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On a crop sensor camera, e.g. Canon EOS 7D, what would be the best kit to travel with around Europe for a few weeks? My shooting style will focus on landscape, architecture, and general travel shots (of note would be my lack of interest for portraits).

  • Limit to around 1-3 lenses, and I prefer light ones.
  • Crop sensor camera chosen to save on weight over a full frame option.
  • Question is open to all brands for general guidance, but I will be using a Canon body.
  • Cost is not a factor, I will rent the lenses I do not already own.
  • Quality is of paramount importance.
  • I will not have a tripod.

I understand some may consider this subjective, but I do believe that for a crop sensor body, with weight as a consideration, and a limit to the amount of lenses, a true best kit can be determined.

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Sounds like a knapsack problem! –  fmark May 12 '11 at 16:07
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@fmark - It absolutely is! You should see me shaving down my toothbrush to save on ounces! –  dpollitt May 12 '11 at 17:44
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A bit old now, but this Q was drug up from the archives by a recent answer...what did you end up taking, how did it work, what would you change? –  rfusca Jan 5 '12 at 7:50
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@rfusca - I ended up taking the Canon 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 and Canon 17-55mm f/2.8. I shot 60% with the 10-22, and 40% with the 17-55. 14% of the shots were at the maximum focal length of the 17-55mm. I was very happy with the results. I found only a few occasions where I wished for a long tele or a short wide prime. Overall, I probably wished for a tripod more often then additional lenses, but my travel decisions certainly would not have allowed a regular sized tripod. I also brought a Canon S95 as a pocket camera that I had great results with as well. Thank you all for the recommendations! –  dpollitt Jan 5 '12 at 18:28
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I don't know anything about lenses. And even if I did, I don't know the first thing about packing. Do you think I should buy a travel case and bring my tortoise, my ant farm, and my pet spitting cobra on vacation? LOL –  J. Walker Mar 21 '12 at 17:59

15 Answers 15

up vote 20 down vote accepted

I literally just got back (a few days ago) from spending a few weeks in Europe with my 7D, 10-22mm, 17-55mm, 50mm and 55-250mm. I too have little interest in portraits, and took a lot of landscapes, architecture and "detail" shots on my trip. And I left my tripod at home... so perhaps some of my experiences/thoughts will be useful...

I carried the 3 zooms around with me most of the time, occasionally taking the 50mm out, and if I wasn't really feeling up to carrying it all, I'd just take the 17-55. I remember at the time thinking the 10-22 and 55-250 were by far the most useful lenses, though oddly the proportion of all photos from each lens was:

  • EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM — 44%
  • EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 — 28%
  • EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM — 24%
  • EF 50mm f/1.8 II — 4%

I've yet to sort through my photos, so if I remember I'll come back and update the percentages based on the photos I actually liked (; I'm quite sure the best will be from the wide and telephoto.

I remember thinking often that I'd have probably been happier with the 10-22mm and a better telephoto (70-200 f/4L or 70-300L), and just a 30mm in the middle (for weight reasons). The other thing I wanted was a second body... As much as I like my 17-55 (especially if it's the only lens I'm carrying), I have a feeling that two bodies, one with a good wide angle, the other a good telephoto, and a 'normal' (30mm for crop) prime in the bag, just in case, is all one really needs... but it's hard to justify a second body just to be switching lenses less frequently! But for travel or events, when lots of things are new and unexpected, it seems to make sense.

I found the 10-22mm great for the big old churches, even though the 17-55 has a wider aperture, 17mm just didn't cut it in some of them. I think a similar lens that goes as wide as 11 or 12mm would also be fine (e.g. Sigma/Tamron/Tokina offerings), but the 17 or 18mm wide end of 'normal zooms' wouldn't cut it.

The tele was great for odd details, especially interesting people (I'm not one to approach people to take a photo), a bit of wildlife and the like. Mine's the kit one I got with my 450D a few years back which I'm saving up to replace with something with a wider aperture, but even so it was very useful and sufficient quality at f/8 to f/16.

The 17-55 was most useful when I didn't want to carry a lot, since its kind of wide and kind of long, so I'd probably still take it again, (even if I had a 30mm prime), unless I was expecting to have all my gear with me at all times, and wouldn't be comfortable leaving it behind somewhere on shorter day trips.

So if you want to stick to 3 lenses, I'd suggest an ultra-wide like the Canon 10-22mm, a good tele zoom like the 70-200 f/4L IS USM (or 70-300 if you like wildlife which I usually find I'm wanting more than 250 for) and a 30mm prime like the Sigma 30mm f/1.4 HSM.

Edit: I guess if you're aiming for highest quality, I should be suggesting the 35mm f/1.4L instead of the Sigma.

Edit 2: In hindsight, with a bigger gap than I had between the wide and zoom (i.e. 22 to 70mm instead of just 22 to 55mm, you may be wanting more than just a 30mm or 35mm prime in the middle there... especially if you don't already have a 30mm and use it regularly enough to be comfortable with it!)

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I find it very interesting that you used your 17-55 the most by far, yet you still wouldn't bring it along if you were to chose a 3 lens kit now. But it sounds like in a 4 kit lens you would then add it back. Also, you did have a 50mm prime(1.8,1.4,1.2?) that you didn't use at all, so I'm confused why you value the 30mm f/1.4 so much. Are you simply leaning that direction due to weight? I very much appreciate your comments and thoughts! –  dpollitt May 12 '11 at 15:58
    
Yeah it was mostly weight and size that made me want to swap it for a 30. I didn't use the 50mm f/1.8 so much because the 17-55 and 50-250 both had approximately that focal length, but a 30 would have meant a much smaller & lighter lens without too much of a gap between 10-22mm, 30mm and 55-250mm. –  drfrogsplat May 13 '11 at 1:08
    
Though, now that you mention it, if I actually had a 70-200 or 70-300 (rather than the 55-250) I'd probably want more than just the 30mm in the middle there, since 70 is getting quite a bit longer than 30... –  drfrogsplat May 13 '11 at 1:35
    
"Quality is of paramount importance" = Nothing non-L, except perhaps the 10-22, and that's a stretch. –  Fake Name Jan 5 '12 at 8:41

Quality and weight are often opposed when it comes to lenses, so since you emphasized quality, I'll ignore the weight issue.

Also note that focal-lengths are highly personal and depend on how you see the world. Where one photographer uses a wide-angle, another may use a telephoto.

For the subject matter you requested, at least a moderate wide-angle lens is preferable and I would even go for an ultra-wide too. A longer one will be useful to pick out details in building, isolating subjects, etc. Since you did not mention wildlife either (or street photography, which is most likely), I assume very long is not needed either.

The core of your kit should probably be something like an EF-S 17-55mm F/2.8.

Then I would add a Tokina 11-16mm F/2.8 or a 12-24mm F/4 is you prefer some overlap. You may enjoy instead a more expensive Canon TS-E 17mm F/4L which is fantastic for architecture, particularly to correct converging verticals.

You can either get both the ultra-wide and tilt-shift or get something for longer shots such as the Tokina 50-135mm F/2.8.

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Would have loved a tilt-shift lens on my recent trip, but I suspect I would have spent way too much time setting up the shots (as I'm a complete novice when it comes to TS). It may be more of a distraction than its worth, unless you're pretty comfortable with using one already... –  drfrogsplat May 13 '11 at 1:14

EF 24mm f/1.4L II USM and you're done. Traditional moderate wide angle, great for architecture and landscapes. Stellar IQ and wide aperture when you need it. By focusing on just one focal length for your trip, you eliminate the distraction of choosing your zoom point, and will quickly develop the ability to visualize as through that lens even without the camera to your eye. (If you've used a single focal length extensively you know what I mean.) And it's built to withstand travel. It's not particularly light — but then, with just one, that's hopefully less of a worry.

Disclaimer: I don't have this lens, but a close friend does, and I've been quite impressed.

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While I applaud your unique solution, I believe a single prime will ultimately be too limiting. I enjoy single day exercises such as this, but for a multi-week trip, there is no way I am ballsy enough to do that! Agreed that is if a single lens ultra minimalist kit was wanted, this would do it! –  dpollitt May 12 '11 at 17:56

I would suggest the Canon 10-22 for the wide end, the Canon 17-55 (or the much cheaper, but still very good Tamron 17-50 non vc) and a Canon 100 f2.8L IS Macro for the tele & macro capabilities. If there's some extra room, I would also suggest bringing a "normal on crop" prime, like the Canon 28 1.8 for some indoor/low light action or dof shots. Hope this helps!

I have the Canon 28 1.8, Canon 10-22, Tamron 17-50 and a Tamron 90 2.8 macro. But if I had the $, I would definitely get the 17-55(like L for EF-S), the Canon 24L and the Canon 180L/100L because of the superior IQ/build.

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I think you are right on, thanks for the answer! –  dpollitt Jan 5 '12 at 14:10
    
I'd almost go for the Tamron 17-50 because of the size/weight advantage over the Canon 17-55 2.8. For macro, I'd go 60mm though, so much smaller and lighter than the 100mm and just about as good optically. –  cadmium Mar 13 '12 at 21:23

Ever since purchasing the EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 lens I find it invaluable for landscape photography and tight indoor spaces photography. I'd not leave w/o it on a trip.

On the long side, I believe the EF 70-200mm f/4L IS is a good tradeoff between superb quality and weight (otherwise, the f/2.8 option is preferable in my opinion).

For the midrange, I don't know what light lens offers high quality.

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Perhaps a 30mm f/1.4 for the midrange. With the two zooms, a prime might be all you need in the middle. –  drfrogsplat May 12 '11 at 5:08
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Or for a standard zoom, the Tamron 17-50 (non VC version) is small, light and very sharp. –  fmark May 12 '11 at 6:41
    
@fmark - I cannot believe the reviews I am reading on that Tamron 17-50 as compared to the Canon 17-55. What a great value that I didn't even realize existed! My Canon only eyes better expand! –  dpollitt May 12 '11 at 16:02
    
@dpollitt I haven't used a copy, but it is reputedly excellent. If you must have IS, the Sigma 17-50 f/2.8 OS also has a good name but is heavier and more expensive (but still significantly cheaper than the canon 17-50 f/2.8 IS). –  fmark May 12 '11 at 16:06
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@fmark - from what I read here and there, my impression is that the problem with the 3rd parties is not necessarily the image quality, but rather the manufacturing and QA. That means that although the optical design is great, the chances of actually getting a great copy are lower than the brand names. That said, I don't have any personal experience with these. –  ysap May 12 '11 at 18:10

I'm surprised no one has mentioned the new Canon 15-85mm lens. I recently purchased it and found it to be my ideal travel lens. The lens is tack sharp (comparable to the 17-55), well-built (supposedly better than the 17-55 in this regard), has an immensely useful range, and is about 20% lighter than the 17-55. It is also about 25% cheaper than the 17-55mm. As one of Canon's newest lenses, the IS and USM focusing are top-notch.

The only con (other than arguably price), and this could be a big one depending on what you shoot, is the variable max aperture. This is not a good night-time lens. It's IS makes it fine for shooting churches and other indoor architecture, but don't expect to get good shots of people at a bar. It also won't get you amazing depth of field (although the bokeh is still nice). Frankly, I consider these minor inconveniences: for night-time or cliched flower shots I just swap out my 35mm prime lens.

I believe the 15-85mm was designed in every way as a general walk-around lens, which makes it ideal for the types of vacation shots I take.

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I'm usually one to take more gear than I need (see my other answer), but if you really want to cut down, and aren't too hung up on a long telephoto reach, then you could get by with two lenses:

  • the EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM, and
  • the EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM.

You're still getting a reasonable range of focal lengths from 10mm to 105mm, with a negligible gap from 22 to 24mm, and the 24-105 has a bit of wiggle room around the 'normal' 30mm length too. And both use the same size filters (77mm) which may be convenient.

Or, if you're not one for church architecture or ultra-wide landscapes, then perhaps a slightly longer lens for each:

  • the EF 16-35mm f/2.8L IS USM II or EF 17-40mm f/4L USM, and
  • the Tokina 50-135mm f/2.8 or an EF 70-200 f/4L IS USM.

Though the Tokina tele option there is a bit short at the long end (135mm), and the Canon one a bit long at the short end (70mm) but I'm not sure what else to suggest (I really wish Canon would put out a high quality EF-S 55-250 f/4 IS USM to go with the 17-55).

Or of course you could ditch the middle range entirely, and go with my other answer's suggestion minus the 30mm:

  • the EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM, and
  • the EF 70-200 f/4L IS USM or the EF 70-300 f/4-5.6L IS USM.

You lose 22 to 70mm, but that's what your feet are for, right? (again, wishing Canon would make a high quality EF-S 55-250 because 70 is still pretty long).

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You sir, deserve some type of badge for answering the question multiple times completely differently :-) Well done. –  dpollitt May 12 '11 at 16:09

I won't try to pick a specific lens, but do have one thing to say: I used to always leave the big, long, heavy lenses at home when I traveled -- and every time, I ended up wishing I hadn't.

Short lenses make it a lot easier to get an unobstructed view of buildings -- but (at least to me) it seems like a shot with a much longer lens often does a much better job of conveying the size and majesty -- the feel of the building. There's also the simple fact that there are a zillion shots from up close with a wide angle lens of every major landmark you'll see (and most not-so-major ones as well). It's often harder to come up with a good picture from farther away, but (IME) well worth worth it when you do.

That's not to say you should only use a longer lens or anything like that, just that I've found that the extra size and weight of a lens that's at least a tad on the longer side (say, up to 135mm or so) is a worthwhile investment -- even though when you're in the airport, the investment feels huge !

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I want to point out, I won't only feel the size and weight at the airport. I literally will have the gear along with my clothing, etc on my back throughout most days of a 3 week long trip. Unfortunately my style of travel requires this. –  dpollitt May 12 '11 at 2:37
    
@dpollitt: Yes, if you're carrying everything on your back, you get pretty much the same effect all the time -- and certainly makes your wish for light weight understandable. –  Jerry Coffin May 12 '11 at 2:49

I am agreeing with these people here that a 10-22 and a 17-55 are really great options, but you might end up with lots of unused range in the 17-55 lens when your main focus is architecture and landscape.

I am traveling a lot and opted for a combination of a ef-s 10-22 and the 70-200 f/4l IS which gives me the right focal lengths for these purposes, being totally happy with that gap in between that I could easily fill with a 50mm or 35mm prime. you don't need zoom capabilities in that area anyway because things you shoot with such lenghts are in walking distance anyway, whereas you want the telezoom for details of architecture and such. So instead of getting the whole focal range from 10-200 i rather accepted a gap in between and got a second body. No lens switching and maximum flexibility when you are using lowe pro top loaders for these cameras. And I am traveling by backpack all the time btw...

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Former packrat here. I only packed my 17-40mm f/4 and a 7D for my last European trip, and didn't really have many regrets. Shot mostly landscapes/architecture, and some close quarters portraiture.

I did wish "Oh I wish I could take a picture of that faraway person" once in a while, but really, you learn to work with the gear you got.

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For travel, it really depends on your intended subject matter as well as your intentions. If you are going with the notion to take some great photos of great places, then you will likely want to choose several lenses to reduce trade-offs. On the other hand, you may be after some shots that are better than a p&s can deliver.

My recommendation, based on lots of travel, is that I find wide angles to be much more useful for taking shots in narrow European or Chinese streets, and for taking shots of beautiful vistas and subsets. Telephoto is generally useless, unless you intend to take lots of sport or nature shots.

If you want to get better than p&s, go for a "all in one" lens, like the 18-200 from Canon, Sigma and Tamron. In tests that I have seen, Canon edges the 3rd parties out slightly, but the Sigma 18-250 model does very very well.

For a balance, somewhere in the middle (better than p&s but not 3 lenses) , if you do not really need the long end of the lens, consider the very well respected Tamron and Sigma 17-50 f2.8 lens, which are fantastic 'walk around lenses". Of course, in this category, the top of the range is the Canon 17-55 f2.8, but its in another league in terms of cost as well as quality. If money is indeed no object, this is your lens.

Finally, if you want the best, and don't really mind carrying 3 lenses, I recommend the Canon 10-22, or the Sigma 10-20 EX (my personal favorite), the Canon 17-50 f2.8, or the Canon L 24-105. I would add the Canon 50 f1.4 or the Sigma 30 f1.4 as well,for dark churches and night shots.

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I will go the I am going to go the route of describing a full kit.

Links are to the digital picture, where he gives some nice analysis of these lenses.

I would say:

  1. The Sigma 30 1.4 HSM for portraits, close up, wide angle, and super low light. As a friend recently remarked "this lens can shoot in candle light!" This is true. The low light capabilities are pretty astounding, and the sharpness is wonderful. Add to that the super compact size, and the impressively fast focus, and you have yourself a winner.

  2. The Canon 24-70 2.8L USM for portraits, museums, mid-range, and general shooting. This lens has a reputation for being in every pro's bag. IDK if I can say that is true, but of the six Canon shooters I shoot with, five have this lens, and all five love it. It is also not too big, and fast focusing.

  3. The Canon 70-200 2.8L IS II for some zoom, some perspective shots, killer bokeh portraits, and a million other uses. Another popular lens, and for good reason. In addition to the good range, you have a nice f-stop for a telephoto, it is known for its sharpness, and it focuses like a demon(however demons focus). It is big, it is a little on the heavy side.

As far as carrying. I recommend leaving the 24-70 on the body, with the others in the bag. This will keep you safe in most situations, and will be more comfortable than constantly holding the 70-200.

Part of my reasoning for recommending these three, is that it covers a huge focal range for everyday use, and you should be prepared for most occurances with these. I personally carry a slightly less expensive version of this kit, because I am a graduate student. :P

EDIT: originally I missed the lack of interest in portraits, however I wouldn't really change my opinion much. Maybe a low f-stop 50mm rather than the 30 to lower distortion on wide architecture shots. Sorry about the oversight!

enjoy!

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On a crop sensor none of those are going to be wide enough for the poster's goal of landscapes and architecture. –  Rob McCready May 12 '11 at 0:48
    
This was a mistake in my original formulation. My knowledge of architecture shooting is nil. Sorry again for the error. Also I think @jefferycoffin makes a good point above. –  BBischof May 12 '11 at 0:54
    
While I agree with the Canon 70-200 2.8L IS II being fantastic quality, I don't agree it is worth the tradeoff in weight as compared to the Canon 70-200 4L IS. The 2.8 IS is nearly twice the weight, and it is a BEAST! –  dpollitt May 13 '11 at 20:43

For travel, things are often on the move and unplanned, so I carry the following (in order of importance and not specific to Canon):

  1. A nice super-zoom (something like a 20-250mm or better) with built in stabilization. You'll pay a bit in high price and lower quality, but you make up for it in the versatility. If I can only have once lens, this is it.

  2. A macro lens, high quality since this is where people will focus on the detail.

  3. A wide angle or even a fish eye. Something that lets you take in everything without stitching stuff back together in photoshop.

I avoid the prime/fixed length lenses as much as possible for travel, they are much better suited for the studio where you have control and can plan the setup. And while a tripod is bad for travel (too bulky), another small form factor like a clamp or gorillapod is worth considering. Even a small bean bag that you can put under the lens with the camera on a table would help.

Also, make sure you have a cell phone camera or something that you'll carry everywhere, since you never know when an opportunity will strike and you will have left the camera in the hotel room, packed in the overhead compartment, etc.

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Quality is of paramount importance to me, so I simply can't settle for a superzoom like the 50-250mm. –  dpollitt May 13 '11 at 21:05

For me, a three-lens kit for travel should probably have the following three things in it:

  1. Ultrawide zoom—for those small windy European streets, or interiors, or really big landscapes, an ultrawide's scene coverage can come in really handy. For a Canon crop, I'd say the Tokina 11-16/2.8 or the EF-S 10-22 are probably your best options.

  2. Walkaround zoom—for everything else that doesn't require an extreme coverage and those things that might require slight telephoto. For Canon crop, that's probably the EF-S 15-85 IS USM or the EF-S 18-135. Others will say a 24-something L (better for a crop), or the EF-S 17-55/2.8, or a superzoom, and maybe they're not wrong. But Ls are big and heavy and expensive, and travel gear is at higher risk to get lost/stolen/broken, so some image quality compromise and cost should be figured in. An 18-200 is more expensive and has more optical compromises than the 18-135. The 15-85 is essentially the crop analog to the EF 24-105 f/4L IS USM: a good flexible zoom range, very good image quality, and a wide end that's actually wide.

  3. Fast Prime—for those people shoots or indoors museum shots, and if you didn't get an f/2.8 zoom for choices 1 or 2. Again, I'd go for a lower-cost smaller lens for the travel factor, so in this case the EF-S 24mm f/2.8 STM or EF 40mm f/2.8 STM pancake lenses, or the EF 50mm f/1.8 II. Nearly any other recommendation is going to be bigger, heavier, and more expensive.

That is, assuming you wouldn't prefer renting a mirrorless setup instead. ;)

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Sony A35, Tokina 20 - 35 (f2.8), Minolta 50 (f1.7) and Minolta 70 - 210 (f4) or D90, 11 - 16 (16 - 24 f2.8), Sigma 24 (36 f1.8), Nikon 18 - 105 DX VR Problem is the Sony lacks wide The Nikon has overlap

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We're looking for long answers that provide some explanation and context. Don't just give a one-line answer; explain why your answer is right, ideally with citations. Answers that don't include explanations may be removed.

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Can you give a little bit of "why" rather than just a list? –  mattdm Mar 21 '12 at 10:29
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I would down-vote this answer if I had 125 reputation. THAT IS NOT A THREAT. Please don't be offended. I'm only saying that the answer could use a little work. –  J. Walker Mar 21 '12 at 17:56

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