The basic kit lens

Some compelling reasons for choosing the humble kit lens over its hugely priced, large aperture, high-end siblings.

Contrary to popular notion, the standard kit lens, be it the l8-55mm for APS-C sensors or the 14-42mm for micro-four third cameras, is perhaps the best value for money lens available. In fact, this is the lens of choice for many professionals the world over, for many kinds of photography, despite their access to other high-end lenses that cost a whole lot more. Here is why the kit lens should be your choice too.

1. Great Tech in an Inexpensive Package

It is not only the cheapest zoom lens available, it features technologies like silent, speedy AF, three to four stops of Image Stabilisation and corrected optics, some of which are not available in more expensive lenses. Feature for feature, you are getting about 90% of the capabilities of a large aperture, high-end zoom lens of the same focal length, at less than one tenth the price!

This alone makes the kit lens worth it.

2. Relatively Free of Aberrations

There is no denying that professional lenses have fewer aberrations and better center-to-edge sharpness. However, new generation kit lenses have excellent control over aberrations too. Besides, you can easily correct problems like distortion, vignetting, and fringing in-camera or in editing software. Even an informed viewer will not be able to tell the difference.

3. Several Lenses in One

The focal length of a standard zoom includes a 28mm, a 50mm normal, a 70mm telephoto and in some cases, 100mm (in full-frame parlance). The moderate wide end is great for landscapes, architecture and environmental portraiture. The telephoto end is ideal for close-up portraiture or any kind of photography where details are important. The kit lens is perhaps the most versatile street photography lens available.

It can also be a great ‘discipline’ lens, if you decide to maintain just one zoom position, while you shoot.

4. Wonderfully Compact and Light

Kit lenses are the smallest and lightest zooms available. Many senior photographers prefer this lens to the much heavier, bulkier high-end versions just because it does not weigh them down. It also consumes very little space in a camera bag.

5. There is a Brilliant ‘Sweet Spot’

Every lens has got a ‘mid-point’ at which it performs best. With kit lenses, the best sharpness is achieved at f/8, and there is practically no visible distortion at about 40mm. So, set your camera to Aperture Priority at f/8, and avoid camera shake.

The lens becomes so sharp that it is nearly impossible to distinguish the difference between the kit lens and a lens ten times more expensive, especially in a print.

6. Magical Blurs and Bokeh

Many photographers lament that the kit lens is unable to blur backgrounds because the aperture is not wide enough. The trick is to use the telephoto end of the lens at f/5.6, move as close as you can to the subject while keeping the background distant. Backgrounds blur out beautifully

7. Getting Everything in Focus

Here is some 18mm wide angle magic. First, set the camera at f/8 in Aperture Priority. Switch the lens to Manual Focus. Now, with the camera at eye level, focus on the ground about three feet ahead of you (or at the hyper-focal distance of six feet), point and shoot. The depth-on-field will be from three feet to infinity. Everything from the foreground to background will be in focus!

8. Excellent Minimum Focusing Distance

The close focusing distance of a kit lens is actually better than many other lenses, at about 10 inches. This lets you go in really close to your subject. In other words, the kit lens has an impressive maximum magnification of about 0.34x or 1:3 at the telephoto end, which, oddly enough, is better than most other lenses. With a reversal ring, the maximum magnification possible is all the way from 1:1 to 3:1. Welcome to fantastic macro photography!

9. Perfectly Paired for the Onboard Flash

Be it a portrait at the tele end, or a group shot at the wide end, the kit lens is designed to pair perfectly with the coverage of the camera’s inbuilt flash. Your subjects will be illuminated without the light falling off at the edges of the frame, and without throwing the shadow of your lens on your subjects at the wide angle end. Ensure that the lens hood is removed though.

10. An Easy Lens to Accessorise

Kit lenses have smaller filter diameters than high-end lenses of the same focal length. This means that you can buy three different filters for your kit lens in the same price as one filter for a high-end lens. This also makes replacing scratched filters less expensive. So start exploring creative photography with a range of filters.

In the end, remember that any lens is only as good as its user wants it to be. There is a lot of great photography to be explored with the inexpensive, humble, kit lens too.

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