When picking up a new camera body, you often get the option of bundling it with a kit lens at almost no extra cost. But hold your horses.
You should probably reconsider your options. Let’s start by clarifying a few crucial facets of kit lenses.
Focal Lengths Demystified
What is focal length? In a nutshell, it’s how far you are zoomed in.
50mm would be the equivalent of the focal length of the human eye. 8mm is the ultra-wide fisheye view, and 400mm is a super zoomed-in view on something far away in the distance.
Buying Your First Lens
Selecting a lens is no easy feat.
First, you need to check if it works with your CMOS or full-frame sensor. Then, the mount has to be exactly right.
Needless to say, you have to decide on prime vs. zoom, maximum aperture and its number of blades, image stabilization, size and weight, weather sealing, and many other factors.
We’ve listed some of the most crucial features to keep in mind when lens shopping to make the decision process more manageable.
Essential Lens Attributes to Consider
- Optical sharpness
- Background blur
- Autofocus speed
- Zoom range
- Build quality
- Low-light performance
Can You Improve Your Photo Skills With a Kit Lens?
In short, yes (to some extent).
A kit lens is a decent choice for getting to know your new camera and getting to grips with basic technical concepts like aperture and shutter speed.
That said, there are better ways.
Primes vs. Zoom Lenses
Should I get my camera with a kit lens, or are there better options?
Enter the prime lens. It’s comparatively tiny yet pin-sharp. It has only one, fixed focal length but lets in copious amounts of light.
It also teaches you good practices—like using your feet to compose, instead of lazily zooming in every time.
Here are the two most popular prime lens focal lengths (for good reasons).
35mm – The Undisputed King of Primes
The original focal length. Comes from the world of 35mm film – and is to this day one of the most popular, classic-looking lens types.
Get a manual focus prime and learn the mechanics of photography before graduating to fancy glass with autofocus and premium features.
The Nifty Fifty – Best First Lens for Most
While the 50mm focal length is not as flexible as 35mm, it has two tremendous advantages.
Namely, creamy background blur, aka bokeh, and the ability to get enough light onto the sensor.
What Are Kit Lenses Good for?
We get it. You got a deal you couldn’t refuse. Or perhaps you fear that going with a prime would inhibit your photographic journey.
In any case, let’s see how well kit lenses perform in various photographic scenarios.
Candid Street Photo
Let’s be candid; nothing says amateur travel photographer like carrying a camera with a kit lens dangling around your neck.
Pair this with a belt pouch and sunglasses, and you might get the tourist pass when street shooting—even in your hometown.
That said, a kit lens won’t give you the bokeh you might want, nor the compact footprint for ninja-ing around the alleys.
When photographing structures, a kit lens can do surprisingly well. That’s because it can go wide enough and yet zoom in when needed.
However, it won’t give you perfect sharpness at the extreme ends of the zoom range.
Since kit lenses typically have a variable aperture, you’ll often need to flick on the image stabilization.
This, in turn, will cause the battery to drain quicker. Doubly so, if you’re shooting in the cold.
For this reason, we would much rather recommend a higher-end zoom lens or a wide prime.
Frankly, you’d be better off with a trusty old 50mm for portraits.
It starts at about the same price but offers great subject separation from the background, along with better low-light performance.
Action Sports Shooting
Kit lenses can work for sports, provided there is sufficient lighting. Don’t expect world-class action shots, but it will (for now) do better than a smartphone.
Believe it or not, macro is entirely doable with a kit lens. You’d just have to invest in an extension tube, preferably a tripod and some lighting.
We would generally advise you to get a prime lens instead of the standard kit lens. The latter tends to be quite uninspiring and produce disappointing results.
Nevertheless, not all kit lenses are created equal, and they can make for capable tools in the right hands.