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The Best Lens for Travel Photography

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Like many of you, travel and photography are my two of my main passions. Ever since I went to Germany in my teens I’ve been bitten with the bug to get out and see as many different places as I can and photograph them.

Whether traveling for business or for pleasure, part of the fun for me has been the prep work involved. The planning of the itinerary, putting together a shot list, packing… and of course deciding on what new gear I’m going to take with me that will make life easier – and hopefully better.

I have two upcoming trips that I’m very excited about. I’m going to Photoshop World in Las Vegas in August and then I’m in Letchworth State Park in New York in September with my gal Sally.

Letchworth has recently been voted “Best in the Nation 2015” for state parks and is a “Ten Best” readers’ choice pick by USA Today. Letchworth is know as the “grand canyon of the east” and for good reason.

In preparation for my trip I asked Brad (Scott’s assistant) what Scott thought was best lens for travel photography. Scott has touted the “less gear is more” when traveling so I knew Brad would be able to fill me in on the details. I’m looking for a light lens that I can use in most situations, good and wide plus some nice range, some sort of stabilizer (I don’t always cary a tripod), and has a reasonable price.

I found out that Scott uses the Tamron 28-300MM F/3.5-6.3 (along with a few other nice Canon lenses). After a little research I found the latest version from Tamron, the 28-300MM F/3.5-6.3 Di VC PZD. Let’s break this down to see if it fits the bill. This is not a review, it’s my research into “what gear I want to get for my next trip”.

Size
This lens weighs in at 19 oz and is 3.8″ long. Very light, very compact.

28-300mm
On a full frame camera this is perfect! On my 5D MkII this will be plenty wide with an outrageous 300mm pull. On an APS-C camera this will be 45-480mm.

Speed
The max aperture on the 28-300 is 3.5 at 28mm and 6.3 at 300mm. Minimum aperture range is F22-40.

Decoding the Initials
Di: Digitally Integrated – designed expressly for digital cameras.
VC: Vibration Compensation – Tamron’s VC system uses a tri-axial configuration that employs three pairs of driving coils and low-friction ball bearings placed around the shake-compensating optical group to produce, in effect, a free-floating shake compensator. (This will be good for my “non-tripod” shooting style)
PZD: Piezo Drive – Piezoelectric drive replaces traveling wave energy with more efficient standing wave energy for higher AF performance with less weight and bulk.

Price
At $849 (B&H) this all-in-one lens falls about where you’d expect it to.

Hands On
Well I was able to actually get my hands on the lens for a bit to test drive it (yay!). The 300mm is amazing to have in such a small package. The wide 28mm is plenty for nearly all situations. Reading almost all of the reviews on this lens sealed the deal. This is what I’ll be traveling with this fall. If you get a chance, check out some great travel classes at KelbyOne.

What lens is YOUR go-to lens for travel? Leave me a comment below!

90 Comments

  • Tony Davis says:

    for us APS-C shooters, the Tamron 16-300 is a great lens to choose as well.

  • Don Butt says:

    Agree with the 28-300mm. It’s my all purpose lens on the Nikon D4 and it’s great. On some occasions though, the Tamron 150-600mm is just awesome. The 17-35mm rounds to the inventory nicely

  • Fuji says:

    23mm F2 on the X100s. Zoom with your feet.

  • Beau Sorensen says:

    I love the 28-300 range, but go with the Nikon f/3.5-5.6 instead of the Tamron. If you’re shooting Canon though, I don’t see any other option. Canon’s is just too heavy to be a great travel lens.

  • Kathy Rappaport says:

    I have had that lens since it came out and used in on the 5d, 5d2 and 5d3. It’s a great lens but I have found it is not quite as sharp as my Canon glass. The trade off to travel light is well worth the effort! I just add a monopod to my travel kit and find that is all I need for my adventures

  • Canyon MIke says:

    I can’t give up the sharpness of my Canon glass, so travel with my 24-105, 70-200, and a 2x tele, shooting a 5DII.

    • Kim says:

      I fully agree. I bought the Tamron on Scott’s recommendation and I’ve never been so disappointed. Now I truly appreciate the value of my canon lenses

      • Wick Smith says:

        The review I read at the-digital-picture dot com was so bad the reviewer sent the lens back for a replacement. A shame, because the weight and price are great.

    • chapmanwr says:

      24-105 is the best travel lens I’ve ever used.

  • Bonnie Handshuh Garely says:

    Going to Tanzania and only have a 70-300 Cannon and a 17-55 Cannon and others. What to do??
    Is renting a good option.? Nj/Ny area

    • kenyongerbrandt says:

      You should be happy with the coverage you have with both those lenses. Certainly you can rent (I use borrowlenses.com but there are others). I’ve used a 24-70 f2.8L as well as the good ol’ 70-200 f2.8L IS. The thing with travel photography is that things happen fast and you only get one “shot”. So changing lenses is a big disadvantage. I have found it better to pick just one lens and stick with it. Also keep in mind that the faster aperture lenses weigh considerably more and carrying two or more of those suckers will wear you out just on a good day at home let alone running around on a safari. Given all that…I think you’ll be happy with the 70-300 most of the time and then the 17-55 for those times you need a wide angle.

    • Renting is always a great option Bonnie!

    • Marty Cohen says:

      It would almost be better to rent or borrow a second body so you never have to change lenses on the camera. It is extremely dusty on safari in Kenya and Tanzania and I used an older DSLR body I had for the wide angle zoom and had my telephoto zoom lens on my newer, main body because I used it the vast majority of the time to photograph animals there.

  • whensly says:

    Looks like a paid endorement to me. i can’t fathom DSLR’s for travel unless it’s work-travel and then I’d use pro lenses. On the road I’d bring a Fuji X100S and a tiny Sony RX100 ii. Both small light can take amazing images. If you argue that that’s 2 cameras then bring just one. Still lighter and more fun than a 5D with a big mediocre zoom.

  • Luca Malossi says:

    I use a canon 18-200 and very happy with it!

  • kenyongerbrandt says:

    I use the Canon 24-105 f4L. The biggest downside to this lens is the f4 aperture. 2.8 would be awesomer…and heavier…and spensiver…

  • I’m APS-C shooter and I love the Nikon 18-200mm. It is quite lightweight and sharp, perfect for travel.

  • Mark Coons says:

    Great post Perry! My go to lens is usually the Canon 28-300, a razor sharp lens. If space is a problem then I go to the Canon 24-105.

  • Edward S. DeLorme says:

    I shoot the Canon 28-300…love that lens, weight and all!!!

  • Hushthywildjangle says:

    I travel for work 90% of the year, and can’t answer this. If I’m going somewhere with bugs and flowers – C100mm 2.8. If I’m going somewhere with amazing architecture and beautiful skies, my 24mm tilt shift and a trusty 50mm for all-purpose shots. It’s just too hard to choose though. I never know what I’ll see, or how long I’ll be gone. I take everything with me, almost always.

  • Patricia says:

    There is nothing like the Nikkor 28-300mm. I have used it for 20 years and I take 80% of my photographs with it. THE BEST. I also have a Nikkor 85mm and a wide angle 10-20. they all suite my purposes. Thanks for your article Perry

  • Stephen Dohring says:

    My Nikon 28-200 was stolen where is the Kelby code for a discount on this Tamron? I’m ready to buy!

    • So sorry to hear that Stephen. Log into your KelbyOne account and under DEALS click on B&H. Lots of discounts on Canon and Tamron lenses.
      Hope this helps!

  • Scott Wiggins says:

    If I go with my 5D III then it’s 24-105 and a 70-300 DO IS for the smaller package.

    I’m more likely these days to take my Fuji XT-1 and a 18-135 as a travel zoom, maybe a 23mm prime for something bright.

    • Dave P says:

      Yeah, the Fuji setup is the way to go for walkaround and travel

    • Gordon L. Scott says:

      I just recently acquired a Fuji X-M1 which has the same image sensor as the X-T1. The quality of the images is nothing short of amazing, better than my Sigma DP2 Merrill! The lack of an AA filter improves sharpness and also light sensitivity.

  • Robert Weston says:

    I went to Africa last fall with Nikon D4s & 200-400 and Nikon D800 with 28-300. Perfect combinations. Did not have to change lens at all.

  • Patricia Bruce says:

    Good article. My husband and I travel extensively and have both been using the Nikon 28-300 extensively. It is a tremendous walk about lens and very sharp. Recommend it highly.

  • stan0301 says:

    Just back from ten days in the Philadelphia area–used the Sigma 8-16 about 85% of the time–2,000 pix
    Stan

    • Bill Ball says:

      Stan, on my way to Philly for four days (then on to Israel) w/ Sigma 28-250. Any don’t-miss spots?

      • stan0301 says:

        You bet–Longwood Gardens is as good as they come–hope for a cloudy day–the Amish country is very interesting–Valley Forge less so–in the city Market Street Stretches from Penn’s Landing to the Art Museum with really neat stuff every block–try tea at Mary Casset’s
        Stan

  • Russell Hansen says:

    This Tamron 28-300 is the first piece of glass I have purchased that is not Canon L. Considering the size, weight, and range, I could not be happier with it as a travel lens. I also take along my Canon 50 1.2 for low light and creativity.

  • Gordon L. Scott says:

    Depending on the type of travel, I use different combinations. If I must travel very light and fast, the only choice is the Nikon P520 with a 42X zoom at the sacrifice of the larger sensors, yet still producing excellent images. For more leisurely travel, it is the Nikon D3200 or the Nikon D5000 with a Nikon 18-140mm VR lens. This lens doesn’t have the reach of the long zooms but is a much sharper lens with good edge to edge detail.

  • ricksanchez1 says:

    Curious but I thought most Canon cameras cannot auto-focus with a lens slower than 5.6? Will this auto-focus at 300mm?

    • miker33 says:

      I use the Tamron 16-300 on a 70D (APS-C). Same 6.3 at 300, autofocus works just fine.

      What you lose is some of the advanced AF features (like multiple cross-type), but AF does work.

  • Xrulan says:

    I would not touch the 28-300. I’ll keep my Nikon 14-24, 24-70 and 70-200 all f/2.8. In a pinch I would take just the 24-70, The 28-300 has issues with vignetting and chromatic aberration. It is sharpest at 28 mm f/3.5 and it declines the further you zoom. It has 7 blades, good cameras have 9 or more for great bokeh. I am never disappointed by the sharpness and bokeh and often get wow! I got that? OMG. Unless you worked with the best, you really don’t know what the best really is. Convenience is never a good substituent for excellent results through the range of the zoom..

  • Cliff Otto says:

    I like to do whale watch trips in the Gulf of Maine and I take a 70-200mm f/2.8. On most days I can shoot at 1/1600 to 1/2000 without driving the ISO up.

    • Dave P says:

      Good point. If you’re planning on doing wildlife photography, F5.6 is going to be a problem. To stop anything moving, you’ll need to crank the ISO (and noise) pretty high to get an action-stopping shutter speed.

  • Peter Marcus says:

    I would appreciate Scott’s thoughts/comments etc about this lens relative to it’s sharpness. Yes, it is lighter, yes it covers a wide range, yes it is cost effective, but how does it “stack up” sharpness to sharpness against the Canon 24-70 L and the 70-200 L?

    • Dave P says:

      It can’t. The Canons are 2,8 constant aperture. At it’s widest aperture (3,5) the Tamron is going to be at its softest. The Canons will already be stopped down 2/3 of a stop at 3,5. At the long end (5.6) the 2,8;s will be stopped down 2-1/3 stops, So when shooting wide open with the Tamron, the same aperture on the Canons will always be sharper. There’s a reason you can buy 2 of the Tamrons for the cost of 1 of the Canons. That much zoom range will always cost significant sharpness as well as distortion and aberration. If you HAVE to carry only 1 lens, and REALLY need that much range, go for it. But don’t expect nearly the image quality you’ll get with an “L” . If you can get by with less zoom, there are better choices. I’m assuming if you’re going to Letchworth, landscapes will be the main subject, I’ve never used or needed anywhere near 300mm.
      On the other hand, you have to really NEED razor sharpness to carry around 3+ pounds of lens all day.

      As Mr. K would say: “Just Sayin'”

      • Peter Marcus says:

        Hey Guy
        THANKS for the great commentary. My wife and I are planning a trip to London and Paris in early September and I keep flipping back and forth between taking my “heavy hardware” or traveling “light” I have been thinking about purchasing a Panasonic FZ1000. My interest is candid street photography and perhaps the Panasonic might be the best choice

        • Dave P says:

          Look at the Fuji X-T10, X-Pro1 or if money is no object the X-T1 mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras, Nice and light, highly rated, good selection of lenses.

    • Jan H says:

      It does not measure up to any Canon lens. I bought this one and sent it back. Too soft. I think Scott will be disappointed and will find a great percentage of his shots will not be as tack sharp that he is used to.

      Will be anxiously awaiting his review.

      • Peter Marcus says:

        Hey Jan

        Thanks for the comments. I agree; the lens simply cannot be as sharp. Off to London and parses in early September. I switch back and forth…take my “heavy hardware” or travel light. One thing for sure; if the images I come home with are “soft” I will be very unhappy. I’m not worried about the weight, more concerned about theft

        Pete

  • Stephane Gotty says:

    Tamron 18-280 with 7D Mk II. The auto-focus broke during my last trip. It may have been fixed under waranty, I had to work in manual focus during all my trip.

  • Doug Anderson says:

    This Tamron lens is the only one I took on a trip to Central America recently. I got some excellent shots of Mayan ruins, steaming and smoking volcanos, wildlife, flowers, and cute children. This is truly the only lens I’ll use from now on.

  • Clinton M. Webb III says:

    I use the Tamron 16-300mm f/3.5-6.3 Di II VC PZD MACRO Lens for Canon

  • Dave P says:

    If you can swing it, try to stay at or at least eat at the Glen Iris Inn at the southern edge of the park. I live about an hour’s drive from the park and go a couple times a year. You won’t be disappointed.
    If you have time, head an hour southwest and check out Allegheny State Park:
    http://parks.ny.gov/parks/158/details.aspx

  • TVDJR says:

    I use the Nikon 18-200 on my D200 and D7000. Notably they are not full frame cameras. I usually carry my 70-300 if I think I might need reach. I also like to carry one fast lens. I have a manual 50mm/F1.4 and a AFS 85mm/F1.8. If I am anticipating shooting people then the 85 is a great portrait lens. Have had Vivitar in the past (70’s) but never tried a Tamron. Have never had a problem with Nikkor lenses in terms of performance. The autofocus occasionally leaves something to be desired (think it is the camera rather than the lens.) Only carried the 18-200 and a small tripod on a trip to Italy. Worked out nicely. Only wished for a longer lens once.

  • andyg0043 says:

    Since I only have a Fuji X100T it will be 35mm equivalent 🙂

  • Malcolm Page says:

    Bokeh in the tiger shot looks pretty horrible to me.

  • Crystal Johnson says:

    I use my Nikon 28-300 most of the time for travel. I usually have a few other lenses I throw in depending on what we are doing. That one, a wide angle and a 50 f/1.8 are all I am taking next week to Washington DC.

  • twoherbs says:

    18-200 and a 70-300 couldn’t ask for more

  • Loyce says:

    I use the same lens with my Canon 6D for travel and for my everyday walk around lens. It satisfied pretty much all my needs. If I need to get extra close, I attach it to my Canon 40 to get that extra reach. I love this lens!

  • gary smith says:

    I as well pack the Nikkor 28-300mm. After attending Scott’s Shoot Like A Pro I made the purchase and it is awesome.

  • Steven Guest says:

    I travel with a DX camera a D7100 in traveling it all depends on where im going its between these lens 1 prime nikon 20mm f/1.8g.. tamron 10-24mm ..nikon 16-85mm nikon 18-140mm. .

  • Susan Byrne says:

    I bought this lens recently and took on my trip to Ireland. Have to say I’m very happy with it! Best part – no hauling heavy bags through airports. My prior trips I had 24-70L, 70 – 200 L, 50 and my 85 lenses and with nearly 20 hours of travel that’s a lot to hefting! Also it was nice not to have to constantly wonder what lens to take with me on day trips. One and done! As to soft images etc I did find that if I made sure I entered the lens profile in LR it did a pretty good job on edges etc. I’m just a novice photographer so I’m not intending my images to be of professional quality but nevertheless I was more than happy to see that my images were sharp and pleasing. I love my L lenses but everything has it’s place.

  • Ed Velez says:

    Perry I was on the wait list with B&H when I heard about this lens and actually got to see it at one of the local photo shows where I got to hold it and play with it. The lens was at my door the day it was released. Thats my go to lens for everyday outdoor shooting when I go out on photowalks with friends. I actually like the fact that at 28mm that little bit of distortion gives it an artistic look (IMO). But it doesnt look well with people thats for sure. For other times I have the Canon 24-70 II and will soon have a Canon 70-200 in my hands. So basically the Canons are to go to for the real portrait shots I want and the 28-300 Tamron will be my run around glass. For $850 I believe I did get my monies worth and more.

  • chris kendell says:

    The Tamron 16-300 F/3.5-6.3 Di II VC PZD Macro 16-300mm IS… is my goto travel lens. I use it on a lighter weight Nikon D5200 to save as much weight and space as possible over my other Nikon full body cameras with the fast glass I use on most of my work. I have yet to encounter a scene that I can’t adequately capture using this setup.

  • emaginnis says:

    I’ve just purchased a Sigma 18-200mm Contemporary lens for my D5100. This is a great lens for whatever I need to shoot.

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