One of the less-frequently used lenses in my camera bag is the Canon kit lens. I’m planning to change that over the next few weeks and give it a lot more airtime. Y’see, it’s easy to discount and discredit this little lens (heck, I’e done it myself), but it does have an awful lot going for it.
The lens itself is the Canon 18-55 zoom, and it’s been shipped with all of Canon’s digital SLRs over the last few years with minor revision – all models below the utterly, utterly amazing Canon 40D that is. That’s supplied with a brilliant USM IS lens. But that’s a blogpost for another time
Anyhow. That main problem with the lens is that it feels cheap and nasty. The zoom action isn’t smooth, the manual focus ring feels loose, and the whole thing just doesn’t come across as very well made at all. In fact, it looks and acts exactly what it is – made to a minimal budget so it’s possible to (effectively) toss it in with the camera for free. When compared with the great build quality of the cameras themselves, it’s a bit of a come down, that’s for sure.
The thing is that despite it’s cheapness, it is a surprisingly good lens. The range is equal to 28mm to 80mm so it’s got the standard zoom range covered, and it has an aperture range of f/3.5 to f/22 at the 28mm end and f/5.6 to f/22 at 80mm. Having f/3.5 for wide-angle is pretty good in low-light situations, and if I wanted better, I’d drop my (superb) 50mm f/1.8 onto the body. Every Canon owner should have one of those ultra-cheap 50mm lenses.
The big advantage the kit lens has though is that it’s extremely light. With this lens on the camera it can hang around my neck all day without strain and be good for 95% of all my shooting needs. OK, I lose the extremes (ultra-wide with the Canon 10-22, or up to 480mm from the Tamron 28-300 “big ugly” lens), but it’s a heck of a lot lighter than either. That’s great for times I want the camera handy, but not a burden.
It’s image quality that matters most though, and at f/8, the lens is very good indeed. At maximum or minimum aperture it’s not so great with the shots being soft and losing detail. That might be useful for portrait shots, but less good any other time. With this lens on the body I set the camera to Aperture priority, leave it at f/8 and it’s good to go. I’ve used it for night photography set to f/8 and ISO 3200 (using the Russian firmware hack) and it gave very good, crisp monochrome shots indeed.
When it comes to close-up shots, the minimum focus distance is just under a foot, so while it’s far from being a Macro lens, it is good for those times only close shooting will do.
All in all, if you’re familiar with the lens’s limitations (use only at f/8!), it’s a capable all-rounder, and great for those all-day camera slogs. If you’ve got a kit lens languishing in your photo bag too, dust it down and give it another try.
You might be pleasantly surprised.