4 Tips for Getting the Most Out of Your Kit Lens

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If you’re an entry level photographer buying an interchangeable-lens camera for the first time, your chosen camera body will likely come with a starter lens, also known as a kit lens. Typically priced very inexpensively, kit lenses are seen as the lower end of a manufacturer’s offerings. Most seasoned photographers will turn their noses up at the very mention of a kit lens. But as technology continues to evolve, kit lenses are getting better and better with each new camera release. If you’ve just purchased a camera, take a gander at these four tips for getting the most out of your new kit lens.

Sony Kit Lens Photography Tips

Why Use a Kit Lens?

As mentioned above, kit lenses are best intended for those just starting out with a particular camera model. If you have no idea what lens to get with your new camera, opt for the suggested kit lens. In my case, I invested in my very first kit lens when venturing into the mirrorless world with my recent purchase of a Sony a6300.

As I intended to use the camera for casual travel use, I didn’t want to invest in expensive Sony glass, so I stuck with the included 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 zoom lens. Not only was this lens choice cheaper, but it was also incredibly compact thanks to its retractable zoom feature. As expected, this kit lens was full of pros and cons, but after some practice, I was still able to pull off shots that rival those taken with my full-frame Canon DSLR and L-series lenses. Here are some practical tips for getting the most out of your kit lens.

Sony Kit Lens Photography Tips

1. Kit lenses generally have variable apertures

Most camera manufacturers include kit lenses that have variable apertures, meaning that as you increase the focal length, the maximum and minimum aperture sizes will decrease. This feature makes the lens much cheaper compared to fixed aperture lenses, but it can be frustrating for seasoned photographers seeking constant aperture (like f/2.8 or f/4) at all focal lengths. For a beginning or casual photographer, however, variable apertures probably won’t matter much.

Note: if you aren’t sure about your lens read this, What the Numbers on your Lens Mean

The Sony 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 is definitely a variable aperture lens, as a compromise of packing that focal length into such a tiny physical space. This was generally fine as I was mostly shooting street and landscape photography in broad daylight. However, the lack of a constant aperture became incredibly frustrating when attempting to shoot in low light conditions, which leads me to my next point.

Price the Sony 16-50mm on Amazon or B&H Photo’s websites.

Sony Kit Lens Photography Tips

2. Know the limits of your kit lens

Before you start shooting away with your kit lens, understand that there’s an attached stigma to them for a reason. Kit lenses very rarely offer the best image quality as a trade-off for them being more compact in size and cheaper in price. This was definitely the case for the Sony 16-50mm kit lens.

Thanks to the retractable zoom, the lens has a pretty decent mid-range zoom packed into an incredibly small body, with its size rivaling that of Sony’s official pancake lens, the 20mm f/2.8. But as a compromise, images tend to be on the soft side, and heavy distortion is apparent when shooting wide at 16mm. Additionally, the lens’s variable aperture meant some limitations when shooting in low light without flash. Getting a handle on your kit lens’s limitations helps adjust your expectations and understand what will photograph well with the lens, and what will not and you may struggle.

3. Find the sweet spot

For all this talk about kit lens compromises and limitations, it’s also important to recognize the redeeming quality that every lens does indeed have – a sweet spot. There’s a lot to be said about the exact process of finding your lens’ sweet spot, but as a quick summary, a shooting at a sweet spot will produce the sharpest image possible with that particular lens. According to my experience with the Sony 16-50mm kit lens, its sweet spot is at 35mm at f/8. The images still aren’t as tack sharp as I’d like them to be, as the corners of the frame are still relatively soft, but they’re the best for the lens’s abilities.

Sony Kit Lens Photography Tips

4. Supplement the kit lens with a prime lens

As mentioned above, kit lenses typically suffer the most when it comes to producing tack sharp images (and working in low light). The best way to combat this while staying within an affordable price range, and not adding a ton of bulk to your gear, is to invest in an accompanying prime lens.

The prime lens you choose will vary depending on the brand, your budget, and your photography style. Generally speaking, it’s best to go with a prime lens that’s within the 35mm-50mm range, since 35mm is the closest focal composition of the human eye. In the case of my Sony setup, I selected the 20mm f/2.8 pancake prime lens to supplement my 16-50mm kit lens. I now have a prime lens option for shooting in low lighting and when ultimate image sharpness is key.

Sony Kit Lens Photography Tips

In Summary

Understanding the limitations of your kit lens is the essential first step to mastering usage of the lens. These limits will become apparent the more you experiment with it, and you can get more clarity on pros and cons of specific kit lenses by reading user reviews and critiques online.

What is your opinion of using kit lenses for photography? Let me know in the comments below!

Read more from our Cameras & Equipment category

Suzi Pratt

is an internationally published Seattle event and food photographer. Her photos appear regularly in Eater and Getty Images. She is also a blogger who teaches others how to run a successful photography business.

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  • Stephen Eather

    Thanks Suzi for a most relevant article. I have a Sony A6000 that came with the same lens you reviewed. I agree totally with your comments, with the best feature being its compact size. In addition, I have purchased a Sigma 35mm prime lens which works really well. Awesome value for money. Using an adapter, I can also utilise a couple of my old Minolta lenses that are still as sharp as a tack. All in all, I’m very happy with my system!
    Go well,
    Steve (Brisbane, Australia)

  • Thanks for your feedback, Steve! I have yet to try out any Sigma lenses, but am happy to know they have a 35mm. I may very well pick one up this holiday season 🙂

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  • Babsy1969

    Great article!
    Last Christmas I bought a new Nikon D7100 and it came with not one, but two kit lenses! The 18-55mm f3.5-5.6, and a 55-300mm f4.5-5.6. Before that, I long suffered with an older model Olympus 4/3rd’s (not the micro) with it’s kit lenses for years, and this was like a kid with horrible vision finally receiving his first pair of glasses! WoW!
    But I paid my dues with that old Olympus and I generally knew what I was doing by the time I bought the Nikon. My photos have definitely improved since. But not all of my shots are what I’d call stunning but I make it work the best I can. And I’m learning. Every once in a while I get a few surprise looks from people when they ask ‘what camera & lens did you use?’ when I tell them crop sensor and kit lenses!
    Kit lenses force you to learn the craft, and then you can decide for yourself what you like and what you don’t. After a year or so now, I’ve decided that I want a very wide and fast lens. A year ago I thought I wanted the long zoom, that foot-long monstrosity I see many wildlife photographers use. And maybe one day I will, but after shooting for a year, I’ve found I really like shooting at night. Shooting in low light situations. Sunrises, sunsets, stars etc. No need for the foot-long anymore.
    No one starts out on top, no one learns Mozart on their first day of piano lessons, and there’s no need for a Steinway when a Yamaha will do.

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