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. And lenses get expensive, so you likely need to be smart about what lenses you buy.
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, the trinity of lenses may not be the best option. When we are traveling, I love bringing an all-in-one zoom. 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. The 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 the Fuji X System
The Fuji system is actually really easy to buy lenses for because there are not a ton of options. While that isn’t a great thing, it makes it easy to recommend lenses.
Fuji has a brand new lens coming out that is going to be their premier wide angle lens, the 8-16 mm f/2.8. As it brand new, I don’t have much to say about it, but I am pretty excited about it. Until you can get your hands on that lens, the only wide angle zoom option is the 10-24 mm f/4. This is a great lens for landscape photography and anything you don’t need the speed of a 2.8. The other downside is it is not weather sealed. It will currently set you back $999 , but I expect the new 8-16 mm to drive that down a little further.
In the mid range zoom, the top option from Fuji is the 16-55 mm f/2.8, which is currently priced at $1,199. If you don’t need top of the line, the 18-55 mm f/2.8-4.0 is still a very good mid range zoom. It isn’t quite as wide and the variable aperture means the lens is slower as you zoom further, but it will be sufficient for most users and is much cheaper-currently $699.
For the telephoto zoom, Fuji’s top option is the 50-140 mm f/2.8. While I would love for this lens to have a little more reach, having that speed with the longer focal length is awesome. The price reflects the quality at $1,599. The budget option. at around $599 on this lens is going to be the 55-200 mm f/3.5-4.8. The extra range on this lens is nice, but it is a bit slower with the variable aperture.
The All-in-One Zoom
The all-in-one zoom I recommend for Fuji is the 18-135 mm f/3.5-5.6. This lens covers a pretty wide range in a solid casing. It is probably the lens I use the most. While the slower aperture can be a pain, it works pretty well for most situations and is great for travel photography. It is a great lens to start with if you are on a budget as it covers most of what you’ll ever need for $899.
The Fuji 27 mm f/2.8 is another of my favorite lenses for traffic. I love having an f/2.8 lens that is tiny. This is the lens whee I can fit the whole camera and lens in my pocket. It is great when I am doing street photography or when we are going for an evening stroll to get some dinner. I found a great deal on mine for under $300, but its normal price is $449.
Recommended Lenses for sony
Sony isn’t known for its wide variety of lenses, but the line up is rapidly increasing. More importantly, you get access from two of the top third-party lens companies in Sigma and Tamron, who generally get very close to the same quality as native lenses for a much lower price.
The top-end wide angle lens from Sony is the 16-35 mm f/2.8. This great lens comes with a hefty $2,198 price tag. While not a whole lot cheaper, you can save a little money going with the 12-24 mm f/4. This is a great lens for landscape photography and anything you don’t need the speed of a 2.8, plus you get quite a bit wider focal length when you want it. It will currently set you back $1,698.
In the mid range zoom, the top option from Sony is the 24-70 mm f/2.8, which is currently priced at $2,198. If you don’t need top of the line, I highly recommend saving yourself a ton of money with the Tamron 28-75 mm f/2.8. The Tamron lens has been highly recommended by many great photographers I know and will save you a ton of money, costing only $799.
For the telephoto zoom, Sony’s top option is the 70-200 mm f/2.8. The price reflects the quality at $2,598. The budget option on this lens is going to be the 70-200 mm f/4. It generally runs just under $1,500.
The All-in-One Zoom
The all-in-one zoom I recommend for Sony is the 18-200 mm f/3.5-6.3. This lens covers a very wide focal range, but I hate how slow the aperture gets longer focal lengths, basically making those lengths unusable in low light. Still it is going to be a great lens to start with if you are on a budget as it covers the whole range you will need and make good images, especially at the closer ranges, for $848.
The pancake option available from Sony is the 20 mm f/2.8. Again, it is nice to get a pretty fast lens in a pancake format. The 20 mm lens is extremely small and will make a very compact shooting system. While there are some disadvantages in image quality, it should perform well enough for most shooters. It generally about $350 .
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.
Recommended Lenses for Canon
Canon is generally considered to have the biggest and best line up of lenses of all the systems. While that is great for options, it also makes it a whole lot harder to decide what lens is right for you.
Canon’s top wide-angle lens is the 16-35 f/4L. This lens will get you great image quality, weather sealing and image stabilization for under $1,000.
Probably Canon’s most popular lens is the excellent 24-70 mm f/2.8L. This lens has amazing image quality, good build quality, weather sealing and fast auto focusing, but it lacks image stabilization. This lens has come down a bit in price and is currently sitting around $1,600. For under $600, the Tamron 24-70 mm f/2.8 nearly matches the Canon’s image quality, but adds vibration control. The big drop off in the Tamron lens comes in the auto focus, so the saved money may not be worth it if you are shooting sports.
My top recommendation to finish out the Canon trinity is the Tamron 70-200 mm f/2.8 G2. The Tamron matches Canon’s 70-200 f/2.8 in almost every regard, and even surpasses it in some, like image stabilization and auto focus, all for $500 less. For a budget option, I turn to the Sigma
The All-in-One Zoom
My favorite option for your travel zoom lens from Canon is the 24-105 mm f/4. This lens is a little on the pricey side for a travel zoom, but it has great build quality, weather proofing, good auto focus and excellent image quality, so the $1,000ish price is understandable. The f/4 aperture is good enough for me for a travel lens, especially since it isn’t variable like most travel zooms. You can save a couple hundred dollars opting for the very similar Sigma 24-105 mm f/4.
Canon’s best option for a pancake lens is the Canon 40 mm f/2.8. This is a great lens, but the focal length is not quite wide enough for my preferences. A step down in quality, but a better focal range is the Canon 24 mm f/2.8.
Recommended Lenses for Micro 4/3
I don’t have a ton of experience with Micro 4/3 systems, other than playing around a little with some Olympus gear, but I have reached out to several awesome photographers that use Micro 4/3 for their recommendations. The great thing about the Micro 4/3 systems is that all the lenses are interchangeable between systems.
At the wide angle range, we recommend the Olympus 9-18 mm f/4-5.6. This lens holds its own as far as image quality with the more expensive pro options, and comes in a more compact body, at only $600. At double the price, you can get Olympus’ higher end 7-14 mm f/2.8, which is an excellent lens that offers a wider angle of view and faster aperture. If you want to get something in the middle, the Panasonic 7-14 mm f/4 is going to be your best choice.
At the mid-range zoom level, we recommend the $900 Panasonic 12-35 mm f/2. This lens will get you great low-light performance, image stabilization and good image quality. The compact build is nice as well, but the build quality leaves a bit to be desired.
For short telephoto lenses, it is tough to beat the Panasonic 35-100 mm f/2.8. This lens gives you great image quality, outstanding stabilization, good build quality and weather sealing, all for under $1,000.
The All-in-One Zoom
With micro 4/3 lenses being so much smaller, the travel zoom just isn’t in as high demand so there aren’t as many options. The best recommendation I have is the Panasonic Leica 12-60 mm f/2.8-4.0. This lens offers a decent aperture, good image stabilization and weather sealing.
The best option for a pancake lens in the Micro 4/3 system is the Panasonic 20 mm f/1.7. While I would prefer the lens was a little more wide angle, this lens has great low light performance, good image and build quality, and a tiny size.