If you have just recently upgraded your camera from a camera phone or a compact camera to an interchangeable-lens system like the popular Sony a6500 mirrorless camera, it can be quite overwhelming to find the right lens that fits the type of traveller you are. Camera lenses aren't cheap either so it will be a very expensive lesson to learn if you pick the wrong one hence the reason why I am writing this.
If you are wondering why I picked the a6500 as my go-to travel camera, here is the review of the Sony a6500 I wrote previously. I highly recommend you check it out before continuing.
The article will answer the question I often get asked which is "What is the best lens for the Sony a6500/a6300/a6000?", and divide them into travel use cases so you can pick the one the fits your need.
It is also important for you to know why I picked these lenses for certain situation so let's begin with the basic knowledge of camera lens.
Basic Camera Lens Knowledge
There are 2 main things you need to learn about camera lens specification that will help you pick the right lens for you, focal length and aperture.
1. Focal length, usually represented in millimeters (mm), determine how much of a scene will be captured. The higher the number, the narrower and higher the magnification and so if you want a wide angle lens, the lower the better and if you want a portrait or macro lens, the higher the better.
To give you a point of scale, for a cropped sensor camera like the Sony a6500, 12mm will give you a super wide angle shot, and 105mm will give you a very close-up shot from afar. Sometimes, a lens may have a variable focal length like 16 - 70mm which means that it is a zoom lens and you can adjust the focal length from 16mm (wide) to 70mm (narrow) giving you the flexibility you need.
2. Aperture, usually represented in f-number, determine how much the lens can let the light in. The lower the f-number, the better it is under low-light and the more blurry the bokeh effect.
To give you a point of scale, on a cropped sensor camera like the Sony a6500, the f/1.4 lens which often comes with higher focal length (35mm etc.) will perform very well under low-light condition, while also having shallow depth of field (more bokeh effect) which is great for portrait.
Combining these 2 pieces of information, you should now be able to read the specification of a lens and know what it is for. For example, 16 - 70mm f4, is a zoom lens that covers angles from wide to close-up, but not the best in low-light whereas the 35mm f1.8 is a prime lens (lens with fixed focal length) that will give you medium shot with stunning bokeh effect and excellent in low-light.
Now that we have covered the basic, let's dive into the best lens for the Sony a6500.
Best Lens for the Sony a6500/a6300/a6000
All-Around Best Lens for Photography
Sony 16 - 70 mm f4 Zeiss lens: Amazing lens that produce sharper images than other zoom lens, and covers most of the focal length you will need when traveling from a wide-angle 16mm for landscape to an excellent zoom range of 70 mm for capturing intimate moments of people from afar. It is one of the smaller and light-weight zoom lenses as well which is perfect for a light traveller. That said, the price tag is quite high at around US$ 820 and f4 aperture is not the best in low-light. If you are more of a photographer than a videographer, this lens is one of the best for high-quality sharp images.
All-Around Best Lens for Videography
Sony 18 - 105 mm f4 lens: This is the best videography lens you can get because of its similar features to the Sony 16 - 70 mm Zeiss lens, but with internal zoom barrel that doesn't extend out when you zoom in, and at half the price. The lens may not be as sharp, but when it comes to videography, you won't see the difference, and with the internal zoom barrel, the lens is perfect for gimbal work. Basically, for videographers, there is no better deal than this lens.
Best Lens for Landscape
Sony 10 - 18 mm f4 lens: which covers the super wide focal lengths that are missing from the 2 lens above. This is perfect for a landscape shot because, with these focal lengths, you will be able to capture more in one frame allowing you to produce a more immersive imagery of the landscape. It is also a great lens to use on a gimbal as it supports autofocus and optical stabilization.
Best Lens for Astrophotography
Rokinon 12mm f2: This is an affordable manual lens at around US$ 350 that can capture super wide angle at a fast aperture of f2 which is perfect for the astrophotography where you will be shooting wide landscape shots under low-light condition. Keep in mind that, it is a manual lens but since you are using it for astrophotography, you only need to set the focus to infinity and you are good to go.
Sigma 16mm f1.4: If you really want a more robust lens that is wide enough for astrophotography but faster, has autofocus, and don't mind spending a US$100 more, the Sigma 16mm f1.4 is for you. The focal length of this lens is a little bit higher but it has a lower f-number that allows you to capture better in low-light than the Rokinon and it comes with autofocus which widens the range of usage immensely with the ability to use it on a gimbal or have a bokeh effect even at this wide focal length which is hard to come by with other wide lenses.
Best Lens for Portrait
Sony 50mm f1.8: With that narrow of a focal length and an f1.8 aperture, you will be able to achieve a great subject separation with a stunning bokeh effect which is perfect for portraits. It also comes with autofocus, optical stabilization, and a very affordable price of around US$240.
Best Lens for Street Photography
Sony 35mm f1.8: If you want to shoot street photography while you are traveling, the Sony 35mm f1.8 will give you the most natural look since the 35mm focal length is what the human eyes see and with an f1.8 aperture, you will be able to get a great subject separation and a stunning bokeh effect to. Also, since the lens is so small and light-weight, this is the kind of lens you don't mind carrying as your second lens while travelling.
Which one should I pick?
Now that you have all the information, which one should you pick? Well, that will depend on the type of travellers you are. If you are you a photographer, videographer or both? Pick any of the all-around lenses as your main lens. If you are you more into nature than cities? Go with a wide angle lens, if not, go with street photography lens as your second lens. Do you like camping and hiking or not? If you like camping, go with astrophotography lens as your third lens.
The combination I am using now is the Sony 16-70mm f4 lens as my main lens since I am both into photography and videography and I want to travel as light as possible, the Sony 35mm f1.8 lens as my second lens for street photography and the Rokinon 12mm f2 lens for astrophotography, and occasionally landscape and architecture. I find this combination to be the most flexible for the type of traveller I am while keeping the setup light and portable.
What type of travelers are you and which lens are you looking to pick up next. Let me know in the comments below.
The Solo Traveler’s Resources is a series of posts by Bucketlistly where we will explore the ways of life of nomads including how we work, travel, and what we carry in our backpack.
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