My wife and I are planning a trip to France and Italy next year for a couple of weeks. We will be hitting many of the popular destinations such as Paris, Rome, Venice, Florence, etc.

I currently own a Canon 40D and would like to only take a single zoom lens with me on the trip. I would like a recommendation for a lens that would be wide enough for some of the taller structures like the Eiffel Tower but also has a decent zoom to get a close up of the Mona Lisa :-P

EDIT regarding budget: If it's within my budget, I will buy the lens, otherwise I will rent.

  • 4
    possible duplicate of What lenses would best comprise a travel photography kit?
    – dpollitt
    Oct 31 '11 at 1:51
  • 1
    Welcome to photo stack exchange! This is an exact duplicate of a question I asked a few months ago, give that question a look, it should help out!
    – dpollitt
    Oct 31 '11 at 1:52
  • Yeah wow. Often these kind of recommendation questions are subjective enough that two different people can ask very similar questions yet expect (and accept) completely different answers. Here, though, they really do seem uncannily identical.
    – mattdm
    Oct 31 '11 at 2:29
  • All really great answers, I'm going to ponder a bit more and do some research before I accept an answer. Thanks all for your help!
    – Kyle Hayes
    Nov 3 '11 at 3:23
  • I wanted to circle back to this thread since I got back from my Europe trip a couple of weeks ago. I appreciate all the feedback but I ended up buying a new 5dII before I left which I was happy since it is great for wide angle photography. I took with me the 24-105 4.0 L that it came with as well as the Canon 16-35 2.8. The latter was perfect for all my indoor low light cathedral shots (the body helped too of course). It was a great trip and it's taking a long time to go through all the photos.
    – Kyle Hayes
    Oct 11 '12 at 19:03

On an APS-C sensor body like 40D, you don't have much options for an all purpose zoom. You also have not mentioned your budget. Here are a list of choices you have:

  1. Canon 15-85mm f/3.5-5.6: This is a very good lens with decent wide angle upto portrait length. However, its a little costly considering it's an EF-S variable aperture lens. But image quality is on par with the white glasses.

  2. Canon 17-85mm f/4.0-5.6: This is the predecessor of the above. Covers a very useful range, 17mm is wide enough for most of the cases. Image quality is okay, sharpness is also okay when aperture is stepped down by a little.

  3. Tamron 17-50 f/2.8: This one of the popular 3rd party lenses. Main attraction is the constant f/2.8 aperture. The non-VC version is slightly sharper than the VC version, but Tamrons VC has gathered a lot of fans around the globe.

  4. Canon 24-70 f/2.8 L: One of the most popular zoom lenses for Canon providing top notch image quality. However, it's expensive and 24mm might not be wide enough on crop bodies.

  5. Canon 24-105mm f/4.0 L: Another very popular zoom lens with amazing image quality. It gives you a little more range than the 24-70mm but has a smaller constant aperture. It also costs less, but is still expensive.

In any case, life is always easier if you're using just one lens, but it also means there might be or will be some limitations on what you can shoot. It will work as long as you're ready to accept it.


I will be controversial here and offer you the EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5. It's a magical lens. Add a circular polariser to it and you will come back from Europe with some amazing pictures. The EF-S 10-22mm is an ultra-wide angle lens which amazingly focuses very close to about 20-30cm!!! You can take amazing landscape pictures, you will fit the whole of the Colosseum and Eiffel tower in one frame even if you are standing meters from them. You will also be able to take pictures of pigeons on the ground or close to you with amazing detail.

The polariser will create dramatic skies and the wide angle will ensure beautiful sky gradients. I've taken the 10-22mm on a holiday with me along with other lenses and found myself having it on my camera for most of the time.

The EF24-70mm f/2.8L and EF24-105mm f/4L lenses mentioned above are good quality glass but quite expensive and heavy for travel. The EF-S 10-22mm is a weird lens to put in a bag by itself, but it travels well and will give you memorable pics. And don't forget the polariser filter!

  • 3
    Ultra-wide lens might be a little hard to compose with, but if it works with photographer's vision, why not.
    – Imre
    Nov 1 '11 at 0:11

There are plenty of choices, but I would suggest two:

1) Canon EF-S 15-85mm Excellent image quality, recommended by many lens reviewing websites as on par with the professional L series lenses. If you want wide angle and good image quality, this is the best choice for an APS-C sensor.

2) Canon EF-S 18-135mm Average image quality, slightly better than the 18-55 kit lens. Considerably cheaper and offers a very versatile zoom range.

I have the 18-135mm (with a 60D), and I went to Vietnam last Christmas for a 6 days trip. I cannot be happier with how versatile the zoom range is. The image quality is a notable improvement from the 18-55 kit lens, but far from superb.

Paying DOUBLE the price for the 15-85mm will give you superb image quality, wide angle, and USM focusing. These are very attractive features, and if you can afford it I would recommend the 15-85mm.

All L lenses are considerably more expensive, and the 17-55mm is simply too short. Even tho the 17-55mm and the 15-85mm are the two best lenses for APS-C body in terms of image quality, 55mm is just not enough for travelling.


For sheer reach, you could try the Canon EF-S 18-200mm F/3.5-5.6. The image quality won't be great compared to an expensive lens, and the aperture is a little restricting in low light, but you get a very usable range from wide to telephoto all in one.


I do agree with jwenting on the view that you should bring two lens instead of one. On the notion that different lens serve different purposes and the also the extreme odds of one the lens being damaged during the trip.

If you are comfortable with Third Party lens, ie Sigma, i can offer you these two suggestions, which I am using for my overseas trip as well.

1) Day time walk about Sigma 17-70mm f/2.8-4 DC Macro OS HSM.

Pro: Wide Angle at the 17mm ath F2.8, for tourist in Europe, my guess is that you will be taking lots of scenery and building pictures, the wide angle function will be useful to you. At 70mm, you will be at F4, which is still not too bad. Light weight and relatively bang for buck.

Con: limited range at 70mm. Unless you are very sure that you will be taking wild life animals which you will need the extra zoom, i will advice you getting a shorter BUT faster lens instead.

2) Night time lens Sigma 30mm F1.4mm F1.4

Pro: Fast lens at F1.4, excellent lens for low light / night time, at 30mm, it may not be ultra wide as the 17mm, but you still can get a decent amount of detail. Small & light weight

A good secondary standby-lens to the normal walk about lens.

  • Any particular reason you are going with third party lenses? Is it purely price?
    – Kyle Hayes
    Oct 31 '11 at 13:53
  • 2
    To be completely honest, price has large part to deal with my selection of lens. You can read up more on the Pros n Cons of In-house lens vs Third Party on this website. As I am not a "professional photographer", i dont not need to use the Best of Best lens, and if the the picture quality do not suffer too much, i wont not mind saving up 30-50% getting a third party lens. With the money saved, I can invest in other type of lens, ie Prime, Telephoto Zoom and try out different aspects of photography, it become a win-win situation for me.
    – Rick Ong
    Nov 1 '11 at 1:53

For my backpacking trip across Europe, I carried couple of lenses, however the lens that I used the most was Tokina 11-16 f/2.8 that I rented out. It takes a while to get used to it and I'd rent it again if I go back. I did take a longer lens to capture few shots, but nothing captures the streets of Montmartre/Latin quarter.. or the old city in prague like a wide angle lens.

Here are few pics from the set: http://www.flickr.com/photos/sridhar/collections/72157622616371486/

  • Why did it take awhile to get used to?
    – Kyle Hayes
    Nov 3 '11 at 3:22
  • This was the first time I was using anything less than 17mm, so perspective distortion took a while to get used to (by which I mean few initial shots).. I loved the perspective distortion on the buildings and cityscapes but had to be careful when shooting people.. Nov 3 '11 at 6:46
  • You got some excellent shots! Thanks for sharing these as it gives me a good idea of the lens' strengths.
    – Kyle Hayes
    Nov 27 '11 at 23:42

Never travel with only a single lens. One time I did that, it of course failed (aperture blade failure, snapped spring it turned out later). Had not a fellow traveller in the group just happened to have a spare lens and the exact same camera I had (lucky, Minolta wasn't all that common even way back then) I'd have had no photos of 3 weeks of a 4 week vacation in the USSR.

Of course it's easier in France and Italy now to get Canon compatible optics than it was to get Minolta gear in Baku in the 1980s, but why take the risk?

And in addition to the risk, you'll typically have better optics if you carry 2 lenses rather than a single lens with the same total focal length range (and it sounds like this will not be something you're going to do frequently, so you'll want the best memories you can get, including the best photos).

  • 1
    These days, a cell phone can be a backup camera, if anything fails.
    – Imre
    Oct 31 '11 at 10:44
  • @jwenting excellent point about not limiting myself to a single lense—I agree completely and will definitely take more than one now.
    – Kyle Hayes
    Oct 31 '11 at 13:52
  • 3
    Doesn't this same advice apply to carrying only one (more likely to fail than a lens!) camera body? Where does it stop?
    – mattdm
    Nov 1 '11 at 1:09

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