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The Ultimate Travel Lens: Which Would You Choose?

Many of us are a little obsessed with image quality, buying the best quality glass that we can afford, so it's fascinating to hear the thoughts of an established professional when it comes to lens choice — and system choice, for that matter — for travel photography. Brace yourselves, as image quality and wide apertures take a back seat when it comes to a life on the road.

Mitchell Kanashkevich is not that interested in megapixels, sharpness, and shallow depths of field if it comes at the cost of weight and bulk. As a travel photographer spending much of each year bouncing around the globe, he's more concerned not just with portability, but achieving a level of intimacy with his subjects. If he were choosing one lens to take with him, a standard zoom with a consistent, wide aperture on a full frame body (for example, one of the many 24-70mm f/2.8s on the market, such as this one) might make an excellent choice, but not if you need to keep a low profile and seek to create a close, personal, and spontaneous feel to your images.

Kanashkevich's move to the Micro Four Thirds System meant using dramatically different glass, but achieving results that he believes simply would not have been possible were he still using a large, chunky DSLR. For me, the thought of moving to a system that gives a x2 crop is unimaginable, but not as much as the thought of shifting to a prime as my lens of choice. And I say that as someone who regularly raves about my love for the Canon 40mm f/2.8 pancake.

For Mitchell, then, a prime is the single travel lens of choice: previously, the Olympus 17mm f/1.8, and, more recently, the Panasonic Leica 15mm f/1.7, which are the full frame DSLR equivalent of 34mm and 30mm respectively. Both are similar in size, with some arguing that the Panasonic is a bit quicker with its autofocus. If you're not convinced with Kanashkevich's choice, check out his explanation in full and make your own judgment on whether this is a compromise that's worth making.

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John MacLean's picture

Great travel images!

Jason Levine's picture

All of them plus more but only end up using one or two lenses. Lesson... never learned :)

Anonymous's picture

"Many of us are a little obsessed with image quality, buying the best quality glass that we can afford"

False. I can't afford most of the gear I buy :P

Doux Vide's picture

Agree, PL 15mm is my favorite travel lens as well!

Bjarne Solvik's picture

These small cameras are nice, and for a lot of situations you might prefer to have a wide depth of field. That is easy with mft cameras. I can not imagine carrying a huge DSLR with a huge 2.8 zoom around. I would be nervous.

The little Fuji is nice but the Sony RX1r2 with 42 mp gives a lot to crop so you could crop a lot, a nice work around. If I should shoot with a 35 I would like those extra mp.

Pedro Pulido's picture

24-70 F2,8 or anything equivalent. if it's one lens only, no doubt.

Jonathan Ferland-Valois's picture

Nice photos! I always thought I'd use a camera like a Sony RX10 if I had a choice for travel photography. Reach can be really useful. But yeah, makes sense that one would go minimalist and just use a small prime and body. My choice would then also be something with a 35mm equivalent field of view.

Steve Vansak's picture

If you can deal with F4, the Olympus 12-100 (24-200 EFL) and one of their lightweight bodies would be the ultimate travel kit. At least it’s a constant aperture zoom with weather sealing.

Garth Scholten's picture

My "travel" photography is less portrait oriented and more siteseeing the US. The Canon 1Dx with a 100-400 f4.5-5.6 is my most used system for wildlife, national parks, and candids of my kids as they adventure ahead.

For general walk-around, I use the Canon 5D3 with the 24-105 f4 IS. I'm often torn between the 24-105 f4 IS and the 24-27 f2.8 without IS. I love the speed and shallow DOF of the 24-105 [edit: I meant 24-70] , but with my "travel" photography I lean toward slightly smaller apertures and want the slow shutter speed options that the 24-105 offers, particularly with controlled motion blur of running water.

The zoom lens offers a great deal of flexibility since I hate changing lenses. But, my favorite walk-around is the 5D3 with the 40 f2.8 pancake. Think in-town site-seeing which may include indoor venues. The full frame sensor is great for low light, the 5D3 silent shutter is fantastic when I don't want to advertise my shooting, and the pancake lens makes the full frame body seem tiny. (Remember, my 1Dx/100-400 is my most used kit).

Lorin Duckman's picture

Q, dude.

Jeff Morris's picture

My favorite at the moment is the 24-105 IS, and I've used the full range on multiple occasions. Sometimes I'd like a bit more zoom, but that's what crop is for. The IS is nice where tripods aren't allowed. I also like to bring my 24mm TS because I shoot a lot of architecture on vacation.