How I Arrived at 25mm and 50mm Lenses for Travel Photography
I love the wide and normal focal length for travel for a number of reasons. I have learned to take decent images with them and they're no hassle to carry around whether I'm living out of a hotel or my backpack. I didn't start with these lenses and the story about how I arrived at them is an opportunity to share my experience as a travel photography enthusiest.
When I bought my first Ultra-wide zoom lens (16-35mm) I thought I was setup for travel photography. I liked how 16mm can separate the foreground from the background by shrinking everything that isn't near the front of the scene. I took trips to Colorado and Costa Rica and used this lens exclusively but I eventually got tired of the Ultra-wide look. I began to miss how easily the 35mm perspective could connect the foreground to the background. I had no trouble positioning lines so that they pulled the viewer from the front of the image to the back. I began to realize that the compression of each focal length creates its own balance of foreground and background. The scale of the scene decides which tool is best but some are more flexible than others.
I wasn't ready to return to shooting primarly at 35mm because I knew that while I was there, I didn't feel as if the shots were wide enough. I found that the wide focal length of 24mm was starting to work for me. It was wider than 35mm and it provided a balance between the front and the back of the scene. I had an interest in taking photos of the milky way and I was enjoying the 24mm so decided to get the wide angle in a prime.
I prefer prime lenses because their speed (wide aperture) makes it easier to grab dynamic images in dark places. They also have the potential to weigh less than zoom lenses. The image below was handheld in the dark interior of a blacksmith display in Scotland. It was taken at ISO 5000 at f/2. At F/2.8 it would need to be at 10K ISO. At F/4, it would need to be taken at 20k ISO.
The 50mm entered the discussion as I realized that I didn't like to take portraits with anything wider than 35mm.
I decided to carry a 50mm to take better photos of my family but I soon discovered its application in landscapes. With a prime lens, I was told that I needed to zoom with my feet. Unfortunately, no amount of zooming with my feet will change the compression of the lens. This is represented by the angles of the lines of a road at various focal lengths. I discovered that If I wanted the lines of a road to go from the front of the scene to the very back, the 50mm was a better choice than a wide lens.
There have been plenty of occassions when I wished I had a macro lens or a long-range telephoto but my desire to travel comfortably light continues to drive my choice of lenses. My kit is under 10lbs. I can enjoy traveling and come home with a few photos to hang up. I may find a 50mm macro or bump up to a short telephoto lens to replace my 50mm some day. I guess that makes this combination of tools just one stop along the road.