Why I chose an 18-55 mm kit lens when I had to choose only one lens

Aug 16, 2018

Dunja Djudjic

Dunja Djudjic is a multi-talented artist based in Novi Sad, Serbia. With 15 years of experience as a photographer, she specializes in capturing the beauty of nature, travel, and fine art. In addition to her photography, Dunja also expresses her creativity through writing, embroidery, and jewelry making.

Why I chose an 18-55 mm kit lens when I had to choose only one lens

Aug 16, 2018

Dunja Djudjic

Dunja Djudjic is a multi-talented artist based in Novi Sad, Serbia. With 15 years of experience as a photographer, she specializes in capturing the beauty of nature, travel, and fine art. In addition to her photography, Dunja also expresses her creativity through writing, embroidery, and jewelry making.

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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.

Earlier this month, a friend of mine suggested that I join him on a motorcycle ride to Croatia. Of course I said yes! I quickly arranged to stay with another friend in Croatia’s capital city (Zagreb), and I immediately started packing as we were due to leave the very next day.

I generally try to pack as light as I can, at least when it comes to clothes. But when it comes to gear: I don’t have much of it, but I carry everything. But not this time. Since I was traveling on a motorcycle, I needed to pack my stuff in a backpack. And there was only room for a small camera bag. This meant one camera and one lens. And that lens was the 18-55mm ƒ/3.5-5.6. I did give it some thought before I made the final decision… But here are the reasons why I think it was a good decision, despite the lens’ flaws.

Advantages

Versatility

Probably the most obvious advantage of a kit lens is that it’s versatile. You can capture wide-angle scenes, or zoom in for the details. You can even take pretty decent close-up shots, and via this link you can see plenty of tips and great examples of that.

I spent a couple of days in Zagreb, and I wandered all over the city and out of it. I captured a gorgeous sunset on Jarun Lake… But also some details and textures I found in the neighborhood where I stayed. And for this I needed different focal lengths – and I got them with the kit lens.

52mm, f/5.6, 1/100s, ISO200
34mm,f/7.1, 1/100s, ISO640
18mm,f/6.3, 1/100s, ISO100

More freedom

I often like the feeling of being limited by the fixed focal length of a prime lens. But more often than not, when I travel, I also find it frustrating. Sometimes there’s just no room behind you to step back and get everything you want in the frame. And the possibility to zoom out a bit in situations like this is just perfect. It makes me feel… relaxed and stress-free. It gives me the freedom to shoot scenes just as I imagine shooting them.

Of course, a cheap kit lens doesn’t come without its quirks and flaws. Here are some of the challenges I faced, but also how to overcome them (or fix them in post).

Disadvantages

Bad low light capabilities

The most obvious disadvantage of a kit lens is that it isn’t really your best friend in low-light situations. With a maximum aperture of ƒ/5.6 at 55mm, you can’t do much if you shoot handheld.

But, there are some situations when you won’t bitterly regret bringing just your 18-55mm lens. For me, these were long exposure shots with a stabilized camera. Considering that I didn’t even have a tripod, “stabilized camera” meant putting it on a large concrete flower pot in the middle of the street. You gotta work with what you’ve got, right?

Another way to overcome the poor low-light capability is by using a slower shutter speed and having a really steady hand (or just put your camera down on something). You can also crank up the ISO as much as your camera can handle without getting the photos with too much noise. You can always remove some of the noise in Lightroom later. And just to remind you: shoot raw!

55mm, f/5.6, 1/80s, ISO640

Lack of sharpness

When compared to my 50mm ƒ/1.8, the kit lens is pretty rubbish when it comes to sharpness. But, I’d been shooting with it for years before I bought my first prime. It can’t be that bad. After all, there are ways to get the best out of a kit lens when it comes to sharpness.

It’s important to find the sweet spot of the lens. For my 18-55mm, it’s around ƒ/8. I couldn’t always use this aperture, but for daytime landscapes, cityscapes and capturing details around the city, it worked just fine. Of course, there were situations when I wanted or needed to shoot with a wider aperture. And in these cases, I sharpened the images a bit in Photoshop.

Chromatic aberration and lens distortion

The third problem with a kit lens is the chromatic aberration and lens distortion. However, for me, this was the least of my worries. When I imported my raw files into Lightroom, I fixed these issues with a couple of clicks. As a matter of fact, I have these corrections automatically enabled; I just fine tuned them in a couple of shots.

The bottom line

If I can choose between a kit and a prime lens, I would almost always choose a prime because of the sharpness and overall better image quality. I kinda surprised myself when I chose to bring only a kit lens. However, I decided that the versatility it provides was more important this time. I found ways to overcome the lens’ flaws and ended up with some pretty decent travel shots. I definitely didn’t regret the decision. But who knows, if and when I go to Zagreb again, I might take only a prime lens. Just as a test.

Now tell me, if you had to choose only one lens to bring with you on a few-day trip, which one would it be?

[lead image credits: Luka Đigaš]

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Dunja Djudjic

Dunja Djudjic

Dunja Djudjic is a multi-talented artist based in Novi Sad, Serbia. With 15 years of experience as a photographer, she specializes in capturing the beauty of nature, travel, and fine art. In addition to her photography, Dunja also expresses her creativity through writing, embroidery, and jewelry making.

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28 responses to “Why I chose an 18-55 mm kit lens when I had to choose only one lens”

  1. DD877 Avatar
    DD877

    I use my 28-300 Nikon

  2. Darryl Palapuz Avatar
    Darryl Palapuz

    Justin Franco

  3. Fede Opfinger Avatar
    Fede Opfinger

    On apsc the Canon 15 85 is probably the best option

    1. Dunja0712 Avatar
      Dunja0712

      I’d definitely go with that :)

  4. Stewart Norton Avatar
    Stewart Norton

    I take my Tamron 18-270 as my walkabout lens covers a lot of situations.

  5. Howardo Mansfieldio Avatar
    Howardo Mansfieldio

    18mm I can live with, but 55mm is too short.

    1. Philip La Lumiere Avatar
      Philip La Lumiere

      I replaced mine with the sigma 18-200 image stabilization. They’re super cheap on eBay and absolutely outperformed the 18-55 in every aspect

  6. Blank Stare Avatar
    Blank Stare

    I have one lens an 18 55 kit lens so the choice is simple.

  7. TRex:ex Avatar
    TRex:ex

    Nikkor 18-300, F3.5-6.3

  8. Вергунов Сергей Avatar
    Вергунов Сергей

    The choice is strictly personal. Mine would be 35 or 50mm equivalent.

  9. Nico Hofmann Avatar
    Nico Hofmann

    35mm f1.8 on crop. I allready made that descision

  10. Daniele Cannavacciuolo Avatar
    Daniele Cannavacciuolo

    Nikon 16-85 is the way!

  11. Lorenzo Morgoni Avatar
    Lorenzo Morgoni

    I shoot Canon and an old 28-135 IS USM is excellent for FF, bit too long for APS-C.

  12. Sebastian Bundyra Avatar
    Sebastian Bundyra

    Nikkor 18-105 :)

  13. Matthias Avatar
    Matthias

    Panasonic 20 mm f/1.7 – that’s 40mm equivalent. But I could pack the Laowa 7.5 f/2 for landscapes along with it and still be much tighter packed than the SLR with kit its zoom :)

  14. Frank Nazario Avatar
    Frank Nazario

    My goto lens for many many years was the 18-55mm paired with a D3200 … and that setup paid my bills and NOT ONE client ever complained about the end results. Versatility, cost effectiveness and of course a shooting in RAW and heavy dose of post production using the adobe suite helped me accomplish the end results…plus, the truth is that it is “sharp enough” pushed a bit with some Light Room massage and it did accomplish the tasks… Nowadays I STILL use it, but I’ve upgraded to a D7200 with the Sigma Art 18-35 … a bit limiting in range but then again always and I mean always, paired with the post production process.

    For me since I started I have always seen paid gigs as a two stage process the camera and the post.
    With the kit lens it will always be that way … with the Sigma it still is but less drastic.
    I have learned to appreciate and understand the limitations of this lens and use those limitation to my advantage at the time of styling and post production. Love my kit lens.

  15. Adrian J Nyaoi Avatar
    Adrian J Nyaoi

    At the moment I used a 18-70mm; I wise I have something 18mm up to 200

  16. Vittorio Ambrosetti Avatar
    Vittorio Ambrosetti

    My thoughts exactly! The Pentax 18-55 II slays some lenses costing 2 or 3 times as much and it is what I choose to carry when I am out sightseeing and want to travel light. I would also love the 16-85 if I had some cash to burn right now.
    I do own some fancy vintage primes but sometimes it is just impractical to bring them along.

  17. Haroen Dilrosun Avatar
    Haroen Dilrosun

    35mm 1.4 Canon L

  18. Philip La Lumiere Avatar
    Philip La Lumiere

    When I need to pack as light as possible, it’s a film rebel xs and 40mm f2.8 pancake lens. It’s the lightest and smallest SLR I’ve ever found, it’s hella cheap so it’s not a big deal if it gets stolen or broken or confiscated, and to me shooting film isn’t a big deal since my first camera was a Canon elan 7 and I’m familiar with film. You can find them for like, $25 online and sometimes they even have a kit lens too!

  19. Philip La Lumiere Avatar
    Philip La Lumiere

    I prefer low light performance when travelling

  20. Martin Proffitt Avatar
    Martin Proffitt

    Totally depends on the place I’m going to and what I’m intending to shoot. I only have old fixed focal lenses, pentax, indostar, zenit. Portrait? Pentax 135mm, street? Indostar 50 lmm pancake or zenit 50 depending if I need compact or filterable. Nature? zenit 300mm on an adapted rifle mount for digital use. landscape/cityscape, 28mm pentax. I almost always travel with the 135mm and the pancake though. Serves 90% of my needs.

  21. Andrus Chesley Avatar
    Andrus Chesley

    28-135 is my run around lens and most used.

  22. Lennart van Wezep Avatar
    Lennart van Wezep

    Tamron 18-200 just a perfect “walk around” lens

  23. Daniel Shortt Avatar
    Daniel Shortt

    35 1.4, 85 1.4, save kilos in lighting.

  24. Juan Martin Gerardi Avatar
    Juan Martin Gerardi

    NO f…..g way will chose that piece of shglass

  25. Vladimir Kirillovskiy Avatar
    Vladimir Kirillovskiy

    Even with the kit lens you will find situations when you’ll be limited by focal length. But also you giving up low light and depth of field.

    I never pay attention on limitation of focal length – as it is pointless. I’m focusing on what is within my rich and what is looks good though the lens I have.

    Also I feel like 2 primes can be smaller than the kit lens)

  26. Zeke Pliskin Avatar
    Zeke Pliskin

    I think most of my lenses are zooms to be honest. Some longer than others. Some vintage manual, some not. The only time I really favour primes is for portraiture where I want maximum sharpness on a still subject. 50mm is good for that.

    What I’d like is a 20-200mm with a f4 aperture, that’d be enough for most things. It’d also be hella expensive, more than all my current kit is worth I’m sure. ?