Getting back to basics

Discussion in 'Open Discussion' started by JudyM, Mar 18, 2015.

  1. JudyM

    JudyM Mu-43 All-Pro

    May 5, 2010
    Westminster, MD
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  2. agentlossing

    agentlossing Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jun 26, 2013
    Real Name:
    Andrew Lossing
    While I don't disagree with the concept behind what's being said, I heartily disagree with this statement:

    "The lightweight and affordable kit lenses are frequently maligned for their cheap construction, and many photographers assumed the 18-55mm kit lenses to turn in mediocre optical performance befitting their kit lens status. But they couldn’t be more wrong…"

    I had that original 18-55mm kit Nikkor that's pictured in the article, and it was AWFUL. Lacking in microcontrast, flimsy, and I'm pretty sure it got decentered within a year of owning it. It was so bad that once I got a 50mm f1.8 (the older one, without a focus motor, so it was MF only on my D40) I never touched the kit lens again. The fifty was my one lens, even though ~75mm was an awkward focal length.

    the difference, of course, is that the kit lenses being made today are sooo much better. The Panasonic 14-45mm, the version II models of the 14-42mm, the Fuji 18-55mm that's cited in the article, they're miles beyond those early kit zooms. I wouldn't touch one of those oldies with a ten foot pole.
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  3. JudyM

    JudyM Mu-43 All-Pro

    May 5, 2010
    Westminster, MD
    Your feelings about the 18-55mm are about the same as my feelings for the Pan. 100-300mm. It feels cheap and most of the time the autofocus is so bad that it can't focus on the broad side of a barn if I were standing in it. When it has plenty of light and lots of contrast between the subject and background, i.e. birds on a beach, it's fine.

    I agree that the construction of kit lenses isn’t always the greatest, but I appreciate the thought behind the article. There’s far too much “lens snobbery” on forums, on rumor sites and in reviews these days. Every new lens released is hailed as a “must have”. People are clamoring for lenses that are wider and faster. And everyone knows you’re not a serious photographer unless you use only primes.

    I found the author’s thoughts on learning to master the tools you already have refreshing. I’m fortunate to own the E-M1 and a7R, two of the most advanced cameras out there, but it’s good to be brought back down to earth from time to time. I'm far from mastering either, so his advice is well taken here.
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  4. agentlossing

    agentlossing Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jun 26, 2013
    Real Name:
    Andrew Lossing
    I do think a prime lens will teach a person more than an "18-55mm" kit zoom ever will. The article tried to make the point that the kit zooms teach by virtue of their limitations, but the old adage that a fixed focal length will teach by virtue of limitation is equally true if not more so.

    I think the kit zoom has its place, mainly as a cheap versatile way to fill in the blanks. I got a pristine 14-42mm Panasonic from a fellow member for far less than any prime lens goes for, and it suits my wife with her (formerly my) GX1 quite well. I feel more kits should be bundled with primes, however, but the public perception is that you don't get as much bang for your buck with a prime, so I know it won't happen.
  5. davidzvi

    davidzvi Mu-43 All-Pro

    Aug 12, 2012
    Outside Boston MA
    Real Name:
    An interesting read. But I'm not sure that Fuji belongs in the conversation.
  6. flipmack

    flipmack Mu-43 Veteran

    Mar 23, 2012
    irvine, CA
    That was an excellent read. Come to think of it, most of my earliest pictures with my lowly Olympus E500 twin lens kit were my best... Since I did have to work considerably harder. I'm forcing myself within similar restrictions now with only a single native 19/2.8 lens on my EM5. the other lens in my kit is my adapted zd 35/3.5 macro - for macro shots, of course.
  7. Hypilein

    Hypilein Mu-43 Veteran

    Mar 18, 2015
    I think I disagree with the article said. Scott Kelby is completely right, when he says that many people find it frustrating that they can't get the shots they want with the kit lens, but don't really look further. However, I think he is not completely right, when finds the reason for that in just the focal length. The reason kit lenses often lead to average results is because they excel at nothing. They are neither bright, nor special in the focal length department. The only thing you have when taking a shot with a kit lens is your subject and your own skill at composition.

    I decided to get my GX7 with the 20mm kit, because learning how to compose seems much easier with a prime lens. The restriction makes you creative. Kit lenses give you that ability to zoom, but then suddenly lock you in. I had an FZ100 before that and I know that I never thought enough about composition before I made the shot.

    Obviously taken an ultra wide angle lens or super telephoto will force you into making more conscious choices, but so does a prime in Kelby's "no mans land".
  8. Amin Sabet

    Amin Sabet Administrator

    Apr 10, 2009
    Boston, MA (USA)
    I think it's an interesting article, and I agree with the premise that kit lenses remove the temptation to use a lens as a crutch. I think the same thing applies to "point and shoot" cameras or phone cameras, where the ability for very shallow DOF is largely removed, and we can't help but concentrate more on composition and light.

    I also agree with the idea that kit lenses force you to think harder, but I think the same can be said for prime lenses in general.
  9. JudyM

    JudyM Mu-43 All-Pro

    May 5, 2010
    Westminster, MD
    When you think about it though, all lenses have limitations of some sort. Prime lenses have the limitation of focal length, but have the advantage of speed and absolute image quality. Zooms are limited in speed and image quality, but allow great flexibility with framing. This is why no one lens can do it all. You first have to know what you're trying to achieve, before you can decide what works, what doesn't and why. To that end, the kit lens teaches you to think about your goal. If you don't have a goal, you can't possibly reach it.

    Photography isn't always about the final image, it's also about what you learn. The sad truth is that many people who buy entry level cameras with kit lenses never venture beyond using the camera on Auto. They bought the camera expecting it to deliver superior results to a point & shoot, while still trying to use it like a point & shoot. Their photos suffer not because of the limitations of the lens, but because they've limited themselves.

    The kit lenses today are far superior to what I learned on. I cut my teeth in photography at 12 years old using a Miranda Fv body and a $14 BrandX (no kidding, that's the brand name) 135mm f3.5 telephoto with preset aperture. It was my only lens for years until I could afford something better. I found the single focal length frustratingly limiting, but I worked with it until I learned to frame a subject without lifting the camera to my eye. I learned to frame subjects in a way that worked with the lens. It was dirt cheap, it flared like crazy and it was slow, but it's limitations forced me to think about how to best use it. I think most kit lenses today are capable of similar lessons.
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  10. Tilman Paulin

    Tilman Paulin Mu-43 Veteran

    Jun 10, 2013
    Dublin, Ireland
    Completely agree that kit lenses are way more useful than they are given credit for. A lot of my all time favourite shots are taken with one kit lens or another.

    There's something to be said for prime lenses too though. For a beginner it can be useful to limit the choices he or she has to make down to a minimum.
    Even an 18-55 lens leaves more choices than a prime lens. With a prime it's basically only down to the position of the camera (of course there's a few more things like aperture and focus, etc...) And a prime lens doesn't have to be expensive either...

    So maybe the focus of this article should be extended to cheap lenses in general (not only kit lenses)...
    Marketing and "internet experts" spend a lot of time trying to convince us otherwise (and are pretty successful in general). For me personally, I should probably look back at the photos in my "portfolio" more often, where pictures taken with a phone, point&shoots, kit lenses and cheap primes mix perfectly fine with the more expensive gear... :)

    In the end it's not the equipment, but mostly the effort you put into it...
    Last edited: Mar 21, 2015
  11. Hypilein

    Hypilein Mu-43 Veteran

    Mar 18, 2015
    I think this is exactly it. Kit lenses still leave too much option and make progress on learning composition slower. When people get to the stage, where they buy and additional lens with a more extreme FOV they usually have already thought about composition. That is why the chose to buy the lens they did.
  12. Jfrader

    Jfrader Guest

    /Warning! Iconoclastic curmudgeon mode enabled./

    I realize the practice of including a cheap normal-range zoom with new cameras is market driven. You will sell a lot more beginner cameras that way. I do think it does a disservice to the customer while benefitting the seller. By forcing a beginner of inexperienced user to start with a "normal" prime, like we did in the olden days of 35mm film, you force him/her to a.) think about the composition more and decide what makes that particular shot and b.) force him/her to "zoom with the feet," actively looking for the best composition. Starting a beginner out with a capable mid-range zoom allows him to learn bad habits from the beginning. At the very least, it promotes laziness in photography.

    /Curmudgeon mode OFF./
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  13. Replytoken

    Replytoken Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    May 7, 2012
    Puget Sound
    Real Name:
    I skimmed this thread, and I skimmed the article, and I think that the author summed up the whole "debate" in his conclusion:
    . You have equipment, technique and participants. And this arrangement is no different than any other activity, like cooking for example. You have to want to learn and be open and receptive to understanding technique to get the best of what your equipment offers, and to deliberately create something that is of high quality. If that approach does not interest you, as is the case for a large majority of people out there, then you are probably going to crutch on the few things that you do know or understand to do the best that you can, and hope that a little luck will contribute as well. And, you are probably going to rely on any provided automation to assist you. The manufacturers fully understand this, and that is why they have things like (Green or i) Auto mode or alarms that go off when food is fully cooked. As more interested participants, we sometimes use these features as well (perhaps not Auto), but we usually do so knowing what is being automated, roughly how it is being automated, how to control or override it if necessary, and most importantly, when it is best to use a feature or not. I suspect that for the most part, "all roads lead to Rome", and that a good instructor with motivated students could learn equally and improve their overall basic photography techniques to roughly the same levels with kit lenses or primes. It is just equipment, and until you have mastered technique, "better" equipment is only going to offer a bit more of a crutch under normal circumstances at best.

    Back in 2006 I was responsible for a large photo installation that would occupy a number of lobbies for my employer. The panels were 24x36, and we shot a majority of it on film and had it scanned because the panels were to be viewed at very close range, and I did not find the output of the D200 (our contract photographer's main camera body) acceptable at those sizes (full panel) at that range. Some of the panels, though, held a collage of photos, and at the last minute we had to change out some images after we dismissed the contract photographer. I was pressed out into the field with a D40 and 18-55VR (second generation), and the images that we printed in B/W (as part of the collage and not filling a full panel) were much better than I expected. I would be reasonably comfortable betting that most folks could not look at the collage and pull out the images from the D40 from the other digital images that were used.

    And I know that Thom Hogan often mentions that Galen Rowell often carried small, slow kit lenses when he went hiking because they were small and light. I am sure that this may have limited his shooting style, but it did not prevent him for obtaining workable images. So, I am a firm believer that there is no substitute for knowledge. And with knowledge, equipment may then be a limiter, but there is no equipment without limits, so I say work with what you have! You may not always get what you want without certain pieces of equipment, but that does not mean that you will not get images that have impact if you put your knowledge to work.

    Happy shooting,