren’t street walking or hanging around with other people. While the first thing to come to mind would be something like a 12 to 24mm lens to have a nice wide angle, I know that shooting wide is going to create a lot of distortion in the image. Since most of the shots are not going to be close up, a 24 to 70mm gives less distortion, but still provides some extra range when needed. For the really long shots, I wanted a lens with a good range of focal lengths, a nice long range, but not too big and bulky. For this lens, I figured a 70 to 300mm would do the trick nicely.

Which lenses?

 

Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 EX DG HSM

Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 EX DG HSM

Short range – wider angle
I had the unique opportunity to choose virtually any lens from Sigma. They had two lenses that matched my requirement perfectly.

For the first lens, for closer shots or wider angle landscapes, I chose the Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 EX DG HSM. This lens is easily on-par with the Canon 24-70 L series lens. While I certainly didn’t need glass this fast during bright daylight conditions, it certainly made for an excellent walk-around lens that could pull double-duty for shooting landscapes and then be just as at home shooting a wedding or portrait.

 

 

Sigma 70-300mm f/4-f/5.6 DG

Sigma 70-300mm f/4-f/5.6 DG

Long range lens
When I want some range, I know I need long focal lengths. That usually means lugging a very heavy lens around. Again, shooting in great daylight conditions means I have no need for wide open apertures. In fact, probably 95 percent of the shots I took the entire trip were shot at f/5.6 with some waterfalls at f/11 or f/22 to get long shutter times. Since I didn’t need a fast lens, the Sigma 70-300mm f/4-f/5.6 DG worked well. Since I am shooting with a Canon EOS 50D, I have crop factor (or zoom factor) of 1.6 making this actually a 480mm lens! Talk about getting some range with this baby! The optical stabilization also ensures you get the shot.

Specialty Lenses
I haven’t done the math but the vast majority of the images taken on this trip used these two lenses. Just to grab some panoramas I did take a 12 to 24mm.

Summary

The key is to think about what you will be shooting and under what conditions to plan accordingly. When doing a trip where you’re in and out of the car, walking a lot, taking a few short hikes on the occasional trail, lightweight quickly became a key decision point. The terrain helps you decide what goes in the grab bag versus what you stow in the trunk.

Photo credit: Kerry Garrison

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