A standard zoom lens is a versatile lens you can use to capture stunning landscapes and seascapes, group shots of local people, individual portraits, photos of daily life (bustling street markets, traffic, workmen, food stalls, street entertainers etc.) and architecture to name just a few subjects.
You can’t take ultra-wide shots with a standard zoom lens, but you can take wide shots. You can’t take extreme close up and macro photos with a standard zoom lens, but you can take close up photos. You can’t take full fish-eye photos or get a frame filling shot of that wild animal a long way off in the distance with a standard zoom lens – but you do have to draw the line somewhere right?
The bottom line is a standard zoom lens is a versatile lens, and if you want to capture a variety of different shots of different subjects, and not just focus on landscapes when you are travelling a standard zoom lens should be a the top of your list of lenses.
A maximum wide aperture standard zoom lens is essential as this allows the ultimate control over the depth of field, and the ability to intentionally throw the background out of focus, and also make handheld low light shooting easier/possible. I wouldn’t use a standard zoom lens with a maximum widest aperture of more than f2.8, and I would rather buy and use a third party f2.8 standard zoom than buy and use the Canon L series (or Nikon equivalent) f4 standard zoom.
The wide aperture standard zoom lenses aren’t as small as the pancake lenses but they are smaller (although not much lighter) than the standard tele-lenses and super zoom lenses. Many photographers will argue the wide aperture standard zoom lenses are “too big and heavy” for travel photography, and whilst they may be on the heavy side compared to some camera lenses they are hardly what I would consider heavy.
I have also read many reports of photographers claiming carrying around a camera and wide aperture standard zoom lens becomes uncomfortable and they suffer fatigue. I have found that if you use the right type of camera bag (or camera strap for that matter) I can carry around my camera/wide aperture standard zoom set up all day, every day and not suffer. I use a Lowerpro Toploader or a Black Rapid strap and find both of these will keep the pain at bay.
If you are only interested in taking landscape shots a standard zoom lens is not the travel lens for you, and in this case you would be better off buying a (smaller and cheaper) wide angle zoom lens. If you want to get a variety of photographs when you go travelling there is only one lens you should consider and that is the standard zoom lens, and the lenses you may want to take a look at are as follows:-
CANON EF 24 MM - 70MM F2.8L
Focal Length – Full frame/APS-C:- 24mm - 70mm/ 38.4mm - 112mm / Aperture:- 2.8 - 22/ Min focus:- 15"/ Dimensions:- 3.48" x 4.45"/ Weight:- 28.4 oz/ Image stabilization:- No/ Price (approx.) $USD/£GBP:-$1,750.00/£1,000.00
Despite being the most expensive 24mm – 70mm lens in this line up, it is not that much more expensive than the second most expensive, i.e. the Tokina 24mm – 70mm, so don’t immeidatley dismiss this lens.
This lens is a professional grade L series lens, which means it is made from the best quality materials and components, resulting in a tough and durable lens. Trust me, this lens is absolutely bombproof and will provide years of hassle free shooting, even with a bit of abuse. I have had my Canon 24mm – 70mm f2.8L lens for several years now and it is as good today as it was the day I removed it from its box. It does have a few dinks, dents and scratches (I do tend to give my equipment a bit of a hard time) but the autofocus operates as efficiently as it ever did. This lens is weather sealed and dust proof, which is an essential feature for a travel lens.
L series lenses are made using the best optics too, resulting in superior image quality. Wide open there is a good level of sharpness from the centre of the frame to the edges, however if you stop the lens down the sharpness improves further. The sweet spot of this lens is f8 – f11, and at these apertures photos are tack sharp. As well as being sharp photos are also bright, vivid and punchy straight out of the camera.
This lens doesn’t have image stabilisation, which is typical of all 24mm – 70mm lenses, and whilst it would be a nice feature it’s not really needed until light levels are really low.
This lens is 10% heavier than the next heaviest lens in the line-up. This is quite a bit however in the real world you won’t notice carrying a couple of ounces more. Besides, when a lens is made from super tough and durable materials it is ever likely to be a little heavier than the competition.
Overall this lens is superb and I struggle to fault it.
Buy the Canon 24mm – 70mm f2.8L lens from Amazon.com (US citizens) or buy from Amazon.co.uk (UK citizens).
TOKINA 24MM – 70MM F2.8
Focal Length – Full frame/APS-C:- 24mm – 70mm /38.4mm – 112mm/ Aperture:- 2.8 - 22/ Min focus:- 15.0”/ Dimensions:- 3.53” x 4.23”/ Weight:- 25.8oz/ Image stabilization:- No/ Price (approx.) $USD/£GBP:- $880.00/£900.00
The Tokina is the second 24mm – 70mm lens in the line, and it is also the second most expensive and second heaviest.
Tokina are renowned for making tough lenses and this is no different. This lens not only looks sturdy but also feels sturdy in the hand. Simply holding this lens suggests it is a good quality bit of glass, and it certainly is this. The build quality of this lens is on par with the Canon 24mm – 70mm despite being lighter – which is impressive.
The image quality of this lens is very good. Used wide open there is a good level of sharpness in the centre of the frame however it does drop off towards the edges. Narrow the lens by half a stop, the sharpness improves and there is centre to edge sharpness across the entire frame. Colours are bright and distortions/flaring/pin cushioning are well controlled. Images are good using this lens wide open, and very good using this lens stopped down.
This lens isn’t as expensive as the Canon 24 – 70 but it is still pretty expensive. The overall build quality isn’t too dissimilar than that of the Canon 24 – 70 but there is a slight difference in image quality however you will have to go pixel peeping or create very large prints to see this.
Overall the Tokina 24 – 70 f2.8 lens is a great lens and well worth a look. If you don’t need to create super large prints or need the best quality at f2.8 it is a cheaper alternative than the Canon 24 – 70.
Buy the Tokina 24mm – 70mm f2.8 from Amazon.com (US citizens) or buy from Amazon.co.uk (UK citizens)
SIGMA 24MM – 70MM F2.8
Focal Length – Full frame/APS-C:- 24mm – 70mm/38.4mm – 112mm/ Aperture:- 2.8 - 22/ Min focus:- 15.7”/ Dimensions:- 3.5” x 4.7”/ Weight:- 24.7oz/ Image stabilization:- No/ Price (approx.) $USD/£GBP:- $500.00/£490.00
Next on the list of 24- 70 zoom lenses is the Sigma 24 – 70 f2.8, which is a lens aimed at the lower end of the market. Some photographers would argue this is a “budget” lens, however I don’t consider the cost to be budget at all. Mid-range/mid-price yes, budget – most definitely not.
The build quality of this lens is good and it feels pretty sturdy, but it is not in the same league as the Canon or Tokina 24 – 70 zoom lenses. Given the cost of this lens and the cost of the Canon and Tokina equivalents this shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise.
The image quality of this lens is very good, but once again it is not as good as that of the Canon and Tokina 24 – 70 zoom lenses, and the difference is noticeable. This lens is pretty soft wide open however sharpness does improve as the lens is stopped down. There is centre to edge sharpness across the frame at f5.6, with the sweet spot being at f8 – f11. Even though the image quality of this lens isn’t as good as that of the Canon and Tokina lenses it is still a very capable lens that will capture awesome photos. If you don’t want/need sharp photos at f2.8 and don’t intend to create large prints I struggle to see the point in shelling out the cash on a Canon or Tokina 24 – 70 lens as this lens is more than good enough.
Buy the Sigma 24 – 70 f2.8 from Amazon.com (US citizens) orbuy from Amazon.co.uk (UK citizens).
TAMRON 28MM – 75MM F2.8
Focal Length – Full frame/APS-C:- 75mm – 75mm/44.8mm – 120mm/ Aperture:- 2.8 - 32/ Min focus:- 13.0”/ Dimensions:- 2.17” x 3.62”/ Weight:- 18oz/ Image stabilization:- No/ Price (approx.) $USD/£GBP:- $500.00/£400.00
Tamron’s answer to the 24mm – 70mm zoom lens market is a 28mm – 75mm (effective 44.8mm – 120mm on an APS-C camera) offering. As you can see from the specs this lens isn’t as wide (being 28mm as opposed to 24mm) but it is longer at the other end (being 75mm as opposed to 70mm). This slight difference in focal range is quite clever on Tamron’s part since it gives this lens a unique selling point that sets it apart from the competition.
Some photographers find the field of view on a 24mm lens a little too wide, and the optimum field of view is at 28mm – and this lens is ideal if you are one of these photographers. The extra 5mm at the long end is useful for those times when you need that little bit of extra reach, although it is not really necessary.
Tamron are well known for their good quality budget camera lenses and Tamron 28mm – 75mm f2.8 is no exception. The build quality is very good, and whilst it is not up to the same spec as the Canon or Tokina 24 – 70 zoom lenses (which is to be expected) it is a well-made and sturdy lens that feels pretty solid.
The image quality of this lens is very good although, once again, it is not in the same league as the Canon or Tokina lenses. The image quality is very similar to the Sigma lens and it has the same issues of being a little soft used wide open. Stop it down, the sharpness improves and there is centre to edge sharpness by f5.6.
Compared to the other 24 – 70 zoom lenses in the line-up this is the smallest and lightest lens, so it is a good solution for those wanting the lightest lens possible.
Buy the Tamron 28mm – 75mm f2.8 from Amazon.com (US citizens) or buy from Amazon.co.uk (UK citizens).
Keen photographer addicted to cameras, lenses and everything photography related. Feel free to follow me in my photography ramblings, and if you have any thoughts, comments, queries or anything else to add I would love to hear from you.