“The 18-55mm kit lenses that come with entry level, crop sensor DSLR’s are NOT good quality.” “you should do everything within your power to never use these lenses again”

Strong words, but not ours. Rather, it’s the opinion of a photography teacher at a university in North Carolina who is forbidding her students from using humble DSLR kit lenses for future photography assignments. The teacher goes on to say in the undergraduate syllabus: “You are talented enough by this point to not compromise your image quality by using these sub-par lenses”

(Image credit: Petapixel)

In fairness to the teacher in question, it is easy to have a low opinion of kit lenses, and she’s doubtless not alone in her view. A kit lens is often the first lens a budding photographer starts out with, as one will usually come bundled with entry-level DSLR and mirrorless cameras. As such, kit lenses are cheap, and thus they use low-cost components. By their nature of being the first rung on the lens ladder, they are inevitably not as good as more premium optics. But the question is: are kit lenses really as bad as some photographers would have you believe, and should you really “do everything within your power to never use these lenses again”!?

An 18-55mm kit lens fitted to a Canon EOS 200D (Image credit: Canon)

As the resident Lab Manager at Digital Camera World, it’s my job to scientifically assess the image quality of camera lenses, from cheap 50mm prime lenses right up to $10,000+ exotic super telephoto lenses, and everything in between. I also test kit lenses, as even though they’re not always sold individually, it’s still useful to compare the quality of kit lenses from rival manufacturers, if only to better determine the value of the cameras with which they are bundled. And I’m here to tell you right here that today’s 18-55mm kit lenses ARE good quality!

To help convince you, I’ll use the specific example of the Nikon AF-P DX 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR – a kit lens bundled with one of the best cameras for beginners, the Nikon D3500. It’s got a plastic bayonet mount, no weather sealing or fancy water-repellent lens coatings, there aren’t even any switches on the barrel, and you can forget about a focus distance window. You could therefore assume that more corners have been cut inside, with “sub-par” internals that will “compromise your image quality”. But that’s not the case here. We’ll compare the AF-P DX 18-55mm with a much more up-market lens in the Nikon range which covers a comparable focal range: the Nikon AF-S DX 17-55mm f/2.8G IF-ED…

Left: Nikon AF-P DX 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR, right: Nikon AF-S DX 17-55mm f/2.8G IF-ED. Shown approximately to scale. (Image credit: Nikon)

18-55mm kit lens image quality analysis

By Harmony