Kit lenses are often derided for their poor optical performance and slow maximum apertures, but there are a number of ways to make them shine a little brighter.
Here are seven ways to get the most out of them.
1. Enable in-camera corrections
The manufacturer of a lens arguably knows its quirks and shortcomings better than anyone else, so it’s a good idea to enable any in-camera corrections it’s developed to make these less of an issue.
These are either lens specific, and part of the camera’s firmware, or non-specific alternatives that can be applied in various degrees (such as Nikon’s Vignette control feature). Bear in mind that you may need to update your firmware to get specific corrections for more recent optics.
And if the corrections you require are not available in camera…
2. Use software-based corrections
Whether you use the software that came with your camera or a third-party program such as Adobe Lightroom or DxO Optics Pro, there may be lens-specific corrections that can quickly iron out aberrations such as curvilinear distortion and vignetting.
Once again, if you find these are unavailable, make sure you have the latest version of your software downloaded, or the correct profiles installed if you need to do this for each lens individually.
3. Know your apertures
Some lenses work brilliantly at their maximum apertures, but the majority require stopping down to get them to their best.
Even by closing down the aperture by a couple of stops, you may see resolution increase and consistency across the frame improve. Axial chromatic aberrations and vignetting also tend to be more noticeable at wider apertures, so you may find that stopping down also lessens these.
Performing a quick test, with a number of consecutively captured images taken a different apertures, may give you a better idea of the point at which things start to improve and where things start to get worse.
4. Step back and recompose when capturing linear details
Curvilinear distortion, which can make linear details and horizons appear curved, is often noticeable when capturing images at the wide-angle end of a kit lens.
If possible, try recomposing the image by stepping back and zooming in a little to the same composition, as it’s possible the lens will render the scene more naturally at such a setting.
5. Use your lens hood
Kit lenses often miss out on the superior kinds of anti-reflective coatings applied to more advanced optics, so anything you can do to keep extraneous light at bay is worth considering.
When shooting in harsher light, the easiest thing to do is to make sure you use the hood that came with your lens. Otherwise, you may find some scenes are tainted by flare spots, or just by a general lack of contrast and saturation.
Of course, you may also want to introduce these things for effect, but keeping your lens hood with you will give you the flexibility to do the opposite when you want to bring it under control.
6. Avoid smaller apertures with an ND filter or focus bracketing
If you tend to rely on smaller apertures to obtain slow shutter speeds or maximum depth of field, it’s possible that you sometimes venture into an aperture range where diffraction starts to visibly compromise details.
If you want to limit yourself to a more moderate aperture get around this, you could try focus stacking a number of images together to ensure depth of field is as deep as possible. Alternatively, an ND filter may allow you to use slower shutter speeds without you having to resort to the smallest available apertures.
7. Customise your camera’s controls
Over the last few years there’s been a trend towards smaller kit lenses, with fewer controls and more streamlined designs.
A number of lenses, for example, no longer have physical switches to change between autofocus and manual focus, or for adjusting image stabilisation, and this forces you to access these things through the menus instead.
In case you find this to be inconvenient and would prefer a physical alternative, check to see whether you can assign any missing options to a customisable control around the camera’s body. As many cameras now offer such a control to the side of the lens mount, you may be able to conveniently access these with the same hand that you are using to adjust or hold the lens.