There is a lot of argument about lenses when it comes to DSLRs. Should you buy a kit, or should you buy a non-kit lens? If a kit lens, which one/s? Are they any good? And if you buy a non-kit lens, which ones should you buy? Are they any better than a kit?
There’s a lot of misinformation about, so let’s cut through the bull.
First, the kit lens questions:
Should you buy a kit lens?
Yes. A kit lens is never bad enough quality to ruin your photography. You may not get true wide angle lenses, or big telephotos, or usable macro, but the glass itself is perfectly decent for everyday use. I have sold images shot with kits before, and if they sell, I argue they have to be good enough.
Plus, camera manufacturers are not stupid enough to put a useless lens in front of their bodies. It would mean fewer sales.
The decision depends on your financial situation. If you can’t afford a non-kit lens, then go for a kit. Simple as that.
It depends on the manufacturer. I don’t have room to go through every manufacturer’s lenses, but of the two majors, I recommend Nikon’s 18-105mm and Canon’s 15-85mm. Both are more expensive than the other options (the 15-85mm especially is almost too expensive), but both are worth it.
As for non-kit lenses:
Are more expensive lenses better than kit lenses?
Yes, but not always. For example, the Canon 17-55mm f/2.8 is actually worse in edge sharpness than the kit 15-85mm I was talking about.
That said, most of the time, the colour, contrast, sharpness and build quality will always be better. Get one if you can afford it.
Which lens should you buy?
This again is a personal decision. If you only intend to shoot one type of photography, then choose a lens to match. If not, buy a range.
As for specific lenses, I will outline the best ones for most people according to type and budget. I can’t cover every category, but here are the majors:
For expensive telezooms, my recommendation is to stick with the manufacturer’s lenses for the most part and go with Canon, Nikon or Sony’s 70-200mm f/2.8 glass. All are excellent, although Sony’s has lens flare issues. If not, buy Sigma’s brilliant value equivalent. It’s just been updated with image stabilisation and solves many of the earlier version’s problems.
For travel super-zooms, while I am not personally a fan of this category, get Sigma’s 18-250mm. It’s easily the best in its class.
For macro lenses, unless you have a full-frame sensor, Tamron’s 90mm f/2.8 macro is a good choice at any price. If you have a full-frame, then you are limited mostly to your manufacturer’s glass, but if you’re made of money, get the Zeiss Makro-Planar f/2 100mm.
For budget wide angle zooms (primes don’t exist at budget levels), get Tokina’s excellent 11-16mm f/2.8. At higher prices, get manufacturer glass.
As for wide angle primes, Voigtlander’s 20mm f/3.5 is brilliant value, while manufacturer’s lenses are also all excellent. If you have the money, again, Zeiss is the go, with its 21mm f/2.8 Distagon a legendary lens, and for good reason.
Finally, if you need a budget standard lens, stick with manufacturer glass, as most are excellent.
If you’re choosing a range, buy a macro, a wide angle zoom and a telephoto zoom. This will cover you for any situation.
I hope that helped. If not, let me know in the comments section below. If you've got any recommendations for reader, share them below.