20 Oct

Lens Recommendations for Your Vacay

Posted by Jenna, Under Photography

Just a few hours before we left for Europe I sent Kelli Nicole a message asking her to help me decide which lenses to take with me to Europe. She helped me narrow it down to the 135mm 2.0, 45mm 2.8 Tilt Shift (rented from Borrow Lenses), 35 mm 1.4, and 16-35 2.8. Here is how I used what I took, and what I’ll do differently next time we go to Europe. You won’t find any zoom lenses (well other than the 16-35) on this list because I’m a prime lover. If you want a zoom lens for travel I’d probably recommend something around the 24-70 range.

135

I dragged this lens all over Europe and used it one time, in the church at the ceremony, and ended up keeping like 3 pictures I took with it. Worth it if my SIL’s photographer sucks, but based on the way I saw him shooting and the equipment I think that won’t be the case. I would only recommend taking a long lens like this if you will be in places where you can’t get close to your subject (and really, if you’re going to be doing lots of photography like that you will usually want a zoom) or if you think you’d do some stalkarazzi style photos where you take pictures of people on the street and such. I really want to be this type of person but I’m too scared.

45 TS

I rented this in hopes that the high volume of picture taking I was going to be doing would teach me how this lens works, specifically in regards to portraits, and though I feel like I have a better grip on it I don’t think it’s for me. I’ve had it for 3 weeks and hardly used it, I just don’t feel like I’m using it very purposefully, and so my images end up looking really gimmicky. It’s technically a lens for shooting architecture, which makes sense in a place like Vienna with so many beautiful buildings, but I never used it that way because I don’t know how.

The lens is difficult to use because it has no auto-focus, which normally means I can’t hand it over to anyone to take a picture of me with it, but That Husband ended up enjoying the challenge of finding the right focus!

My advice if you rent this lens is to shoot at f/4.0 or above and plan on shooting a lot.

16-35

Though I only used it a few days during the trip, I’m glad I had it, and when I sell it (I really will sell it like I promised myself I would when I bought the 35 1.4. I mean, I probably will. Most likely.) I will rent it for trips like this because there are certain situations where it works so well.

Inside of this ultra hip restaurant called Palmenhaus.

Ultra wide angle shots of the landscape (this was at the gates of Schonbrunn).

And inside the reception hall where the wedding was held (great for dancing shots and self-portraits as well!)

35

I’d say 95% of my photos from this wedding were taken with this lens.

Photographs of our food (if you’ve read my vacation recaps before you know I love taking pictures of the food we eat!)

Landscape style shots.

Half landscape/half portrait shots. :)

(Also if anyone can explain why Pinocchio is sitting on a giant chair with a smoking cigarette behind him I would really appreciate it).

It was great for photojournalistic style shots at the wedding, except for the times when I wanted to get close to the action and the paid photographer was hovering as well. I didn’t want to ever be in his way so I stayed a bit farther than I would have for a lot of my shots.

And the 35 is what we used for the shots of That Husband and I together!

Next Time

For our next trip, I plan on taking the 16-35 2.8, 35 1.4, and 50 1.2. I definitely missed the 50 1.2 and its ability to come in close for portraits without any distortion.

If you are a dSLR users, what lenses do you take on vacation?

29 Comments


  1. Pictures are beautiful, as usual. :) Thanks for these suggestions and demonstrations though – I know I really appreciate them. :)

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  2. I loved your pictures! I looked back at my last international trip, and I took the majority of pictures with the 45 t/s (4x more than any other lens). Next was the 50, then the 135, then the 16-35. I didn’t have the 35 yet, but if I did I’m certain I would have taken it and dropped the 50. I actually haven’t even pulled my 50 out in weeks…maybe months. I love that 35 so much! I do wish I used the 45 less, but I don’t have much to complain about.

    I just looked at the metadata from my Italy trip, and I apparently used the 16-35 the most with the 50 trailing shortly behind and took 23 pictures with the 85 (but I’m so glad I did as some of those are my favs).

    Kelli Nicole Reply:

    Oh, and I do have one of my pics from Barcelona that was shot with the 45 t/s framed in my house as well as one from Paris shot with the 50.

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  3. You made it to Schonbrunn, hooray! When I was over there, I hadn’t had my camera very long so I made the very stupid mistake of only bringing my 50mm – really could just scream. My logic was that I wanted to travel light, and it was my smallest lens. Ugh. I couldn’t take any shots of buildings without being a million miles back, same with my friends who didn’t necessary want close up portraits while we were looking so haggard! I still got some great shots, but missed out on a lot more. I’m going to Hawaii in January and I will definitely be renting a 35 and bringing my 24-70, even though it’s so heavy. I worried about them getting damaged or stolen or lost more than anything else, but yeah, who wants to lug around a bunch of glass? Love these shots – have you tried experimenting with the “fake” tilt shift technique in photoshop? It’s hit or miss for me, but it’s fun trying!

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  4. I went to Italy back in May, and I wanted to take a minimal amount of stuff. I’m a casual amateur and just didn’t want to lug a bunch of stuff around. I ended up taking my 50/1.4 and rented a 24-105. I *loved* the 24-105 so much that I’m going to sell one of my other lenses to get that one instead. It was perfect for my needs.

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  5. Thanks for this post, I’m trying to make lens decisions right now for when I’m camera shopping…. I will eventually justify replacing my stolen Canon. R’s Nikon just doesn’t feel the same to me. :(

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  6. I love the colors in the 45 T/S shot with the runner. Is that edited or is the air just clearer over there?

    I know its not directly just about your photography, but the Polish wedding photos are so gorgeous! I really can’t wait to see the longer posts.

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  7. This is like trying to read Chinese for me, but I read the whole thing and still found it interesting! Either I’m a total weirdo or work is really dull today. :)

    Allison Reply:

    I was just thinking the same thing! It makes me want to learn how to really use a camera!

    Sunny Reply:

    Me too! I’m getting ready to purchase a DSLR but I just can’t seem to pull the trigger because I’m ‘afraid’ I don’t know enough yet.

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  8. So timely! I need to replace a lens and have been looking at the 24-105! Glad someone else likes it. Now I just need to justify the price ::)

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  9. This was an interesting post. I wish I knew more about lenses. Our DSLR came with the standard 18-55mm lens. I’m curious, is there a reason why you don’t use that lens? Or is there a different lens you use that would replace that standard one and is better?

    We also have the standard zoom lens – 55-250mm, but I rarely use it because I can never hold it still. Any tips for that?

    We also recently bought the canon 50mm F1.8 because we wanted a decent portrait lens and it didn’t cost much. Is your 50 1.2 lens pretty similar to the 50 1.8 then? I really like our 50 1.8 for close-ups and macros, but I hadn’t thought about bringing it to Europe. Do you think it would only be worthwhile in Europe when taking shots of people? What about buildings?

    I go to London in 2 weeks, so I’m interested in hearing more about what I should bring! I wasn’t even thinking about bringing my DSLR because it’s so heavy and I don’t want it to get stolen at the hotel, but maybe I will bring it now.

    Kelli Nicole Reply:

    I know Jenna’s busy, so I’ll try to help answer a few of your questions for now!

    Re: the 18-55. I believe Jenna got the kit lens with her 50D, but quickly put it away. Since you have the 50 1.8, you probably know what a difference the aperture makes. When zoomed in all the way, the 18-55 only opens up to 5.6 MAX. Personally, I RARELY shoot at 5.6. I typically shoot at 2.0 unless I’m shooting a group. I think Jenna shoots similarly. The construction of that lens compared to an L-series is going to be drastic. The pictures with the 18-55 will be duller, softer, and you won’t get much bokeh (basically a blurry background for anyone that doesn’t know that term).

    Same thing with the 55-250. Basically, the only time you’ll be able to use that lens is during the middle of the day in bright sunlight. I probably wouldn’t shoot with that lens at anything less than 1/320th sec (absolute minimum for me when zoomed in all the way) and something like 1/640-1/1000th or more would be much better. If you can keep the shutter speed fast like that you shouldn’t have blurry pictures.

    There’s a huge difference in quality between the 50 1.8 and the 50 1.2. The construction/glass is completely different and makes a big difference, but they do have the same focal length. The 50 1.4 is much more comparable to the 1.2.

    If those are the only 3 lenses you have and you’re taking your dslr I would definitely take the 50 so you can get shots in low light. It won’t be very good for (entire) buildings unless you can get really far away, but there are plenty of spots in London where I think it would work well (you can shoot many buildings from bridges or across the river). Have fun!

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  10. I took only my kit lens (18-55mm) on our trip to Europe and for most of the time it worked fairly well. I didn’t want to take more than one as I already was taking so much stuff!

    On my backpacking trip this summer, I only took my 70-300mm lens (as we were limited by weight – who wants to carry around an extra lens or two when you have a 50lb backpack you need to carry around?). It worked really well for shots of flowers, wildlife and rocks but obviously not super great for panoramas.

    I really need to get a better lens to replace my kit lens… Maybe someday! :P

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  11. I loved your pictures! I’m traveling to Ireland in 2.5 weeks and was debating on a couple of extra lenses to rent. Thanks for the post, it helped me make a decision!

    What place do you usually rent from?

    Kelli Nicole Reply:

    http://www.borrowlenses.com/

    Elyssa Reply:

    Thanks for the link. I think you have just solved our little problem as to what to do with our need for a new lens…at least for the next trip!

    Kelli Nicole Reply:

    No prob. They’re awesome! I’ve used them several times.

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  12. I absolutely love this post. As a very very amature photographer it is nice to see what works and what doesn’t work for someone who has the resources to experiment. Thanks!

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  13. This was a great post- I’m trying to learn about lenses. :) I love my 50 1.8 so much that I knew immediately I needed to replace my kit lens, I just don’t know with what!

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  14. I was just looking at lenses online as I’m about to go on vacation to Australia where I want to do a mix of portrait and scenery shots and we have our kit lens which came with our Canon 450D in our shipping container and only our 50mm 2.4 lens with us which is annoying with the whole having to stand back thing. I’d like to get another lens before going so I’m going to check out your suggestions and see if we can afford any!

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  15. This is interesting but do you think you could do a post in the future to explain a bit more about what kind of lens is good for what? Mind you I still can’t afford a DSLR but that doesnt’ stop me from dreaming and wanting to learn. Even a link to a good website to learn about it too would be helpful.

    In the range of numbers of the lenses, does the number itself as a meaning? Like for the focal point with the lowest number in the range focusing only on upclose and larger numbers on a wider range, is it a similar concept with lenses? As you can see I have very little knowledge of this.

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  16. It’s my first time commenting, so first I should mention that I love your blog. I’m just a lazy reader who rarely comments on anything. :-P

    We have a NYC trip coming up, and I’ve been debating which lenses to bring, too. I’m hoping to pack light, so right now I’m thinking 18-105 for the wide angle and zoom (even though the max f5.6 bugs me) and 35 1.8 for everything else. I thought about bringing my 50 because it’s so wonderful, but mine is an old film version and it’s completely manual. If I had it on, no one could take a picture with it except me. :-/ That being said, though, I might bring my Lensbaby along for the ride just because it’s so small, and I think NYC would be a pretty fun place to shoot with it.

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  17. yeah yeah the lens are great but i really want to say that you look beautiful in your pictures, especially the last one : )

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  18. Nothing to do with cameras, but I needed to tell you how great you look in every photo of you from this trip!

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  19. I rented the 35 1.4 for the wedding I shot last weekend and I’m so, so in love, especially since my camera isn’t full frame. I think I’ll probably get the 50 1.4 and the 35 1.4 whenever I upgrade lenses. I also enjoyed renting a zoom lens again (forget which one specifically, but it was around f2.4 at the minimum) but I missed the wider aperture. I rented the 50 1.2 for my last wedding and it was nice.. but not quite as AMAZING as I had hoped, coming from the 1.8. Obviously it’s much, much sharper and the extra stops are nice, but I feel like the 1.4 will be good enough. As for vacations, the nifty fifty is still the only baby I call my own, but I’m sure other ones will accompany me on trips someday. :)

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  20. What lens would you reccommend for child photography with a 9month, 3 year, and a 6 year old? I have a 55mm right now but don’t know if that’s good enough? I’m still trying to get comfortable.

    Meg Reply:

    *50mm

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  21. Thanks for the post, Jenna! When we went to Schonbrunn, I really wanted to buy one of the books about Elizabeth and I decided to pass. I’ve regretted it ever since. Now I can buy it from Schonbrunn on-line! That wasn’t possible in the months after our visit. One regret erased! Thank you!

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      I'm a farm-raised almost-crunchy stroller-pushing picture-taking lifestyle-blog-writing gastronomy-obsessed divine-seeking thrift-store-combing cheese-inhaling pavement-pounding laughter-sprinkling lover of individuality and taking chances.
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