Kit lenses have a bad reputation for being the cheap training wheels of the photography world, built solely to make the DSLR buying process more approachable for thrifty consumers in search of a one-stop upgrade. These knocks against the category aren’t completely unfounded, but you shouldn’t let the general snobbery of experienced photographers steer you away from a good deal or convenience. There are a variety of kit lenses that are still a tremendous value and a great starting point for building a glass collection, whether they’re purchased with a camera or on their own. Here, you’ll find a few of our favorites across a variety of major brands and setups.
Additional contributions by Chris Wright and Ben Bowers.
Fujifilm XF 18-55mm f/2.8-4.0
Best for the street shooter: As the fastest kit lens currently in the mirrorless camera industry, Fujifilm’s 18-55mm f2.8-f4 — which ships with Fujifilm’s new X-E1 camera — is tailored to street shooters and enthusiasts covering events alike. The aperture range here is excellent: a 27mm f2.8 equivalent at the widest end with an 82.5mm f4 equivalent at the most telephoto, allowing you to keep the lens wide open nearly all the time. Aperture controls as well as zoom can also be manually manipulated using switches and the barrel rings. If you’re looking for a compact package that maintains excellent quality, this is your pick.
Nikon AF-S DX Nikkor 18-105mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR
Best for the wary traveler: This Nikon workhorse has been in the lineup since 2008 and has developed a reputation as a “kit lens on steroids”. Its plastic construction is to be expected given the price, but don’t be too quick to judge. The value of having a 27-158mm 35mm equivalent focus length in a compact and lightweight package shouldn’t be dismissed. The same thing goes for its enhanced vibration reduction, which can easily maintain image sharpness while dealing with the shaking of your road weary hands or the jarring of a rickety bus. More importantly, you can find it for under $200, so theft or damage won’t leave you heartbroken.
Portraits are one shortcoming, since a max f/5.6 aperture limits the depth of field and pincushion and barrel distortion are also definitely present. Overall, it’s still a solid value, and great for beginners gradually ratcheting up their photography addiction.
Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS
Best for the multimedia master: Many refuse to call this a kit lens, as the 24-105mm f4 L IS is the staple many photojournalists reach for on a daily basis, but this respected piece of glass does come bundled with the Canon 5D Mk II, 5D Mk III and 6D. Highlights include a wide zoom range that maintains a constant f4 aperture throughout. It also tugs at the hearts of filmmakers due to excellent built-in image stabilization that works well for the run and gun style used frequently in lower budget video productions.
Sony 16-50mm f/2.8
Best for the up close and personal: The Sony A77 has won many awards, and as the company’s top of the line APS-C sensor camera, it needed a kick-ass lens pairing. The Sony 16-50mm f2.8 DT works in conjunction with Sony’s SteadyShot technology to ensure that the photos of your nighttime ventures to the land of Santeria and voodoo (if you’re in to that sort of thing) are tack sharp. Combined with a fast aperture, this ensures your ISOs won’t get nearly as hot as the ritual fires. 16 elements in 13 groups and 7 aperture blades makes it a marvel that Sony was also able to keep the package relatively small.
Olympus M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3
Best for the adventurer: If you’re the type who enjoys fighting the elements, then the Olympus 12-50mm f3.5-5.6 is worth a gander. It comes bundled with the Olympus OMD EM-5; together they form the first weather-sealed package in the mirrorless camera world. We’ve taken this lens and the OMD into an extremely heavy downpour, and it shrugged off hail-sized raindrops. The OMD is also the current record holder for the fastest autofocus of any camera in the industry. Together with a small, durable construction, that makes this glass excellent for roughing it.
Bonus: Canon EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS
Best for the lighting wizard: The newly redesigned 18-135mm f3.5-5.6 IS can be purchased with the new Canon T4i DSLR. Of any optic on this list, consider this one the quiet kid in the corner packing all the heat. Despite its overly plastic exterior, it’s easily sharp enough for professional work. The photos in our European Adventure Kit were all shot using professional lighting and this underrated piece of glass. Going out for an adventure? Its zoom range yields sharper images than anything else at this price point. Just don’t get too ballsy, as this lens isn’t weather-sealed.