Yes! You can get sharp images with a kit lens

Recently I was asked if you can get sharp photographs using a kit lens.  My response was, “yes”.   This question got me to thinking about doing a “test” with a “kit lens”, but I didn’t have one any longer, so I borrowed an 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens from a friend.

This lens is often referred to as a kit lens because it is frequently included with a DSLR camera when sold as a “kit”, meaning with a lens and other accessories needed to start shooting right away.  These are often bought by people who are new to photography and/or using a dSLR.  These lenses are fairly inexpensive, typically under $200 U.S.  The housing is high-impact plastic as well as the lens mounts.

To conduct my tests I decided I would compare the lens to a Nikon 50mm f/1.8 because of a similar focal length and the Nikon 50mm f/1.8 being a prime lens (single focal length) is fairly sharp.  I didn’t want to use “professional” grade lenses in order to keep the costs down to what many beginning photographers would feel comfortable with buying.  I also chose to use a Nikon D80 10.2-megapixel camera which was introduced in 2006 to keep the argument down about using high-end professional level cameras.

To conduct the test, I used only natural available light.  I used a focus chart mounted on a piece of white cardboard held in place on a reflector stand.  I placed the stand with the focus chart in a sunlit area outside.  The camera was mounted on a tripod.  The photographs were shot in JPEG Fine “normal”.

The first two images were shot at f/5.6.

Focus chart shot with a Nikon 50mm f/1.8


Focus chart shot with a Nikon 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 “kit lens”

To check the sharpness of the focus I placed both image side by side in Photoshop and zoomed in 200%.

The 50mm f/1.8 is a bit sharper, however, both a very acceptable.  I attribute a portion of the sharpness to the fact that the 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 is wide open at f/5.6 at 50mm.  Given that fact, I re-shot each lens at f/8

As you can see, both a very close at f/8.

Conclusion, don’t think your gear is always holding you back.  Often it is understanding how to use the gear and its limitations.  Note:  I have not used an 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 in almost 5 years.


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