I often get asked which lenses are the best to bring while travelling, whether that’s just one lens to lighten the load of what you’re carrying around with you or just picking 2 or 3 specific lenses that will cover most photographic opportunities you will encounter.
Knowing your type of photography
One of the most crucial points to think about before choosing which lenses to bring with you is knowing what kind of shots you are interested in taking. Do you take a lot of landscape shots? Then you will want a wide-angle lens to capture the expanse of the various scenery you will come across. Are you interested in taking people shots? Then you might want to go for a big aperture lens that will capture that portrait look.
Try and review your existing photos and see what types of shots you normally take, try not to think about what ifs. Actually look at the shots you are taking and be honest about it, if you decide to bring a big and heavy telephoto lens but never take wildlife shots then you will be adding considerable weight to your bag and leaving you less space.
If landscape photography is your thing then I would highly recommend bringing a wide-angle lens. The field of view that wide-angle lenses give you are great for capturing an entire landscape in a single scene, allowing you to compose many elements into a single frame and giving a good perspective. I personaly use a Canon 10-22mm which is light weight and gives me the field of view I want for landscapes.
Wide angles are not much use for any other kind of photography, other than maybe close up portrait but there will be quite a lot of distortion. So I would recommend you only bring one of these with if you are definitely going to be taking some landscape shots. They tend to be quite short and relatively light weight so they won’t be too much of a burden in terms of size and weight.
Telephoto lenses are great for capturing wildlife, they allow you to zoom in really close to the subject from a good distance. The background will be blurred as well which should bring the subject out from the background and create some nice sharp looking images of the animals.
Telephoto lenses are usually quite heavy and large such as the Canon 70-200mm, so keep that in mind in terms of packing one of these, they can add quite a bit of weight to your gear. Depending on the zoom range of your specific lens you may also want to bring a tripod if you’re mainly going to be shooting wildlife to help keep the shots steady.
Capturing action shots requires a fast shutter speed, so having a lens with a large aperture is good to have for these situations. The quick shutter speed will freeze a fast moving subject and can create some great results, the lenses particularly are useful for sports with fact action of fast moving wildlife.
Another use for a large aperture lens is for portrait shots, by shooting with an open aperture will create a bokeh effect which you will often see in portrait shots. The bokeh is essentially the effect when the subject is in focus and the background is blurred out. This can be used to great effect when trying to capture a persons character and focus the composition on the eyes of the subject.
Lenses with a wide aperture or “quick lenses” tend to either have a fixed zoom (which are known as prime lenses) or can be very expensive. The quality of the glass in these types of lenses usually are of a higher standard and can be on the heavy side. A good cheap option for a quick lens is a Canon 50mm which is very lightweight and small but captures some fantastic bokeh effects and is great for portrait type photography.
Full Range Zoom
If you want maximum versatility in your lens choice you could go for a full range zoom like a Canon 18-135mm, these types of lenses offer a large range in the zoom capabilities and can adapt to various compositions. They are great for landscapes shots if they are zoomed to the wide range and can adapt all the way over the wildlife photography if you use the telephoto end of the zoom.
There are of course trade offs with providing such flexibility in the zoom, which is that they tend to have a smaller aperture so they won’t be so good for action shots or capturing quick shots. These lenses also can be on the heavy side so weight can be an issue, but it is a compromise between multiple lenses or a single lens.
In conclusion I would suggest that you should be absolutely certain of which kinds of shots you are going to take and only bring the bare essentials in terms of lenses. If you like taking a range of different shots and don’t particularly specialize in a certain kind of photography then bring a wide range zoom lens, it will still capture great images and give you a lot of flexibility.