You’ll often hear (or read) people talking about “kit lenses”. And, truthfully, a lot of the blogs out there will bash kit lenses. They’ll recommend against using a kit lens in your arsenal. Here I’ll first explain what a kit lens is and then go over some pros and cons.
The term “kit lens” means any lens bundled with a DSLR or mirrorless camera (because they allow for interchangeable lenses). Most oftenly, though, it’s really referring to an 18-55mm lens. This is the most common kit lens for starter or entry-level camera bodies. They are typically sub $200 when sold separate from a camera body and even cheaper when bundled with one. As I mentioned earlier, the 18-55mm isn’t the only lens offering as a bundle with a camera. Some professional cameras will offer bundles with a higher quality lens, but for this conversation, we’re focusing on the entry-level kit lens, 18-55mm.
Pro – Affordable and Accessible
If you want to start shooting right away, getting a kit lens that’s bundled with your camera allows just that. You can leave with a functioning lens. They are usually pretty lightweight, too, which helps as you are getting comfortable with your new rig. Additionally, as we already discussed, the kit lens is affordable, which means you aren’t breaking the bank on glass. And really, your performance to price ratio won’t be bad at all. You can still get solid photos with that kit lens.
Pro – Versatile
Kit lenses, like the 18-55mm, are often zoom lenses, which means they will inherently be more versatile. They give you a range of focal lengths to work with. The 18-55mm provides a focal length that ranges from wide angle to a short telephoto. That means you can use the kit lens for multiple shooting situations. There are definite benefits to being able zoom in closer to your subject, as well.
Pro – Great Starting Point
A kit lens will be an inexpensive way to explore photography and the kind of photography you want to do. It allows you to get real world experience to help test your ideal focal length, as well. If you don’t already know what kind of photography you want to do, spending more on a bunch of specialized glass you may not use doesn’t make sense.
Con – Build Quality
Small and lightweight can also be cons. It often signifies that the lens is made of lesser materials, like plastic, and without any weather sealing. The mount is likely also made of plastic. This all means that this lens is not built to stand the test of time. Or, really, constant use. This will also lead to softer, or less sharp, images because of the inferior quality glass, as well as the slower autofocus (presuming you aren’t ready to shoot manual).
Con – Optical quality
A kit lens can also limit how much you get out of your camera body. While it is the photographer who creates a beautiful image, there are technical factors that will mean a kit lens will be more limited on the quality it can produce. In general, a kit lens will use far less than 50% of your camera’s capabilities. A better lens will lead to better sharpness, contrast, focus performance, etc.
Con – Variable Aperture
Aperture affects depth of field and how much light reaches your camera sensor. Larger the aperture the more light is let in which means the lens will work better in low light situations. A lens that works better in low light situations will be faster, which means sharper images. Kit lenses start at a smaller or more narrow aperture which means they aren’t as effective in low light. And the more you zoom, the worse they get.
So, after all of that is said and done, how do we feel about kit lenses? As a beginner, I’m sure you see that the pros really benefit you. And as a more experienced photographer, there are also benefits. That being said, we’ve also let you know of potential disadvantages, as well. My final words? If you know the kind of photos you want to take. If you know the focal lengths that you like most stylistically, compositionally. If your goal is to continue to elevate the quality of your photos, look into upgrading your lenses. If you aren’t sure yet and are looking for experience, take that kit lens for a ride.