The Only Lens You Need For Travel Photography [2019]

 

I've been traveling and photographing the world ever since I started studying photography more than ten years ago. I haven't owned a lot of different lenses, though. I found the best lens for travel photography soon after I graduated and that lens went with me on travels and assignments all over the world. It was a 35mm prime lens. Ever since, that's the focal length I use pretty much all the time.

The best lens for travel photography is a prime.

The best lens for travel photography is a prime.

Does that mean a prime is the best lens for travel photography? Maybe… maybe not. For me, it definitely is but it all depends on your style and what you like to shoot. I do think that 35mm is the best focal length for travel photography. In this article, I'll explain why and I'll show you examples—all shot on my recent travels with a 35mm lens (or similar). At the moment I’m using something close to 40mm lens because I can’t find a 35mm for my camera…

Do you love photography?
Consider subscribing to my YouTube channel…

 
 

I’ve also provided specific recommendations for the more popular camera systems like Canon, Nikon, Sony and Micro 4/3. You should be able to get a good idea from this post of what to look for in a travel lens and why you should consider traveling with a prime. You’ll get an idea of what specifications matter and which would make the best travel lens for you. I've also included options for the best budget travel lens because I know camera lenses are expensive and it’s better to spend more on traveling than gear.

In this article:
Travel photography vs personal style
The best focal length for travel photography
Examples of photos shot with a 35mm (or similar)
Picking a prime lens for traveling
Best lens for travel photography for Nikon cameras
Best travel lens for Canon cameras
Best travel photography lens for Sony cameras
Best travel lens for Micro Four Thirds

Travel photography vs personal style

There's no way you can pick the best lens for travel photography. It just doesn't work like that. Some photographers shoot landscapes when they travel while others only shoot street photography. Both styles require different lenses and focal lengths. And even within those specific genres of photography, every photographer has their person preferences. 

So, you shouldn't pick the best lens for travel photography but the best lens for your style, or the results you want. What do you shoot at home? If you get the results you like, you shouldn't buy a new lens, Just take the lens you have. 

the-best-lens-for-travel-photography-daily-life-congo.jpg

The best focal length for travel photography

For me, a 35mm is the best lens for travel photography and I get the results I want with it. It's so good because it's very versatile. I shoot everything from landscapes, street and portraits. Some people think that if you use primes, you have to switch lenses a lot but that's not true. I've shot assignments entirely with a 35mm. The results were great.

I've been traveling now for more than a year and even though I don't own that 35mm lens anymore because I switched to medium format, I still use a prime close to 35mm. More than 90% of the photos on this blog are shot with that focal length. Don't tell me that a prime is not versatile. 

If you only use a zoom lens on your travels, you might have to get used to shooting with a prime but that only stimulates your creativity. Switching to a prime will make you think more about framing, for example. You'll have to solve problems that you normally solved by zooming but trust me, it't not hard at all. Soon, you'll think it's the best lens for travel photography too! 

Examples of photos shot with a 35mm

Just take a look at some of my photos. These are all shot in the last year and all with a focal length close to 35mm. If you like these photos, then your search for for the best lens for travel photography ends here because it's a 35mm!

Want the learn more about my photography—including camera settings?
Check out my books and e-books in
our store.

 
 

Travel portraits

For close up portraits it might not be ideal because there’s a little bit of distortion. I always carry a 50mm or longer for close portraits. That being said, the distortion is not that bad and you can fix it most of the times in post. I don’t hesitate shooting a close-up with a 35mm lens if I have to.

Travel portrait close-up.

Travel portrait close-up.

the-best-lens-for-travel-photography-portrait-congo.jpg
Portrait of a river guide.

Landscapes

From volcanic landscapes in Indonesia to urbanscapes in Medellin, Colombia. The 35mm always gets everything I want in the frame. Sometimes I take some extra lenses like a 24mm but rarely I have to switch because I can’t find the right composition with the 35mm.

Had to crop this one just a little bit.

Had to crop this one just a little bit.

Travel photography example: Medellin, Colombia. Urbanscape.

Travel photography example: Medellin, Colombia. Urbanscape.

Culture, daily life and travel street photography

I can’t think of a better lens for street photography and daily life. Maybe a 24mm but that depends on your style. For my, the versatility of the 35mm wins it over the 24mm. Even indoor, the 35mm is wide enough most of the times.

Travel photography example:  Everyday life in Varanasi, India.

Travel photography example: Everyday life in Varanasi, India.

Travel photography: Everyday life in Congo.

As you can see, a 35mm can do basically anything. The only “problem” you’ll have to overcome is not being able to zoom. Use a prime lens for travel photography and soon you’ll realise it’s not a problem. You just have to learn how to use it.

Picking a prime lens for traveling

Even if you know you want a 35mm, there are still some things to consider. Not every 35mm is the same and nor is every travel photographer. Here's what you should look out for when picking the best lens for travel photography.

Sharpness of a lens is overrated

OK, ok. You want sharp photos, of course. But these days, everybody is so focused on sharpness and image quality that they forget what's most important: the image. A lot of lenses these days are great. Still, a lot of people choose to spend tons of money more because they've read that a certain lens is just a tad sharper—probably not even noticeable in most cases.

Don't do it. Use the money to travel and pay more attention to the images you create. Once you learn how to make good photos, you'll realize that image quality and sharpness is not all that matters.

Best aperture for travel photography

Aperture is important for my travel photography because I like to shoot in low light situations and the difference between 2.8 and 1.4 is big. If you like to shoot in low light when you travel than you should definitely pick a lens a fast lens 2.8 or even faster...

If the lens you want slower than make sure it features image stabilizer to compensate the loss.

the-best-lens-for-travel-photography-daily-congo.jpg

Weight

I've told you I switched to medium format and I use that camera to travel. It's heavy but I don't mind at all. Some people however, want to travel really light and there's a lot of difference in weight between 35mm lenses. Keep it small if you like the travel light. A pancake lens for examples is a great option. What kind of traveler are you? Make sure you know before picking a lens.


Best lens for travel photography for Nikon cameras

Nikon F (FX) Full-frame

1. AF-S NIKKOR 35mm f/1.4G
You can't go wrong with Nikon's own Gold series AF-S NIKKOR 35mm f/1.4G for travel photography. The only downside to this lens for me is the price and I'll always go for the Sigma or Tamron because of that. Check price on Amazon.

2. Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art
This has been my favorite travel lens for full-frame for years. It focuses fast and it's tack sharp, even at f/1.4. The only downside is that it's not wether sealed. The price and quality make up for that, though. Check price on Amazon.

3. Tamron SP 35mm f/1.8 Di VC USD
Another great option in the same price range as the Sigma. The big selling point for this lens: Image stabilization. It offers around 3 f-stops of compensation which is a great deal in low light situations when traveling around the world. Check price on Amazon.

4. Zeiss Milvus 35mm f/2 ZF.2
If you want something different and manual focus only. The Zeis Milvus might be it. The main reason for choosing this lens is the unbeatable build quality and best-available manual focus experience. It's compact but relatively heavy and offers great image quality. Check price on Amazon.

Best full-frame budget prime lens for Nikon

1. AF-S NIKKOR 35mm f/1.8G
If you find the f/1.4 version too expensive for travel, take a look at the f/1.8 lens. It's light and very affordable—for that price, it doesn't have any flaws... Check price on Amazon.


Nikon F (DX) APS-C

Nikon APS-C shooters should look in the 24mm range because of the crop factor.

1. AF-S NIKKOR 24mm f/1.8G ED
If you want a super-fast, super-sharp 35mm lens experience, this is the best option. Yes, it’s better than the 24mm f/1.4 because of the price. Don’s hesitate to pick it up. Check price on Amazon.

2. AF NIKKOR 24mm f/2.8D
If you’re looking for a cheaper option, this is it. Lightweight and excellent image quality. Check price on Amazon.


Best travel lens for Canon cameras

Canon EF Full-frame

1. Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM
Like the Nikon, Canon’s own 35mm f/1.4L is superb but it comes with a price tag. Therefor, again, I’ll always recommend the Sigma as a travel lens. Check price on Amazon.

2. Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art
The only reason to pick the Canon is if you absolutely need weather sealing in a lens but I never had a problem traveling all over the world. I used the Sigma 35mm in combination with a Canon 5D series and it’s a superb combo. One of the best lenses for travel photography. Check price on Amazon.

3. Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS USM
If you don’t need f/1.4, just go for this one. It has image stabilisation for great results in low light. Check price on Amazon.

Best full-frame budget prime lens

1. Yongnuo YN 35mm f/2
The Yongnuo YN 35mm f/2 offers excellent value. On top of that, it’s a lot newer than the Canon EF 35mm f/2 so I would definitely recommend this lens over the Canon. Check price on Amazon.


Canon EF APS-C

If you’re an aps-c shooter, you should look somewhere in the 24mm range because of the crop factor.

1. Canon EF-S 24mm f/2.8 STM
This Canon 24mm f/2.8 STM is an excellent lens for just about anything. As a travel lens it’s more than perfect because of it’s light pancake design. Great value for money if you like it very compact. Check price on Amazon.

2. Canon EF 24mm f/2.8 IS USM
This compact lens is lightweight and optically as good or better than any of Canon's other 24mm lenses. Remember, if you need weather sealing, go for the Canon EF 24mm f/1.4. Check price on Amazon.


Best travel photography lens for Sony cameras

Sony E Full-frame

1. Sony Sonnar T* FE 35mm f/2.8 ZA
This 35mm f/2.8 prime lens is significantly sharper than any zoom for Sony. A no-brainer if you want to stick with Sony for your travel photography lenses. Check price on Amazon.

2. Sony Zeiss Distagon T* FE 35mm f/1.4 ZA
For the best of the best, get this f/1.4 prime lens so you can use faster shutter speeds for low light situations. It’s a significant step up and the price is accordingly. Check price on Amazon.

3. Rokinon 35mm f/1.4 AS UMC
Want to spend less? Take a look at the Rokinons. The f/1.4 is a great option but only manual focus. That doesn’t have to be a problem for a travel lens, though. I also use manual focusing lenses from time to time. Check price on Amazon.

4. Rokinon AF 35mm f/2.8 FE
If you’re looking for a cheaper auto-focus lens, the Rokinon f/2.8 is the best option. Check price on Amazon.


Sony E APS-C

Aps-c travel photographers should look in the 24mm range…

1. Sony Zeiss Sonnar T* E 24mm f1.8 ZA
This Zeiss 24mm f/1.8 offers near perfect optical performance on Sony cameras. It's a tack sharp lens at every aperture, has smooth bokeh and focuses fast and super close. It’s definitely fast enough for low light shooting. A superb travel lens. Check price on Amazon.

2. Tamron SP 35mm f/1.8 Di USD
The Tamron 35mm f/1.8 Di VC USD Lens brings you a lot of value money. A fast f/1.8 aperture combined with a well-performing vibration compensation system makes it a great choice. Check price on Amazon.


Sony A Full-frame

1. Sony 35mm f/1.4 G
If you’re a Sony A travel photographer, this lens is the only option if you want to stick with Sony. Check price on Amazon.

2. Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art
The Sigma offers the same optic excellence as Canon and Nikon top of the line lenses but for a better price. The lack of weather sealing is something for you to decide if that would be a problem for your travel photography. Check price on Amazon.

3. Tamron SP 35mm f/1.8 Di USD
The Tamron 35mm f/1.8 Di VC USD Lens brings you a lot of value money. A fast f/1.8 aperture combined with a well-performing vibration compensation system makes it a great choice. Check price on Amazon.

4. Tamron SP 35mm f/1.8 Di USD
The Tamron 35mm f/1.8 Di VC USD Lens brings you a lot of value money. A fast f/1.8 aperture combined with a well-performing vibration compensation system makes it a great choice. Check price on Amazon.


Sony A APS-C

1. Zeiss SAL 24mm f/2.0 Distagon T SSM
The build quality of this lens is nothing short of excellent. The lens body is completely made of metal and that's including the smoothly operating focus ring. It does not mention any weather sealing which may be a little disappointing for some as a travel lens regarding the price. Check price on Amazon.

2. Samyang 24mm f/1.4 ED AS UMC
The Samyang is a great travel prime if you’re looking for a manual focusing lens. Check price on Amazon.


Best travel lens for Micro Four Thirds (Micro 4/3)

Best travel photography lens for Micro Four Thirds

1. Voigtländer Nokton 17.5mm f/0.95
Optimized for beautiful bokeh, it might not be the best all-round travel lens but definitely one to consider. It’s also heavier than other options. Something to think about when traveling the world. Check price on Amazon.

2. Sigma 19mm f/2.8 EX DN Art
This compact lens should make an ideal addition to your travel photography kit. The Sigma 19mm f/2.8 is lightweight, compact and offers excellent optical performance. It features fast focus speeds and good build quality. Go for it! Check price on Amazon.

3. Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 17mm f/1.8
Looking for a faster travel prime lens for Micro-Four-Thirds? The Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 17mm f/1.8 offers great sharpness. Autofocus is quick and precise so a great option for moving subjects. Check price on Amazon.

4. Panasonic Lumix G 20mm f/1.7 II
With the same excellent image quality, reasonable value for money, and compact size, this new model should be just as popular as the original and is an excellent lens for Micro Four Thirds travel photographers. Check price on Amazon.

Conclusion

There you have it. In my opinion, a 35mm or similar is the best lens for travel photography. I’m not saying it’s the only travel lens you’ll ever use like me but it’s definitely a lens that should a have a place in your travel photography kit. If you’re not sure, pick up a cheap one or second-hand. I use a lot of second-hand lenses and there’s nothing wrong with it.

If you want to know more about (my) travel photography gear. Check out these articles on gear…

Travel Photography Gear: What's in my Camera Bag
Travel Photography: This is The Gear You Need
Is The Best Travel Camera Medium Format?

Transparency Alert! There are affiliate links in this article. This means that if you buy anything through those links, we’ll earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. Your support is highly appreciated and keeps the site and my photography going!

 
GearJoris HermansLens