How do you feel about kit lenses? Are they capable of good photos? Or are they an utter waste of time, the type of lens that should be discarded at the earliest opportunity?
According to one college photography instructor, who banned the use of kit lenses in her editorial photography course, kit lenses aren’t just poor quality; they simply shouldn’t be used – at least not by photography students. As the instructor explains in her syllabus, “You are talented enough by this point to not compromise your image quality by using these subpar lenses…You should do everything within your power to never use these lenses again.”
Here’s the full quote, as posted to Reddit by a frustrated student:
The 18-55mm kit lenses that come with entry-level, crop-sensor DSLRs are NOT good quality. You are required to have the insurance for this class, and since most assignments require a trip to the cage for lighting gear, I am also blocking the use of these lenses. You are talented enough by this point to not compromise your image quality by using these subpar lenses. Student work from this class has been licensed commercially as stock photography, but if you shoot with an 18-55mm lens, you are putting your work at a serious disadvantage, quality-wise. You are not required to BUY a different lens, but you are required to use something other than this lens. You should do everything within your power to never use these lenses again.
The student went on to explain that the class is designed for second-year photography undergraduates, and that the “cage” – where students can borrow lenses to complete assignments – “is only accessible two hours a day, two days a week.”
In other words, while students who don’t own acceptable equipment (i.e., non-kit lenses) can technically continue the course without purchasing additional lenses, they’ll need to show greater dedication than their peers, put in extra hours on campus, and compete with other students for access to school-owned equipment.
While this lack of course accessibility is bound to frustrate plenty of current and would-be students, it’s the instructor’s sweeping criticism of kit lenses that has photographers up in arms.
As the Reddit community was quick to point out, plenty of beautiful photos, including work published in top-notch newspapers and magazines, have been taken with kit lenses or similar. And furthermore, there are high-quality kit lenses available, many of which are perfectly adequate for pro-level photos. Sure, some kit lenses do offer soft image quality, but you can often correct the problem by stopping down to f/8 or so.
And as the original poster explained, even “older full-frame kit lenses are more than adequate for all but the most demanding of applications,” and the class assignments involve “shooting with big strobes – mostly [at] f/8+ and ISO 100.”
For me, kit lenses are one-hundred percent adequate for a whole host of situations. Their image quality is often decent, and with the right technique, you can come away with some very nice results. Plus, kit lens focal lengths tend to be very useful. At 18mm, you can capture scene-setting wide-angle images; at 25-35mm, you can do some impactful street and photojournalistic photography; and at 45-55mm, you can do intimate portraits, headshots, and more.
That’s not to say that kit lenses are superior to their much more expensive prime counterparts. Kit lenses aren’t as sharp, as fast focusing, or as effective in low light as, say, a high-quality 50mm f/1.4 lens. But the point isn’t that kit lenses are the best, it’s that they’re good enough – and that both students and professionals can use kit lenses to great effect.
Now over to you:
What do you think about kit lenses in photography? Do you like them? Dislike them? Do you think they should be banned from photography classes? Share your thoughts in the comments below!