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Your new digital camera is a fantastic photographic tool. It is capable of performance we never even imagined just a decade ago. But it’s not only the camera that is involved in making photographs, you have a lens, too.
Many digital cameras, whether DSLR or mirrorless, come in a kit with a zoom lens in the normal range. For APS-C cameras, this lens is often in the general range 18-55mm, MFT cameras 14-42mm, and Full Frame format 24-70mm or 28-80mm.
For the most part, kit lenses are packaged with entry level up to some prosumer level cameras. A fair amount of photographers will inform beginners that you absolutely need to upgrade your kit lens right away.
Do you need to upgrade your kit lens? What are some desirable kit lens alternatives? What should you look for when considering a kit lens upgrade?
Kit Lens Characteristics
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The normal lens for 35mm film photography was most commonly the Nifty Fifty, a 50mm lens. It gave a decent representation of what the eye sees when dealing with full frame 35mm film format. It’s still the “normal” lens for Full Frame digital cameras.
Figuring in the crop factor calculations for the smaller formats, normal for for APS-C cameras is around 35mm, and 25mm for MFT format cameras. Crop factor for APS-C format is 1.5X and 1.6X, the factor is 2.0X for MFT format.
Zoom lenses that include the normal focal length plus a little telephoto and a fair amount of wide angle are some of the most useful lenses made. Add in macro or close focusing capability and you have a lens that probably covers most situations for a large number of photographers.
What’s Wrong With a Kit Lens?
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So why do so many experienced photographers recommend replacing the kit lens? Two reasons are usually cited. One, kit lenses are usually somewhat slow in maximum aperture. Two, kit lenses are generally manufactured with lightweight materials.
What these characteristics do is both beneficial and limiting at the same time. The benefits are that these kit lenses can be small, light, and relatively inexpensive. The drawbacks are the previously mentioned slow maximum aperture, especially at the telephoto end of the zoom range, and that the lighter weight materials are not as rugged or durable as heavier duty materials.
Something good to say about kit lenses is that every single one I have ever used or tested has been very sharp. Yes, kit lenses have very good optical quality. There are good reasons to pick other lenses, though.
Kit Lens Alternatives
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Since one of the most limiting characteristics of kit lenses are the slow apertures, many photographers new to interchangeable lens cameras will opt for a fast prime as their kit lens upgrade. You’re often not replacing your kit lens, you’re supplementing it.
A fast prime gives beginner photographers a great way to get into selective focus and controlling bokeh. In the APS-C format, prime lenses in the 35mm and 50mm focal length are relatively fast, f/2.0 or f/1.8. They are also small in size and aren’t very expensive.
Another alternative some photographers choose is a macro lens. Especially if you are finding yourself enjoying the world of ultra close up imaging, a macro lens is a great choice. In the APS-C format, macro lenses of 40mm focal length are budget friendly and are faster than kit lens zooms, an f /2.8 aperture is common.
You can find a lot of these lenses at very low prices from used lens sellers such as Gear Focus. While it may make you nervous to think of spending money on a used item, sticking with a well respected seller with a proven track record gives you the best of both worlds - low prices and consumer protection.
Other Kit Lens Upgrade Ideas
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Besides the normal focal length zoom range of lenses sold with the camera, other inexpensive lenses in different ranges could be considered kit lenses.
Among the first extra lenses purchased by a large number of beginner photographers are telephoto zoom lenses. The prices of many longer lenses could be shocking to new photographers. Some telephoto and telephoto zooms cost more than double or triple the price of the camera and lens kit.
However, most camera makers also make longer zoom lenses with similar characteristics to the camera kit lens. For APS-C cameras, zooms in the range of 50-200mm or 70-300mm are made with lighter weight materials and slower maximum apertures. This keeps costs low while allowing you to enjoy using telephoto zooms.
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The same thing applies to the wide angle side of things. Again, focusing on APS-C format, kit style lenses in focal length ranges of 10-20mm or 12-24mm are common in low price, slow aperture models.
So, for a new photographer on a budget, you could get a great camera and 3 or 4 lenses covering super wide angle to significant telephoto and they could all probably fit into the bag that came with your camera and lens kit.
Of course, kit style lenses are not all that is open to budget conscious beginner photographers. Excellent condition used lenses can be found at local camera stores and through online sellers such as Gear Focus. For peace of mind, look for sellers that offer some sort of consumer protection, such as return privileges or a limited warranty.
Learn more about the benefits of websites like Gear Focus in the video above.
How Many Lenses Do You Need?
photo by 66North via iStock
Well, what do you want to do photographically? After using your new camera and kit lens for a while, you probably know what you’re leaning towards.
Are landscapes and architecture your thing? Consider wide angle lenses. Portraits? A fast prime could satisfy you. Wildlife? Perhaps the longer telephotos and telephoto zoom lenses are your first next lens purchase.
You don’t have to replace your first lens, but a kit lens upgrade is a good idea for your next major photographic purchase.