Most kit lenses are very versatile. At the wide end they’re useful for capturing landscapes, while at the tele position, they become handy portrait lenses. In between, you can use them for group portraits, street photography, tabletop shots and even some close-ups. This article shows you how to make the most of your standard zoom lens.

Most people buying an interchangeable-lens camera for the first time will opt for the ‘kit’ lens bundled with the camera. When you’re buying an entry- or mid-level camera, it’s a convenient way to get a lens (or two) that suits the camera. Professional and pro-sumer cameras are usually sold in body-only configurations, although some manufacturers may bundle higher-featured lenses with them.

Bundled lenses are often affordably priced and cover popular focal length ranges for everyday photography. The most popular kit lenses have zoom ranges that extend from a moderately wide angle of view to a modest telephoto (typically 28mm to around 85mm in 35mm format).

Kit lenses tend to be relatively small and light, which makes them a good starting points for building a worthwhile camera kit. They enable you to sample the focal lengths most frequently used by serious photographers. You can then decide which lenses to add as you develop different aspects of your photography.


Being small and light, kit lenses are much easier to carry on challenging trips than faster, more solidly-built lenses. When you’re shooting in bright conditions, you may not be able to use very wide apertures, overcoming their main limitation.

Limitations of Kit Lenses

Kit lenses are probably a lot better than many people give them credit for. But they do have a couple of significant shortcomings.

1. Build quality.

Because they’re built to a price, kit lenses often contain a relatively high percentage of plastic. There’s nothing wrong with this; modern plastics are tough and durable and they’re lighter than metal and glass components. Plastic lenses can be moulded with high precision and made from materials with high levels of clarity and light transmission.

However, plastic lens mounts are vulnerable to wear and impact shock. If you are hard on gear and/or like to shoot in bad weather, you will probably need a more substantial lens. But you’ll also need a camera body to match.

2. Speed.

Kit lenses are typically a stop or two slower than prime (single focal length) lenses or premium-quality zooms. This means they have poorer light transmission, which reduces the brightness of the image in optical viewfinders. They also make it more difficult to achieve smooth, out-of-focus areas when you want to isolate subjects from distracting backgrounds.

Built-in stabilisation, either in the lens itself or in the camera body, can support hand-held shooting in relatively low light levels, although it won’t make the viewfinder any brighter. Nevertheless, it’s worth paying more for a stabilised lens if your camera body doesn’t provide stabilisation.

3. Autofocusing.

The autofocusing systems on kit lenses are often based on screw-drive motors. These are usually slower and noisier than the ultrasonic drives used on more expensive lenses.

4. Focal length range. If you find the wide end of the zoom range doesn’t produce the dramatic angles of view you seek, you may want a wider lens. Alternatively, you could try shooting and stitching a panorama, using the camera held vertically.


Examples of the zoom range of a typical kit lens. (Taken with the Olympus M.Zuiko 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 II lens at 14mm and 42mm.)

Few kit lenses are long enough to take close-ups of animals and birds in the wild, although they are fine for photographing pets. Kit lenses are also unsuitable for close-up shots of sports action. For some subjects, simply moving closer could solve the problem.

Photographers who enjoy shooting extreme close-ups will also find a kit lens limiting. A dedicated macro lens will probably be required, or a telephoto zoom with good close-focusing capabilities.

5. Flare.

Kit lenses are often flare-prone. This can often be solved by fitting a lens hood. Unfortunately, few manufacturers supply hoods with their lower-priced lenses so you should consider adding a hood when the kit lens is purchased.


Kit lenses are often sold without lens hoods, which makes them susceptible to flare, as shown in this illustration.

Sensor Crop Factors

The actual focal lengths of kit lenses varies with the sensor format of the camera they’re designed for. But the typical range is equivalent to about 28-75mm in 35mm format.

Different sensor sizes apply different ‘crop factors’, which influence the field-of-view coverage of the lens. Crop factors relate the effects of smaller sensors to the traditional 35mm film format.  The table below compares the kit lenses in the main camera formats.

Sensor format/size

Crop factor

Main focal length range

35mm equivalent

Common alternatives

‘FX’ / 36 x 24 mm




24-85mm, 24-105mm

‘DX’ / ~23 x 15 mm

1.5x / 1.6x



18-70mm, 17-85mm

M4/3 / 17.3 x 13.0 mm





‘CX’ / 13.2 x 8.8 mm





Pentax Q / 6.17 x 4.55 mm





Crop factors influence the depth of field of lenses. The larger the sensor, the more control the photographer has over the plane of sharpness in an image. And the narrower the plane of focus, the greater the ability to blur background details.

Depth of field of a lens increases as the size of the camera’s sensor is reduced. That’s why it’s so easy to take sharp pictures with compact digicams (or camera-phones) but so difficult to isolate subjects from distracting backgrounds.


Although the sensor crop factor of 1.6x didn’t present difficulties when shooting this close-up at a focal length of 38mm at f/5, the depth of field made it difficult to obtain a soft out-of-focus background that would isolate the subject.

The sensor’s crop factor can give you some idea of how much greater the inherent depth of field is for smaller sensor formats, compared with a standard 35mm camera. For example, a lens with an f/1.8 aperture will have a wider depth of field on the small Micro Four Thirds sensor than a f/1.8  lens on an APS-C camera, which will itself be larger than a f/1.8  lens with a full frame sensor. This is something to be aware of if you want smooth out-of-focus backgrounds in shots.

Shooting Tips

Most kit lenses are very versatile. At the wide end they’re useful for capturing landscapes, while at the tele position, they become handy portrait lenses. In between, you can use them for  group portraits, street photography, tabletop shots and even some close-ups.


The moderately wide angle of view at the wide end of the zoom range introduces few distortions, making it ideal for landscape photography. (28mm focal length on a ‘full frame’ DSLR body.)

Explore the limitations of your lens by taking shots at each end of the zoom range. At the wide end, experiment to see how close the lens will focus. Try some shots of buildings to see how much it distorts vertical and horizontal lines (some cameras provide in-camera corrections for distortion to overcome such problems). Look at how perspective changes when you look up at a subject ““ and when you look down.


All wide-angle lenses introduce some distortion but you can minimise it by shooting with a focal length that is close to the middle of the zoom range and keeping the camera as vertical as possible. (35mm focal length on a M4/3 camera body.)

Use the tele end for portraits ““ both formal and candid.  And use the position of your subject and the lighting to their best advantage.

If you don’t have studio lights for formal portraits, natural daylight shining through a window is a tried-and proven lighting technique. It’s easy to brighten the shadowed side of the subject’s face with a reflector made from a sheet of white card.

For candid shots, it’s best to shoot quickly and capture the moment, rather than fussing about the lighting. Smaller interchangeable-lens cameras with touch screens are great tools for candid and street photography because they’re inconspicuous and the touch shutter control lets you shoot ‘from the hip’ and avoid attracting attention.


A candid shot in a night market, taken with the 18-55mm kit lens on a Canon EOS M. This camera lets you move in close to subjects and shoot at 55mm without attracting attention.

Telephoto lenses create an impression of compressed perspective. Find out how much your lens compresses by photographing a fence or line of trees. Check out the lens’s bokeh by shooting a portrait (or close-up) with the widest aperture setting. Try a few different angles and you’ll soon learn how the lens handles highlights and how to avoid ‘choppy’ looking backgrounds.

Finally, explore the focal lengths between these extremes. See which focal lengths work best with different types of subjects. Try walking towards a subject with the lens set mid-way in the zoom range instead of just zooming in. You might be surprised at how the perspective in the shot is changed by the focal length setting.


An 18-55mm kit lens on a camera with an APS-C sized sensor will allow you to shoot close-ups of subjects larger than macro size and use a small lens aperture (f/8) to maximise depth-of-field.

Once you have explored the potential of your lens you will also understand its limitations. And your photography will improve as you master each focal length.

Many photographers keep using their first kit lens for the life of the camera body. For some, one or two kit lenses will cover all the shooting situations they encounter. The only reason to consider other lenses is when you need different focal lengths or larger maximum apertures.

This is an excerpt from Photo Review Issue 56.

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