Lens Guides

My Favorite Prime Lenses for Travel Photography

Small and simple for the win

There you are. The night before you fly out to New York and your bag is overstuffed with camera gear. The zippers aren’t closing. Panic and frustration set in. The trip and your future as a photographer are ruined if you can’t bring every lens, camera, and accessory you own. Stereotypical overpacking. We’ve all been there in one shape or form. I’m there anytime I walk down to the park with my wife and pug. I was THERE a week ago. So how did I get over it?

Experience, mostly.

I’ve been fortunate to travel often for work, and in all my time traveling, I’ve found two things that make life so much easier. First, get TSA PreCheck or Global Entry. Second, do whatever you can to only travel with a duffel/roller and a backpack. I follow those rules very closely to minimize stress and maximize enjoyment. It also helps me in selecting what gear I bring with me anytime I travel. Whenever I feel like I am going out of control with bringing the entire collection, I recenter to focus on what would be the most effective and compact choices for where I am going.

Enter the SIGMA 17mm F4 DG DN | Contemporary and SIGMA 50mm F2 DG DN | Contemporary lenses.

SIGMA 17mm F4 DG DN | Contemporary highlights:

  • Ultra-wide angle of view
  • Incredibly compact footprint
  • Reproduction ratio of 1:3.6

SIGMA 50mm F2 DG DN | Contemporary highlights:

  • Classic standard focal length
  • Great subject isolation due to fast aperture
  • Ideal balance of size and functionality

See our “First Look” article about these two all-metal lenses when they were first released:

Why the 17mm & 50mm are the best travel combo

New York is a place where things just happen. At every corner, on every rooftop, and inside every subway car. It does seem like you would need every lens imaginable to capture it all, but I’ve found that these two are more than up to the challenge. The 17mm and 50mm are the perfect pair offering versatility and simplicity. The 17mm makes every scene grand while being physically small enough to fit in your pocket. The 50mm f2 is simply a masterwork. A standard lens? Anything but. With a 50mm doing most of the work and the 17mm at the ready in my pocket, I can easily indulge in the process that is photography,

I normally stick to one focal length 90 percent of the time and only switch when I feel like I need to have options to choose from later, Sticking to that method helps me feel as though switching between lenses is more of an artistic choice rather than a hassle.

Field of view comparison between the 17mm F4 and 50mm F2

17mm offers an extremely wide field of view that allows you to capture an entire area. The 50mm F2 lets you close in on details or isolate a subject to make it the point of focus. With a quick swap between the two, you are covered and never feel like you left a location without enough variety to choose from while editing or posting to your favorite social platforms.

Move the slider below to compare the field of view of the 17mm F4 (left) and 50mm F2 (right).

Capture the moment with the I series

Driving is the worst way to move through New York. The subway is great, but during summer it is hot, muggy, and overall kind of gross. During my stay, I found myself walking pretty much everywhere. I easily hit my step goals before 11AM. After mile 3, my bad back was thankful to not have a heavy gear-loaded backpack.

On the contrary, I was light and weaving through the streets as easily as the breeze. Camera ready. The autofocus on the I series primes are incredibly responsive. They’re quick to lock on and stick to fast moving subjects. The Panasonic Lumix S5II I was using also deserves a quick mention. The new phase-detect system Panasonic introduced in this model is fantastic. Tracking paired with my primes was flawless. I shot in burst mode and was beyond happy with the results.

SIGMA’s Contemporary line of lenses are for people who demand quality without breaking the bank (or your back). I’ve been a fan of the all-metal Contemporary I series lenses since they first made an appearance in the form of the 45mm F2.8 DG DN | Contemporary. With a compact and robust metal build, they are the ideal companions for people on the move.

SIGMA. It’s a lifestyle

I spent a lot of time walking around New York. The elegant design of the I series primes felt right at home in the fashion-focused streets of SOHO. I would never dare to call myself stylish, but for a few blocks, I felt it.

Eventually, I came across some amazing snacks. Coffee from European-style cafes in the West Village. Crème brûlée mochi donuts from Chinatown. I’ll be honest. I got so distracted by the amazing food that I forgot to take photos. I broke the “the camera eats first” rule.

But look at how delicious these two photos I did remember to take are:

Contemporary is complementary to Art

These compact 17mm and 50mm lenses inspire me to see in completely different ways. Limitations imposed on yourself bring about creative views and solutions you wouldn’t normally explore. I get into my head a lot and am almost immobilized with an abundance of choice. Having two set focal lengths helps ease my overthinking about the gear and focus more on the composition and elements within the scene.

Mise-en-scène: a phrase originating in France and used in cinema to describe all of the elements within the scene: composition, set, props, actors, costumes, and lighting. I try to consider that anytime I’m going out to shoot. Especially in places such as NYC.

The I series has a way of making you feel invested in the creative process in a unique way. You can keep auto features on, but the knurled design of the focus gear and tactile feel of the aperture ring as it engages with each f-stop beg you to slow down and enjoy. As a result, you recompose, evaluate your scene and settings. It’s counter-intuitive. I know. But open your eyes up to the possibilities.

Low light performance

No light, no problem. With a fast aperture of F2, the 50mm welcomes shooting in the late ours of the evening. I very much welcomed the ability to shoot without needing to use a tripod. I couldn’t use one even if I wanted to while overlooking the Manhattan skyline from the top of the Rockefeller building. As the light disappeared, most people put away their cameras. I was still shooting and came away with images I printed as soon as I got home.

The credits roll on a great adventure with the SIGMA 17mm F4 and 50mm F2 DG DN | Contemporary lenses

These two compact primes are in danger of being my permanent go-to kit any time I travel. As I sat down to sort through all the images I captured, I found that my keep ratio was higher than most of my recent shoots. I’m not surprised. That’s what happens when you feel connected with your gear and engage in the process deeper. Lenses are tools and the 17mm and 50mm DG DN | Contemporary primes are the right tools for travel.

Comments (1)
  1. Troy Phillips says:

    Nice images ! I too am a big fan of the contemporary I series line of lenses by Sigma . I only have two at this point for Sony E mount . Just last night I purchased a Fotodiox e to z adapter in hopes it will work on the Nikon Z bodies. I love the 65mm fov . It’s great outdoors in nature and I use it for live music photos and video interviews.
    I was going to purchase the Voigtlander 65mm f/2.0 macro for the Z mount Nikon and still may . I was comparing photos on Flickr between the two lenses and realized why I lived the Sigma so much. The rendering of the photos are just beautiful. I really like how the Sigma I series bokeh looks for one . As a whole the rendering is so nice . The designers of this I series line of lenses has done a phenomenal job .
    I sure hope these come to the Z mount soon . They do not really compete with anything Nikon is putting out at the moment. Well not completely.

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