Saturday, August 25, 2012

I Love Kit Lens

It is very frustrating to see that not many people show much attention to kit lenses anymore. More and more new camera purchasers would opt for body only packages, and top that up with higher grade prime lenses, all for the sake of "better low light shooting" and capability to render "shallower depth of field". The trend gets worse in street photography, as the older masters of the craft would preach and proclaim the greatness of using 35mm and 50mm primes ONLY, neglecting the need for other focal lengths, or the need for zoom. Some went more drastic by staying with a single focal length for the entire lifetime, looking down upon zoom lens users, as they label them reckless, and being lazy. I beg to differ in opinion. I truly believe that you can create good photographs, regardless of what lens and camera you choose to shoot with. As long as your gear is in line with your vision, and you have a very strong visualization of what you want to accomplish in the end in your photographs. 

All images were taken with Olympus DSLR E-520 and kit lens 14-42mm F3.5-5.6

Begiras Upstairs



Hands

Joy Behind bars

Father and Son

Along the crack-line

I particularly dislike some photographers who looked down on zoom users. Since they shoot with primes, they thought of themselves highly, and anyone else who chose to shoot with zoom lenses would be rated second class. They would say things like "if you want to improve in photography, shoot with prime lenses only" or "real photographers only shoot with primes". When you presented your set of photographs taken with zoom lens, regardless of whether it was that cheap originally bundled kit lens with your entry level DSLR body, or an expensive top of the line 24-70mm or 70-200mm bazooka lenses, it won't gain you extra points, you would still commit a terrible sin just by using zooms in front of those "prime loyalist's" eyes. They will find your technical faults, such as distortions, lack of sharpness, or the inability to produce as much background blur as an F1.4 prime lens. They would question you if you use a long lens, why shoot from far? You should move closer. They would say that kit lens which came along with your entry level DSLR body is a piece of plastic junk which is incapable of producing anything decent at all. I know, because I have suffered the same fate too. Though I am using mostly my Olympus E-5 and a few high grade lenses now, sometimes, when I opted for the older E-520 and the kit lenses, I still get that "what the hell is that guy doing with such lousy gear" kind of impression. 

Sometimes, I feel that I am the only weird person in the whole world that still religiously uses the kit zoom lens. And never really complained about its shortcomings and flaws. 

I believe different lenses are designed for different purposes. If you are shooting an opera in an extremely dimly lit hall, with no additional lighting and you are not allowed to use flash (or choose not to, since you want to preserve the ambient lighting), then the best solution would be going for primes, such as 50mm F1.4 or 85mm F1.4 lenses, allowing you plenty of headroom to work with since the wider aperture opening can gather plenty of light. If you need that extra-creamy bokeh, and blur everything else away, shooting a portrait outdoor, yes, use that wonderful prime and make the best out of it. However, if you do not have anything specific in mind, and your camera with your lens setup is something you carry around with you, I do not see how the kit lens would not suffice for most common situations. The kit zoom lens (18-55mm for canon and nikon or 14-42mm for Olympus) are designed for general purpose usage, covering a wide range of normal applications. The lens is made to be small, flexible, and compact. Those are advantages, and they provide you with plenty of versatility to play with. You can shoot very close up, going near to your subject for some pseudo macro shooting. On the other hand, you have wide angle (28mm) as well as medium tele-photo range (85mm). Remember, being flexible and versatile can be very convenient in many circumstances. 

I choose to have a different opinion. Prime lenses actually can make you lazier, in comparison to zoom lenses. Since you are only stuck with one focal length, you do not consider other possibilities. I know it is important to stay focused on many other things such as composition or finding the subject, or photography opportunities, hence having a fixed focal length eliminates the need to consider varying perspectives of zoom. However, fixing yourself at one single perspective is not the right solution for some areas of shooting. There are times you need a wider perspective to capture more details in the background. There are times tighter perspective will work better to minimize background distractions. There are times switching between those perspectives can create more dramatic results, and adding variety to your overall presentation of photographs, rather than just one, singular, fixed perceptive. I am not saying which is more superior than which, and I admit prime lenses are technically better in many ways, but it can be very limiting sometimes. Why restrict yourself, if you can do so much more? Some photographers carry two bodies with two different  focal length primes lenses, some photographers change lenses like crazy. To those "purists" they just stick to one lens and refused to admit the weakness that the prime lens may not be able to fulfill all the intended purposes. I chose to use the zoom lens, because I know, despite its flaws and imperfections, I gained flexibility. I had 3 lenses in one: 14mm, 25mm and 42mm (approximately corresponding in 35mm format: 28mm wide angle, 50mm normal perspective and 85mm medium tele-photo, respectively). 

Weekend market shopping

Pulling the Cart

Fish Monger

Young chap

The Dude with Turban

Stranger's Portrait


I also find it strange how people would ask around "what camera did you use to take this photograph" or "what lens". If that photograph was mediocre, the answer would be "oh it was just the entry level camera or standard kit lens", no wonder the photographs were not stellar. Seriously, since when did the gear become limiting to the photographer's artistic vision, and stop the photographer from creating good images? I find such correlations non-sense. If someone shoots with a bazooka lens and huge DSLR then their images would  automatically become award-winning, and stand out from the rest of the crowd? I see no connection whatsoever between the gear the photographer used and his photography work. I admire photographers who use lower grade cameras, even just a kit lens, to produce stunning images, than photographers that use top of the line gear and creating just so-so images. 

Lets take a 50mm perspective for example. Lets say your image was shot with that awesome godlike 50mm prime lens (choose your brand of preference), and you compare that with someone who use a kit lens who zoomed it all the way to the similar field of view as the 50mm (say on Olympus, zooming the kit lens into 25mm, with 2x factor = 50mm equivalent). What makes the photograph great has nothing to do with whether it was taken with the prime lens, or the same equivalent focal length on the kit lens. The powerful composition, the beautiful lighting control, the unique creative input, the strong pre-visualization, the impeccable decisive moment execution, the individual photographer's artistic vision, the smart choice of subject content, how effectively the photographer communicated with the subject, how patiently the photographer waited for hours for the shot to happen, how much passion, how much thought and how much care the photographer put into that 50mm perspective photograph, ALL those are the true reasons why the photograph would shine. It has nothing to do with prime or zoom lenses. It has nothing to do with being lazy or hardworking. It has nothing to do with limiting oneself with one focal length. Consequently, it has everything do with the photographer, understanding how to optimize and bring the best out of that 50mm perspective. Even if it was taken with just a normal, lowly, kit lens. 

When you need wide angle, you will need wide angle. When you need medium tele-photo lens, you will need it. There is a reason why zoom lenses are invented. And that reason is not to make photographer's lazy. 


Done with Shopping

New age plastic basket

I bury my head

And the new-age plastic basket comes with trolley too !! Amazing

Baby

Pushing


Kelvin Ng, my shooting partner of the day. 


I think it is very selfish, and ridiculous to claim that street photographer's should use prime lenses. If you have primes, and you know well to use them for your own style, then go ahead, there is nothing against your preferences. However, giving advise to beginner or new-comer to photography, particularly street photography, I would not chuck a fixed foal length to them just yet. What is wrong with the standard zoom kit lens? It is cheap. It produces very decent results. And if used carefully, and creatively, I am damned sure they can create very compelling and impressive results. Prime lenses wont turn you into a professional street photographer over-night. Despite the fact that EVERY old generation street photographers use primes. Did it ever occur to you that they probably never had a decent zoom-able kit lens to work with? Same reason why they shot film. If Henri Cartier-Bresson had a chance to shoot with the Olympus OM-D E-M5, perhaps he would fall in love with it. And maybe he would be using the wonderful Panasonic 12-35mm F2.8 lens. 

At the end of the day, the tool does not really matter. Primes have their places, so do zoom kit lenses. There is no need to talk one or the other down. Use the gear that suits your vision, and can help you accomplish your objectives while you shoot. 



23 comments:

  1. I am still prefer to use prime lens. I am lazy to think when should I zoom when using the zoom lens. I rather walk a few step away or closer to make my composition.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. No worries. we shoot with what we like but that does not mean anyone else who do not use what we use are anything less. I use my 50mm macro a lot too, but I also respect zoom users and I believe zoom lenses can make great photos too.

      Delete
  2. Funny. Just when I mount my kit lens for a change (on the Pen this time), you write an article about them. I sometimes ignore that those kit lenses are zooms (tho that can be convenient as well), set them at a certain focal length like 17 or 25mm, and leave them there all day long. These kit lenses are definitely useful, and not bad at all. But since we seldom use them both at the same time (we have 2 for the Pens and one for my E-520), I could as well give one to my brother...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Great minds think alike!! Yes I also have one for pen and one for the e520. I'm keeping both haha.

      Delete
  3. I agree Robin with your well-spoken argument. I would only add that there is nothing wrong with preferring prime lenses (as I believe you said as well), only problem is with disparaging those who choose a different photographic philosophy. As you said so articulately, choose the tool that suits the job or your style, admire a photograph for it's content, accept all "vehicles" that get you to that destination.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Ken. I love how you use vehicles that get you to destination as a way to describe the photographer's tool to achieve his vision. Thanks for that !

      Delete
  4. I agree with the value of the kit lens, and I had put mine to several great uses, one would upgrade from the kit lens that ships with the camera to a better kit lens, I upgraded from the Canon 18-55 to the 15-85 for the better range, better sharpness and faster focusing.

    However I have a different opinion about using primes, I like them because they are liberating in that they make you think about the composition more, you always know the viewing angle before you look through the viewfinder, while when I use my zoom lens (I do have one and I use it a lot when I need to) I keep trying different focal lengths and getting different looks for the same situation, this is not always a good thing when all I need is to concentrate on shooting whatever lens I have with me. On the other hand a zoom is indispensable when you need flexibility in focal lengths.

    Another main reason for using primes are the wide apertures.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. By the way, I've sent you the mail I promised about my trip to Kuala Lumpur, the subject is called "Better Family Photos, Malaysia - Kuala Lumpur"

      Delete
    2. Thanks mshafik for the email. I have gone through your blog, I have not had the time to respond to it yet. Been extra busy with work and everything else lately.
      Good to see that you love and do use your kit lens too.
      Of course, the preference is personal, and as long as you admit that the choice is dependent on the photographer's own style of shooting. I just do not get how some prime shooters would dismiss the importance of zoom lenses.

      Delete
  5. Hello Robin,
    Thank you for the sharing of your photography thought.
    Frankly I do not have kit lens as I opt for the body only. (One way to get my wife to pay for the camera at MYR2950) Then I add the Sigma 18-200mm f/3.5-6.5 non-OS as a walk around lens. When my AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.8G (cheaper than f/1.4G), I keep my 18-200. But I never shot with my 18-200 in street yet. Maybe one of these days. I did use my new Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 VC for the street once awhile depend on the location. Normally in tight space, I will change to 17-50mm.
    I agreed with you 100% that both lens Kit and primes have their place and it's all depend on the photographer.
    Normal question my friends ask me: How much is your camera? Your camera must be very expensive? They never know that I have to shoot thousands of photos before I get ONE decent shot. Practice and practice.
    But now they have new questions: How much they pay you?
    Voices never end. But one thing I know sure that voice echos from you is reliable. Glad to know you and your blog.
    May you have a great weekend.
    John Ragai

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hey John,
      lens choice is personal, and only you know what works best for yourself. If you find that certain lens is limiting, and in order to get that shot you have in mind you need another lens, and you have it with you, do not hesitate to switch to that lens !!
      Thanks again for your kind compliments. Do not take all my words 100% in though, I was just sharing my thoughts and opinion, and like everyone else, they are subject to individual style and preferences too. Some things that work for me may not work for you.

      Delete
  6. Robin, If I come to Kuala Lumpur can I go street shooting with you?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Kirk, if you come to Kuala Lumpur that would be better than striking a lottery !! Of course, I will surely be glad to go street hunting with you !!

      Delete
  7. Rafael Alcaide Juan8/27/2012 01:05:00 AM

    I'm with you Robin. The zuiko E 14-42 "kit" lens, is a versatile, first class, standard zoom option. Is not an usual " cheap" lens. It has a high end design with a selection of glasses, and consistent rendition (from good to very good) in sharpness and contrast at all apertures. Maybe is not a "leica" prime, but it do the job in many situations. I use it for landscape and portraits, with always good results. Is hard to imagine a zuiko "not good", even the most economic zooms. I have three old OM zooms (28-48 mm, 75-150 mm and 65-200 mm), and the three are exceptional lenses. I apologize for the long post! Thank you Robin, for the fantastic set of images that you share. These photographies really go to the heart!

    Rafael Alcaide Juan. Ibiza island. Spain.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Rafael for the kind compliments and also agreeing that the 14-42mm lens is not just a mere kit lens. Indeed I have been using it for years, my only complain is that sometimes it struggles to focus in very low light situation. Other than that there really is nothing to dislike about the lens. As you have mentioned the image quality is no slouch either ! No worries about long comments, I appreciate people who spend time to share their thoughts and opinion, and I shall gladly listen.

      Delete
  8. I uses both fixed (20mm/45mm or 7.5mmFY) and zoom kit lens(12-50mm/45-200mm) depending on the situation or where I am going. Most important is to get the job done and be happy with the result. All are great lens when use properly. Some even condemn the kit len 12-50mmm come with OM-d as slow and soft. But I think it is a great outdoor lens. The 12mm wide side is great.The macro mode on the lens works really well.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for the comment James. I agree that the 12-50mm is great shooting outdoors, having extra features that other kit lenses lack, such as close up shooting and extra wide angle. Those can give the photographers more flexibility and options to work with in their shooting.

      Delete
  9. i think we all agree that Oly kit zooms are really a cut above the canikons. and whether we like zooms or prefer primes, as long as we make great pictures and enjoy the process.
    Me? i kinda need for speed, so my pre-loved Zuiko-s 50 f/1.8 is always on my e-620, i just love the fact you work with the lens to make the picture and the way the focus ring turns, it just feels so smooth with the right amount of damping. a bonus point of Oly zooms, and i have the 40-150mm too, they are so portable, i am taking all 3 lenses on my Aussie trip next month, in a very small lowepro rezo bag.
    compare that to a canon 600d with a tamron 18-270mm, you need a 6 million dollar home to carry that one :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Indeed, Olympus has always stressed on portability, smaller footprint and lighter weight !! Glad to hear you will be travelling. Have a great time and snap plenty of pictures !

      Delete
  10. Hello all, hello Robin

    Here are my thoughts :
    I have an OMD EM5 + 20mm 1.7 + kit 12-50mm 3.5-5.6.
    After taking picture around I found out that I was making better pictures with the Pany 20mm 1.7.
    Why? It's faster = less bad pictures when full bright light is missing.
    Why? Because it's smaller so easier to have with me and less agressive to people.
    Why? Because I work a bit more in the composition.
    Why? Because with kit lense on 4/3 or m4/3 obtaining bokeh is hard!

    But!
    Damm it's "40mm"! Many times I want it to be either super wide, wide or tele!
    Damm I loose so much time switching from one lens to another! The cat / bird /scene ran away! Dammit!
    Damm it's raining! Where's my 12-50mm?

    I guess the Olympus 14-35mm 2.0 would be an ideal solution, but man is that a heavy and expensive beast! :D

    ReplyDelete
  11. I absolutely agree. And Olympus Kit lenses are very good. I have an old E-1 and i often use it with 14-42 (old) and in most situation it's very very good. I stopped using prime as "the only way" when i left Canon for Olympus. I'm in love with Oly's Zooms . They are perfect.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Hi, Robin.. I'm a self=taught beginner and fully agree with you that photography is not abt what top notch gears one has, but one's creativity and ability that makes the photos great. I've been using Oly EPL series and have taken some pretty good images with the 14-42mm kit lens during my travels past 2 years.. I really, really love it. The only reason i'm now thinking of a prime 45mm f1.8 is for its aperture and exploring different kind of images. I've known of people whose bought some very expensive lenses and accessories to look "pro" but still, their images lack the WOW factor.. so, I'm glad to know my opinion abt "gearing-up" with tools vs skills are well-shared here. Thx!

    ReplyDelete
  13. Hi Robin! I am very interested in how you do your panning shots. They are amazing! I have a budget Lumix GF2 camera and kit zoom lens(14-42mm)

    ReplyDelete