In defense of the kit lens

If you just bought (or received) a new DSLR camera, chances are, it came with a lens — something like an 18-55 or a 24-105, perhaps.  When these lenses are bundled with a camera body, they’re known as “kit” lenses, and they’re among the most poorly-understood and maligned bits of equipment in photography.

Let’s talk about them a bit.

Depending on how much time you spend trolling photography forums, you may have seen recommendations to steer clear of these lenses, but I’ll bet the reasons were less than clear.  The truth is, there are times when a kit lens is a pretty good choice — especially for a beginner.  Remember, when a camera manufacturer like Canon or Nikon bundles a kit lens with one of their bodies, they want you to enjoy your purchase and earn your brand loyalty by turning you into a photo nut who’ll eventually dedicate a wing of your home to piles of photography equipment.  It all starts with that first kit, so these lenses are typically pretty good matches for the bodies they’re sold with, which is a source of part of the misinformation about kit lenses.

You see, there’s more than one price point for kit lenses, just as there’s more than one price point for camera bodies.  If you’re shopping for an entry-level camera (a Canon Rebel, Nikon D3300, or equivalent), the kit lenses bundled with these cameras are also entry-level (probably an 18-55mm variable aperture lens).  These lenses are fine learning lenses, and they’re well-matched to these entry-level bodies, but it’s true that you’re going to outgrow them at some point.  Moving up the food chain a bit, you’ll find wider-range lenses with a little nicer build quality — maybe an 18-135mm lens, for instance, on a Canon 80D or an 18-140mm lens on a Nikon D7500.  This cameras are a step up from the entry-level cameras, and the lenses are a step up, as well.  These lenses tend not to be pro-level, either, but can make nice “walk-around” lenses because they’ve got really convenient focal length ranges.

Moving up a little further, a couple of things happen.  First, it’s far more likely that camera bodies will be sold without any lens at all.  At the level of, say, a Canon 5D or a Nikon D850, the buyer is quite likely to be an experienced photographer who probably already has lenses.  Walk into a camera store, and you’ll see what I’m talking about — most entry-level boxes are kits, and high-end stuff is a-la-cart.  For those buyers who do want a kit, though, high-end cameras tend to come with high-end lenses.  That 5D, when purchased in a kit, for instance, will have a 24-105mm L lens — the “L” line is well-known as Canon’s “pro-quality” gear.  Step up to the flagship 1DX, and Canon doesn’t even have a sku for a kit that includes a lens.  By the time you get to that rarefied air, it’s expected you’ll know what lenses you want to pair with these bodies.

So, if you’re buying a high-end camera, and you already know why you don’t want a kit lens, then skip it.  If you’re buying your first new camera, though, and you need something that’s well-suited to that camera, you’ll probably do well to pick up the kit lens and learn with it for a while.

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