Should you buy a kit lens?

Canon image stabilized kit lensA kit lens is an interchangeable lens that is often sold along with a camera such as entry-level digital single-lens reflex cameras. Kit lenses can be purchased separately though they are less expensive when bought with the camera.

Kit lenses are usually zoom lenses offering a mid-wide angle to mid-telephoto range. Today, many kits lens come with Image Stabilization. Lens IS, of course, is not needed if your camera body has IS.

Some companies sell a camera body packaged along with two zoom lenses, for example, a 18-55mm lens and 55-250mm lens. This zoom range (18-250mm*) is suitable for many types of photography.

Kit lenses sometimes maligned

Because kit lenses are inexpensive and don’t have all the features found on more expensive lenses, they are maligned by some. However, the optics of kit lenses such as the Canon 18-55mm IS and 55-250mm IS are capable of producing sharp images with excellent color and contrast. They are fine for many photographers who don’t want to spend hundreds to over a thousand dollars for a lens.

Most kit lenses are made well, though not as well as more expensive and professional lenses. They may focus slower than better lenses, particularly in low light, and may not have features such as a distant scale that some use when focusing manually. Kit lenses may not be as quiet when zooming or focusing as their more expensive counterparts. Neither are they water resistant or water proofed like more expensive lenses.

However, if you’re moving from a compact digital camera to DSLR, you can expect a much better lens and better lens performance.

Who should buy a kit lens?

If you’re a brand new digital single lens reflex camera owner, getting a kit lens is a smart and cost effective move. If your camera doesn’t have in-body Image Stabilization, make sure you get a lens that has it. It may cost a little more than a lens without IS, but you’ll be getting a fairly recent model with improved optics over similar older lenses.

For many inexperienced DSLR users, the challenge is not the camera itself. The challenge is learning to use a lens correctly. You’ll need to know how the size of the aperture controls depth-of-field and you’ll need to find a lenses “sweet spot” to help ensure sharp images.

Why buy a kit lens?

By starting out with a quality kit lens, you will eventually gain insight as to what focal length, or lengths, would be more useful to you, or if you need faster, more precise focus. For example, for many landscape photographers, 18mm equivalent lens is not wide enough. A 250mm lens, even factoring in a cameras focal length multiplier, is simply not long enough for most wildlife photographers.

You will know when you outgrow a lens. And when you do, then it’s time to empty your piggy bank for a better, higher quality lens.

But just remember, owning a better lens does not necessarily make you a better photographer…but practice will.

Sample photos taken with the Canon 18-55mm IS kit lens

* To calculate the effective focal length of a lens, the focal length multiplier, also known as crop factor, of the camera must be used. The three most common multipliers are 1.5, 1.6 and 2.0.

Photo of boy at the beach taken with a Canon kit lens.

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