Zoom Lenses For Travel Photography

Standard, tele and all-in-one zoom lenses that are lightweight, compact and ideal for keeping your gear to a minimum
Zoom lenses for travel photography

When you’re exploring new places and cultures, you want to be focused outward, immersing yourself in the experience—not heavily laden and distracted by your camera system. While it’s tempting to bring your complete complement of lenses and accessories with you, consider the advantages of a simpler setup with just one or two lenses that can handle most situations.

Depending on your camera system, there are a lot of options. Included are examples of standard, tele and all-in-one zooms that cover the focal lengths you’ll use most often for travel photography.

Standard Zoom Lenses For Travel Photography

Here’s a lens you may already own, a zoom so useful—from moderately wide to slightly telephoto—that it’s no coincidence the most common kit lens for APS-C sensor cameras is the 18-55mm, covering a range roughly equivalent to the classic 24-70mm zoom for full-frame cameras.

The wide end of the range is perfect for capturing landscapes and cityscapes, or “establishing shots” in the parlance of filmmakers. Use the tele end of the range for portraits of new friends you meet along the way.

Zoom lenses for travel photography, Tokina AT-X AF 24-70MM F/2.8 PRO FX
Tokina AT-X AF 24-70MM F/2.8 PRO FX

Full Frame

Available in Canon and Nikon mounts, the Tokina AT-X AF 24-70MM F/2.8 PRO FX is comparable in size and weight to the first-party options that share its constant ƒ/2.8 maximum aperture but is considerably less expensive. It features Tokina’s One-Touch Focus Clutch Mechanism that allows you to quickly switch from auto to manual focus by pulling the focus ring toward you.

Length:                                              4.2 inches
Diameter:                                          3.5 inches
Weight:                                              2.2 pounds
Estimated Street Price:                   $999
Contact:                                             Tokina, tokinausa.com

Zoom lenses for travel photography, Sony Vario-Tessar T* E 16-70mm F4 ZA OSS
Sony Vario-Tessar T* E 16-70mm F4 ZA OSS

APS-C

The Sony Vario-Tessar T* E 16-70mm F4 ZA OSS for Sony E-mount cameras provides more reach than the typical 18-55mm kit lens, with an equivalent range of 24-105mm. It also offers a constant ƒ/4 maximum aperture throughout the zoom range. Optical SteadyShot image stabilization is built-in.

Length:                                              3.0 inches
Diameter:                                          2.6 inches
Weight:                                              0.7 pounds
Estimated Street Price:                   $999
Contact:                                             Sony, sony.com

Zoom lenses for travel photography, Olympus M.ZUIKO ED 12-40MM F2.8 PRO
Olympus M.ZUIKO ED 12-40MM F2.8 PRO

Micro Four Thirds

Several lenses are available from Olympus and Panasonic with a range similar to the Olympus M.ZUIKO ED 12-40MM F2.8 PRO. This model has the advantage over many of those options of a fast, constant ƒ/2.8 maximum aperture and slightly more range than the most direct competitor from Panasonic, the Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm f/2.8 II (24-80mm equivalent versus 24-70mm equivalent).

Length:                                              3.3 inches
Diameter:                                          2.8 inches
Weight:                                              0.8 pounds
Estimated Street Price:                   $899
Contact:                                             Olympus, getolympus.com

Telephoto Zoom Lenses For Travel Photography

Picking up where your standard zoom leaves off, a tele zoom equivalent to 70-200mm or longer lets you compose tighter on distant subjects to which you can’t get closer, useful for monuments with restricted access, close-ups of architectural details, and street scenes where a respectful distance from your subject is required.

Zoom lenses for travel photography, Sigma 70-300mm F4-5.6 APO DG Macro
Sigma 70-300mm F4-5.6 APO DG Macro

Full Frame

Zooms with this range for full-frame cameras tend to be larger and heavier than the ideal for traveling light, which makes the Sigma 70-300mm F4-5.6 APO DG Macro especially appealing at roughly 40 percent shorter and 60 percent lighter than a typical 70-200mm with a fixed maximum aperture. It’s also very affordable, and available in Canon, Nikon, Pentax, Sigma and Sony A mounts.

Length:                                              4.8 inches
Diameter:                                          3.0 inches
Weight:                                              1.2 pounds
Estimated Street Price:                   $199
Contact:                                             Sigma, sigmaphoto.com

Zoom lenses for travel photography, Canon EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS STM
Canon EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS STM

APS-C

Fujifilm, Nikon, Pentax and Sony all offer variable aperture zoom lenses comparable in specs and price to the Canon EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS STM for their APS-C sensor cameras. Canon’s offering covers an equivalent focal range of 88-400mm and has Optical Image Stabilizer for up to 3.5 stops of correction when shooting handheld. It’s also an STM (stepping motor) lens, which means it’s designed to minimize focusing noise when shooting video.

Length:                                              4.4 inches
Diameter:                                          2.8 inches
Weight:                                              0.8 pounds
Estimated Street Price:                   $299
Contact:                                             Canon, usa.canon.com

Zoom lenses for travel photography, Panasonic LUMIX G X VARIO 35-100mm F2.8 II ASPH
Panasonic LUMIX G X VARIO 35-100mm F2.8 II ASPH

Micro Four Thirds

The newly updated Panasonic LUMIX G X VARIO 35-100mm F2.8 II ASPH is equivalent to a 70-200mm in a compact, metal housing that’s splash-, dust- and freeze-proof. It features Power O.I.S (optical image stabilization) for handheld use.

Length:                                              3.9 inches
Diameter:                                          2.7 inches
Weight:                                              0.8 pounds
Estimated Street Price:                   $1,099
Contact:                                             Panasonic, panasonic.com

"All-In-One" Zoom Lenses For Travel Photography

For the ultimate in convenience, “all-in-one” zooms offer the range of a standard zoom and a tele zoom in one compact package. The tradeoffs are in speed and overall image quality. Most all-in-one zooms have a variable maximum aperture, starting at ƒ/3.5 or ƒ/4 at the wide end and stopping down to ƒ/5.6 or even ƒ/6.3 at the tele end of the range. Extreme zoom ranges also compromise image quality compared to primes and shorter-range zooms. The reason for this is the technical difficultly of correcting a lens for multiple focal lengths; the greater the range of the lens, the more complex a challenge this becomes.

Despite these tradeoffs, the versatility of all-in-one-zooms translates to the simplicity of never needing to change lenses for most photo situations and keeping your gear to a minimum, both of which are decidedly advantageous for travel photography.

Zoom lenses for travel photography, Nikon’s AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR
Nikon’s AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR

Full Frame

Nikon’s AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR is considerably lighter and smaller than the equivalent lens from Canon (for Canon and Sony, consider the Tamron 28-300mm F/3.5-6.3 Di VC PZD). It’s also slightly faster than the Tamron at the tele end of its range, with a maximum aperture of ƒ/5.6 versus ƒ6.3, and incorporates Vibration Reduction (VR) when shooting handheld.

Length:                                              4.9 inches
Diameter:                                          3.3 inches
Weight:                                              1.8 pounds
Estimated Street Price:                   $949
Contact:                                             Nikon, nikonusa.com

Zoom lenses for travel photography, Tamron 18-400mm F/3.5-6.3 Di II VC HLD
Tamron 18-400mm F/3.5-6.3 Di II VC HLD

APS-C

With its incredible 22.2x zoom range, the Tamron 18-400mm F/3.5-6.3 Di II VC HLD is an excellent all-in-one zoom option for Canon and Nikon APS-C sensor cameras, providing an equivalent range of approximately 27-600mm. It also offers Vibration Compensation for tripod-free photography.

Length:                                              3.9 inches
Diameter:                                          3.1 inches
Weight:                                              1.6 pounds
Estimated Street Price:                   $649
Contact:                                             Tamron, tamron-usa.com

Zoom lenses for travel photography, Olympus M.ZUIKO ED 12-100MM F4.0 IS PRO
Olympus M.ZUIKO ED 12-100MM F4.0 IS PRO

Micro Four Thirds

Though it doesn’t offer quite the tele reach of the 14-140mm f/3.5-5.6 from Panasonic or Olympus’ own 14-150mm f/4-5.6, the Olympus M.ZUIKO ED 12-100MM F4.0 IS PRO does start wider, with an equivalent range of 24-200mm, and bests those competitors with a constant f/4 aperture throughout the zoom range.

Length:                                              4.6 inches
Diameter:                                          3.1 inches
Weight:                                              1.2 pounds
Estimated Street Price:                   $1,299
Contact:                                             Olympus, getolympus.com


Getting ready for your next photo adventure? Check out these photo bags & cases for travel.

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