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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!