William Burnett Photography | Kit Lenses vs. “Good” Glass

Kit Lenses vs. “Good” Glass

February 10, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

Kit Lenses vs. “Good” Glass

What is the difference between a kit lens and “good” glass? If many ‘would be’ professional photographers and camera store employees (who work on commission) are to be believed, that difference is night and day. They would say that a kit lens is not worth anything and does not even make a good paper weight, and that “good” glass is worth selling your kidney for if your kidney would bring in enough money to buy it.

The Secret

Here is a secret the camera store employee and the “Pro” photographer don’t want you to know. A kit lens is fine. For most people the kit lenses are about all they need for most of their photography. They certainly don’t need a 300mm f2.8 lens that costs upwards of $6000 just to take pictures of their kids at a baseball game. 

This image was shot using a 70mm-300mm f4.5/5.5 kit lens. As you can see the kit lens can even be used to take a very artistic photograph.

Prior to the days of modern CNC machining, computer aided design, and photoshop, a really expensive piece of glass was the only way to go if you wanted to take a decent photograph. However, we live in a modern world and lenses have come a long way. The modern kit lens is generally very distortion free compared to its counterpart from even ten years ago. It is safe to say that a modern kit lens is at least as good or better than many of the mid-priced lenses available 20 years ago. The low cost of digital photography and modern manufacturing techniques have worked together to make the economy of scale almost a miracle for the amateur photographer.

Many DSLR cameras come with two lenses or one general purpose lens. These are generally a wide angle zoom lens like a 18mm-70mm f3.5-5.6 and a 70mm-300mm f4.5/5.5 and for a one lens kits a great choice is a 18mm-200mm or similar kit lens. These lenses are good general purpose lenses for shooting out of doors or indoors with the assistance of an external flash. These lenses are not very good at all for low light photography. This does not mean that you need to go out and buy an expensive piece of glass to take photos indoors. A kit lens can be supplemented with a very low cost lens that will step up and fill this hole in performance. 

This photo is an example of using a kit lens without a tripod to take a low light photograph (It can be done). This photo was taken using a 18mm - 70mm f3.5-5.6 kit lens. The image was taken in a low light in a gorilla enclosure at the Louisville Zoo in Louisville, Ky. The image is through glass and no additional light was used.

50mm Prime Lens

Canon, Nikon, and Sony all have a 50mm f1.8 lens in their respective catalogue of lenses. And in every case the 50mm f1.8 lens is the least expensive lens that they make. They can be found for between $100 and $150 new. A 50mm f1.8 can step up and take the low light photographs that the kit lens just can’t touch and can do it at a fraction of the cost of an expensive zoom lens. Guess what? These lenses are great lenses. Are they sexy? No. Will people look at you and say, look at the size of his lens? Nope. However, adding a lens like this to your camera bag will make you a better photographer and will not break the bank doing it. Your indoor images will be sharp and you can save the money you would have spent on a lens and purchase a nice flash or a good piece of editing software for your computer.

This image was shot using a 50mm f1.8 prime lens.

A Word for the Pros

I know that expensive glass is a great thing. I own other lenses in addition to the kit lenses that came with my camera. I also know that it is not the lens or the camera that makes a photographer. I encourage anyone to buy the best glass that they can buy if they need it and can afford it. I also know that for most people an $8000 camera and a $6000 lens is not going to do anything to help them be a better photographer. I want the new and amateur photographer to come to know their equipment. I want them to take their systems to the limit and to make the best of what they have before they rush out and buy a lens that might not fit their needs or their budget. I want them to grow with their hobby and, yes, for most of them they are never going to outgrow the kit lenses and a supplemental prime lens. That is fine and their photos will be fine too. There are few things in this world more frustrating to me than to see a person with an expensive camera and lens trying to take a photo and then looking at the preview of the image and having a look of disgust on their face. I know that look is made worse because of the amount of money they dropped on a camera that they don’t know how to use. 

A Final Word for the Amateur 

Stick with the kit that you bought. Read everything you can about your camera. Experiment with your camera. Buy a low cost 50mm prime lens for where the kit lens does not work. Learn a good piece of editing software and learn to correct for the few flaws of the kit lens. Most of all, have fun and don’t worry about looking like a pro. Just learn to shoot like one and over time you will come to know what type of photography you really like to do and what type of lens will best suit your needs.



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