What lens should I pack?

Nikon D7000 w/Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 - Aperture : f/3.5 - Shutter : 1/50 - ISO : 100

Coming off a red eye from Paris I find myself slugging my carry-on around the airport as I idly wait for my connecting flight to Tokyo. In my weary state my bag feels even heavier than usual, packed mostly with my camera; a multitude of bodies and lenses. I'm starting to wonder if I really needed all this gear for my holiday. 

What lens should I bring on my holiday?

This is a question I get asked often, and it is a very difficult one to answer... even for myself. The first thing you want to ask yourself is what you want to get out of your holiday? How much of your travel do you wish to dedicate to your photography? For me, I am traveling through East Asia before going to a friend's wedding in Melbourne. For a change I won't be shooting the wedding, I will be best man, but I will be shooting activities before and after the wedding, so I need to factor this into my plans.

Nikon D7000 w/Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 - Aperture : f/2.8 - Shutter : 1/60 - ISO : 800

What is your photography style?

A large part of your decision making process will be what kind of photographer are you? If you are a landscape photographer you will probably want to pack a good prime lens or two. If you lean more towards street photography, a wide to mid zoom will probably suit better. There might not be any need for that telephoto if you're not planning on shooting wildlife, but you might want it if you are considering portraiture.

Nikon D7000 w/Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 - Aperture : f/2.8 - Shutter : 1/50 - ISO : 800

Tripod? Or not to tripod?

And then there is the question of a tripod. If you're lucky enough to have a carbon titanium tripod, it is less of a problem, but if you have some old brick like me, it becomes heavy quickly. Without it, you can't capture that perfect shot of the Eiffel Tower lit up over the Seine, but bring it, and you might break your back (or your luggage limit) for something you might only use one night. Consider attending a photo tour, like Aperture Tours in Paris, London, Berlin or Northern Italy, where they could lend you a tripod for a night, it might be a perfect compromise. Otherwise don’t discourage a table top tripod, they slip into your camera bag, are a fraction of the weight, and whilst not being as versatile, could be the difference between getting something as opposed to getting nothing. But if you don't mind a little bit of grain you could whack up the ISO. Modern cameras can go pretty high without much visible noise. 

Nikon D7000 w/Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 - Aperture : f/5.6 - Shutter : 1/125 - ISO : 100

How much weight are you willing to cary?

Extra lenses can weigh your bag down quickly not to mention a tripod. And if your bag gets too heavy, you might get frustrated and just leave it in the hotel room. Choosing a lesser quality, all-in-one lens might be an option. The quality might not be as good as that 50mm f/1.4 lens, but it will probably be a damn sight better than your iPhone. You shouldn't rule out hiring lens as well. Matphoto or RSV in Paris or Calumet in London will rent some good lens for a decent price if you are looking for a particular shot in specific city.

Nikon D7000 w/Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 - Aperture : f/4 - Shutter : 1/60 - ISO : 250


And lastly how much are you prepared to loose? The unexpected can happen anywhere in the world, either theft, mishandling of baggage, or someone bumping into you as you cross Hachiko Crossing in Tokyo. Camera insurance can be expensive, and I often wonder if it is not cheaper to just be vigilant. As my photography has grown, (and too my camera arsenal) I have upgraded to full professional worldwide camera insurance. It costs a pretty penny, but if someone knocks my bag down a cliff I know I won't have to fork out 10.000€ to replace everything inside.

Nikon D7000 w/Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 - Aperture : f/5 - Shutter : 1/100 - ISO : 1600

A few tips for the airport

I have become accustomed to always being inspected at security. They need to scan my bags twice, or ask me to open it up, so make sure you get to the airport with enough time to be questioned. I've had a friend get taken aside for suspicion because the security didn't know what his blower brush was, and they thought it was something quite different. Knowing my camera could potentially get knocked about during turbulence, I take my lens off my body during travel. It reduces the risk of wearing the connect out. And don't take a tripod in your carry on, I learnt that the hard way once.

Nikon D7000 w/Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 - Aperture : f/2.8 - Shutter : 1/30 - ISO : 2500

So what did I bring?

So my flight is about to taxi and I should turn off my iPad. But you want to know what i packed in the end? I brought along my Nikon D7000 body; My 24-70mm f/2.8 which is my work horse lens that I use most of the time; A 14-24mm f/2.8 for landscapes in Hong Kong and Tokyo; and a 80-200mm f/2.8 for some good portrait shots. I left my tripod at home as I didn't have the energy to carry it, but brought a table top tripod to still get some shots of the Melbourne skyline. I left my flash at home knowing I can borrow some gear from photographer friends once in Melbourne, or just get creative. Computer for editing, iPad for aeroplane entertainment (and writing this blog post) and that is about it. It is a heavy bag, but then again, I want to walk away with some good shots of my trip, so I am willing to slug it.

Nikon D7000 w/Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 - Aperture : f/11 - Shutter : 15 seconds - ISO : 100

So let us know in the comments below, what lens to you bring with you when you're travelling? What are your must haves and what are the stay at homes?

Author : Alexander J.E. Bradley

Alexander is the founder of Aperture Tours (formally Paris Photography Tours) and heads up the tours in Paris. A professional photographer for over a decade Alexander enjoys shooting the surreal by mixing dreamlike qualities into his conceptual images. 

  • Join a photography tour with Alexander in Paris here
  • View more of Alexander's work at his website