Everyone gets so wrapped up in what camera they should buy (that is the question I get more than any other), but they often ignore the question of what lenses to buy. In reality, the lens on your camera is probably going to impact the quality of your image a whole lot more than the camera. For travel photographers, the lens is going to impact a lot more than just your image quality as well. The lens will determine how big and heavy your set up is and how convenient it will be during travel. Because lenses get expensive, you likely need to be smart about what lenses you buy. Hopefully, this quick guide will help you Nikon shooters pick out a travel set up.
What Nikon lens should you get for travel photography? I recommend the the Tamron 28-300 mm f/3.5-6.3. This is my favorite all-in-one zoom for Nikon, but there are some other great options that may fit you better that I will discuss below.
When it comes to camera lenses, most camera systems have what is called the trinity of lenses. This is going to be the top quality wide angle zoom, medium zoom and short telephoto zoom. Investing in the trinity of lenses is usually a safe bet because you get the best quality lenses to cover the range needed by all but wildlife and sports photographers.
For travel photographers or casual shooters, however, the trinity of lenses may not be the best option. When we are traveling, I love bringing an all-in-one zoom lens. These cover the focal ranges from wide angle to moderate zoom in one lens, which is much more convenient for traveling. The quality usually isn’t as good, but you can still get something that will produce very good images while you only have to carry one lens and not worry about changes lenses ever.
The other lens I love to use for travel photography is a pancake lens. a pancake lens is usually a prime lens (only has one focal length). It is called a pancake lens because it is really thin, like a pancake. I like taking a pancake lens for casual situations where I want my camera to be as compact as possible. With my pancake lens, I can actually fit my camera in most pockets so it is not a burden when we are just headed out of the hotel for dinner or something where photography is not the focus.
Recommended Lenses for Nikon
Nikon, as you would expect, boasts a huge lens line-up, allowing you to get whatever range you want at a budget you can afford. With all those options, it can be easy to get a subpar lens just because it is cheap. I recommend sticking with he higher quality glass so you don’t buy twice.
Nikon’s most famous lens is probably the 14-24 mm f/2.8, which is available for $1.896. It set the standard for wide angle lenses when it came out and is still a fantastic lens; however, it has some legitimate competition from Sigma’s newer 12-24 mm f/4. The Sigma Art lens gives you a bit wider focal length, excellent image quality, good auto focus and weather sealing. I don’t love the bulbous lens that requires special filters and lack of image stabilizing. The Sigma lens is a fantastic value at $1,280 on Amazon. One other really popular wide angle zoom for Nikon is the Tamron 15-30 mm f/2.8. This lens gets you the faster 2.8 aperture and image stablization at a killer price, $1,099, but it is a beast of lens, which I don’t love for travel. Given the small price difference, I am going to opt for the Sigma over the Tamron.
The top Nikon option in the mid-range zoom is the Nikkor 24-70 mm f/2.8. This is a newer lens with fantastic sharpness, image stabilization and the price tag to reflect its quality, $2,396 on Amazon. If you want to get most of the quality at half the price, the second generation of Tamron’s 24-70 mm f/2.8 is a great value, coming in at $1,198.
The top option in the short telephoto zoom range is the Nikkor 70-200 mm f/2.8. This impressive camera checks all the boxes with a fast aperture, fantastic image quality, weather sealing and so forth. The downside? It is a huge and heavy lens as you would expect, and it will set you back $2,796 on Amazon. Once again, the budget option is a Tamron lens that is almost as good in quality, but at half the price. The Tamron 70-200 mm f/2.8 is only $1,299.
The All-in-One Zoom
This is a tough category for Nikon. What should be the best option is the Nikkor 28-300 mm f/3.5-5.6. This lens is $946 on Amazon. It gives a huge focal range with good, not great, image quality. The problem is the size of the lens at 4.53 inches long and 1.76 pounds, is not ideal for travel. You can get comparable image quality with slightly lacking build quality and auto focus in the Tamron 28-300 mm f/3.5-6.3, but the Tamron comes in a much more palatable size for traveling, 4 inches long and 1.19 pounds.
Unfortunately, nobody has stepped up to make a good quality pancake lens for Nikon, which is just shocking to me. Somebody please get this done. If you want to have a pancake lens, your only option is to go old school with the manual Nikon 50 mm f/1.8. This lens is super old, but is still a nice sharp lens. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have auto-focus so I don’t recommend it for travel photography unless you have plenty of experience and comfort shooting manual.
What do you think? Do you have a Nikon lens you love for travel photography? Let us know in the comments or in our Facebook Group. Be sure to check out our Recommended Gear as well for more lens recommendations and much more.