Are "kit" lenses "bad"?

Discussion in 'Digital Photography' started by mrcowdude20, Nov 8, 2011.

  1. mrcowdude20 macrumors regular

    Sep 11, 2011
    Philadelphia, PA
    People say that "kit" lenses are bad, are they bad? WHat makes them bad?
  2. Doylem macrumors 68040


    Dec 30, 2006
    Wherever I hang my hat...
    Not necessarily bad; kinda depends what you do with them... ;)

    I shoot 90% of my pix with a Nikon D200 with the 'kit' 18-70mm zoom lens. Plans to upgrade to a better lens have been shelved because, well, the kit lens is just fine...
  3. Artful Dodger macrumors 68020

    Artful Dodger

    May 28, 2004
    In a false sense of reality...My Mind!
    I think that for this thread and your landscape thread you should have a look at Doylem's photos here in the MR photo forum as a good example. He uses the "kit lens" and I think most would be surprised when not knowing that information about his photos.

    Also my local shop will sell say a D7000 with a 16-85mm as a kit so is it really a kit lens or a custom kit? I've had a very good amount of photos come out really good using my kit lens, an 18-55mm from my D50.

    I think if you are looking at maybe build quality then there would be a difference but in the hands of someone trained well then I believe it's subjective in some ways.

    I'm sure others can add much more here but it's a start :)

    Ok he beat me to it ;)
  4. noisycats macrumors 6502a


    Jun 1, 2010
    The 'ham. Alabama.
    Kit lenses are not necessarily bad nor good by default. It all depends on the particular lens (some have better reputations than others), the particular situation, and most important of all, the particular photographer.

    As a general rule, kit lens represent a host of compromises to fit the majority of shooting situations. A good photographer will be able to exploit those compromises to their benefit.

    Cameras don't take bad pictures, people do.
  5. h1r0ll3r macrumors 68040


    Dec 28, 2009
    I guess why some people consider kit lenses to be "bad" are simply the fact that they're the free lens that came with their camera purchase. Usually, whenever you get something free with your purchase it's usually crap. Or the lens doesn't "do" what they want it to right out of the box. This usually concerns things like focal length, auto focus speeds, image quality, etc. However, depending on your needs, kit lenses aren't always bad.

    I received a 18-55 with my T3i and it was quite a capable lens. Are there other lenses out there that perform better? Without a doubt. However, if you're just starting out with photography then the kits lenses are a great tool to help you refine what you need in a lens. The kit lens is your introductory lens to tool around with. Once you've figured out the pros/cons of that lens for your needs, then you'll be more knowledgeable about what you want your next lens purchase to be is. I've seen quite a few a people perfectly content with their kit lenses. Usually, they're just folks who wanted to make the jump from point and shoot to DSLR. As you get advanced in whatever type of photography you do, the kit lenses will, most likely, cease serving any use to you.

    It all really depends on what you are shooting and how deep you want to go into photography. That and how much money you have in your bank account :p Kit lenses, for most people, are quite good so I don't consider them to be "bad" by any means.
  6. chrono1081 macrumors 604


    Jan 26, 2008
    Isla Nublar
    Whether the kit lens is bad or not is solely on the photographer. Are they generally slower, less sharp, and produce less desirable bokeh than a pro level lens? Sure but it doesn't mean they are bad. If someone truly understands photography they can make the most out of any lens/camera.

    This picture below was taken with the Canon 18-55 kit lens that is generally considered a "bad" lens. It came with my Canon 20D years ago when I got my first digital SLR ;) It was the first picture I took with the camera.

    This image was only lightly sharpened (which you need to do with digital due to the AA filter). Sure the drop I wanted in focus isn't completely in focus as I hadn't adjusted the diopter yet but you get the idea.

    This a MILLION times over! You'd be amazed how angry and defensive people get when I say similar things.

    Attached Files:

  7. js81 macrumors 65816


    Dec 31, 2008
    Correct me if I'm wrong (and I may well be, lol), but most(?) kit lenses are general purpose lenses. To be general purpose, to me at least, means to be decent at lots of things, but not particularly awesome at any.

    My kit SAL1855 that came with the a290 is a decent lens; but its f3.5 at 18mm is not particularly conducive to indoor/low-light photography without a flash. For that I use my f1.7 50mm Minolta prime. 55mm does not make for great telephoto shots, either, obviously - for that I use my old-school Minolta Beercan (70-210mm f4). But this lens, at 18-55mm and f3.5-5.6 makes for a nice general purpose lens - it takes good photos outdoors and decent photos indoors WITH flash. Is it great at distance? No. Is it great for low-light? No. Does it have awesome bokeh? No. Does it work in the ~80% of average see-something-cool-and-snap-the-pic photography? Absolutely.

    That being said, I will say this about the kits lenses I've used; while the glass may be good and the photos above decent, build quality is usually where they may be considered "bad." Mine is very plastic-y, even to the point of a plastic mount. But the photos are still good... ;)
  8. ArchRivalNeo macrumors newbie

    Nov 13, 2010
    Night photography

    I recently bought an Olympus E-PL3 and the kit lens has been quite frankly...crap, for low light and night photography. It doesn't hold a candle to my previous Panasonic GF2 and 14mm wide angle pancake lens combo. I'm guessing I could take better pictures with a tripod, but having tried all sorts of shutter speeds (slower), high ISOs, f stops doesn't seem to make much of a difference. It is however good for taking pictures during the day. I also found out that the UV filter I had been using might have been obstructing me from taking better pictures in low light. But even then the pictures seem to be crap.
  9. chrono1081 macrumors 604


    Jan 26, 2008
    Isla Nublar
    This isn't a lens issue, the lens will work the same regardless of the amount of light, but how you are able to expose is the culprit.

    Unless you have a fast lens and a descent amount of light, you will need a tripod for sure, and you will need to use different lighting techniques based on what type of shots you want to do. If you are shooting people you will definitely need some type of flash set up, if you are doing city lights, multiple exposures may be needed to get both the buildings and the lights properly exposed. Night photography requires more tricks usually than daytime photography. If you post some examples maybe we can help pinpoint the issue.
  10. cherry su macrumors 65816

    cherry su

    Feb 28, 2008
    Depends which kit lens; the Canon 18-55 is pretty crappy (lame build quality, so-so optics), but on the other hand, the Canon 24-105L that comes with the 5D II is a well constructed and very sharp lens.

    Oh, and the 28-135 that comes with some midrange models isn't too shabby either.
  11. richpjr macrumors 68030


    May 9, 2006
    Not really agreeing with this thought. Of course there are better lenses out there, but for a lens that cost $100 (kit vs body only), it's a very solid lens capable of taking good pictures. Of course it's not in the same league as your 24-105 lens is, but your lens cost about a grand more than the kit lens! And while I haven't used the 24-105 myself, more than a few people comment about the lack of sharpness in it and how it's too slow for the money.
  12. maflynn Moderator


    Staff Member

    May 3, 2009
    I found when I purchased my Nikon D70 which is really long in the tooth at this point to have an excellent kit lens. Are there better kit lenses out there now? No doubt, are there inferior kit lenses as well? Sure but I think in researching a good camera, you'll find out which one best fits your needs.
  13. OreoCookie macrumors 68030

    Apr 14, 2001
    Sendai, Japan
    Kit lenses aren't actually that bad in terms of IQ: the manufacturers spend quite a bit of effort to design them, because those will be their most-sold lenses. That means they are produced in high volume which makes them cheaper.

    On the downside, they're slow (so it's easier to achieve good IQ) and they're cheaply built. There are »better kit lenses«, e. g. Nikon's 16-85 mmm or Canon's 17-85 mm which are better in most respects, but they're still slow. The small initial aperture (typically f/4-5.6 depending on the focal length) limits your creative freedom and you have a much harder time to take pictures in dark places.
  14. ukuleleman macrumors member

    Jul 19, 2009
    Not a fair comparison

    The 24-105 doesn't 'come with' the 5D mkll it was just the package that you bought, currently in the UK the 18-55 costs £149.00 ($237.50) whilst the 24-105 costs £920.00. ($1,464.00) They cannot be used as comparisons with this price difference even though they both have IS.

    Kit lenses get a lot of stick but as somebody said earlier in this thread, Photographers take pictures, not lenses, there is a guy on the Canon forum who's 18-55 pictures are fantastic and on another thread people call the lens 'Crap' and complain that 'It feels 'plasticky'', I wouldn't care if it felt like a piece of green cheese if I could get pictures out of it like he does!

    Here in England we have a saying and I'm sure you have something similar,
    'Its a bad workman that blames his tools'
  15. El Cabong macrumors 6502a

    Dec 1, 2008
    We definitely have that saying. Kit lenses can actually be useful tools in the right situation. They are often the best compromise of size, weight, quality, and (of course) cost. Stopped down, many perform - for practical purposes - just as well as more expensive, larger zooms, and even some primes.

    What's wrong with the photos you get from the Olympus kit lens? It can't get the same apertures as the 14mm, because the 14mm is 1 stop faster than the wide end of the kit zoom, and 2 stops faster than the long end. Image stabilization is useful, but it can't perform miracles at extremely low shutter speeds, especially when shooting subjects in motion (which is a whole other issue).
  16. Rafterman macrumors 68020

    Apr 23, 2010
    It seems that kit lens quality increases with the body's price. The better the body you are buying, the better the kit lens is (they don't want to make an expensive body look bad with an average lens).

    But you can actually go to any store website that has customer reviews on camera equipment, like B&H Photo or Amazon, plug in the kit lens (e.g., AF-S DX Zoom-Nikkor 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G ED II) and read the reviews. Just about every kit lens from every manufacturer is sold as a standalone lens and you can see what people are saying about it.

    But I have found that the vast majority of kit lenses are capable and of good quality. Only the "higher end" features might be lacking. For example, greater zoom/wide angle or speed (f stop) requirements might require you to go beyond the kit lens.
  17. BJMRamage macrumors 68020


    Oct 2, 2007
    I will just agree with what most are saying here.

    Kit lenses are decent lenses. They aren't as fast as some of the better lenses and their aperture might be limited comparatively, but a camera manufacturer isn't necessarily going to put a crappy lens into a kit as that would mean a crappy photo and MANY people buy the kit lens and use it exclusively for years.

    And I agree with the better the camera body (more $$) the better the kit lens, if it has one, will be.
    I was greatly surprised at the kit lens for the Nikon D7000. That lens is in the neighborhood of $800-900 and as such isn't a cheap lens but also not in the professional level. Kit lenses are great starters, allowing you to see what the camera can do and possibly figure out what your greater needs are.
    I would like to get a 35 Prime one day as I think that will produce some better shots than my kit lens.
  18. harcosparky macrumors 68020

    Jan 14, 2008
    NOTE: Sarcasm = ON
    Yeah kit lenses are terrible.

    If you buy a Canon 5D Mk II Kit with the 24-105mm f/4 IS L lens it is a terrible lens. Pack up the lens and send it to me for proper disposal. I'll pay shipping. :D
    NOTE: Sarcasm = OFF

    Honestly kit lenses are not 'bad lenses'. Normally don't get high end lenses with lower end camera but the lenses still work quite well. They may not be fast, or may not have Image Stabilization but they do the job.

    I own a Canon 7D and a Canon 5D Mk II and have both kit lenses that came with them. The 7D kit lens served me well over the years, as I had one with my 40D. I actually sold the 7D kit lens, because I had the same lens from my 40D kit and did not need two of them.
  19. Chip NoVaMac macrumors G3

    Chip NoVaMac

    Dec 25, 2003
    Northern Virginia
    h1r0ll3r and OreoCookie have good advice there. In the end if you are starting out get a camera with a kit lens and later on try renting a "high quality" lens to see if you see the difference.

    At my shop I have had customers that can see the difference between "kit" lenses and those that can't. The "kit" lens is a nice one to keep as a back-up just in case something happens to the better lens that you buy down the road.
  20. avro707 macrumors 6502a

    Dec 13, 2010
    They aren't necessarily all bad - I had the 18-135mm F/3.5-5.6G Zoom-Nikkor, it was pretty decent. Used it with a Nikon D80.

    However, stay clear of the $130 lenses, those are usually poor.
  21. fitshaced macrumors 68000


    Jul 2, 2011
    Apart from the 50mm 1.8.
  22. mofunk macrumors 68020


    Aug 26, 2009
    Kit lens is a marketing technique from the manufacture. It's the lens sold with a camera body.

    I remember seeing a Nikkor 24-70mm as a kit lens for the Nikon D700. idk bout you but that's one hell of a kit lens. Also D300 kit was 17-55mm f/2.8 :)

    Kit lens is just a package deal. Just like when you buy a car.
  23. Policar macrumors 6502a

    Nov 21, 2004
    If I remember correctly, Canon's kit 18-55mm IS lens is very close, performance-wise, to the much-lauded 17-55mm IS zoom when zoomed out and wide open. Granted, it's a half stop slower and build quality is poorer so the theoretical mtf may not correlate with real-world performance. I also find I get a lot of chromatic aberrations around the edges, but at 18mm, this is nevertheless an excellent lens. At 55mm it's worse and obviously much slower, but not terrible. For the money and given the small size, I'm impressed.

    The older 18-55mm IS is pretty decent at 18mm but soft at 55mm. And it lacks IS, which is a bummer, especially considering it's slow. I haven't had much experience with Nikon's cheapest kit lenses but I hear good things.

    I think the best way to think of it is that price pays for a more esoteric need (speed, reach, zoom range, a combination of the three) than better objective performance. At least most of the time. After all, virtually anything is pretty good stopped down a bit. In addition to this, if something does just the very basics (the 35mm or 50mm f1.8 Nikon, for instance) it can perform very well for the money. The cheap kit zooms hit a nice balance between versatility and performance but don't excel at anything, so that's why there's a bias against them. They're not very exciting.

    It's easier to make an exciting photo with a lens that can do tricks (ultra-fast, quick AF, ultra-wide, great bokeh, etc.) than it is to make one with a general purpose lens, but that's only because your composition and subject matter really have to stand on their own if you can't disguise them with flashy tricks. Of course, if you're an event photographer you probably need a fast zoom and if you're doing portraits you'll want something fast and long; landscapes and architecture might need a T/S lens; sports and wildlife might need a mega-zoom. So pay for the need, not for the performance (and if you're shooting billboards, performance IS the need...). I think those talented enough to let their work speak for itself will feel just as comfortable with a cheap lens as a fancy one--if the subject calls for it.
  24. johnhw macrumors 6502

    Jun 16, 2009
    It depends for the camera you are gonna buy, if it's consumer, the lenses are decent for normal picture taking (family photos, etc.) but for serious work they are quite sub-par, but you could do some stuff with it. If it's a professional camera and you're buying it with its kit lens then it should be good (but regularly these types of cameras don't come with such kit lenses) since they are typically bundled with high-end lenses.

    The one bundled on the Canons is the 18-55mm. It has some distortion (curvy what's supposed to be straight lines) and not that sharp wide-end. It's OK at 55mm but slow at f/5.6. The one on the Nikons is what I don't know, but I heard it's just as good but it has SWM (Silent Wave Motor) so the focusing motor should be silent but not as fast as the Canon (well, focusing is meh too on the Canon).

    If you're practicing photography though, the kit lens are very good starter lenses since they make you expand it's abilities and weakness.
  25. gangzoom macrumors member

    Aug 8, 2007





    One picture was taken with my iPhone, one with a old point and shoot mega zoom, one with my 450D kit lens, and one with a 70-300mm IS lens....have to say I was happy with all the pictures.

    A better lens gives you more opportunity to get the perfect shot, but it doesn't mean your going to take "better" pictures.

    Some of the pictures around are amazing...and I can guarantee even if you gave me the best equipment and same opportunity I still couldn't capture those kind of images..


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