The Best Lens For Travel (If You Can Only Get One)

Last Updated on January 20, 2021

I am extremely choosy when it comes to what lenses I take on my travels. When I began my serious deep dive into travel photography, I didn’t have the budget for the price of a full equipt gear bag. After watching countless “What’s In My Photography Bag” videos, I was left even more puzzled. Reel after reel, my question remained unanswered: What is the best travel lens? So, as I do, I set out on my own journey to find the lens with the most optimal focal length, quality, and price.

Deep into my research, I noticed all of my favorite photographers had one common denominator in their camera bags; a 35mm prime lens. So, naturally, I bought it. This 35mm lens and my beloved Canon camera are a match made in heaven when I am out exploring. I mean I love it SO much that I wrote a whole post dedicated to it!

If you want the quick answer to the question: the best travel lens is a 35mm prime lens.

If you’re still on the speculation side of things, I get it! Below we are going to dive into what makes this timeless lens a perfect match for travel photography and what some great options for this fixed length are. Let’s dive in!

This post may contain affiliate links for the products or services I mentioned, but as always, all opinions are my own. I make a small commission, at no extra cost to you, when you make a purchase or booking through these links. This helps to support this space and keep me blogging, which I am so extremely thankful for.

I am writing more travel photography content at the moment, but enjoy this other content featuring my 35mm photography!

 


 

 

Does that mean this travel lens is best for you? Consider your own photography style

I couldn’t write this post without an overarching disclaimer that in terms of photography gear, everything should be catered to your own personal style. If you don’t know what your photography style is, then 35mm is the perfect place to start and grow from. This focal length covers a range of photography styles: street, landscape, portrait, etc., so you’ll be able to capture a variety of styles, find what fits, and move forward from there. While I was traveling with my 35mm, there were only a handful of times where I said, “I wish I had _____”. I found what I liked in my own art, how I could improve it, and what inspired me about other photographers’ shots.

This lens is a staple in almost all photographers’ bags, so it’s a great baseline to begin your journey and experiment.

 


 

Why 35mm is the Best Travel Lens For Travel Photography

My 35mm lens of choice is the adored Sigma 35mm 1.4 Art Lens for a variety of reasons. The first one being this focal length’s versatility. I’ve taken this bad boy EVERYWHERE: hiking in Bryce Canyon, up the iconic Old Man of Storr, through the entirety of Iceland, on my very first backpacking trip, exploring Arches National Park, and everywhere else I plan on visiting in the future. I was able to take beautifully focused portraits, crispy landscape, and macro-style shots without hesitation. From my own experience, the only aspect of this lens that I’ve felt has hindered me is its inability to zoom. This isn’t much of an issue considering a lens with zoom is what I would like to purchase next for my gear bag.

The aperture rating of the Sigma is 1.4, so shooting during low light, my personal preference, was of no issue and actually complimented my photography style. I will never get over the bokeh that blooms behind the subject (see first photo below for example) in lower lighting. It’s so beautiful.

Once you begin shooting with this lens and get familiar with how it works, you won’t experience any setbacks as I did. From personal experience, it helped me grow immensely as a photographer in terms of composition, lighting, shadows, and authenticity.

 


 

Examples of my 35mm Travel Photography

 


 

Cons of Traveling with a 35mm Prime Lens

 


 

  • Con #1 |  Lack of Zoom.

The one and only con.

There were a handful of times where I was saying to myself, “I really wish I had a telephoto lens or 100mm with me for this shot”. In the same breath, I also asked myself, “what can I do with what I have”?, and “how can I make this shot different and still unique?” Of course, I had times where I thought that I needed a certain lens to achieve a certain photograph, and I did for different concepts, but overall I have photos that aren’t like everyone else’s because I didn’t carry what everyone else did. I am proud of that.

I started to feel held back in a way on my last trip to Scotland when I couldn’t bring all of my ideas into my own hands, literally. This was different from all the other times during my travels because it was on this trip that I actually had ideas in my head that I knew I would need a certain focal length for. Previously, it was more like, “It would be nice if I wasn’t so far away from (said object)”.

I thought I needed the zooming aspect rather than what it would bring to the photo. It was in this way that I knew I wanted to add a special new lens to my collection to not only upgrade my techniques but propel me forward into new concepts, challenges, and ideas. So while the zoom can be a hindrance, it actually forces you to be more creative in your approach!

 


 

Pros of Traveling with a 35mm Prime Lens

 


 

  • Pro #1 | Seeing New Perspectives

This is probably the biggest thing that helped me out over the last year. I looked at my range and always went into my photos thinking about what I could create with what I was given. This was important because it allowed me to really slow down and look at my surroundings and not click away by having something more versatile. There was so much that I didn’t know about photography, but ever since I have poured my heart into my practice and education, I finally understand concepts, uses, among so many other things that go into it.

  • Pro #2 | Encouraged Creative Ideas

I touched down on this in the reason above this one, but I knew it was essential to list and to go into more detail on for the sake of this post. This lens has challenged me since the day I received it. Its different focusing angles and the way it can transform any photo into an entirely different concept based on just the placement of the subject and aperture setting is astounding. It has taught me so much about creating moods, lighting techniques, and basically everything I know about photography today.

  • Pro #3 | Set Me Up For Success

Now that I am more educated and practiced, I feel 100% ready to take on my next challenge and ideas with a new lens. It feels so good that I made this investment not only in my craft but for my abilities as well. It is so much more worthwhile to purchase a lens, shake its hand, get to know it, and then introduce another into the group than it is to buy a handful and exchange between them.

 


 

My 35mm Travel Lens Recommendations

Sigma 35mm 1.4 Art Lens

Canon EF 35mm 1.4 II Lens

Tamron SP 35mm Di  USD 1.4 Lens

Canon EF 35mm 2.0 IS USM Lens

 


 

What camera do you love to shoot with? Share with me in the comments below!

Aaren

 

 

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  • You forgot to mention one con of traveling with the 35mm prime – it is as heavy as a brick! I love it and maybe I’m just getting older, but holy cow is it heavy. Maybe some aren’t as heavy, I do have the Canon 35 1.4 usm II. It is gorgeous, but you better love it or you won’t use it, it’s that heavy. The real problem is that it is such a great travel lens, precisely when you don’t want all the extra weight. I carry it anyway, but you might want to give it a try at home for a day of excursions before committing to carrying that sucker all over Europe or something.

  • Really thoughtful piece. I have reverted to Nikon 24-70 f4 as my travel lens on a Z7. The 2.8 version is great but a bit bulky. On my DSLR I have the Tamron 24-70 2.8g that you mention. It’s fabulous- color, focus, everything!!! I can’t imagine ever replacing it – too many great shots and memories.

  • My go to lens is the Sigma 18-250 mm. I am an amateur on a limited budhet but we were going on a cruise and I was unhappy with the two kit lenses from Canon te 18- 55 and the 55 – 250 mm. I teplaced the two lenses with the convenience of one and got a better image quality as a bonus. The lens also features a bear macro feature that give wonderful close ups. It is the closest I can imagine to a lens to all purposes. It may not have the image quality of a Canon L lense or a Sigma Art lens but it was the right choice for me. I have recently tried using it with extension tubes and found it works well for true macro photos. That experience with Sigma has led me to but two other Sigma lenses, The 150 – 600 mm contemporary and the 10 – 20 mm wide angle. I like these lenses but I still keep the 18 – 259 lens o my csmeta as my default lens.

    • I definitely think that zoom lenses are much more ideal for travel. I love the 35mm since it gives such a timeless look, but no zoom capabilities can get a little frustrating, I’ll admit! How do you like the 10-20mm? I’ll definitely look into the wide range zoom lenses. It just might be my pick!

  • My favourite prime is a Sony G Master 24mm, f/1.4 it is super crisp and is on my camera (Sony A7R III) 95% of the time. Great for nighttime shooting landscapes and in the city. One of the best features with this lens/camera combo is the cropping ability, and the digital zoom shooting in APS-C mode which turns the 24mm to a 36mm with the touch of a button.