Beyond the Kit Lens
For many DSLR owners, there comes a time when one wants to go beyond the kit lens that came with the camera. The reasons vary. For some it's a matter of sharpness. For others it's a matter of speed and/or focal-length restrictions. And for some it's simply the fact they don't like the ''icky" feel of a plastic lens barrel, regardless of how sharp the lens may or may not be.
Assuming you've been shooting with a kit lens typical of the type that comes with a compact APS-C format DSLR,
For casual shooters, these kit zooms are sufficient for most day tripping and around-the-house applications. But if you plan on shooting Junior scoring a soccer goal, or a herd of charging rhinos while on a safari, the focal range limitations of kit zooms limit your ability to take pictures which, with few exceptions, will be underwhelming at best.
Another issue with kit zooms has to do with lens speed—or lack thereof. Most kit zooms open up to a maximum aperture of f/3.5 at the wide end and trail off to f/5.6 at the telephoto end, which is adequate on bright, sunny days but dicey once the clouds start rolling in or the sun begins kissing the treetops. Better zooms only open up to a maximum of f/2.8 at best, but at least it's a constant f/2.8 throughout the zoom ranges, which better guarantees sharp results when shooting tight. There's also a limit as to how far you can play with selective focus with smaller-aperture optics, and even zooms that only open up to a modest f/2.8 are still better than f/3.5 or f/4 when you're trying to isolate your subject from the foreground and background.
Resolving power, optical distortions and lens construction are additional issues that get people thinking about moving beyond the lens that came with the camera. Though many kit lenses are fairly decent and more than adequate for general shooting and desktop-printing needs, none of them can be described as "killer" when it comes to resolving power.
Sharpness, especially toward the edges of the frame, can often be wishy-washy with kit zooms especially when shooting wide open, and barrel distortions are common when shooting at the wide end of the focal range. Barrel construction is another area of contention with kit zooms. When building a lens designed to sell for as little as $99 over the cost of a body only, concessions have to be made, which explains why the lens barrels of these optics are invariably made out of polymer rather than metal alloy. This also explains why the zoom and focusing rings aren't always silky smooth, and wobble as you work them. As for weather and dust resistance, I would suggest being protective of your gear on both fronts.
If any (or all) of the above issues strike a chord within you, the following list of lenses are suggestions that may address your particular optical peeve. Some of these lenses go wider than the typical kit zoom, some longer, some wider and longer—and most are faster than the lens that came with your camera. They're all sharper, most likely, better constructed, and will probably feel better in your hand.
Note: The lenses chosen for this article range from wide angle to telephoto. Separate articles on extreme wide angle and extreme telephoto optics will be appearing in upcoming holiday newsletters.
|Format||Min Focus||Filter Size||Weight|
|APS-C||1' (0.3m)||77mm||19.2 oz (565 oz)|
|APS-C||1.3' (0.4m)||62mm||16 oz (470 g)|
|Full-Frame / APS-C||0.92' (0.28m)||77mm||17.5 oz (500 g)|
|APS-C||1.18' (0.36m)||77mm||25.6 oz (725.75g)|
|APS-C||0.95' (0.29m)||72mm||20.15 oz (570 g)|
|APS-C||0.66' (0.2m)||72mm||19.2 oz (544 g)|
|Full-Frame / APS-C||1.2' (0.366m)||77mm||33.6 oz (953 g)|
|Full-Frame / APS-C||1.15' (0.350m)||77mm||35.2 oz (998 g)|
|Ful-Frame / APS-C||1.48' (0.45m)||77mm||24 oz (680 g)|
|APS-C||1.08' (0.33m)||67mm||18 oz (510 g)|
|Full-Frame / APS-C||1.6' (0.49m)||82mm||30.88 oz (875 g)|
|APS-C||3.3' (0.49m)||67mm||24 oz (680 g)|
|Full-Frame / APS-C||3.61' (1.1m)||55mm||14.8 oz (420 g)|
|FourThirds||3.9' (1.2m)||67mm||35 oz (995 g)|
|APS-C||4.6' (1.4m)||58mm||15.5 oz (440 g)|
|APS-C||3.6' (1.1m)||67mm||43.4 oz (1229 g)|
|Full-Frame / APS-C||4.9' (1.5m)||77mm||44.8 oz (1270 g)|
|Full-Frame / APS-C||4.6' (1.4m)||77mm||51 oz (1451 g)|
|Full-Frame / APS-C||3.94' (1.2m)||77mm||52.6 oz (1490g)|
|Full-Frame /APS-C||3.9' (1.2m)||67mm||24.96 oz (708 g)|
|Full-Frame / APS-C||3.9' (1.2m)||67mm||27.2 oz (771 g)|
|Full-Frame / APS-C||4.6' (1.4m)||77mm||51.2 oz (1452 g)|
|Full-Frame / APS-C||3.3' (1m)||77mm||48 oz (1361 g)|
|Full-Frame / APS-C||4.6' (1.4m)||77mm||50.4 oz (1429 g)|
|Full-Frame / APS-C||3.1' (0.95m)||77mm||40 oz (1134g)|
|FourThirds||3.9' (1.2m)||67mm||35 oz (995g)|
|Full-Frame / APS-C||4' (1.2m)||77mm||47.2 oz (1340g)|