Digital SLR cameras have come a long way over the years. One thing that hasn’t, however, is the kit lenses that come with them.
What’s a “kit” lens? It’s one of those 18mm-something, f/3.5-5.6 lenses that are bundled with your entry level DSLR. They are designed to be small and get you started in DSLR photography. Once you get more serious…they’ll leave you disappointed. Here’s why:
- Sub Par Image Quality – In most shooting scenarios kit lenses are designed with a low to mid price point in mind. They trade zoom range/convenience for optical performance. If you’re only shooting outside during the day and don’t mind stopping down to f/8-f/11 for every shot you’ll get adequate pictures. For just about anything else, you’ll hit the limits of what a kit lens can do.
- Slow/Variable Apertures – In our opinion, this is the biggest drawback of kit lenses. The maximum aperture of f/5.6 or slower on the telephoto end leads to slow shutter speeds and very little depth of field effect. When you can’t get shallow depth of field, you can’t get the “look” of professional photography. Variable apertures make exposure settings tricky and give you a very dim viewfinder image.
- Mediocre Build Quality – Most kit lenses are constructed mostly of plastic parts to keep costs down. Pair this with their complex zoom mechanisms and you’ll find they are more prone to damage during regular use. It’s not uncommon for their zooms to jam from minor bumps or knocks. Kit lenses also have little to no protection from the elements. Not fun if you should get caught in some weather while shooting.
WHAT’S THE SOLUTION?
f/2.8 zooms like the 17-55mm f/2.8 for Nikon or Canon (crop) and 24-70mm f/2.8 for Nikon or Canon (full frame) and fast primes like the 35mm f/1.4 or 85mm f/1.4. These are designed with image quality and low light performance in mind. The fast, constant apertures let more light into your camera making handheld low light photography possible. Your viewfinder will be brighter and more pleasing to shoot with. Your auto focus will be faster & more accurate. Image quality will get a big jump, especially when shooting wide open. Add all this plus the extra durability and weather sealing and you’ll see why so many professionals choose these lenses over their do-everything counterparts.
IS THERE A DOWNSIDE?
Cost and weight are the two big ones. Some professional f/2.8 zooms can cost 5-10x what their kit lens counterparts do. For casual photographers it can seem crazy to spend 3-5 times what they did for their camera on a lens, but you can’t get professional results without professional tools. If the expense of these lenses are the biggest hurdle, this is where renting might make sense. If it’s a once in a lifetime trip, or you’re just starting to figure out what lenses are right for you, test driving one via online rental with LensProToGo is a great option.