I was visiting some friends yesterday for the Easter holiday and of course I had my camera with me to take some shots of the egg hunting. I didn’t bring a lit of gear with me, just my D7000 and the 50mm f/1.4 G series lens. One of my friends at the gathering brought her camera as well and was lamenting the fact that she couldn’t get shots with the blurry backgrounds like I was getting. That’s when I explained that the kit lens is okay for your everyday kind of shots but that it also has a lot of limitations.
It’s hard for new photographers to sometimes grasp that they need to invest in a better lens if they want to take things up a notch, photographically speaking. It can also be a hard pill to swallow that getting the right lens can sometimes require an investment that is more than they spent on the camera itself.
We spent some time taking pictures of her beautiful children and I explained the relationship between lens aperture and depth of field. The big problem with most kit lenses are that they have fairly small apertures when they are extended to their maximum focal lengths. Most dslr camera kit lenses are 18-55mm with a variable aperture that goes from f/3.5 at 18mm to f/5.6 at 55mm. I also explained the effects of focal length and depth of field and suggested that she would get better results shooting wide open at 55mm and move in close to her subjects. This will do a fairly decent job but if she really wanted more bokeh (the word that describes the out of focus area that comes from a narrow depth of field) that she should consider one of two possibilities. The first is that she get a lens like I was using, the 50mm f/1.4.
It’s not an overly expensive prime lens at around $550 at B&H Photo. It does however have some limitations that someone shooting zooms may not like, like having to zoom with your feet. I learned photography with a 50mm so it’s not a big deal for me but it does take a little getting used to. My other suggestion was to get the 18-200 DX VRII lens. We had another friend there who happened to have this lens so I borrowed it to show how you can get some great bokeh by shooting in the 200mm range of the lens with the aperture wide open to f/5.6. Same aperture as her 18-55mm, but the results were substantially better. Plus it’s just a much more versatile lens that covers a great range of focal lengths, from wide to telephoto. Unfortunately it’s also a much more expensive piece of glass that will run around $850.
The takeaway from all of this is that the kit lens is pretty pedestrian and, in my opinion, only serves the purpose of getting you used to the camera and controls as you prepare to move forward in your photography. When that time comes, you will need to bite the bullet and start investing in some better optics to really notice an improvement in your photography. And I think investment really is the right word. I know a lot of photographers whose lenses have served them well past their first, second, and even third camera bodies.