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How to find the best replacement for your DSLR kit lens

Categories: Digital Cameras, Shoot & Scan Pictures    Tags: ,   No Comments

Man taking a pictureWhen I purchased my Canon T2i some years ago, I assumed that I would have to replace the kit lens that came with it. I just assumed. This article comes from an unexpectedly painful experience in which I have attempted to replace my kit lens for my Canon T2i. I have always assumed that my Canon DSLR kit lens is mediocre at best, if not terrible.

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A few words about my gear

Since I’m not a professional photographer my photo gear is very simple. A Canon T2i with the kit lens Canon 18-55mm. Nothing really complicated but definitely enough for my limited artistic capability. I love photography because it challenges me to try to be artistic and slowly but surely I am improving…I think.

It is true that I don’t really analyze every pixel in an image and I don’t notice barrel distortion and chromatic aberration on my lens. I am an amateur after all…

How do you choose a good replacement for your kit lens?
DSLR lens

My experience with the kit lens so far

Many people complain about the kit lens. However, in the past two years, I have taken thousands of pictures with it and never really noticed that the image quality was suffering…not to any degree I would really care about at this point. In addition, in the past two years, I also didn’t really feel the need of having another lens. I didn’t remember being frustrated somewhere for not being able to take a particular picture I wanted to take.

I admit that a few times I wished I would have had a zoom lens with me, but those situations were very rare.

Looking for the best replacement for my DSLR kit lens

This year, some people suggested again that my Canon DSLR kit lens needed to be replaced because the images taken with it were not as sharp towards the ends of the picture and because of course it’s a kit lens.

So, with all these conflicting ideas in my head I started reading about a replacement lens for my Canon DSLR kit lens. I thought I would read a little bit and find something cheap and that would be it, end of story.

Little did I know that this whole process would take over two months and would lead me to read way too much about DSLR lens tests that I care about. At the end of this whole process I purchased two lenses only to return them back to the store.

How bad is the Canon kit lens?

After reading and reading and reading again I have realized that the Canon DSLR kit lens (Canon 18-55mm) is actually an excellent lens. It has amazing image quality for the price and an ok mechanical quality. Since mechanically, the Canon kit lens didn’t give me any problems whatsoever, I was more interested in the image quality. Pretty much everywhere I read I found that the Canon 18-55mm is a very good lens.

I realized very quickly that in order to get a real upgrade to the Canon kit lens, I would have to spend a lot more than I was planning to spend. Otherwise, I would get a cheap lens that would give me the same quality of pictures as my kit lens…so why bother?

So pretty soon I started asking myself why do I have to upgrade my lens? Maybe I don’t.

The real question you have to ask when thinking about upgrading your DSLR kit lens

After so much research I have realized that I was asking the wrong questions about upgrading my kit lens. It doesn’t really have to do with the characteristics of the lens very much (unless you’re a pro and need to sell your pictures) but it has a lot more to do with the purpose of the lens.

So the real question you need to ask yourself is: What do I need this new lens for? And there are a few more questions that go with this main question: what kinds of photos I am trying to take? why can’t I take these kinds of photos with the lens I have?

What are some bad choices for upgrading your Canon kit lens?

Manufacturers try to cram as much zoom range as possible into one lens because, like me, most people want only one lens. So you find lenses like Tamron 18-270mm or Canon 18-200mm. Sounds great on paper, but in reality this large zoom range comes with lots of optical compromises. So in essence you’re exchanging the good optical quality of the kit lens with the zoom capability of a travel zoom lens. If you read the technical reviews you will notice that a long zoom range bring out worse image quality than your kit lens. So, to me any of these lenses are not an option unless you really need that long of a zoom range.

What are the true choices for a real upgrade to your Canon kit lens?

After a couple of months of agony and two lenses I had returned I was able to pretty much narrow down my list of choices to only one lens that would suit my purpose.

  • Canon 55-250mm is an excellent inexpensive zoom lens…if you need a zoom lens. This is the one I purchased and loved it. However, it turned out to be too bulky and too cumbersome to keep two lenses with me and change them while traveling. This made me realize two things: I only need one lens and secondly I really need the wide angle. So I returned it.
  • Canon 15-85mm is by far my favorite choice to replace my kit lens. I actually bought this lens just to verify that it is as great as reviewers think…and it is. At this time however, I couldn’t justify spending $850 so I’ll wait until I can get it for around $600. So I returned this one as well. I loved the fact that it has wider angle than the kit lens (15mm versus 18mm) and longer zoom (85mm versus 55mm) and the optical quality is excellent. In addition it has USM and a focus ring which is extremely handy when filming video with my Canon T2i.
    This is the lens I have finally purchased and I think it was the only affordable choice I had for replacing my Canon kit lens.

Additional resources for determining your best replacement of your DSLR kit lens

  • Photozone is an excellent German website with lots of lenses tested over the years.
  • The Digital Picture – great site for lens reviews.
  • Ken Rockwell’s site is excellent not only for technical stuff but for giving you insight into whether or not you actually need to upgrade your kit lens.

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Updated: September 20, 2015  Categories: Digital Cameras, Shoot & Scan Pictures
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