5 Tips For Travel With Only One Lens

5 Tips For Travel With Only One Lens


172_small Whether traveling for business or just on a well deserved vacation, there are times when we all don’t feel like carrying around our full compliment of lenses, flashes and accessories. During trips like this the inner photographer in each of us starts to panic; “What if I need my wide angle lens?” “I want to capture some great close-ups” and they all too familiar “Which lens DO I take?” Right about now it’s best to tell your inner photographer to relax, everything will be ok. And then remind it of the benefits of traveling with just one lens:

  • Simplicity
  • Only one filter size needed
  • No lens changes means less dust on the sensor
  • A lighter camera bag or no bag at all! (gasp!)

And I’m sure there are more to be had, but the basic fact is it’s easier to travel with just one lens sometimes. Especially if you’re squeezing some photography into a business or family trip. My own reason for traveling with just one lens stems from a three week trip to Nepal last month that included 19 days of trekking in the Himalayas with plenty of dust. After seeing quite a bit of dust on the sensor from my wife’s last trip to Nepal, I decided it was time to stick with one lens, especially when everything that came with me would need to be carried by me for over 75 miles of trekking.

Here then are five tips for making the most of a one lens vacation!

1.Buy A Good All In One Zoom

These past two years have seen a plethora of wide range zoom lens land on the market. 8X and 10X lenses are fairly common now and have decent all around capabilities. For those using a DSLR with a 1.6 crop factor, something in the 18-200 range works well. For those with a full sized sensor the options are a bit more cumbersome and expensive. Both Nikon and Canon have excellent lenses in the 70-300mm range and some even down to 28mm. For a full size sensor, you’ll want as wide as you can go while still retaining image quality.

Also a consideration when picking ‘the’ lens is image stabilization. It’s easy to skimp on the price and try to save $50 here or $100 there, but if the lens you are interested in has an image stabilizing version, go for it. It can always be turned off to save the camera battery if you’re not zooming out a lot. While at the same time the better systems can allow you to handhold shots that typically benefit from use of a tripod. If you can leave the tripod behind, that’s even more weight and space saved.

2.Practice before you go

This tip can be a very eye opening experience if you’re not accustomed to a wide zoom range lens. Test the lens in all kinds of lighting situations and surely run it through its full f-stop range. Does bright light at 18mm and f/3.5 produce any vignette? Is the amount acceptable to you? How low of a shutter speed can you handhold when zoomed to 250mm or more? Will dusk shots be too hard with the appropriate f-stop? How fast is the focus when zoomed out and zoomed back? Get a feel for the weight of the lens too. Carry it around as you plan to do on your vacation and see if the lens length and weight are a problem.

3.Watch your hood


The lens hoods for wide range zooms always look a bit funky. They’ve got a hard job to do to successfully blocking out unwanted light in such a large range of zoom. And, admittedly, they won’t always get it all. One thing those hoods can do well is block your on-camera flash from reaching close subjects. If you are very close to the subject or have the zoom out a bit, that hood can create an unwanted shadow along the bottom of your picture as seen in the picture at right. In this case, you can’t even see just how truly adorable the kitten is and that’s a shame to find out 7000 miles later.

4.Learn to shoot panoramas

It may begrudge you to leave your super wide angle 10mm lens at home, but have no fear! With a bit of technique help and an article from DPS, you can still bring back wide angle shots from your trip. The DPS article is entitled How to Create Panoramas with Photoshop and Photomerge. There are now many other panorama programs out there for those not wishing to purchase the full version of Photoshop (Photomerge is also included in certain versions of Photoshop Elements). I’ve used Autopano Pro quite successfully and while it has a lot of features I don’t touch, the auto rendering and ‘hands off’ options work very well. Autopano also does a wonderful job of correcting lens distortion as well as color correction.

It will take two or three shots to make the one shot you would have had with a wide angle lens, and you’ll need to do a little more work metering the scene and setting the exposure so it doesn’t change between shots, but you may find greater latitude in composing the panoramas when faced with a slightly smaller field of view. The image below was stitched together automatically with Autopano Pro from 22 images, all shot in portrait configuration at 28mm. I missed my wide angle lens, but I didn’t miss this shot.


5.Cheat a bit with a close-up lens

Technically this would qualify as bringing along another lens. But most close-up lenses are not much bigger than a filter so I don’t consider it cheating. If you like to shoot macro images, a close up lens is a good compromise if you can’t bring along your best macro lens. Typically they screw on to the end of the lens and allow for focusing distances down to 1″ in some cases. Bringing along a close-up lens will open up different ways of viewing your vacation and can hopefully bring back shots you would have missed without it.

Peter is living his advice and traveling through South America and Japan with only one lens for three weeks. A travel related blog of his past and current shenanigans can be found at The Carey Adventures. He also hosts a Photo of the Day RSS feed found here.

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Peter West Carey leads photo tours and workshops in Nepal, Bhutan, Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles and beyond. He is also the creator of Photography Basics - A 43 Day Adventure & 40 Photography Experiments, web-based tutorials taking curious photographers on a fun ride through the basics of learning photography.

Some Older Comments

  • Tyler Kinds August 27, 2013 01:14 am

    With havin so much written content do you ever run into any issues of plagorism or copyright infringement? My blog has a lot of exclusive content I've either authored myself or outsourced but it seems a lot of it is popping it up all over the web without my authorization. Do you know any methods to help stop content from being ripped off? I'd definitely appreciate it.

  • John May 22, 2012 02:46 pm

    As I ponder my month long trip to Peru and Ecuador, I suffer greatly over my packing list. On the one hand I presume that agility and exhaustion are of equal importance. I am shooting with Nikon D300 and an 18-200VR. However, how do i do panos? Must be that I need to take my carbon fiber tripod with the Really Right Stuff Pano outfit. I'll just leave my toothbrush behind and travel with one set of undershorts! But there is more. For low light the 50 mm 1.4 certainly does not weigh that much and of course there would be a need for the 12-24. And since I converted the FujinS3Pro to infrared, well, I have to take that along as well. I contemplate the 70-200 2.8. Certainly that would be too heavy to haul around for a month. Or would it?

    A couple of years ago I was hiking on some rather sharp volcanic rock in Costa Rica. When at last i reached level ground, the weight on my back caused me to fall, pack first, and there I was like a turtle on his back, unable to get up. I sense I am about to do it again. Any suggestions?

  • Matt Thorpe January 21, 2012 05:18 am

    Looks like my favourite town. Namchi Bazaar
    Thanks for the tips

  • Timothy Wooi July 7, 2011 11:36 pm

    Im a 2 lens traveller and would carry a 2 lens for good image Quality & low lighting places.I would always take a Tamron 17-50 f2.8 & a Sigma 70-210 f4-5.6 which almost cover all the focal length I need without much weight as these two lenses are not that bulky & weighty.
    I use 80 % of my 17-50 f2.8 with the 20% on the 70-210. I love the City plus landscape and indoor with the 17-50 f2.8 and more range for outdoor using the 70-210 for People & close ups. I choose the 52 mm filter thread for the 70-210mm that I can use back my classic 52mm PL & Soft & Star 6 filters. I also have a 67-52 Stepdown ring for the wide zoom just in case but never use. I use a Nikon D300 & leave the external Flashlight home but instead took a homemade 8" Tripod that fits intp my bag. Earlier I travel with a Nikon 28-85mm f3.5-4.5 but wished I had something wider & faster plus some more reach on ocassional shots. This experience taught me to take 2 lenses. Tim from Malaysia.

  • Gid January 8, 2011 01:22 pm

    Anyone with a Canon 5D II who would Gage the 3 pancake lenses from voigtlander - 20mm and ?0 mm when traveling?

  • Bard August 6, 2010 03:36 pm

    I disagree with the one zoom travel philosophy a lot really, first of all they're a massive compromise in IQ and are always slow in apertures. Travel with this one lens also makes you camera big and bulky and a drag to pull along. People tend to fear that camera a lot also as it just looks to big, mean and exploitive for the locals to not care.
    Also with this one lens life you have a humungous problem to take more pictures if the lens get damaged, what is the backup?

  • DAT April 1, 2009 09:02 pm

    lots of interesting comments..
    I own a Nikon D60 Require a zoom walk about lens undecided between Tamron 28-300v c and Nikor 18-200vr ..should I lower my sights on zoom capabilities /

    Kind regards

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  • John O'Brien January 1, 2009 04:53 pm

    Muhammad,Happy New Years,& a good question.I think it depends on what you like to shoot.It seems everyone likes the 18-200 lens & I tend to agree with them.I have the 18-135 nikor & it stays on the camera 95% of the time.If I had more sense I would have goten the 18-200,Sigma has come out with a 18-270 which is even more versitable.The 18-135 is at a very resonable priced (check B&H)the 200 is a bit more but either one is a good choice.

  • Louise December 15, 2008 10:37 am

    When I went on a whirwind trip to the UK recently, I took my 18-55, a 70-300, and a Lensbaby. I only ever used the 18-55! I was too busy to even change lenses. An 18-200 might have provided some more zoomy shots but I have some great photos, including ones taken in museums. Take a compact flexible tripod like a Gorillapod too, if you have the room. And a lot of SD cards (or whatever your camera takes).

  • Muhammad Shazril December 10, 2008 03:05 am

    i wonder which lens would be a good addition to improve my picture??
    i have 18-55mm lens only...
    which is the cheapest but will be a great addition??

  • JBENZ December 8, 2008 11:08 pm

    'Nother vote for the Nikon 18-200mm. It lives on the D80 when I'm traveling. I also take a 50mm 1.8 which is tiny and takes up almost no room in the bag. And, if there's room, a 55-200mm VR for a backup. Toys are fun but they get really old after lugging them around the countryside all day.

  • Photokaki December 7, 2008 04:54 pm

    Well, I am looking for the Nikkor 18-200 mm VR lens, and planning to purchase it in Hongkong when I go there next March. For now, I plan to travel with my D40+kit lens and Panasonic FX33 24mm wide angle. Should be light enough for travelling. Most important thing is to take time enjoying your trip, which is why you're travelling. My two cents.

  • NAZ December 6, 2008 01:32 pm

    Any recommendation for this lens??

    Sigma Zoom Wide Angle-Telephoto 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 DC OS (Optical Stabilizer) Autofocus Lens for Canon Digital EOS


  • NAZ December 6, 2008 01:30 pm

    Any comments about the below lens??? Any pros &/or Cons??
    Planning to by it for my Canon EOS Digital Rebel 6.3 MP.

    Sigma Zoom Wide Angle-Telephoto 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 DC OS (Optical Stabilizer) Autofocus Lens for Canon Digital EOS


  • Patty Adams December 5, 2008 05:59 pm

    OK I know I'm going to be shot down here, but until recently I was in the carry 3 good lenses camp and to be honest half the time I missed my shot because I had the wrong lens or it was all too heavy to carry or it was raining and I didn't want to change lenses. I eventually bought a Tamron 28-300 vc lens for my canon 5d...with great trepidation I might add as I was worried about the significant change in quality compared to my L lenses. To be honest.. as a travel lens I haven't regretted the decision one bit! I always get my photo. My camera goes everywhere and doesn't weigh a ton and I'm really happy with the quality I am getting. Sure if everything was printed at A3 size I might have complaints... but it suits what I need it for.

  • Camera December 4, 2008 08:46 pm

    I love my 70-300mm lense, but it is a bit lazy to keep it on the camera all the time. You have to work for your art!

    I like to take two cameras one with the fixed lense say 28mm and one with the zoom, best of both worlds and no need to change lenses at all.


  • Justin December 4, 2008 02:44 pm

    As previously stated it really depends on the trip.

    For some trips I leave the SLR at home and just pack my pocket sized Canon ELPH.

    As far a travel lenses the 50mm 1.8/F is my all time favorite, both for low light and portraits, but with the 1.6x crop of my Rebel XTI it can be quite limiting so normally I augment it with a 18-200mm.

  • Thingomy December 4, 2008 10:38 am

    I believe the intent of the trip is very important, there is a big difference between a holiday and a photographic expedition

    I went on a 4 month trip last year mostly to New Zealand, I use a Sony 1.5 crop camera. I considered the trip to be about 50/50 holiday/expedition, I took a sigma 17-70, 50 1.4, sigma 30 1.4, 100 2.8 macro, 75-300 and a flash (I only got the 50 and the 100 part way through the trip though, so could not rely on them).

    2 days before going on a tour of Milford Sound (fjord, think lord of the rings) my 17-70 died on me, I really needed a 10mm lens, but was stuck with a 30. I took a lot of high speed hand held panoramics from a moving boat that day...

    If going again, I'd take my new Zeiss 16-80, 50 1.4 and 100 macro, and use the 16-80 90+% of the time.

    It the curse of being a photographer: the only way you can ever take a relaxing holiday is to stay at home.

  • John P December 3, 2008 01:28 pm

    KT I found the best solution for day trips when travelling around India & SE Asia was just to use a cheap backpack like the kids have for school. Some come with various compartments including an insulated one for food and drinks and most have padding on the shoulder straps for comfort. I kept my camera & single zoom in a snoot bag inside the backpack for added protection(some situations only needed the snoot bag). I had room also for another lens (wrapped in bubblewrap and a monopod (doubled as a walking stick in difficult terrain). I'd recommend sticking to the one zoom lens though.

  • Joey Rico December 3, 2008 12:59 pm

    will always bring the 18-200VR and use it all around!!!!!!

  • Bill Boehm December 3, 2008 12:29 pm

    I agree with the fast 50mm post. A fast (1.2, 1.4 or 1.8) lens will give you ultimate flexibility for low light/indoor situations and is a great focal length for all around use. The 1.4 and 1.8 lens versions are also extremely small and lightweight.

  • rlapoint December 3, 2008 11:15 am

    Agree with Genaro....18-200mm VR Nikkor
    Wouldn't leave home without it!

  • rlapoint December 3, 2008 11:14 am

    Agree with Genaro....80-200mm VR Nikkor
    Wouldn't leave home without it!

  • KT Lindsay December 3, 2008 10:26 am

    This post has hit the nail on the head for me right now...but I'm still undecided. Go traveling to Peru and Ecuador - mountains, wildlife, cities and people....limited budget - what's a girl to do!! please advise!

    Details of my sleepless night quandry here:


    Also any good tips for a decent bag - I need one that fits in my canon 450d, prob 2 lens, few filters but also other stuff like a water bottle (separate from the camera!!), a book, wallet. I have a lowepro slingshot bag and it's useless, nice bag but not comfortable for carrying around for any amount of time.

  • David Moore December 3, 2008 07:35 am

    Agree with the 1+1 option - a zoom for walking around and a fast prime for indoor/low-light/low-profile use.

    On my Rebel XT, the otherwise great Canon 24-105mm f/4L is too long, so I also add the Sigma 10-20mm for the wide end. But on a full frame, the 24-105mm plus 50mm f/1.4 combo would be ideal - not too bulky, flexible and great quality.

  • Jozef Nagy December 3, 2008 07:32 am

    I recently purchased a Nikon VR 70-200mm lens. As much as I love it, the 70mm aspect of it is extremely limiting.

  • dcclark December 3, 2008 03:35 am

    My Nikon D40x and Nikkor 18-200 VR rock -- I take them with me into deep and distant woods and never have a problem.

    For anyone worried about ultra-insanely-perfect image quality or needing just that one special lens for that one special shot: the less crap you spend your time carting around, the more time and energy you have to actually take the photos!

  • Nick December 3, 2008 03:27 am

    Want to travel and shoot with one lens?
    Full Frame and 50mm, what else?


  • Don December 3, 2008 02:50 am

    I love my Nikon 18-135 zoom just perfect for me.

  • Rosh December 3, 2008 02:48 am

    I'm not sure I could handle one lens and I do a lot of travel and walking on location.

    I used a photo-belt with a front pouch with a two lens cases attached on each side. I just wear all my gear around my waist. I carry my 12-24, 50, 135, 100 macro, flash, extra batteries and cards.

    I like fixed lenses. If I had to pick one. It would be the 50mm.


  • Misha Korablin December 3, 2008 02:34 am

    I think the range of the lens really depends on where you are going. Somewhere in urban area like New York focal lengths between 70 and 200 are probably rarely going to be used. In the mountains, I think it's the opposite.

    For city traveling I chose 17-55 range, with 2.8 and IS to shoot late in the evening without a tripod. Most of the shots in the mountains that I liked are made at focal lengths between 150 and 300.

    Also an alternative might be 15-80 range + 2x extender. Or some small camera like Canon G9/G10 that can shoot raw =)

  • Millard December 3, 2008 02:25 am

    There is also something to be said for always taking along a 50mm 1.8 or 1.4. You can't get much lighter and while it certainly isn't panoramic, you can do those in photoshop. I am told if you are traveling in Europe there are many museums and places of interest that don't allow flashes, so it is a great low light lens.

  • Robin Ryan December 3, 2008 02:19 am

    Unfortunately those 18-200mm lenses dont often give top quality. I recommend carrying one fixed length and letting it teach you to be a better photographer, instead of playing the zoom game.

    I took just a 10-22mm on a trip with me, and ended up with this shot, so I guess it worked allright: http://flickr.com/photos/robinryan/3070505082/

  • zulfadhli December 3, 2008 01:38 am

    yup.. the all in one zoom lens is the best for traveling and also street photography. I bought a Nikon 18-200mm lens early this year and went to Saudia Arabia with just this lens. And I must say I glad I bought the lens because unlike before, I don't have to change from wide angle to telephoto which is so annoying and and no more time wasting for changing lens. I can focus to my shots more now. and plus no heavy bags anymore...


  • Pascal December 3, 2008 01:16 am

    Tip 6 (combine with tip 4).

    Just bring the best lens which fits your travel bag, which ever it is. Then be creative and take interesting pictures with that because you can't take all your other gear.

    You'll be amazed at the interesting things you'll bring back home.

  • Genaro Orengo December 3, 2008 01:14 am

    The Nikon 18-200mm is an invaluable asset to my photography equipment. It's my take-everywhere lens, and seldom leaves the camera. I would recommend this focal length to anyone looking for a zoom lens at this time.

  • Massimo Belloni December 3, 2008 12:55 am

    You're absolutely right: I've bought my D40x with the 18-200 VR and it satisfy all my needs. This complex is extraordinarily small and light (if compared with the features it has), and I can carry much more easily it with me, so I shoot a lot more than before (so I can put more images on my photoblog).