I discussed the two major factors that influence which lenses you put in your photo travel “kit,” travel weight and volume, and the varying conditions, limitations and circumstances of your destination's photographic opportunities.
This week, in Part II, I will discuss specific lens choices for three particular travel locations and types of travel you might choose to take which you can use as exemplars.
In Part I, I concluded that when we total the factors influencing our lens' decisions, it primarily points to choosing fast (at least f/4, but f/2.8 is better) zoom lenses. There are also times when prime lenses are great choices to augment travel zoom lenses for specific purposes.
- Urban Travel: Photography in cities include unique challenges. Narrow city streets, can make it hard to fully frame your subjects because you can't get very far from them, without wide angle lenses. Building shapes, sizes, and especially heights sometimes enlarge the dynamic range of urban scenes which exceed the ability of the camera. Even while the need for wide angle lenses is critical for urban photography, the opportunities for portraits, in parks, along rivers, and other areas require longer focal lengths.
For a full size sensor DSLR, a standard urban photography kit should include lenses like the 16-35mm f/4G VR, 24-70mm f/2.8, and 70-200mm f/2.8 VR lens so you have fast zoom lens coverage from at least 16–200mm with much of the coverage having VR (vibration reduction) capability. For a DX or APS-C sensor cameras, a standard kit should substitute a lens like a 10-24mm f/3.5-4.5 for the 16–35mm lens, and utilize the others in the full size sensor kit. These lenses give you the versatility you need for the myriad of urban opportunities you'll encounter, yet keep the number of lenses needed to a minimum. In particular, the widest angle zoom is great for museum photography, and historic buildings where you need speed to combat “no flash permitted” restrictions, and a large angle of view to encompass the scene or subject.
- Island Travel: The variety of photographic opportunities on islands can be staggering, from gorgeous seascapes, to magnificent landscapes, to fascinating small towns, and special sights.
For a full size or DX/APS-C sensor DSLR, the standard island photography kit is the same as the urban kit listed above. These lenses give you the versatility you need for the myriad of island settings you'll encounter, and keep the number of lenses to a minimum.
In addition to the basics, on islands there may be opportunities where a longer telephoto zoom or teleconverter would be a welcome addition to your kit. For example, you may come upon wildlife opportunities, such as I've found on islands like Aruba, Maui, or Puerto Rico. A 1.7x or 2x teleconverter on the 70–200mm f/2.8 VR lens could take it to as long as 400mm. Another option would be a compact zoom telephoto lens, such as the Nikkor AF 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6D ED VR or the Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM. These two lenses are not overly fast like some of their larger and heavier counterparts, but they will be fine in most lighting conditions and since they are compact, they're great for travel.
Safari Travel: More and more I notice that travelers and photographers are taking notice of the dwindling population of wild animals, and the number of wildlife species nearing extinction, the world over, especially in Africa. They are embarking on photo safaris to see these animals before they and their habitats disappear.
For example, the number of wild African lions has fallen sharply in the last 100 years, from 200K just a century ago, to as few as 25K to 40K remaining in the wild today. African Lions have vanished from about 80% of the areas where they once roamed. Only seven countries, Botswana, Ethiopia, Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe are believed to be home to more than 1,000 lions each, according to the Panthera conservation group.
On safari, the varied landscapes probably exceed that of almost any other journey, from bustling cities, to small villages, to the vast plains of savannas, to mountains, lakes, near-by and distant wildlife, from landscapes, to close-ups and subjects far in the distance.
For either a full size sensor or DX/APS-C sensor DSLR, my choices for a safari photography kit have some of the choices of the urban kit, but by necessity includes at least one long focal length zoom or prime lens. It includes a 24-70mm f/2.8, for urban, village, landscape scenes, and a 70-200mm f/2.8 VR lens for the many portraits and short distance scenes. These lenses can give you the versatility you need for the many urban, village and landscape scenes you'll probably encounter.
For the more distant wildlife you need a much longer lens. Two general possibilities fit the bill for me. The Nikkor 200-400mm f/4G ED VR II which has no Canon equivalent would be a fine choice for many, though I believe its limit of 400mm is a bit short for safaris. It's one of the reasons I have and regularly use a 500mm f/4G ED VR lens for wildlife. For flexibility I use both a 1.7x (850mm) and a 2x (1,000mm) teleconverter with this lens for extra reach, as needed. While either of these lenses are heavy (as much as 8.5 lbs) they do the job that other lenses can't, yet are fast enough to handle low light conditions. Longer lenses like the Nikon or Canon 600mm (Canon has an 800mm, but it's slower at f/5.6.) could be useful, but they are heavier and larger than their 500mm lenses and therefore less useful for most people when traveling.