Double exposure of hall and clock of Grand Central Station

Getting the Most Out of a Travel Lens

Night photo of the High Line in Manhattan
A city that never stops moving and growing: Moonrise over New York’s High Line Linear Park and future apartment buildings.

We all photographers have been through this before: Going on a trip and deciding what equipment to carry. We all want quality and flexibility but to carry the least weight. All the gear accumulated through the years makes our decision even harder.

When planning a two week’s vacation in New York City I finally decided taking along only my Nikon D810 and 24-120 f/4 VR lens. Forget about an external flash and do not even think of the tripod. Pack an extra battery, memory cards and cleaning kit and close my bag… My only other gear was my iPhone, which I used it for shooting everything I did not (or could not) shoot with the big camera… and for all the good things smartphones do for us.

Two things came out from this experience: a chance to see if the focal length range of this lens was good enough for my travel photography and my beginning trial of Instagram for showcasing selected iPhone pictures (I really liked it and will post something about it soon!).

Picture of backlit cyclists in Brooklyn Park
Quick grab shots were the norm in a city with people moving fast all the time.

I am not going to talk here about the low-light capabilities of the camera or the sharpness of the lens. They are both the best available in the Nikon lineup and if they are not good enough, too bad: I had already put my money on them. I am more interested in seeing if I got my shots and if I will consider this my “travel light” equipment in the future.

I must say that I was very satisfied with the 24-120 mm focal length range. In general, I wished I had a wider lens more times than I wanted a longer lens. The 24 mm setting was, however, wide enough most of the time. After a hard edit of my photos I was left with 632 keepers. Don’t call me stingy: These are a whooping 27 Gigabytes of data: D810 NEF files are huge…

The first thing I wanted to see is if I had preferences over some focal length range. I extracted from the photo IPTC data the focal length for all the pictures using Expression Media Pro, my preferred image filing software, and the results were very instructive: I took 38 % of the images at 24 mm, and the remaining 62 % showed no preferences over the 25-120 mm focal length range. Good. No waste here.

Why did I take 38% of my photos at 24 mm? It is of course what you expect if you like scenic photos but maybe I wanted to shoot wider and couldn’t? I took a good look at the corresponding 238 photos and I could find only 10 that would look better with an ultra wide-angle lens. The remaining photos were either interior shots at museums, or night photos where I was trying hard to reduce motion blur by selecting the widest possible setting. In all images the composition looks just fine.

Night Photo of a building and passersby.
Night shots with movement-freezing shutter speeds are a privilege of shooting with modern d-SLR’s.

When I do landscape or architectural interior photos I always try to carry my 18-35 mm zoom lens (or my 12-24 mm zoom lens if I am shooting in a cropped sensor camera). The 24-120 however proved being a good lens for a travel lens and I would not hesitate to take it along in any situation where going light is a priority.

The Nikon FX lens lineup contains general purpose lenses that are either mid-range zoom lenses (the 24-85 VR and the non-VR 24-70) or the VR 24-120 and 28-300 lenses which I mention here. It’s a good thing three of them start at 24 mm. I must applaud Nikon’s decision of offering the 24-120 zoom lens as a “kit” lens with the new FX D750 camera.

There was of course no wildlife in Manhattan and I didn’t need to carry a long lens. For tame or big animals a 28-300 lens could save the day but for smaller animals or rock concerts it would not be long enough. In this case a wide or normal zoom lens and a telephoto zoom lens would be my choice.

Double exposure of hall and clock of Grand Central Station
It seemed like every other person was a photographer taking the same picture of Grand Central Station. I tried making double exposures to come out with something different.

It is well said that the best camera is the one you have with you, and this applies to lenses as well. Could I have managed by carrying a lens with a 28 mm widest setting? Sure! This is what I had years ago and, when I wanted a wider coverage, I just took I few steps back… but I remember many times when I just did not have enough room behind me.

What is your “must take along” lens for your photography?

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14 thoughts on “Getting the Most Out of a Travel Lens”

    1. Thanks Jennifer, and I know what you mean. I only carry several lenses with me when my only purpose is taking pictures, and I am usually by myself. Travel mates, crowds and transportation don’t give us much time or space for changing lenses 😉

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  1. Great post, Eduardo! I’m looking at my first trip in quite a while and would love to get something in this range so as to not feel I must bring more than two lenses! Great photos as well.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for writing this! I’ve been thinking about getting into photography as a hobby, and was wondering how I could maximize versatility while minimizing equipment (and the costs that go along with it). This post is giving me some ideas.

    Liked by 1 person

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