If you are intending to visit Venice and are wondering what camera/lenses to take with you I can now say “been there, done that and got the t-shirt”. Before my trip to Venice I obviously hit the photography forums to see what other photographers had used to photograph the city to make sure I was thinking along the same lines.
I knew that Venice was a city that overlooking the water at the front but once inside it was full of very tight and narrow, dark streets full of history therefore my initial thoughts were to go ultra-wide angle or even fisheye to make sure I could get as much in the frame as possible. Searching “the best lens for Venice”, “What to take for Venice” and the like in the photography forums it appeared that I was on the right track, which was comforting to know.
On one particular forum I stumbled across a thread on “The best lens for Venice” suggesting the city was prone to pick pockets and muggers only too happy to relieve a photographer of their expensive equipment, which concerned me somewhat. I know that pick pocketing is rife in many busy cities the world over, particularly in busy touristy cities but I also know that providing you keep your wits about you and your belongings close by the chances of losing out were pretty minimal. It wasn’t the pick pockets that concerned me however, it was the possibility of being mugged for my camera.
On my trip to Venice I intended to photograph all the typical tourist attractions (St Mark’s Square, The Grand Canal, Rialto Bridge, gondolas, gelato outlets etc.) but I also wanted to photograph the “real Venice” and venture deep in to the back streets and away from the crowds. From what I had read it was the back streets where the muggings took place and that photographers with expensive looking equipment were spotted in the tourist areas and then followed to the backstreets where the mugging took place.
I was hoping the mugging story was a one-off however the more and more I started to read the thread (and there were several pages of it) the more and more accounts of being mugged arose. As the number of mugging stories increased, as well as the pick pocketing stories of lenses being pinched from back packs, I started to wonder whether I should buy a cheap point and shoot and be done with it. I have spent thousands of bucks building up my photography equipment, and I have now got a set up with I am more than happy with and proud to own, and I would be mortified if some scum were to pinch it. The other consideration I have is that my wife was going to be with me and there was no way I was going to put her in danger just for the sake of taking a few photos.
After a lot of consideration and deliberation I decided the way forward was to take a small camera with a fixed lens that wouldn’t create any attention, i.e. a camera that a typical tourist would have to capture some vacation snaps. I appreciate many tourists use their phones to take vacation snaps rather than use an actual digital camera, but I wanted a small and lightweight camera that didn’t look too expensive at first glance.
My travel camera for Venice
After a fair amount of internet research, reading reviews and Q&A on my favorite photography forums I devised a short list of potential cameras and took a trip to the local camera shop to see/feel and use them. Long story short, I ended up deciding the Canon G1X was the ideal solution. Despite looking at other brands I chose Canon because I shoot Canon dslrs, I trust the Canon brand and I like the Canon user interface (everything is so logical).
There are loads pf top end Canon point and shoot cameras, as well as high end compacts to choose from and not to mention the M series, so choosing a model wasn’t easy. Long story short, I selected the Canon G1X since it ticked all the right boxes, although I would have preferred it if the widest end was a little wider than 28mm, but hey ho.
With the release of the Canon G1X mark II there are loads of bargains to be had on the G1X mark I, and that is what I decided on. I, like the next man, like value for money and the Canon G1X mark I gives a lot of bang for the buck. The Canon G1X mark I is also superior to the mark II version which surprised me somewhat. Don’t believe me? Take a look at this article and see for yourself.
When I stepped off the boat at Venice’s waterfront the first thing I noticed was the amount of people walking around with expensive photography equipment. It’s amazing how much you notice other photographers’ equipment when you don’t have your usual set-up with you. I have to admit that I did have a bit of photography gear envy, and for a split second I wished I was holding my full frame 6D, Canon 8mm-15mm F4L fish eye lens and 16mm-35mm F4L IS ultra-wide angle and not the tiny little fixed length Canon G1X.
Despite the initial “I knew I should have bought my proper camera and lenses” it wasn’t long until I started to realise I had made the right choice. Venice is exceptionally busy (by far the busiest city I have ever visited) and the amount of people milling about was overwhelming. Even though I visited Venice right at the start of the season, before the vacation season kicked off there were still thousands of people milling about. I know for a fact that pickpockets wouldn’t have caused me trouble at all, and that if a mugger picked me and my gear out over and above the several thousand other people with expensive camera equipment I would be exceptionally unlucky, and the biggest risk comes from damage from being knocked in to and barged out of the way of other people. From what I can tell from my experience of Venice your camera is at a greater risk of being accidentally knocked out of your hands than being pinched by a pickpocket or stolen by a mugger.
I have to say that the Canon G1X worked very well on my trip to Venice and the 28mm wide end was more than enough for most of my shots. Okay, I would have liked to have something wider to photograph the Grand Canal, the Rialto Bridge, St Mark’s Square and the waterfront but I managed to get some great images at 28mm.
During my day trip to Venice I did question whether a wider lens would have improved my photos. Looking at my Venice photos I would say probably not because most of them were taken in the quiet backstreets away from the touristy areas of the city. The streets in Venice are narrow and the 28mm wide end was perfect, and to go any wider would have shown too much for the style of photos I wanted to get.
Don’t get me wrong, I would have liked a nice ultra-wide shot of the famous landmarks in the tourist areas but the photos wouldn’t have been that great because there was just too many people to get a clean and uncluttered shot. I have been told the best time to visit Venice and photograph it is first thing in the morning (i.e. before the day tripping crowds arrive) and last thing before sunset (i.e. after the day tripping crowds have gone back home) however this was not possible for my trip. I was limited to being a day tripper myself, so I got to see (and try to photograph) Venice at peak times.
If you are a day tripper to Venice and have a limited amount of time you will not get a clean shot of the famous landmarks and scenes, so to have an ultra-wide angle would be a waste, and the wider the field of view the more people you will get in the shot. If you are a day tripper to Venice and want to take some different photos of the city I suggest buying a map of the city and then venturing away from the waterfront and touristy areas and venture in towards the city centre. You only need to walk down a few streets and the crowds will disappear and you will find tight, dark streets that are very photogenic. In these situations 28mm is plenty wide enough and there really is no need to go ultra-wide. I did take an ultra-wide angle/fish eye converter on my trip to Venice and whilst I did use it for a few shots it didn’t get a lot of use because I wasn’t overly impressed with the extreme field of view for most of the shots. That said, I did manage to capture a few fish eye style shots I was compositionally happy with. Unfortunately, the image quality reduces using a fish-eye converter and whilst the image quality is acceptable it is not as good as I would want it to be for commercial photos.
So what is the best lens/camera for Venice?
Based on my experience of Venice and the time I spent in the city I have to say the answer to “what is the best lens for Venice?” or “What is the best camera for Venice?” depends on whether you are staying in Venice or just a day tripper to the city.
If you are staying in Venice I would suggest taking an interchangeable lens camera and an ultra-wide angle lens (along with t a sturdy tripod, remote shutter release and range of filters) to capture wide shots of the landscape early morning before the city gets flooded with the thousands of day trippers that frequents its shores on a daily basis. I would suggest getting out as early as possible and returning your expensive photography equipment to your hotel room where it can be safely stored out of harm’s way.
You may also want to get your camera gear out for some low light photography when the day trippers disappear from the city. Because I was a day tripper to Venice I cannot comment on how safe it is at night, however I would still consider taking the camera out in the evening if I were staying in the city.
If you can only make a day trip to Venice I would suggest leaving your expensive interchangeable lens camera and costly lenses at home. Whilst you may be safe from pick pockets and muggers (unless you are very unlucky and venture down some side street in a “rough area” of the city) your camera will get banged around and knocked about because of other tourists walking in to you. For day tripping I recommend taking a top end point and shoot camera or compact and use that to take some shots. I have to say that I am very impressed with my Canon G1X and found it the perfect camera for my trip to Venice.
By taking the Canon G1X I got more out of my trip to Venice than I ever would have with my full frame 6d and expensive lenses. Whilst I looked after my G1X (like I do with all my photography gear) I wasn’t obsessing over it or leaving it in its bag “just in case it got damaged”. Instead I used it and had it in my hand all day, snapping as I went. I know for a fact I would not have done this had I taken the slr.
I was worried the 28mm wide end would be restrictive and I would want to shoot wider, however this was not the case as I found the 28mm wide end the most suitable focal length. I did have a wide angle/fish eye converter with me, and whilst I did use it for a few shots I didn’t use it half as much as I thought I was going to. Having the G1X there was no stress, no worries and I managed to not only capture some great photos of Venice but also enjoy my time there and soak up the experience.
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.