One college photography teacher recently banned 18-55mm kit lenses from her classes. You read that right – not recommended against them, not suggested alternatives, but completely forbid her students to use them in her classes. As you can imagine, this has sparked outrage in the photo community. And as you can probably guess – I’d have something to say about it, too.
I’m a great fan of prime lenses. They are faster and sharper than zooms (at least the zooms that I can afford). Plus, they force me into being more creative and they bring out my problem-solving side, because they limit me with their fixed focal length. When I travel, I always bring them and pack a kit lens just in case. I almost never use it.
But recently, I was forced to travel light. And I mean, super-light: I was only able to bring one lens attached to my camera body. I love primes and almost always use them – but this time I screwed a kit lens onto my Nikon D7000. The lens is a Nikkor 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G and it’s rather crappy when compared to my primes. But in this article, I’ll explain why I chose it and why, sometimes, your kit lens may actually be the best choice.
I am in no way a professional photographer: my gear includes a Nikon D5200 body, with the Nikkor 18-55mm VR II kit lens, the Nikkor 55-300mm VR zoom lens, and the latest addition, the Nikkor 50mm 1.4G prime lens. My favorite combo is still the Nikon D5200 body + Nikkor 18-55mm VR II – no offense to the other lenses. The reason why I decided to write this article is because I have seen a lot of newbies considering the kit lens as just a piece of glass with no merits at all. That is not entirely true – it’s one of the best lenses to start with, and with the right technique you can achieve a lot with the so-called kit lens!
When you bought your first DSLR, you probably got it with a kit lens. These lenses are cheap, and not really top-notch quality. If you bought a prime or a high-end zoom later, you know a kit lens can’t beat it. However, there are still some reasons to use a kit lens. They may not always be the best choice, but they certainly have their purpose. In this video, cinematographer Darious Britt gives you some of the reasons why he loves cheap kit lenses, despite their drawbacks.
Now that you know more about your mechanics and attributes of your kit lens, the time has come to look at the creative use of the wee plastic beasty and we’ll start with macro first, this is by far the longest of the three Kit Lens Masterclass articles so grab a cold drink and some snacks.
In Part 1 we looked at the potential issues and problems relating to kit lenses, now tis the time to turn our attention to the terrific upsides of owning and using the cheap as chips but under-rated kit lens, this section will be the shortest not because there are problems I want to skirt around but because there positives are easily explained.
So your kit lens is rubbish, you know this for a certainty because numerous photo blogs and camera test sites have told you so. It’s been confirmed repeatedly by a wide array of couch based photo experts on all the forums of great repute and finally the first shots you have taken with it seem to be less than fully impressive. Besides that, there was this nice guy in the camera shop told you that you’d really need a better more expensive lens if you were going to get even half serious about your photography.
Don’t worry most kit lenses are not brilliant when measured or assessed in any empirical way, but realistically your kit lens was almost a freebie so what have you got to moan about. In any case, without meaning to insult anyone, most kit lenses are capable of better results than most photographers are capable of delivering.
One of the things that I try getting across to my students is that despite all of its amazing capabilities, the camera is just a box. Yes, it is programmed with a seemingly limitless number of exposure combinations, but when all is said and done it’s just a box. It has no artistic intent. We have to speak its language, telling it what we see, in hopes that the image in our head matches the image in the box. It is a box with a cylindrical window on the world. It’s the quality of that window that is often the subject of raging debate. Nikon or Canon? OEM or third party? Everyone has an opinion. Interestingly enough, the one thing that many– if not most– agree upon is that kit lenses should be avoided like the plague.
I completely disagree. I say go dig that kit lens out of wherever you’ve hidden it and put it to work. For those of you who’ve somehow been convinced that your photography can’t possibly be of adequate quality until you drop money you don’t have on a lens you can’t afford, I say that nothing could be farther from the truth.