For the photographers whose studio extends far beyond the four walls, and for jetsetters and road warriors who are called to a life of travel photography, full-frame lenses are key. Any photographer loves new glass and photography is like any passion or hobby — there are so many amazing, shiny tools that can get a job done.

But when you’re traveling, it’s not just about performance, but also weight, versatility, and durability. You can’t just pack up everything including the kitchen sink. You have to choose your tools wisely and shoot simply while on the road. So here is a list of the top travel lenses for photographers ready to capture and photograph the world.

But before I go into discussing the list, I want to give a quick tip that I’ve learned over the years when I travel: unless your job requires it, leave the prime lenses at home. While there are some fantastic options out there, especially for portrait photography, prime lenses lack the versatility and range of a zoom lens. Every trip I’ve gone on, I’ve always brought a prime, and every time, it’s gone unused because I have more reliable, versatile lenses I grab first. Save yourself the extra weight and skip the prime lenses for job on the road.

1. The Ultra Wide Zoom Lens

Photo by Nathan Lee Allen

Wide angle lenses are amazing and are the bread and butter for any photographer looking to photograph landscapes, cityscapes, or hotel or residential properties. They’re great for tight spaces or wide sweeping vistas. They capture a perspective the human eye simply cannot see without it. This added depth creates wonders when you have a suitable FX body attached.

Here are some top choices on the market — they are well constructed, have a lower aperture range, and create sharp, beautiful images with little to no barrel distortion or fish eye effect. And while these lenses do tend to be on the heavy side, their results are worth their weight in gold.

2. The “Do It All” Lens

Nathan Lee Allen travel photography
Photo by Nathan Lee Allen

This type of lens is the middle of spectrum. Most lens manufacturers have one. It’s a 24-70mm and it’s the jack of all trades; the Swiss Army knife of lenses. It’s wide enough for landscape yet it has the range to get tight for portraits or close up on your subject. If I had to choose one lens I could take with me on a trip, I would choose a 24-70mm. While they are expensive (and good glass is always expensive), this type of lens is worth every penny.

I always tell people to invest in quality not quantity, and this should be the first lens you invest in if you want to get serious about photography. It can cover the majority of photography work and will become your best friend. Most of the 24-70mm lenses are incredibly sharp with creamy bokeh throughout the zoom range and are high performing, fast, and silent. Here are fantastic options on the market right now:

3. The Telephoto Lens

Nathan Lee Allen travel photography
Photo by Nathan Lee Allen

Having a telephoto lens in your travel kit is a must. The ability to add greater reach to your camera’s focal length is so important, especially when you’re shooting wildlife or detailed landscapes like a mountain range.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve started with my 24-70mm, then switched to a 70-200mm or something higher to get tight, detailed shots that frame a beautiful section of mountain or ridgeline. You get to capture the true character and personality of a landscape when you do this, and it can really add some stunning results to your portfolio. Normally, I recommend a 70-200mm because of its versatility and ability to shoot events, weddings, portraits, or street photography without being intrusive to others, while adding on the focal range for landscape.

Some people choose something that’s a little longer, like a 100-400mm, but that can add weight and get even more expensive. So here are top choices for 70-200mm telephoto lenses, with a lower F/2.8 aperture, quick performance, and silent functionality. Any of these options should yield fantastic results and provide a reliable telephoto lens for travel:

Now, a downside to telephoto lenses is their weight. They are the heaviest lenses on the market due to the size of the glass and metal needed for the extra focal length. However, if you aren’t shooting events or using your telephoto lens in darker, dimly lit location, you can aim for a lens with a higher aperture — say a F/4 — and cut down weight and cost significantly. Here are lighter models that can really help while traveling and be a better alternative if weight and cost is important to you:

These three lens types should be the three amigos in your travel kit. With an ultra wide zoom lens, “Do-It-All,” 24-70mm, and telephoto lens by your side, there is nothing you can’t photograph well, and you won’t have extra lenses that weigh you down and fill up your camera bag while on the road. If you want to shoot simply and travel smartly, these are the best lenses to own and invest in.

Nathan Lee Allen

Nathan Lee Allen is a storyteller and photographer from Kentucky. Check out his work on his website peaktopier.com, on Facebook.com/peaktopierglobalstudio, and Instagram @nathanleeallen. 

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