Kit lenses are an essential part of nearly every photographer’s journey, yet they receive a lot of criticism from established photographers.
But is this criticism deserved? Honestly, I don’t think so. Sure, these lenses might not have the widest apertures or the sharpest optics, but they’re far from useless. In fact, they offer several key benefits and can be a valuable asset to photographers of all levels.
In this article, I explore the ins and outs of kit lens photography. I share the strengths and weaknesses of these little lenses, and I also share my favorite tricks and techniques to maximize their potential.
So whether you’re a beginner looking to make the most of your basic glass or a seasoned pro seeking a fresh perspective, buckle up and get ready for an eye-opening journey!
What is a kit lens?
A kit lens is a lens that comes bundled with a camera. It’s typically inexpensive and offers basic features that cater to the needs of entry-level photographers.
One notable kit lens characteristic is a generous focal-length range. These lenses aim to cover a wide spectrum of shooting scenarios so beginners can capture a wide variety of subjects and compositions.
The most common kit lenses are 18-55mm models, although variations like 16-50mm and 15-45mm do exist. There are also telephoto kit lenses available, which often span from 55-200mm. (Some cameras even offer the option to bundle two kit lenses together: an 18-55mm model and a telephoto model!)
It’s important to note that not all cameras come with kit lenses. The more expensive the camera, the less likely it is that it’ll come with a lens.
(Higher-level cameras do sometimes include the option to bundle in a lens for a discount, but these products are usually much more expensive and don’t have the basic kit-lens characteristics.)
Reasons to use a kit lens for your photography
Not sure if a kit lens is right for you? Here are some reasons why you might want to use that handy kit lens instead of purchasing a different model:
1. Kit lenses are inexpensive
Lenses can be eye-wateringly expensive. In fact, intermediate-level lenses often cost more than a camera!
Fortunately, kit lenses break the pattern. They offer a budget-friendly option for photographers who are just starting out or don’t have thousands of dollars to spend. Since most kit lenses are priced at a few hundred dollars, they provide an affordable entry point into the world of DSLR and mirrorless photography.
Plus, even if you have extra money, you can spend it on other essential accessories. Investing in a sturdy tripod or a versatile lighting setup can greatly enhance your photography. So if you’re looking to stretch your dollar, a kit lens is a practical choice.
2. Kit lenses are compact and lightweight
When it comes to convenience and portability, kit lenses reign supreme. These compact and lightweight products are great for travel photographers. Imagine effortlessly attaching a lens to your camera and capturing the world without being weighed down by bulky equipment. That’s the beauty of a kit lens.
Because kit lenses are so portable, you can carry them with ease, whether you’re strolling through the city streets or venturing into the great outdoors. Pop one in your pocket, slip it into your purse, or tuck it snugly in your backpack, and you’re good to go. No need to lug around heavy lenses that make your shoulders ache!
But it’s not just about convenience. The compact size of kit lenses offers another advantage: inconspicuousness. Whether you’re shooting candid street scenes or capturing memorable moments at events, blending into the surroundings is key. Kit lenses, with their unassuming appearance, allow you to fly under the radar and capture authentic moments without drawing unwanted attention.
3. Kit lenses offer a great range of focal lengths
One of the major advantages of using a kit lens is the versatile focal length range. They’re specifically designed to give photographers the most bang for their buck, ensuring that they can capture a wide range of subjects without needing to invest in multiple lenses.
Imagine you’re out exploring a breathtaking landscape, and you want to capture the vastness of the scene. With an 18-55mm kit lens, you can zoom out to 18mm and capture the expansive beauty of the environment.
Now let’s switch gears and say you’re strolling through a bustling city street. You spot some intriguing architecture and decide to take a shot. With the same kit lens, you can zoom in to around 35mm and capture the details of the building.
But what if you come across a charming face in the crowd and you want to capture a captivating portrait? No worries! Simply zoom in to 55mm, and your kit lens will allow you to create a beautiful portrait with a pleasing background blur.
And if your camera comes with a telephoto kit lens, you can capture all sorts of subjects, including wildlife, pets, and birds.
So whether you’re photographing landscapes, street scenes, portraits, or even wildlife, a kit lens has got your back. Its focal length range offers you the flexibility to adapt to different shooting situations, ensuring that you’re always ready to capture a great photo. Don’t underestimate the power of a single lens that can do so much!
Kit lens drawbacks
Now it’s time to talk about the not-so-glamorous side of kit lenses. While they have their strengths, it’s important to be aware of their limitations. Here are a few drawbacks to consider:
1. Kit lenses offer poor build quality
Kit lenses aren’t the toughest kids on the block. They often have a plasticky feel (it’s one of the ways manufacturers keep the prices down).
Now, if you’re a casual shooter or work in relatively safe conditions, this might not be a big concern for you. But if you find yourself frequently venturing into the great outdoors, whether to sandy beaches, snowy landscapes, or rainy streets, your kit lens might struggle to cope with the elements.
Unlike their more expensive counterparts, kit lenses generally lack rugged designs and weather sealing. So it’s worth considering whether you need that extra level of durability and protection. If you’re the adventurous type or shoot in challenging environments, investing in a sturdier lens could be a smart move.
2. Kit lens optics are less impressive
When it comes to image quality, kit lenses do have their limitations. While they are certainly capable of capturing professional-level images, they often fall slightly short compared to their more expensive counterparts, especially in terms of overall sharpness.
Now, don’t get me wrong: Kit lenses are not inherently soft or unusable. In fact, for most casual shooters, the difference in image quality between a kit lens and a non-kit lens isn’t even noticeable. However, if you’re someone who values razor-sharp details and wants to squeeze every bit of clarity out of your shots, you might find that kit lenses can be a tad softer, particularly at wider apertures.
Ultimately, if image quality is a top priority for you and you demand absolute precision, then investing in higher-end lenses might be worth considering. On the other hand, kit lenses provide more than adequate image quality for everyday shooting – and with the right techniques (explored below), they can be used to produce professional shots.
3. Kit lens autofocusing can be slower
In my experience, kit lenses can feel a bit sluggish when acquiring focus. If you’re shooting subjects in motion, such as sports, wildlife, pets, or even hyperactive kids, this can be a serious concern.
It’s not all doom and gloom, however. If your photography mainly revolves around still subjects like landscapes, products, or flowers, the slower autofocus of a kit lens won’t pose much of a problem.
But if you find yourself drawn to fast-paced action or capturing split-second moments, you may become frustrated by the plodding autofocus of a kit lens – and it could be a good idea to look at more action-focused glass.
4. Kit lenses have narrow maximum apertures
Every lens has a maximum aperture, which determines how much light it can let in. Professional lenses often boast maximum apertures of f/2.8 or even wider, and this allows for handheld shooting in low-light conditions. It also helps create that dreamy background blur photographers love.
Kit lenses, on the other hand, have more modest maximum apertures. At the wide end of the focal length range, kit lenses usually offer a maximum aperture of around f/3.5 or f/4, and at the telephoto end, such as 55mm, the maximum aperture can be as small as f/5.6. These apertures are fine for shooting in daylight or well-lit environments, but they aren’t so great for low-light situations, and they’re also not ideal if you’re looking to create shallow depth-of-field effects.
That said, kit lenses can still produce great images within their limitations. If you plan to work in bright light or use a tripod, you’ll have no trouble capturing stunning shots. Additionally, understanding the characteristics of your lens and making the most of its capabilities is key. Learning to adapt your shooting techniques and leveraging the available light will help you overcome the challenges posed by narrow maximum apertures.
5 kit lens photography tips
If you’ve decided that you like the idea of shooting with a kit lens, here are a handful of tips to start you off:
1. Carry your lens with you everywhere
One of the best things about using a kit lens is its portability – and that’s why I encourage you to carry your kit lens with you everywhere you go.
After all, you never know when inspiration might strike or when you’ll stumble upon an incredible scene. By having your lens mounted on your camera and at the ready, you’ll be prepared to seize those spontaneous moments that make for the most memorable photographs.
At first, taking your gear everywhere might feel like a bit of a hassle, but the rewards will be worth it. So make it a habit to keep your kit lens within reach, whether you’re going for a walk in the park, traveling to a new city, or even just running errands.
2. Narrow the aperture for sharper photos
Are your kit lens photos looking a tad soft? It’s a common problem – but did you know that by narrowing the aperture setting, you can enhance the overall sharpness of your photos?
Here’s how to do it:
First, set your shooting mode to either Aperture Priority or Manual. This will give you control over the aperture setting. (If you’re unsure of how to switch between modes, consult your camera manual.)
Next, locate the knob or dial on the back of your camera that adjusts the aperture and turn it to increase the f-stop.
Wide apertures, represented by smaller f-stop numbers (e.g., f/2.8), tend to produce softer shots, especially when using a kit lens. But by increasing the f-stop number, you narrow the aperture, which results in sharper images.
Be mindful not to push the aperture too far, as ultra-narrow apertures can cause diffraction, leading to a loss of overall sharpness. Additionally, narrow apertures may force your camera to use slower shutter speeds to compensate for the reduced light, which can introduce motion blur if you’re handholding the camera. Consider using a tripod or adjusting other exposure settings, such as ISO, to maintain optimal image quality.
Every lens is different, but after narrowing the aperture, you may discover that your kit lens is capable of delivering remarkably sharp results. Experiment with different aperture settings to find the sweet spot that suits your desired level of sharpness (and depth of field).
3. Start thinking about the light
Light has the power to transform an ordinary scene into something extraordinary – and as you delve into photography, it’s crucial to start observing and understanding the role of light in your images. In fact, if an image has great light, it often doesn’t really even matter if it’s tack-sharp.
The best light often appears during the golden hours, the times just after sunrise and just before sunset. The sun’s rays become warm, soft, and flattering. It’s a time when landscapes glow, portraits come alive, and even the simplest subjects gain a touch of enchantment.
But don’t limit yourself to only shooting with golden-hour light. Great photos can be captured on cloudy days or even in the harsh light of midday. Each lighting situation presents unique opportunities and challenges. Cloudy days, for example, provide a soft, diffused light that can add a sense of moodiness, while bright sunny days will help produce vibrant colors and strong contrast.
Take the time to experiment with different lighting conditions. Venture out in various situations and observe how the light interacts with your subjects. Pay attention to the direction, intensity, and quality of light. Notice the interplay of shadows and highlights, and how they can shape the mood of your photos.
Over time, you’ll develop a keen eye for understanding and utilizing light to its fullest potential. You’ll learn to adapt your shooting techniques and settings to the specific lighting conditions, maximizing the capabilities of your kit lens.
4. Experiment with creative techniques
Kit lenses are perfect for anyone looking to push the boundaries and explore the artistic side of photography, in part because the low price means you don’t have to worry quite so much about their well-being.
One technique you can try is freelensing, which is somewhat unconventional but can give great results. Simply detach your lens from the camera body and hold it in front of the sensor, tilting it at different angles to create a selective focus effect. It’s a bit risky, as dust can find its way into your camera or you might accidentally drop your lens. However, when done carefully, you’ll be amazed by the dreamy, ethereal images that you can achieve.
Another creative technique worth trying is intentional camera movement (ICM). By deliberately lengthening your shutter speed and then moving your camera while pressing the shutter button, you can produce wonderfully captivating abstract images.
So don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and experiment with these creative techniques. Embrace the freedom that your kit lens provides, and let your imagination run wild!
5. Get close to your subjects
While kit lenses may not offer true macro magnifications, don’t underestimate their close-focusing capabilities. Often, you can get a lot closer to your subjects than you might think!
I encourage you to take a moment and test out your kit lens’s minimum focusing distance. You might be pleasantly surprised by how much detail you can capture, and once you’ve started exploring the macro world, you’ll never want to stop. From flowers to fabrics, insects to leaves, and even the intricate details of eyes, there’s so much waiting to be photographed.
When diving into close-up photography, keep in mind a few tips to get the best results. First, stability is key. As you get closer to your subject, any slight movement can result in blur. Consider using a tripod or stabilizing your camera against a solid surface to ensure tack-sharp images.
Secondly, pay attention to lighting. Small subjects often require careful lighting to bring out their textures and details. Experiment with a variety of lighting techniques, such as natural light at different times of the day and even using a small LED to create interesting effects.
Lastly, don’t be afraid to get creative with your compositions. Explore different angles and depths of field effects to highlight the unique characteristics of your subject. Play with selective focus to draw attention to specific details and create visually striking images.
Kit lens photography: final words
We’ve reached the end of our epic journey into the world of kit lens photography. I hope you’ve come to realize that these little units are worth a lot more than you might have originally thought!
Sure, kit lenses may not have the reputation or the specs of their pricier counterparts, but they bring a whole lot to the table. They’re affordable, portable, and versatile, giving you the freedom to capture a wide range of subjects without breaking the bank.
Remember, though, kit lenses do have their limitations. The build quality may not be especially rugged, the optics may not be tack-sharp, and the autofocus may not be lightning-fast. But with a little know-how and some experimentation, you can overcome these hurdles and create compelling photos.
So don’t feel you need to upgrade the moment you purchase a camera. Recognize that your kit lens can take stunning photos – as long as you know how to use it well!
Now over to you:
Do you use a kit lens? If so, what do you think of it? Are you pleased with it? Do you plan to upgrade? Share your thoughts (and images) in the comments below!