If you are a beginner photographer who is purchasing your first interchangeable-lens camera, most likely the camera body you choose will have a starter lens that it comes with. This is also referred to as a kit lens. Usually kit lenses are priced quite inexpensively and are found on a manufacturer’s offerings lower end. A majority of experienced photographers turn up their noses whenever a kit lens is mentioned. However, as technology keeps evolving, kit lens continue to improve with every new camera release. So if you just bought a camera, check out the following four tips to maximize the use of your brand new kit lens.
Why Should A Kit Lens Be Used?
As previously mentioned, kit lens work best for those who are just getting started with a specific model of camera. If you don’t know what lens you should buy for your new camera, go with the kit lens that is recommended. The first kit lens that I invested in was when I first entered into the mirrorless world and bought a Sony a6300.
I was intending to use this camera for casual travelling, so I didn’t want to buy an expensive Sony lens, so I just went with the 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 zoom lens that was included. This lens choice was not only cheap, but it was very compact as well due to its retractable zoom. The kit lens of course had lots of different pros and cons to it, but after doing some practicing with it, I was able to take shots that rival the ones taken with my L-series lenses and full-frame Canon DSLR. The following are a few practical tips to help you get the most from your news kit lens.
1. Usually kit lenses come with variable apertures.
The kit lenses from a majority of camera manufacturers come with variable apertures, which means as the local length is increased, the minimum and maximum aperture sizes decrease. The feature is what makes the lens a lot less expensive than fixed aperture lenses. However, for experienced photographers it can be very frustrating when they want constant aperture (like f/4 or f/2.8) on all focal lengths. But most likely variable apertures won’t matter that much to casual and beginning photographers.
The Sony 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 is most certainly a variable aperture lens, which basically compromises packing the focal length into a very small physical space. In general this was fine since I was mainly shooting landscape and street photography during the day. However, not having constant aperture did become very frustrating whenever I tried to shoot in low light conditions.
2. Know what limits your kit lens has
Before you use your kit lens to start shooting away, you need to realize that there is a reason why they have a stigma attached to them. Very rarely do kit lenses offer the finest image quality. Instead it’s a trade-off for them being less expensive and more compact. For my Sony 16-50mm kit lens that’s definitely the case.
The lens has a fairly decent mid-range zoom, thank to its retractable zoom that is packed into a very small body. Its size actually rivals the Sony 20mm f/2.8, which is the camera maker’s official pancake lens. However, as a compromise, there is a tendency for images to be on the softer side, and when using 16mm to shoot wide there is obvious distortion. Also, the variable aperture on the lens does come with some limitation whenever you are shooting without flash in low light. Becoming familiar with the limitations of your kit lens will help you make adjustments to your expectations and provide you with a better understanding of what you can photograph well using the lens as well as what you might struggle with or not photograph very well.
3. Find the sweet spot on your lens
For all of our discussion of kit lens limitations and compromises, it’s very important to also recognize that every lens does have a redeeming quality – which is its sweet spot. When it comes to the exact process of discovering the sweet spot of your lens, there is much that could be said. However for a brief summary, the sweet spot when shooting produces the sharpest possible image using that lens. Based on my experience using the Sony 16-50mm kit lens, the sweet spot for it is 35mm at f/8. Even then the images aren’t as sharp as I want them to be, since the corners of the frames still are fairly soft. However, when it comes to the abilities of the lens this is when they are at their best.
4. Use a prime lens to supplement your lens kit
As previously mentioned, typically kit lens suffer the most in terms of producing really tack sharp images as well as trying to work in low light. Investing in a prime lens is the best way of combating this while remaining in a price range that is affordable and that doesn’t add a lot of bulk onto your gear.
The prime lens that you end up selecting will vary depending on your photography style, your budget and the brand. In general, it is best to opt for a prime lens in the 35mm to 50mm range, given that the closest focal composition for the human eye is 35mm. For my Sony setup, I chose the 20mm f/2.8 pancake as the prime lens for supplementing my 16-50mm kit lens. Now I can use my prime lens whenever ultimate image sharpness is critical and for shooting in low lighting conditions.
The first essential step that you need to take in mastering how to use your lens is to understand what your kit lens limitations are. Those limitations become more obvious the longer you experiment with and use it. You can also learn more about the advantages and disadvantages of a specific kit lens through reading critical and user reviews online.