Ditch the kit lens!

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When I say “kit lens” I mean the 18-55mm lens that comes with the camera.

I have a good reason for saying this, so bear with me.

If you read my previous posts or watched my videos, you know I preach, “Equipment doesn’t make you a better photographer”.
But I do believe having the RIGHT equipment specific to your needs can help you.

If you’re mainly taking pictures where there’s plenty of light, then the kit lens is fine. Keep using it.

If you’re mainly taking pictures indoors in low light and are struggling, please read on.

Here are my main issues with the 18-55mm kit lens:

a) aperture f/3.5-f/5.6 is not ideal for most low light conditions

b) variable aperture makes it even more challenging

Let me explain.

f/3.5-f/5.6 is not ideal in low light

Lenses with wide apertures like f/1.2, f/1.4, f/1.8, f/2.0 or f/2.8 means it brings in more light to the lens allowing you to photograph at a faster shutter speed to avoid getting shaky photos.

When I first bought my camera, I bought a Canon 28-135mm IS lens along with the 18-55mm kit lens.  Two lenses with f/3.5-f/5.6. In hind sight, bad idea.

At the time, like most new parents with a new baby, I mainly shot indoors in my home because I wanted photos of my new baby girl. As I began learning and exploring beyond Automatic Mode on my camera, I soon learned having a wider aperture value is what gives the blurry background look (bokeh) and helps in low light situations by bringing in more light.

Shooting at aperture f/3.5-f/5.6 indoors, I was often getting photos with a blurry subject. When I zoomed in to take a shot of my daughter, the lens was giving me f/5.6 and the images were not as crisp because the camera would slow down the shutter speed to give a properly exposed image. And the IS(Image Stabilizer) didn’t really compensate much for not having a wider aperture.

I ended up selling the 28-135mm IS lens and got a 50mm 1.8.

Variable Aperture

The 18-55mm and 28-135mm lenses both have aperture values that go from f/3.5-5.6.

When you zoom out all the way at 18mm or 28mm, the aperture opens as wide as f/3.5. But as you zoom in, the aperture changes to f/4.0, and when zoomed in all the way, f/5.6

For example, you might be in a situation where you’re getting well exposed images at 18mm, f/3.5, 1/125. Then under the same lighting condition you decide to zoom in all the way to 55mm for a close up. The lens is not capable of staying at aperture f/3.5, so it automatically changes to f/5.6. In order to compensate for the change in aperture, the shutter speed will change to 1/50. Chances are, the images taken at shutter speed 1/50 won’t be as crisp as you’d like.

That stinks!

I think it’s easier to learn photography when you’re able to lock into a single aperture value, instead of dealing with an aperture value that changes every time you zoom in or out.

Let say you’re in a same scenario as the above example. If you want a close up, you can take a couple of steps forward and still get the shot at f/3.5, 1/125.

I want to help you get the kind of photos you want to better capture your life.
I don’t want a lens limiting you from getting the photos you want.

Unfortunately, most zoom lenses that lock into a single aperture are more expensive.

That’s why I recommend the 50mm 1.8 or the 35mm lenses.

Yes, they don’t have the capability to zoom, but you can always zoom in and out by moving back and forth.

I’d rather have a lens with a wide aperture that allows me to take photos even in low light.

What about you? Do you have the kit lens? What’s your experience with it? What do you like or dislike about it?

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2 Responses to Ditch the kit lens!

  1. Jean-Pierre 01/27/2012 at 4:55 pm #

    I have to slightly disagree with you. While I love prime lenses, your one wrong idea is that aperture is everything. My t3i kit lens has 3 stops of image stabilization. So for indoor food photography, still life basically, the smaller aperture and longer shutter speed is more attractive than a super shallow depth of field. The kit lens goes to a much wider field of view on a crop sensor camera than the 35 or 50mm primes. I think it is a pretty diverse lens and much sharper than lenses of a few years back.

    Are there better options? Sure, but for just $100 in a kit, I’ve gotten some super sharp photos. And the macro is pretty good too. Not to mention the IS helps with video. I don’t know… I am super glad I got it and I also like my 35 (and vintage lenses via adapter). And for portraits, a little softness might be more flattering.

    Thanks for the articles, hope I made sense.

    • Peter Bang 01/27/2012 at 8:36 pm #

      Hi Jean-Pierre! It makes sense and thanks for bringing that up. I hope the readers read your comment too and get a better idea of what the kit lens is about, and decide for themselves.

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