What's "wrong" with kit lenses?

Discussion in 'Olympus Cameras' started by mtipton1064, Jun 5, 2013.

  1. mtipton1064

    mtipton1064 Mu-43 Regular

    Jun 1, 2013
    I received a Nikon D3100 for Christmas in 2010. It replaced an Olympus point-and-shoot that I had for years. I have taken a bunch of pictures with it and took it on a trip to Europe in 2011. I found the Nikon to be rather bulky and awkward so last year I bought an E-PM1. With the VF3 viewfinder I found it gave me much of the functionality of the Nikon in much more convenient package. This year I upgraded to an EPL-5.

    During that time I did a lot of reading of books and articles and a lot of shopping. I often saw comments that knocked the kit lenses. So what is wrong with the kit lenses?
  2. RobWatson

    RobWatson Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Snobs don't like them. Everyone else likes them fine.
  3. MAubrey

    MAubrey Photographer

    Jul 9, 2012
    Bellingham, WA
    Real Name:
    Mike Aubrey
    Modern kit lenses are all very good. The only real issue is that f/5.6 at the long end is difficult to use in low light...which in turn is one of the reasons why the Olympus 45mm f/1.8 is so brilliant. It's an affordable prime lens and solves the main problem with the kit lens.
  4. Chrisnmn

    Chrisnmn Mu-43 All-Pro

    Apr 26, 2012
    Auckland, New Zealand
    Real Name:
    nothing. is there something wrong with yours?.

    dont believe everything on the internet. you gotta take it with a pinch of salt. if it works for you then thats fine right?. the "internet" wont be taking pictures for you...
    • Like Like x 1
  5. PaulGiz

    PaulGiz Mu-43 Veteran

    Jan 3, 2013
    Rhode Island, USA
    Depends on the kit. The Olympus 14-42 MkII is a pretty nice lens. It is exceptionally sharp on the short end (14mm to ~ 30mm) and decently sharp past that, with excellent contrast.

    Minuses: slow aperture.

    If you like it, and find it fits your style, kit lenses are fine. I've taken some very nice shots with my kit lenses. I personally prefer primes, but Panasonic and Olympus make some very nice kits.

  6. Lawrence A.

    Lawrence A. Mu-43 All-Pro

    Mar 14, 2012
    New Mexico
    Real Name:
    Nothing, really. Most of them are very good lenses. But they won't measure up to a fixed prime or a much more expensive high grade zooms. Whether that matters depends on how big you are going to print, if at all, and how important looking at images on screen at 100% is to you.
  7. pxpaulx

    pxpaulx Mu-43 All-Pro

    Jan 19, 2010
    Real Name:
    The knock is really in a nutshell that they are general purpose. You are missing speed (faster aperture), macro, fisheye, telephoto, wide angle, portrait use. Ultimately if it suits you and you are satisfied with the photos that are taken, then there is no need to move on from it. When you get to the point that you start to understand and bump up to its limitations, then it is time to expand your horizons!

    If you're thinking about another lens, the two most logical choices are a complimentary medium telephoto zoom (i.e. olympus 40-150 or panasonic 45-150 among several others), as well as a fast aperture prime lens for working in low light. For a fast lens, if you want to take more general photos the panasonic 20mm f1.7 is about the best place to start - however, if you want something for low light and know you'd like to take portrait photos on a regular basis (family for instance), then as was suggested the 45mm f1.8 from olympus is probably the better route.

    So the real question is, do you feeling like your kit lens is limiting you?
    • Like Like x 1
  8. jamespetts

    jamespetts Mu-43 Top Veteran

    May 21, 2011
    London, England
    It all rather depends on what one means by "wrong". Kit lenses are perfectly serviceable lenses, but they are generally made to lower specifications than more specialist lenses. I should qualify that somewhat further: kit zoom lenses tend to involve particular compromises. A fixed focal length lens that comes with the camera can often be of a very high standard: the Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 came as a kit, I believe, with the GF1, the Olympus 17mm f/1.8 is a kit option with the recently announced E-P5, and the Panasonic GF3 came with the 14mm f/2.5; all of those are very decent lenses.

    Zoom lenses, however, are more challenging to manufacture than fixed focal length lenses. Because kit lenses need to be cheap to make the camera financially attractive, the zoom lenses that come with cameras tend to be both fairly slow (as in, small maximum aperture) and often of lower optical quality (less sharpness, lower contrast, more aberrations of various sorts) than either fixed focal length lenses or more specialist zooms. (Even this generalisation might not be entirely accurate - am I correct in thinking that the highly regarded Panasonic 12-35mm zoom is a kit option with the GH3? That is certainly no lens to be sniffed at.)

    "Less sharp", "lower contrast" and "more aberrations" are, however, relative, and even the worst kit zooms produce perfectly serviceable images for at least snapshot purposes. How important that these compromises are will depend on how picky that you are about your pictures.

    Let me give an example. This:

    At the Aberglaslyn Falls by James E. Petts, on Flickr

    is a photograph taken with the Olympus 14-42mm (Mark II) kit lens. If you look at it on Flickr and view the original resolution, you will see that the foliage in the top left hand corner is very unsharp and indistinct. That is with the lens zoomed in all the way, which tends to show it at its worst. Here is an example of the same lens at its shortest setting:

    "Tomas Bach" by James E. Petts, on Flickr

    This is a little better, but, again, if you look at a larger version of the photograph, you will see that the detail is somewhat indistinct. Less apparent because I have tinkered with them in Photoshop, but visible all the same is that the contrast is not quite what it might be, and the images have a somewhat foggy quality to them.

    Compare these to this:

    She'll be coming 'round the mountain when she comes by James E. Petts, on Flickr

    photograph taken with the well thought of but relatively inexpensive 45mm f/1.8 lens from Olympus. Look at the grass in the bottom right, and compare its sharpness with the vegetation in the top left of the first photograph: it is noticeably more distinct. The whole photograph is sharper and the contrast is better, even though both were taken with the same camera under very similar lighting conditions, out of the window of a train in each case.

    From a personal perspective, when I first had my E-P3, having moved up from a high-end compact in the shape of the Canon G10, I was quite disappointed with the quality of the photographs that I was able to get out of it until I saw how much better that they were with adapted manual lenses and native fixed focal length lenses. Although I took the 14-42mm on holiday with me last year (as the above photographs witness), having acquired more lenses since then, there is no room in the camera bag for it, and it now sits unused in a drawer. Even for social occasions, I prefer the 25mm f/1.4 or 14mm f/2.5 to the 14-42mm (although I suspect that the 17mm f/1.8 would be better still for that purpose).
  9. Fmrvette

    Fmrvette This Space For Rent

    May 26, 2012
    Detroit, Michigan
    Real Name:
    Not to disagree with RobWatson, but there are perceived issues with many - but certainly not all - kit lenses.

    They are generally zoom lenses, ranging from a moderate wide to a medium telephoto. Since they are not "top tier" lenses, budget constraints require that some compromises be made in either build quality, image quality, or both.

    Kit lenses tend to be slower than top tier zoom lenses; that is, they are not quite as good in low light. Kit lenses have "variable" apertures, unlike top tier zoom lenses which have "constant" apertures (when one changes focal length in the kit lens the maximum available aperture changes, with top tier zoom lenses maintain the same maximum available aperture throughout the focal length.

    Kit lenses may, due to budget constraints, allow more chromatic aberration than top tier lenses, and may evidence softness in the corners at various focal lengths.

    Kit lenses may have more plastic parts than top tier lenses.

    Thus the kit lens may get a bit of a bad rap.

    All of this does NOT mean that all kit lenses cannot make good photographs - but there are reasons why top tier lenses (such as the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 VR II which costs @ $1850 U.S.) cost more and are more highly regarded by photographers than kit lenses (such as the Nikon 18-55mm f/3.5/5.6 which costs @ $200 U.S.).

    I found the EPL-1 14-42mm series 1 kit lens to be not all that much to brag about; certainly it could render a good image but it wasn't great.

    I like the OM-D EM-5 kit lens (12-50mm) much better.

    Still, for low light performance or sharpness either of those kit lenses would be hard pressed to match the Panasonic 20mm prime.

    And it depends upon what the photographer wants to do with the image; displaying on a computer screen may not require the same amount of lens capability as creating an 11x14" print.

    But - and it's a pretty large 'but' - the bottom line in photography is always the photographer. (Much to my disgust; I can buy better lenses, but I'm having the very devil of a time trying to buy talent. Heck, I can't even rent it :wink: ).



  10. jamespetts

    jamespetts Mu-43 Top Veteran

    May 21, 2011
    London, England
    You could just post a WTB advertisement in the trade section of this forum? I'm sure that somebody here must have some to spare.
  11. Fmrvette

    Fmrvette This Space For Rent

    May 26, 2012
    Detroit, Michigan
    Real Name:
    James, that was extremely well put. Had I seen your response before writing mine I could've save a lot of keystrokes!


  12. Fmrvette

    Fmrvette This Space For Rent

    May 26, 2012
    Detroit, Michigan
    Real Name:
  13. fsuscotphoto

    fsuscotphoto Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Feb 15, 2013
    St. Cloud, FL
    Real Name:
    If someone knows how to sell me talent, I'm all in.

    Sent from my iPad using Mu-43 mobile app
  14. nuclearboy

    nuclearboy Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Jan 28, 2011
    Ellicott City, MD
    Real Name:
    Its simply the speed

    I cannot tell you what is wrong with the kit lenses for you but I can tell you why I am not crazy about mine.

    They simply don't collect enough light.

    I went out a few years back and plopped down $599 for an EPL-1 with a 14-42 and a 40-150 zoom. It did not take long before I was disapointed. I shoot alot indoors at family gatherings with non-ideal lighting. The flash that comes with the camera is weak at best and I am too lazy or maybe too cheap to buy a proper flash. I prefer the natural look of no flash anyway. I had an F2.0 point and shoot that took better pictures in many instances and it had a tiny sensor.

    I have never been a prime lens user. I liked zooms on my old 35mm equipment. At this time, however, I was unhappy with my E-PL1 and kept reading about the Panasonic 20mm prime. Well, I bought it and it completely changed my opinion of the camera and I fell in love with Primes. Just about all of my photos were coming out better. The prime was a big advantage over the kit zoom for me.


    1. Sharpness.
    The 20mm delivered sharper/clearer photos than my kit zoom. (some primes may not have this advantage)

    2. The potential to collect more light (this is the big reason for me).
    The 20mm at 1.7 (its lowest f-stop) can bring in approximately 5X (5 times) the amount of light that a typical kit zoom at 20mm and f4 (its lowest f-stop at 20mm) can provide.

    5X more light means you can....
    - Lower the ISO by a factor of 5 and get clearer photos (less high ISO noise), or
    - Increase the shutter speed by a factor of 5 and get clearer photos because of reduced camera movement., or
    - some combination of a little of both

    This experience made me into a prime lens lover... The lower f-stops also bring about more possibilities for subject isolation.

    The kit is still great outdoors in good light but the primes end up staying on my camera anyway since I have already paid for them and now enjoy them.
  15. dougjgreen

    dougjgreen Mu-43 All-Pro

    Jun 5, 2013
    San Diego
    Real Name:
    Doug Green
    I think the only things WRONG with kit lenses are two-fold:

    1) they are made to conform to a tight budget, and compromises will be made to stay within that budget - but that being said, most kit lenses are adequately sharp and contrasty for general use.

    But, IMHO, the biggest weakness of kit zoom lenses is:

    2) the maximum apertures - especially at the long end of most kit zooms - are too small to allow control over the depth of field where the photographer can intentionally blur parts of the image that are not the main subject and thus direct the viewer's attention to what IS the main subject of the photo.
  16. dhazeghi

    dhazeghi Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Aug 6, 2010
    San Jose, CA
    Real Name:
    Generally, the kit lenses aren't as sharp as higher-end lenses at the edges of the frame and don't collect that much light. Unfortunately as I've discovered, very few of our lenses (particularly zooms) are genuinely sharp at the edges of the frame, so the main advantage of fancier lenses comes down to gather more light.

    That said, for most situations and uses, the kit zooms are more than adequate, and the gains from going to a high-end zoom or primes are pretty minimal.
  17. Nordiquefan

    Nordiquefan Mu-43 Regular

    Mar 12, 2013

    Sent from my Nexus 4 using Mu-43 mobile app
  18. mtipton1064

    mtipton1064 Mu-43 Regular

    Jun 1, 2013
    Thanks for the feedback. Your explanations and examples pretty much confirmed What I concluded from my readings. Much of my photography is outdoors in bright sunlight, Which certainly minimizes the limitations of the kit lens.
  19. usayit

    usayit Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Kit lenses were generally throw-ins to sell at the counter to the regular consumer. As such they were cheaper optics and the old saying, "You get what you pay for.." applies.

    There was a time that cameras were not packaged with a kit kens but the kits where "assembled" by the retailer to help move merchandise. It didn't take long for manufacturers to follow suite and sell "kits" to move their product via department stores and such where the back and forth negotiation did not take place as they would have at a camera shop. Some retailers still do this.... building their kits from their own stock often ending up with a slightly better packaged lens and a better profit margin for the shop... win win. This is where Tamron has made great profit with their super zooms.

    With that... not all kits are bad. Its just their perception and reputation. There are many happy Tamron shooters out there with kit lenses. The Canon 5d and 5d mark ii were sold with the 24-105L kit lens.... a lens I liked very much. I here good things about Panasonic's kit lenses too. The 14mm panny was also sold as a kit lens....
  20. spatulaboy

    spatulaboy I'm not really here

    Jul 13, 2011
    North Carolina
    Real Name:
    I only keep my kit lens to use on the wide end. Kit lenses are generally at their best at the wide end of the range. For everything else I use my better lenses.

    Honestly if the kit lens is all you use, then you are really limiting the capabilities of your camera(and your photography) to a limited useful range. It's like buying cheap all season tires for your Ferrari. Sure it'll still go fast, but your not getting the most out of it.