Best Focal Length for Travel?

How do you see? What angle of view represents your artistic “vision?” Recently I was having this discussion with some friends and I learned that we, as humans, have a visual field equal to about a 43mm full frame lens. This is why 35mm and 50mm lenses feel so comfortable. However, angle of view does not necessarily equal your artistic sensibilities or best lens option. Then of course, the question becomes,  “what is the one lens that represents you”? This got me thinking. Pulling up Lightroom, I performed an experiment.

In Lightroom 5, I clicked on my good file in the left hand column of the “Library” module and placed the images into grid view. A filter menu appeared on top of the grid and I selected “all dates”, “all cameras” and “all lenses.” I wasn’t too surprised by the results. Greater that half of my “keepers” were taken in the 16-35mm focal length. This is how I see. The next block was taken with the 70-200mm and the third largest block with the 50mm prime, then 24mm prime and finally 28mm prime.

Ok, this makes sense since these are the lenses I use most, however I wanted to know more, so selecting “16-35 lens” and switching to the “Develop” module, I was able to look at each individual photograph in this folder, and it’s specific focal length and metadata. I did this by going into the “View” menu and selecting “Loupe Info” and “Show Info Overlay.” This allowed me to have a much closer and detailed look at my images and to my surprise, the majority of the keepers were taken between 18mm and 28mm with very few at the 35mm length.

Up Close and Personal. Venice, Italy. 2015

Up Close and Personal. Venice, Italy. 2015

Even though the 28mm prime was far down on the list, metadata revealed I used the 16-35mm zoom most often at the 28mm focal length. Interesting. It’s a funny thing but I’m reminded of the Robert Capa quote “if your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.” After this little metadata experiment and my realization on how I use focal length, I appreciate his sentiment more and more.

Light and Line. Venice, Italy. 2015

Light and Line. Venice, Italy. 2015

Now the moment of truth, how do I see? What is my best lens for everyday photography and travel? Given a little wiggle room I would answer the 16-35 f/4 VR so all my bases are covered but that isn’t a satisfying response. The one prime focal length I would choose above all others would be a 24mm f/1.4. Why? Being midway between 18-28mm, it’s wide enough to convey strong graphic elements while inviting me to get in close. A 24mm lens has less problems with proportion distortion than wider lenses allowing more intuitive composition, yet it lets me photograph what I see in a spontaneous way. Also, a 24mm is easy to hand hold in low light.

Next time you want to travel light and grab that one lens, what will you choose?

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