Learning Photography? Ditch the 18-55mm Kit Lens

I’ve recently taken on teaching middle school and high school students digital photography for a local private school. They each have given to them a Canon T5 Rebel and an 18-55mm kit lens to use.

Here’s my take: That 18-55mm lens is a terrible one to learn photography with. It has limited uses and is mostly useless indoors in available light.

I’ve explained to them how a 50mm f1.8 lets in two more stops of light (4x as much) than their lens at its 18mm focal length, and three stops more (8x) than their lens at 55mm. I’ve offered them to try one–the school has a dozen of them–but they like their zoom and can’t get their heads around a fixed focal length lens.

As I see it, the 55mm focal length (on their kit lens) for portraits at f5.6 is poor at best and difficult to use indoors without supplemental lighting or a tripod, but they don’t understand yet that f5.6 is terribly slow for indoor handheld photos.

The 18mm is a fine lens for a wide angle and its maximum aperture of f3.5 is ok–that wide angle focal length is the sweet spot of that lens–but it’s a focal length they rarely want to shoot at because since it can zoom, they want to zoom.

They don’t quite get the idea of a variable aperture zoom lens, how it gets slower by zooming. Or the idea of zooming with your feet–moving closer with the wide angle lens to use it at its fastest f3.5 aperture.

There’s a 100mm f2.8 Macro L lens available. One student took that out and brought it back and asked for their 18-55mm back. They didn’t like it because it didn’t zoom. It’s a perfect lens for portraits and macro close-ups, but without a zoom, there was no interest.

There’s an 85mm f1.8. A 50mm f1.4. Lots of great prime lenses for students to use.

If only they could understand why you’d want to use a non-zoom f1.8 lens since it lets in 8x the amount of light as their kit lens. The best setup as I see it is to use the kit lens at 18mm for wide angle photos only, and the 50mm f1.8 for everything else.

The lowly 50mm f1.8 might not feel special.

But it is special! So special. It’s all I would use if I were them.

A must for learning photography, I say. If you or someone you know is starting in photography, an inexpensive 50mm lens is just what’s needed. And all that’s needed.

6 thoughts on “Learning Photography? Ditch the 18-55mm Kit Lens

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    1. I’d second that but we don’t have 35mm f1.8 lenses. But yes, that on a crop sensor camera would make a nice normal lens.


  1. You’re completely correct, it’s not a good lens. But! The point is to get them hooked on photography. Once they get some experience and see the limitations of the lens, they will move to other lenses. I think of it like getting a kid hooked on reading. They start with ‘See Jack run’, then move to comic books, and maybe (gag) Twilight, or Harry Potter. Then onto actual adult books (please not Dan Brown) that take their fancy.

    Liked by 1 person

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