The Perfect Lens for Travel Photography

Above: me traveling light in Italy’s Dolomites – minimum gear packed into a minimum sized rental car. 

Recently I’ve had a flood of emails, texts, Facebook comments, direct messages — you name it — about which is the best lens to use for travel photography and so I thought I’d tackle that here today.

The lenses I’m going to recommend (it’s really just one lens, but you need a variation of it depending on whether you’re using a Full Frame body or Crop Sensor body) I came to fall in love with the hard way — by traveling with WAY too much gear. So much gear that for a few years it tended to kinda ruin either a part of most of the trip due to taking so much unnecessary gear.

My goal is to travel with just one lens that does it all — that covers such an awesome range that:

(a) I don’t have to carry a 2nd lens at all

(b) Which means I don’t have to carry a camera bag with me either (it stays in my hotel room, mostly empty) and I don’t’ have to worry about someone snatching my camera bag because I don’t have one with me.

(c) I can still enjoy my vacation, which is really important.

Today, I’m just covering Full Frame (so this isn’t the longest post in history – Crop Sensor picks next week). 

Nikon Shooters: Get the Nikon 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G  VR Lens ($946 at B&H Photo). This is a very lightweight, super-sharp, freakin’ awesome lens. Jay Maisel uses it and swears by it. Enough said. It was one of my favorite lenses back when I shot Nikon.

Canon Shooters (like me): Get the Tamron 28-300mm f/3.5-6.3 Di VC PZD Lens for Canon (it’s $599 at B&H Photo. A steal!). Full disclosure – Tamron is one of the sponsors of my weekly show “The Grid” but I had this lens long before then. Other disclosure: It’s not the sharpest lens in the world, but it’s plenty sharp enough, and it only weighs 190z. I take this puppy all over the world, and I love that I never have to change lenses.

NOTE: Why don’t I use the Canon 28-300mm, which is sharp as a tack? It’s because it’s not a compact lens, and really wouldn’t work for travel. It’s heavy as anything (nearly 4lbs), expensive as anything (around $2,400), and it so old it’s a “push/pull” zoom – you don’t rotate the barrel to zoom in/out – you tug it in/out manually. Not for travel. Every time I’m at Canon HQ I whine like a baby to them about not making an updated, lightweight, inexpensive 28-300mm. It’ll happen one day, just not this day. Fingers crossed it’s while I’m still young(ish). 

Sony Shooters: Sony has the Sony FE 24-240mm f/3.5-6.3 OSS Lens (around $900 at B&H), which isn’t as long as I’d like (300mm) but is wider than either the Canon or Tamron by 4mm, and you’d think 4mm doesn’t make that much difference, and at the long end it wouldn’t, but on that wide end it actually does. So, it’s a pretty nice range, and it’s fairly light at just 1-3/4 lbs. Now, if you don’t want to spend that much, and you really want that 300mm on the long end, Tamron makes a version of that 28-300mm lens I mentioned for Canon, in a Sony mount version for $599 at B&H. Worth considering.

Warning! Don’t fall into this trap!
With any one of these lenses, you won’t have to change lenses during the entire trip. If you take even one extra lens, you’ll experience a phenomenon called the “two-lens two step” where you take a shot, take two steps and then you’ll realize you need the other lens, so you switch lenses. Then you take two more steps, “Rats! I need that other lens again…” and this will continue your entire trip. Don’t fall into this trap.

Next up, Crop Sensor picks (but not today — this post is already too long).

Hope you found that helpful.

If you’re anywhere in Irma’s path…
(like we are here in Florida), here’s hoping you stay high and dry. Thanks to everyone who has reached out on social, via email, texts or calls with good thoughts and concern. We so appreciate your good words and prayers. We hoping for the best but preparing for the worst. :)

Hope your weekend is much better than expected. :)



P.S. If you’re looking for something really great to watch this weekend, we just released three killer classes in past few weeks. Take a look at Tracy Sweeney’s “Newborn Photography Master Class” and Viktor Fejes’s “Advanced Photoshop: The Psychology and Science behind Color Grading” and Serge Ramelli’s “Using Photoshop and Lightroom to Create Amazing Cityscapes.” You’ll love what you’ll learn. 

      1. The protest was ineffective. Fortunately, we got through the storm with relatively minor (and expected) damage. Power out for a day and a half, a couple of trees down, and LOTS of branches broken.

  1. Thanks Scott. If I remember rightly you made this recommendation when you did a recording of ‘A Walk In Rome’ a while back. When you were trying to shoot the nuns with backpacks! I think you mentioned that the 28-300 was susceptible to colour aberration at full zoom is that right?
    Not wanting to pre-empt your next post but my wife took note of your advice and bought (for her crop sensor Canon) a Tamron 16-300 for our travels and has been very happy with it ever since. We also did a photobook of our Rome trip and titled it ‘A Week In Rome’ as homage to your advice.
    Hope you guys manage to avoid all dangers from the fierce storms in the US right now.
    All the best from the UK from Richard & Marj.

  2. Thanks Scott. I just wish I’d read this before we took a trip to the Canadian Rockies last month when I was carrying a 23 pound backpack of just camera gear. :)

  3. Unless I’m on a trip where the MAIN purpose is photography, I’ve switched to using my iPhone only. This allows me to fully focus (pun intended) on the trip, the experiences, and my family, without lugging around any camera gear whatsoever. It’s so liberating! Especially if I’m doing hiking.
    I find that the capabilities in Lightroom and PS allow me to get maximum benefit from the iPhone photos and that last little percent that the DSLR would provide does not outweigh the hassle of lugging it around.
    …I never thought I would say that.
    People are just as enamored with my photobooks and can’t believe that it’s all iPhone photography.
    Of course everyone is different and wants to get different things out of their travel photography. I’m just happy that I was able to mentally make that shift.

  4. Has the crop sensor article come out – I’m travelling to Iceland in 2 weeks and interested in what Scott is recommending for canon crop sensors. Its the 17th so hoping it is out and I just can’t find it

  5. Scott – thanks for the info. Two quick things. First, I heard you speak about this topic when you did the shoot like a pro tour (which was fantastic – thanks!). The one thing you mentioned in that discussion that some people may not realize is the difference between a vacation trip with family vs a vacation to shoot photos. the former is where you recommended the single lens concept. The latter, you bring the arsenal.

    Second, I shoot with a Sony A7R II. The first Sony lens you mention works with all e-mount lens cameras (NEX, A7 series and A9) – which are the mirrorless cameras. While the Tamron you also mentioned only works with the Sony A-Mount (A77, A99) – these are the full DSLR sized cameras.

    So depending on which type of Sony camera (and assuming you are using a native mount with your camera), you would either use the Sony 24-240mm for mirrorless OR the Tamron 28-300 for DSLR.

    Thanks again for the great info!

  6. Hi, is there any reason in particular you recommend the Nikon superzoom instead of the Nikon mount version of the tamron? Is there much difference?

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