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You can go a long way, photographically, with a budget-priced starter zoom lens
I come to you today to sing the praises of the kit lens--that humble midrange zoom that is often bundled with starter and intermediate-level SLR cameras.
|First, let's get all the negatives out of the way:
So, if you're a professional photographer, you probably don't want to rely on a kit lens. But if you're not a pro, read on..
Just enough: With my lens set at 55mm, I was able to capture just what I wanted to show this old fence and flowers. If I'd used a longer zoom lens I wouldn't have gotten that “K” pattern, made by the fence, on the right side. But the slight zoom compressed the scene enough. Later, I partially desaturated the image to get an older feel. Gear for all photos: Canon 20D, 18-55mm lens. All photos by Mason Resnick.
The lens for the rest of us
For the rest of us, however, kit lenses are a great place to start when you first get a digital SLR. What, exactly, is a kit lens? That depends on the specific brand, but it's typically in the 18-55mm range, which covers from moderate wide-angle to moderate telephoto. Apertures typically are in the f/3.5-5.6 region, which is modest compared to f/2.8 on most pro mid-range zooms. The lenses can focus fairly close, and you can get respectable detail shots.
How do I get one of these things?
If you are planning to upgrade from a compact digital camera to a DSLR, you can buy any current starter DSLR with a kit lens. Search our DSLR section and look for deals with 18-55mm or 14-45mm lenses.
How is a kit lens different from a lens that's built into a compact camera? After all, many compact cameras sport a zoom lens that's wider than a typical kit lens's 3x range. Kit lenses are a bit faster and seem in general to be a bit sharper than built-in lenses. But their real strength is what they're attached to: an SLR.
A Single-Lens Reflex offers through-the-lens optical viewing, allowing for greater control of composition and focus. Shutter lag? There is virtually none on DSLRs, whereas the delay between the moment you press a compact camera's shutter and the moment the picture is recorded is noticeable, and often frustratingly slow. And since a DSLR will have a larger imaging sensor than a compact camera, the overall image quality will be superior.
The range of focal lengths
At its widest setting, a Kit lens takes in approximately the equivalent of a 28mm 35mm-format lens (less or more, depending on focal length and sensor size combination). This is a good place to start when attempting a journalistic or documentary approach to your photos. A typical kit lens focuses close--not enough to be considered macro, but close enough for reasonable flower shots.
At 55mm, the lens is ideal for portraits and outdoor group shots. Keep in mind, however, that one of the limits of the lens is that as you zoom out, the widest aperture effectively gets smaller. An f/3.5 lens at 18mm may be an f/5.6 lens by the time it reaches 55mm. This means you need to be aware at longer focal lengths that you're more likely to get shaky shots in low light.
What about pro lenses?
What do pro shooters get when they pay hundreds of dollars more for a high-end lens (such as the Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 shown here) that still has a mid-range focal length? Besides a more durable build quality, they get a faster f/2.8 aperture that stays consistent throughout the zoom range. Where kit lenses may have some pincussion or pillow distortion, that is minimized in pro optics. Yes, it costs and weighs more, but for a professional who makes a living with images, it may be worthwile.
How to tell if you've grown beyond a kit lens:
As versatile as it is, eventually you may find that some subjects are beyond the scope of a kit lens. Here are some ways you can tell it's time to buy your second lens:
The final word
A kit lens is a great way to get started if you are using your first DSLR. Spend time with it. Use it a lot, and get to know its ins and outs. It may be the best bargain you'll find.