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You may notice camera lenses are described by one or two numbers, most often in millimetres, like 14mm or 18-55mm. As a new photographer, you may have no idea what these figures mean because photo websites and product descriptions often list them without explanation. These numbers are essential to know. Once you understand what they are and what they mean for your shots, you can better choose the right lens for the variety of scenes you tend to shoot.
These numbers you see on every lens represent that lens’ focal length. It is the measurement between your lens and your camera’s image sensor. If your lens is fixed-length, or prime, then it always rests at the same distance from your sensor, so its length is just one number. If your lens has the capacity to zoom, then it has two stats for both the minimum and maximum distance it sits from your camera’s sensor.
This distance tells you not only about the physical attributes of the lens but also the type of shots it creates. A lower focal length means a wider field of view, or a greater angle of what the lens can perceive in focus. The Fujifilm XF14mmF2.8, for example, is a prime lens that shoots at an 89-degree angle, with high resolution from the centre to the periphery of the frame. Compare that with the XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6, a super telephoto lens that ranges from 16 to 4 degrees in its field of view. With that latter type of lens, you abandon the wide angle to highlight a closer, more specific segment of what the unaided eye can see.
If you are a new photographer, then you are likely shooting with just one or two lenses. There are great mid-range lenses that work for several situations, including personal use moments, like candid shots of family or friends. The XF18-55mmF2.8-4 is one such option with a broad focal range that spans 79 to 28 degrees, depending on the zoom. That type of mid-length lens with zoom is a great choice for starting your creative endeavour and for shooting as you travel with light cargo.
As you develop your craft, you may wish to utilise lenses designed for specific photo opportunities. If you shoot landscape and architecture photos, then you want a lens with a low focal length, between 14 and 18mm, for its wide angle. For your full-body portraits, you should look at a lens with a mid-range focal length between 23mm and 50mm. When dealing with moving or distant photo subjects, you should choose a zoom lens with a focal length of 200mm or more.
By knowing the difference between lens focal lengths, you can experiment with more lenses and be confident that you know which lens to grab in every situation.
By Stefano Ferro
I have been running a travel photography website for few years. In conjunction, I also run some workshops and commonly receive many photography questions; however, there is one which comes up frequently:
What is your favourite camera for travelling today?
Fair enough, people want to upgrade or just change the model. I find however strange that I almost never get this question:
What lens should I buy for my next trip? Or what lens would you suggest for my travel adventure?
It seems that lenses always come second, based on what is left from the initial camera budget. It’s not uncommon to hear “the kit lens will do” when someone goes travelling.
But is it the right choice?
Maybe not. I may be too drastic, however, I believe that lenses are even more important than the cameras when talking about travel photography. I was once watching a lecture from Prof. Marc Levoy on lenses and differences when using the same camera, it was very interesting. It was part of an 18-lecture workshop that I would suggest everyone watches if they have some spare time. From this I have one lens buying tip: if you buy only one lens then allocate a budget at least similar, if not higher, to the one allocated to the purchase of the camera.
Do not buy a Ferrari with a FIAT engine (although the FIAT Group actually owns the Ferrari brand)!
Sunset on Southgate with the helicopter surprise
Fujifilm X-T1 – XF16-55mmF2.8 – F2.8 – 1/400 second – ISO200
If it is true that the best camera is always the one with you then the best lens is the one that will help to capture the majority of your photos in your trip.
Think about what lenses to take when travelling. For example, you should take multiple lenses that will cover a wide focal length through to a telephoto length, but also take into consideration the following:
I am in love with the Fujifilm X Series cameras. One of the reasons beside the light weight is the compact size, for instance, I can take a Fujifilm X-T2 in my bag for a full day of shooting and almost not feel it.
This is the way I want to travel. It’s important for me to keep my gear light, which is why I take a maximum of two lenses with me. When I travel on my own I usually change location every 2-3 days. Packing multiple lenses and transporting many of them is just not an option.
When I travel with my child I usually stay in a place for seven or more days. To be honest, I already have so many things that taking several lenses is simply not ideal. There is also a simple equation to think about as well, the more lenses you buy the higher the total cost of them. The risk factor of leaving multiple lenses in a hotel room is something you simply should not do.
So what do I do nowadays?
I just take two lenses with me and in some rare cases a third one. I make sure to include an all round zoom lens, a prime and an ultra wide angle or super zoom when absolutely needed.
Walking through the tiles
Fujifilm X-T2 with XF35mmF2 R WR – F2 – 1/40 second – ISO800
My favourite all-round lens for travelling is in the 24-80mm or 24-100mm focal range (35mm equivalent). As a rule of thumb, the wider the aperture the better, as this typically increases the photo opportunities. Personally, I would suggest using a lens that has an aperture of F2.8 or even lower.
Why such a wide aperture for travel photography?
Why as wide as 24mm (35mm equivalent)?
Because it’s a nice average wide angle to capture most of the typical photos you might come across when visiting landscapes, lanes/alleys or a new city.
Why 80mm or 100mm?
Because honestly, you will hardly need more than that. Let’s remember that we have legs too and we can move closer to the subject in most cases. Of course, there will be the time when you will regret that you have left behind the longer lens or you have not bought the lens that has a focal length of 400mm. Compromise compromise…
So, what all-round lens works best for a Fujifilm X Series camera?
I am personally in love with the Fujinon XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR lens. This lens provides a super fast F2.8 aperture that delivers beautiful bokeh (35mm equivalent focal length of around 24-85mm). This is my favourite all-round Fujinon lens that I would highly recommend for travel photography.
City view from St.Kilda, Melbourne
Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujinon XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR – 55mm – 2 seconds – F3.2 – ISO200
I had the lens for testing and review. I was really impressed with its sharpness across the entire focal range without compromising on the corners. The autofocus was quick and silent too, which is really a feature you want when travelling. I always try to be invisible when taking photos by not making any noise that would alarm people around me. I found the zoom and aperture rings were very smooth and easy to operate. Lastly, the combined weather resistance was also really important when travelling in unpredictable weather conditions.
The only drawback of this lens is that it does not have image stabilisation. If you really want this feature you should check the XFujinon XF18-55mmF2.8-4 R LM OIS.
If you still think that the focal length of 80mm (35mm equivalent) is still not enough when travelling I would recommend the Fujinon XF18-135mm R LM OIS WR which, with a focal length of around 24-200mm (35mm equivalent), should cover everything you want to capture. The lens also is more affordable as well, however, you have to compromise with a slower aperture that offers F3.5-F5.6.
Fujifilm X-T2 with XF35mmF2 R WR – 35mm – 10 seconds – F16 – ISO100
Why buy a prime lens with a single focal length?
These are my four main reasons:
A prime lens essentially has only one unique focal length which usually performs at the highest professional level. When travelling, I photograph quite a lot of markets that form an essential part of my work. If you have a mirrorless Fujifilm X Series camera with a small prime lens mounted you will be able to walk around unnoticed. If you arrive at a public place like a market with a zoom lens mounted on your camera then suddenly people around you might start thinking you are a professional photographer with expensive gear. This sort of attention is not something you want, especially in some countries where theft is common.
For a prime, I would suggest going for a focal length in the range of 50mm to 85mm (35mm equivalent). This will allow the most natural portraits to be captured. I personally use a 50mm focal length (35mm equivalent) as I like to get close to my subject, possibly have a talk, even if just with my hands (my Italian background helps a lot).
Love is our truth
Fujifilm X-T2 with Fujinon XF35mmF2 R WR – 35mm – 1/13 second – F2 – ISO3200
I personally suggest the Fujinon XF35mm F2 R WR for a prime lens. I used this lens with the Fujifilm X-T2 and I could only love it. The small package was great to shoot with. Fujifilm does also offer the F1.4 version, however, for travelling, I do not feel I can justify the higher price.
Resting time for the chef
Fujifilm X-Pro2 with Fujinon XF35mmF1.4 R WR – 35mm – 1/40 seconds – F2 – ISO5000 – handheld
Alternatively, you can look also into the Fujinon XF50mmF2 R WR if you prefer a longer focal length.
I own an ultra wide angle lens and I sometimes rent or borrow a super zoom one.
Why an ultra wide angle lens?
I mostly use it for interior and architectural photography. If I am going to explore a city for a long weekend I may take it with me if I plan to visit churches, cathedrals or unique buildings. I use it also for some landscape photography, however mostly when my subject is actually in the foreground. For example a stone formation at a beach.
The Fujinon XF10-24mm F4 R OIS lens is the widest you can get in the XF range. It’s also optically stabilised which comes in handy when photographing in buildings or places where the tripod is not allowed.
Why a super zoom lens?
I need it rarely and that is why I have not bought it. It’s really mostly needed when travelling on a safari, photographing sports or wildlife. Last year, for instance, I used the super zoom for photographing a zoo safari in the middle of Australia – it definitely came in handy. The new XF100-400mm F4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR lens is probably all you need if you are photographing any of the mentioned subjects. An important note is that it is also a stabilised lens, something that is really a must for this focal length.
Sali e Tabacchi
Fujifilm X-Pro2 with Fujinon XF35mmF1.4 R WR – 35mm – 1/40 second – F2 – ISO1000 – Handheld
An equal budget should be allocated for the camera and the all-round lens. If there is any spare money left over then I would recommend investing in a prime lens as the secondary option. Any other lens can wait or can be rented. Remember that a good lens can always be used on a newer camera. Great lenses will always stay with you.
Happy travelling and enjoy your photography.
Photography has been part of my life for as long as I can remember. I still have packets full of black and white negatives taken on 127 roll film with an old Brownie box camera – memories of family holidays and school trips from way back when. At the University of Edinburgh my interest in photography developed when I used still images and Super 8 film to back up field research on the feeding behavior of Ringed Plover, the subject of my Zoology Honours Degree dissertation. Having completed a second degree, my scientific “career” took a series of slightly disjointed steps through various biological research jobs, mainly ones with a wildlife theme. My interest in photography matured during this time until Read More