City breaks are an excellent way of exploring new places and also capturing some awesome photos. One of the first questions everyone asks (well those who want to take photographs) before going on a city break is “what is the best lens to use?”
Cities are busy places, especially the touristy cities, and I would suggest travelling as light as possible. Carrying a bag of prime lenses, and having to keep changing lenses, is not only a faff but there is also the (very real) possibility of damaging the lenses or having some thieving low life pinch them whilst your attention is on taking a photo than keeping an eye on your kit bag.
As well as the increased chances of damage to your lenses and someone swiping them, the other issue with using prime lenses is the potential for dust spots as the lenses and your camera’s sensor become exposed during the lens changes. Dust spots are likely to ruin your photos, and even if you deal with them processing the photos you seldom get rid of every dust spot. Besides this cloning out dust spots takes up a lot of time, and this is time you could put to better uses.
Since prime lenses are a fixed focal length the only way to change the composition or framing of the subject is to physical move closer or further away, and in busy cities this is not always possible. In fact, physically moving closer or further away is nigh on impossible and I am struggling to think of a time when I could actually move during my recent city breaks. Yep, during my recent trips to Innsbruck, Salzburg, Rome, Venice, Verona, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Madrid and London (all of which are jam packed full of tourists and very busy) I as restricted on where I could and couldn’t stand, as well as how close or far away I could get from the subject. Whilst I was photographing these cities I would have been stuffed if I only had a bag full of fixed focal length prime lenses.
As you can see the best type of lenses for city breaks are zoom lenses, without a shadow of a doubt. Zoom lenses are versatile, zoom lenses allow for different framing and composition without having to physically move, and with a zoom lens there is no need to carry around any other lenses or have to change any lenses whilst taking photos.
Many photographers argue that prime lenses are sharper than zoom lenses, and whilst I can’t dispute this the difference is sharpness between a prime lens and a modern day zoom is so slight and negligible that the only way you’ll notice it is if you blow the photo up billboard size or go pixel peeping on the computer. In the real world you will not see any huge difference in sharpness between a photo shot with a prime lens and a photo shot with a zoom lens, all other things being equal of course.
What zoom lens is best?
There are loads of zoom lenses available and whilst you may think a zoom lens with a large focal range may be best, such as the Canon 100 – 400L or the Canon 28-300L, this is not the case. Well not in my experience.
First off, these zoom lenses are large, heavy, cumbersome and not suitable for tight places. These lenses also attract a lot of attention, much of it unwanted and given the crime rate of the larger cities this is not a good thing. The other thing about these super zooms is that you don’t need really long focal lengths. Cities are tight and the best way to photograph them is to use a wide angle lens. I typically shoot cities with focal lengths of 16mm – 35mm, and will seldom use focal lengths longer than 28mm. Some cities are so tight I didn’t use focal lengths longer than 24mm, such as Verona and Venice.
My go to lens of choice for city breaks is the Canon 16mm – 35mm F4L IS lens. Being an L series lens the Canon 16-35 F4L IS is tough, durable and very well made. It is also small, lightweight and discreet which means it doesn’t attract any attention and I can use it comfortably all day.
The image quality of this lens is superb and I have no complaints at all in this department, and the four stop image stabilization allows me to get sharp hand held shots at slower shutter speeds. Canon also make a 16mm – 35mm F2.8L lens, however the F4L IS version is much better and is the one I would recommend buying. To see why the F4L IS is better than the F2.8L take a look this article.
Another lens I use for city breaks is the Canon 8mm – 15mm F4L fisheye lens, however since this is a specialist lens I don’t use it as much as I the 16mm – 35mm F4L IS. When I was looking for a fisheye lens I wanted to be able to take both linear fisheye shots as well as full circular fisheye shots, and the only lens that allowed me to do this was the Canon 8mm – 15mm F4L fisheye lens. Yep, this lens is effectively two lenses in one and when you compare the cost of this lens (which seems very expensive at first) to the cost of a linear fisheye lens and a circular fisheye lens it is easy to see it is top value for money.
The Canon 8mm – 15mm is another L series lens so it is made out of the best materials and best optics. The image quality is superb and the full fisheye effect leads to some cool and quirky effects, although I appreciate it is not for everyone. What I like about the 8mm – 15mm is the depth of field is immense even used wide open at F4. If you want to capture sharp subjects against a blurred out background you are not going to be able to with this lens.
The Canon 8mm – 15mm is an awesome lens and if you want to capture some different types of city shot this is a lens you should take a closer look at.
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.