Grok Photography

Photos and words by Petter Senften

Stop bashing kit-zooms!

I’m a sucker for underdogs, and the kit-zooms are the underdogs of the camera world. Be warned, there will be some swearin’ in this entry. It’s a bit of a rant as well. Caveat lector.

What’s a kit-zoom? It’s the cheap-ass lens you get included when you buy an entry- or mid-level DSLR. This assumes that you buy it in a kit (duh) with the lens, and not only the body. Hence the term kit-zoom.

The bog-standard kit-zoom is 18-55mm/f3.5-5.6. There are other kit-zooms but the ol’ 18-55 is the first (and in many cases only) lens happy amateurs get. Me, I’ve owned two of them, both from back when I shot Canon-cameras and was fairly new to DSLR-photography. I sold the last of them together with all of my Canon-gear when I switched to Nikon almost two years ago.

Now, a lot of people love to lay shit on kit-zooms and wax endlessly about how fuzzy and slow (slow as in, they don’t let through a lot of light) they are. This is a big fat load of bullshit as far as I’m concerned. Yes, they can’t match a professional lens in virtually any department but guess what – they’re not supposed to!

I’ve seen loads of people who whine endlessly on forums when beginners ask about some reasonably priced gear. Immediately the self-appointed “experts” crawl out of the woodwork to bitch and moan about how crappy kit-zooms are and how the newbie should buy such-and-such lenses instead.

Again, if you ask me it’s a load of garbage. Lenses, like cameras, are tools. You need to use the right tool for the right job. Kit-zooms are intended to be beginner-lenses. They’re learning-tools. In the same sense that you don’t recommend someone who’ve just got their drivers license to go out and buy an F1-car to zoom around town in (because that would be absurd) you don’t tell a newbie to go out and spend a shitload of money on a 70-200/2.8.

Also, kit-zooms are not crap. Far from it. Even if you ignore their absurdly low price, they’re still surprisingly decent performers. Yes, compared to pro-stuff they have issues but the perfect lens doesn’t exist – even the amazing (and amazingly expensive) Zeiss Otus lenses have some issues. Kit-zooms cost a fraction of a fraction of what a Zeiss Otus costs, and they can take quite good pictures. Why? Because it’s not the freakin’ lens that takes the picture, it’s the photographer.

Kit-zooms are beginner-lenses. They’re actually a lot better than they have to be, but that’s in part because they have to be the best allrounder for the money – and there’s not a lot of money involved in making ’em. Kit-zooms are learning tools. Some people will never develop (har har) their skills beyond what the kit-zoom can deliver. That’s fine! Other photographers will grow out of the kit-zoom in a relatively short amount of time. That’s fine too, that means the kit-zoom has done what it was designed for and can now await a new owner who is ready to dip their toes in some more serious photography than what a tiny point-and-shoot can deliver. And so forth, and so on.

Yes, kit-zooms are made out of plastic. Yes, they will break if you treat them badly. Yes, they’re cheap. Yes, they have vignetting and distortion. But they are learning-tools and when you’ve learned the limits of them and how to get around those limits, they will take great photos as well. If you break one, go out and buy another one. You can find them used for peanuts.

People who rant about how crappy kit-zooms are usually fall into one of two categories. Either they don’t know what they’re talking about, or they are pretentious snobs who want to appear more “pro” and thus pour shit over anything they deem to be “amateur”.

Would I use a kit-zoom? If I didn’t have any of my usual gear, hell yeah. As long as you know their limitations they will work just fine. One of the first things the haters bring up whenever someone mentions kit-zooms is that they’re “not very sharp” which again is a load of horseshit. Kit-zooms are as sharp as anything else, as long as you understand how to work them. In a lot of cases, photos are unsharp not because of the lens – but because you’re a crappy photographer and you fucked up somehow.

Some photos I’ve shot with a kit-zoom:







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