It is very frustrating to see that not many people show much attention to kit lenses anymore. More and more new camera purchasers would opt for body only packages, and top that up with higher grade prime lenses, all for the sake of "better low light shooting" and capability to render "shallower depth of field". The trend gets worse in street photography, as the older masters of the craft would preach and proclaim the greatness of using 35mm and 50mm primes ONLY, neglecting the need for other focal lengths, or the need for zoom. Some went more drastic by staying with a single focal length for the entire lifetime, looking down upon zoom lens users, as they label them reckless, and being lazy. I beg to differ in opinion. I truly believe that you can create good photographs, regardless of what lens and camera you choose to shoot with. As long as your gear is in line with your vision, and you have a very strong visualization of what you want to accomplish in the end in your photographs.
All images were taken with Olympus DSLR E-520 and kit lens 14-42mm F3.5-5.6
Joy Behind bars
Father and Son
Along the crack-line
I particularly dislike some photographers who looked down on zoom users. Since they shoot with primes, they thought of themselves highly, and anyone else who chose to shoot with zoom lenses would be rated second class. They would say things like "if you want to improve in photography, shoot with prime lenses only" or "real photographers only shoot with primes". When you presented your set of photographs taken with zoom lens, regardless of whether it was that cheap originally bundled kit lens with your entry level DSLR body, or an expensive top of the line 24-70mm or 70-200mm bazooka lenses, it won't gain you extra points, you would still commit a terrible sin just by using zooms in front of those "prime loyalist's" eyes. They will find your technical faults, such as distortions, lack of sharpness, or the inability to produce as much background blur as an F1.4 prime lens. They would question you if you use a long lens, why shoot from far? You should move closer. They would say that kit lens which came along with your entry level DSLR body is a piece of plastic junk which is incapable of producing anything decent at all. I know, because I have suffered the same fate too. Though I am using mostly my Olympus E-5 and a few high grade lenses now, sometimes, when I opted for the older E-520 and the kit lenses, I still get that "what the hell is that guy doing with such lousy gear" kind of impression.
Sometimes, I feel that I am the only weird person in the whole world that still religiously uses the kit zoom lens. And never really complained about its shortcomings and flaws.
I believe different lenses are designed for different purposes. If you are shooting an opera in an extremely dimly lit hall, with no additional lighting and you are not allowed to use flash (or choose not to, since you want to preserve the ambient lighting), then the best solution would be going for primes, such as 50mm F1.4 or 85mm F1.4 lenses, allowing you plenty of headroom to work with since the wider aperture opening can gather plenty of light. If you need that extra-creamy bokeh, and blur everything else away, shooting a portrait outdoor, yes, use that wonderful prime and make the best out of it. However, if you do not have anything specific in mind, and your camera with your lens setup is something you carry around with you, I do not see how the kit lens would not suffice for most common situations. The kit zoom lens (18-55mm for canon and nikon or 14-42mm for Olympus) are designed for general purpose usage, covering a wide range of normal applications. The lens is made to be small, flexible, and compact. Those are advantages, and they provide you with plenty of versatility to play with. You can shoot very close up, going near to your subject for some pseudo macro shooting. On the other hand, you have wide angle (28mm) as well as medium tele-photo range (85mm). Remember, being flexible and versatile can be very convenient in many circumstances.
I choose to have a different opinion. Prime lenses actually can make you lazier, in comparison to zoom lenses. Since you are only stuck with one focal length, you do not consider other possibilities. I know it is important to stay focused on many other things such as composition or finding the subject, or photography opportunities, hence having a fixed focal length eliminates the need to consider varying perspectives of zoom. However, fixing yourself at one single perspective is not the right solution for some areas of shooting. There are times you need a wider perspective to capture more details in the background. There are times tighter perspective will work better to minimize background distractions. There are times switching between those perspectives can create more dramatic results, and adding variety to your overall presentation of photographs, rather than just one, singular, fixed perceptive. I am not saying which is more superior than which, and I admit prime lenses are technically better in many ways, but it can be very limiting sometimes. Why restrict yourself, if you can do so much more? Some photographers carry two bodies with two different focal length primes lenses, some photographers change lenses like crazy. To those "purists" they just stick to one lens and refused to admit the weakness that the prime lens may not be able to fulfill all the intended purposes. I chose to use the zoom lens, because I know, despite its flaws and imperfections, I gained flexibility. I had 3 lenses in one: 14mm, 25mm and 42mm (approximately corresponding in 35mm format: 28mm wide angle, 50mm normal perspective and 85mm medium tele-photo, respectively).
Weekend market shopping
Pulling the Cart
The Dude with Turban
I also find it strange how people would ask around "what camera did you use to take this photograph" or "what lens". If that photograph was mediocre, the answer would be "oh it was just the entry level camera or standard kit lens", no wonder the photographs were not stellar. Seriously, since when did the gear become limiting to the photographer's artistic vision, and stop the photographer from creating good images? I find such correlations non-sense. If someone shoots with a bazooka lens and huge DSLR then their images would automatically become award-winning, and stand out from the rest of the crowd? I see no connection whatsoever between the gear the photographer used and his photography work. I admire photographers who use lower grade cameras, even just a kit lens, to produce stunning images, than photographers that use top of the line gear and creating just so-so images.
Lets take a 50mm perspective for example. Lets say your image was shot with that awesome godlike 50mm prime lens (choose your brand of preference), and you compare that with someone who use a kit lens who zoomed it all the way to the similar field of view as the 50mm (say on Olympus, zooming the kit lens into 25mm, with 2x factor = 50mm equivalent). What makes the photograph great has nothing to do with whether it was taken with the prime lens, or the same equivalent focal length on the kit lens. The powerful composition, the beautiful lighting control, the unique creative input, the strong pre-visualization, the impeccable decisive moment execution, the individual photographer's artistic vision, the smart choice of subject content, how effectively the photographer communicated with the subject, how patiently the photographer waited for hours for the shot to happen, how much passion, how much thought and how much care the photographer put into that 50mm perspective photograph, ALL those are the true reasons why the photograph would shine. It has nothing to do with prime or zoom lenses. It has nothing to do with being lazy or hardworking. It has nothing to do with limiting oneself with one focal length. Consequently, it has everything do with the photographer, understanding how to optimize and bring the best out of that 50mm perspective. Even if it was taken with just a normal, lowly, kit lens.
When you need wide angle, you will need wide angle. When you need medium tele-photo lens, you will need it. There is a reason why zoom lenses are invented. And that reason is not to make photographer's lazy.
Done with Shopping
New age plastic basket
I bury my head
And the new-age plastic basket comes with trolley too !! Amazing
Kelvin Ng, my shooting partner of the day.
I think it is very selfish, and ridiculous to claim that street photographer's should use prime lenses. If you have primes, and you know well to use them for your own style, then go ahead, there is nothing against your preferences. However, giving advise to beginner or new-comer to photography, particularly street photography, I would not chuck a fixed foal length to them just yet. What is wrong with the standard zoom kit lens? It is cheap. It produces very decent results. And if used carefully, and creatively, I am damned sure they can create very compelling and impressive results. Prime lenses wont turn you into a professional street photographer over-night. Despite the fact that EVERY old generation street photographers use primes. Did it ever occur to you that they probably never had a decent zoom-able kit lens to work with? Same reason why they shot film. If Henri Cartier-Bresson had a chance to shoot with the Olympus OM-D E-M5, perhaps he would fall in love with it. And maybe he would be using the wonderful Panasonic 12-35mm F2.8 lens.
At the end of the day, the tool does not really matter. Primes have their places, so do zoom kit lenses. There is no need to talk one or the other down. Use the gear that suits your vision, and can help you accomplish your objectives while you shoot.