Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Don't Underestimate The Kit Lens: Olympus M.Zuiko 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 on PEN E-PL7

In the spirit of the frenzy happenings at Photokina, churning out endless announcements of latest photography products, pushing the advancement and technological barriers, I have chosen to put all the gear measurebating aside today. How did I do that exactly? Simple, for my shutter therapy session, I chose to shoot with one lens only: the Olympus Kit Lens that not many people cared much about, M.Zuiko 14-42mm F3.5-5.6. 

Kit lens is not something most people would want to stay with very long after their first system camera purchase, many looking for options to upgrade to pro zoom lenses (normally with constant bright aperture, eg F2.8), or adding prime lenses. It was not a surprising fact, since most kit lenses bundled with entry level camera (and in a handful of cases, mid-level to even higher level APS-C DSLR cameras) were usually performing less than mediocre, in terms of overall image quality. When setting up with prime lenses or higher grade zoom lenses, the original kit lenses become pale in comparison, generally not as sharp. 

However, let me ask you this. 

Have you used any Olympus kit lenses before? 

From the DSLR days, the Zuiko Digital 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 (Four Thirds version), which I used extensively for 2 years before upgrading to better lenses, to the latest offerings from Olympus Micro Four Thirds line-up, such as the M.Zuiko 12-50mm F3.5-6.3, and even the lowly, often underrated 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 2R. If you have used ANY of the above mentioned kit lenses (like really put them to good use) mostly bundled with Olympus cameras, you will realize that Olympus makes some of the best kit lenses out there, ever. I may sound like I am exaggerating, but I have photographs to show in this blog entry, and believe me this is not the first time I am blogging about the goodness of kit lens. 

Accompanying the kit lens, I used the latest Olympus PEN E-PL7. This time, I had the BLACK version. 

Prayers

Warmth
Who says kit lens can't render shallow depth of field?



Hands
Who says kit lens can't render shallow depth of field? Take 2

Smart

100% crop from previous image, not bad eh for a lowly kit lens?

Neckties

100% Crop from previous image

IMPORTANT NOTE: I am speaking to the general crowd who are relatively new to photography. So if you are a professional photographer, or if you have had plenty of experience with photography, what I am saying in the coming few paragraphs may not be applicable to you. 

Now to the newcomers to photography, you have got your first camera, and that kit lens that comes with the camera. Then your friends started to tell you how the kit lens suck and they showed you images from their higher grade lenses. They told you how sharp their lenses were, and how they can produce more "3-D" look, which you know that your lousy kit lens cannot. Suddenly you lost interest in using the kit lens at all, and decided to just buy that (insert expensive lens of your choice to upgrade to) new lens, so you can do what your peers can do. If you come and ask me, I will say STOP with the non-sense. Shoot with the kit lens and start making massive amount of photographs with the kit lens first, before considering anything else!

There is a reason why the kit lens is not as great as all other upgrade-able lenses. It is a basic kit, comes together with the camera, and as lowly as it is,the kit lens is the perfect lens to start and learn photography with. Even if you have that amazing super expensive lens, what is the point if you do not even know how to control the exposure and make sure focus was pin point accurate? Photography basics are more important than more capable gear at the point of entry level photography. Build up your foundation, and use the kit lens, the limitations posed by the lens (slow aperture, etc) will actually help you to learn and grow. And yes, the kit lens is capable of delivering great images. And after you have used that kit lens more and more, you will even come to accept that it is not such a bad lens after all. Although I am primarily shooting with prime lenses now (my favourites, 25mm F1.8 and 45mm F1.8) I still hold much respect to kit kens, and I will not hesitate to pick one up if I have to. Yes prime lenses (and other higher level/grade lenses) will be superior, but photography is not always about technical perfection. That is one point that ALL photographers, especially learning photographers, myself included, have to be reminded from time to time. 
There is nothing wrong with using the kit lenses, and I wish many newcomers to photography would start using them more! Please do not give up so easily. With patience, and plenty of effort, the kit lens can produce very good results. Like everything else in life, to learn something, you need time and practise. You need to put in effort and hard-work to improve. Say, you are picking up tennis lessons, in your first few lessons, learning about basic groundstrokes (forehand and backhand), does it really matter if you use that latest most advanced pro racket used by the world number 1 player? Will it make any difference? No. Same goes to kit lenses vs any other lenses. 

Portrait of a Stranger 1

100% crop from previous image. Of course this is not as sharp as 45mm F1.8 or 75mm F1.8, but it is still VERY sharp, and very much useful for large prints, no problem at all. 

Destruction
Art Filter Diorama Applied

Buds and buds

Horses
Art Filter Vintage (Type 1) applied

Lanterns
Art Filter Vintage (Type 1) Applied

Shades

Portrait of a Stranger 2

The Twin Towers

About Olympus system and kit lenses. And some tips on using the kit lens. 

1) Olympus Truepic 7 Processing Engine
Inside the latest Olympus cameras, such as E-M1, E-M10 and now the E-PL7, the Truepic 7 processing engine optimizes the image output, based on specific lens profile. The level of sharpening, the technical flaw correction (chromatic aberration, distortion, etc) will be applied differently depending on the lens you mount on the camera, and surely this benefits the kit lens user. The difference may be subtle, but still noticeable, and I see that even the lowly kit lens, under the Truepic 7 produces great images straight out of the camera, without much tweaking needed in post-processing. 

2) Close-up Shooting
Olympus kit lenses (and any other lenses, really) have the advantage of being able to shoot close up images. The minimum focusing distance for the kit lens 14-42mm 2R is 25cm, and zooming in to 42mm telephoto end, I can get really dramatic shots, having large enough subject magnification and at the same time, creating shallower depth of field. (the closer you are to the subject, the shallower the depth of field is). The magic is in the fine details revealed in close up shooting, get as close as you can to show the texture of the subject, which will add impact in the overall image presentation. As the popular saying goes, if your photograph is not good enough, you are not close enough!

3) Modern Cameras Compensate for Whatever the Kit Lens Lacks
We are living at an exciting time, with many cameras being so capable and powerful these days. Technological advancements such as having reliable image stabilization system, ability to push to higher ISO limit help a lot in compensating for any limitations the kit lens has. 

4) Stop down aperture a little for better results
If lighting conditions permits, always stop down a little (hitting the sweetspot of F5.6-7.1) for best results, in terms of minimizing chromatic aberration and obtaining overall better sharpness. The only time I shoot at the widest aperture, was when shallow depth of field was the priority, or in very low light condition. Otherwise I always, always stopped down the aperture. 

Sinful desert

Heavenly Coffee

A break, to catch up on the happenings on my blog



If you are still green in photography, please do not turn away from the kit lens. Use it. Master it. Make many photographs with it. Trust me, you will benefit from the experience gained. 

If you have advanced to much higher level in photography, please do not forget about the kit lens. In fact, it is fun to just leave everything you have behind, and just go out with one basic camera and a kit lens, to shoot. You may have a refreshed perspective, and you might get inspired by some new ideas, because coming back to basics can't go wrong, and works on so many levels in photography. It is a challenge surely, but if you have your vision, if you know what you are doing and photography is already in your veins, kit lens will not stop you from achieving great results. 

Do you still use your kit lens? Or you have a hate-hate relationship with your kit lens? Do share your thoughts. 

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44 comments :

  1. I have been using 17mm/f2.8 & 14-42mm F3.5-5.6. more than a year before upgrade to pany 25/f1.4 & m.zuiko 45/f1.8. Currently still using 17mm, although not really sharp, but it perform very well in that tiny body.

    From : Simone Voon

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    Replies
    1. Hi Simon,
      Glad to know that you are utilizing the kit lens! And yes, the 17mm F2.8 is another gem. I don't think it is a bad lens either, just underrated. Surely not as good as the new 17mm F1,8, but it is cheaper and a lot smaller!

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  2. A real advantage to zoom kits is finding where most of your photos are shot...wide..medium or tele.. before buying a prime. And if f stop is really important or focusing distance..macro. e.g. buying the highest res 75 mm when you don't shoot at 75 mm makes no sense. If you shoot portraits the room is perfect. Generally the 25 mm 1.8 is versatile. But when shooting buildings you'll want the 12mm. Learn with kit then move up maybe to a pro zoom instead of a prime...
    Bob for wife cathy

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    Replies
    1. It is not difficult to find out what is the preferred focal lengths, put together 10-20 of your best photographers, or favourites, and study the focal lengths used on these shots. Surely prime lenses would give you better picture quality, but again, I am speaking to newcomers to photography who give up on kit zoom lens so quickly!

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  3. Portraits the 45mm is perfect correction above

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    Replies
    1. Agreed! 45mm is awesome for portraits.

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  5. I use my original E-PL2 with the kit lens as my beach and boating camera while I reserve my OMD and prime lenses for less hostile environments. The kit lens does a fine job as long as there is enough sunlight

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    1. Hi Gregg, indeed, the kit lens is capable, and the limitation in low light will force the newcomer to photographer to explore other options, such as using tripod, or learning flash photography.

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  6. The problem I have with the stock 14-42mm kit (as well as the 40-150mm f4-5.6 kit zoom) is the plastic bayonet and overall cheap construction. Couple that with the too-high asking price by itself and I find that the kits are a poor value. The only 14-42mm kit zoom I ever liked was the original that came with the E-P1 and E-P2. They had metal bayonets and better build quality. IQ, they were a wash, although I've read the later versions were better and did not suffer from low speed shutter shake (i.e. the camera shutter at slow shutter speeds caused the extended lens barrel to vibrate and produced doubled images). I never suffered from such on my E-P2. The one kit zoom that might rescue the 14-42mm's reputation is the latest, the 14-42mm EZ pancake, but I haven't worked with one yet. It would be interesting to get an update to this article using that kit.

    You talked about using older kits. My first Olympus DSLR was the E-300, which I purchased from Newegg in 2006 as a two-lens system. It came with the FourThirds 14-45mm f/3.5-5.6 and the 40-150mm f/3.5-4.5. And no, 45mm is not a typo. They were big lenses, very well made. They were, in my humble opinion, close in quality to the HG lenses. In particular I found the 40-150mm lens IQ to rival the HG 50-200mm lens I later purchased, especially in good light, and around 100mm or longer. The 50-200mm was the better lens, but for US $1,100, it should have been.

    Which leads me to my last comment. Olympus would do well to upgrade the 40-150mm kit zoom a bit, giving it a metal bayonet, beefing up the construction, and pushing the max apertures to f/3.5-4.5 like the original FourThirds lens had. We might be talking about only a half stop, but I'd take it. Even better might be f/2.8-4.0. Would it make it more expensive? I'm sure it would. But there's a huge gap between the 40-150mm PRO and the very cheap 40-150mm. I consider the 14-42mm R and IIR as well as the current low end 40-150mm too cheap for the Olympus brand, if not damaging to that brand.

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    Replies
    1. Kit lens has it's uses:
      1. Sometimes not reducing price much compared to body only.
      2. Covers the body hole otherwise dust gets on sensor.
      3. Acts as reference lens to trouble shoot connection or coupling issue with new lens.
      4. Makes the package complete and test worthy when you sell the body second hand.
      5. MFT kit lens, both Olympus and Panasonic are quite sharp - they don't have the low class beginnings from the first generation APS-C DSLR
      6. They make you appreciate how good the more expensive lenses are.
      7. At f/8 zone fixed focus for quick reaction Street Shooting, there's not much handicap compared to more expensive lens used in the same way

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    2. HI Bill,

      For the newcomers (beginners) I do not think the plastic mount will make a world of difference. Kit lenses when bought together with the camera, is the most cost effective option available. The inclusion of plastic mount instead of metal, was to reduce the cost significantly. Optically the lenses perform well, and I have not heard of the plastic mount failing much either. I am not asking everyone to stay with the kit lenses forever, surely we will get that second, third and fourth lenses. All I am saying is do not give up on the kit lens too easily, like so many new photographers these days do (and they don't even know what spot metering is yet).

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    3. Ananda, thanks for adding those points!

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    4. I did not like my 14-42 kit lens when I got my two lens kit E-510 - I often did not use it. It was too dark with low shutter speed indoors, later on, dpreview forum members pointed out that it has curvilinear distortion (funny, I didn't see it until people cruelly pointed it out to me). And I would get indefinite sharpness in many shots - i.e. shots that did not have punch.
      After years of playing with more lenses as I saved up, I now realise the kit lens issues were me - I, the photographer was using it beyond the boundaries whilst pros on DigitalRev TV were showing us that they can use a Barbie doll camera and still produce enjoyable shots. This resulted in me getting an MFT kit lens (I did not have one), a Panasonic - it sure feels plastic all over but it's sharp enough. The lessons to learn when using the kit lens?
      1. Use it within it's boundaries - and the aim is to make a good photo with your skill, not exclaim "whoa! the camera made the photo"
      2. Make sure you have enough shutter speed regardless of IS
      3. Make sure you have enough deep DOF - if the DOF is neither very shallow nor very deep, the photo looks to the eyes "meh"
      4. Make sure you focus on the right spot
      5. Make sure to learn and use the flash when necessary. And the tripod.
      6. If you want to demonstrate shallow DOF for certain scenes, make sure you use the max tele and brightest f/no on the kit lens.
      All these points apply to every lens you have but often people lose patience with the kit lens because they don't realise these points apply to the kit lens since it is their first lens.

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    5. Adding on to the last remark, Ananda, most people do not care enough to make the effort to even try to make photographs with the kit lens! You were right about using the kit lens within it's boundaries, it surely won't give you miracles. But it does what it does very well.

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    6. Robin, I do like certain kit lenses. Someone here mentioned the 12-50mm, and I have one of those. I find it quite good, and it's my all-around utility lens on my E-M5:
      Pros:
      1. Weather sealed
      2. Very light
      3. Decent coverage from 12 (e24mm) to 50 (e100mm)
      4. Built-in macro
      5. Smooth electro-mechanical zoom
      6. Lens length is fixed, does not extend as zoom is zoomed
      7. Excellent built quality

      Cons:
      1. Too slow at 100mm; should have been f/5.6 instead of f/6.3
      2. Macro at 43mm? Seriously? Was 50mm too hard or too expensive?

      Overall it's a superb utility lens, especially for video. I have a nice collection of primes, but if I can only carry one body and one lens it's the E-M5 and the 12-50mm.

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  7. I had great results with the 12-50mm but then I upgraded to the 12-40.

    Great shots here. I just read this morning that m43 can't produce shallow dof and that for that reason no pro would ever consider using the system! :-) It's amazing the biases people have. But I guess it's their loss.

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    Replies
    1. Actually Glen, the "pros need shallow DOF" myth is generated by beginners and wannabes. I was interacting with several pro studio shooters recently and they all want deep DOF for whole scene sharpness for fashion and product shots because that's how that type of shot is meant to be. Look at much of Ming Thien's work, his whole scene deep DOF is astounding. The landscapers and macro ers need deep DOF as well. A certain genre - the wedding photog and certain portraits need shallow DOF but this need is blown out of proportion by beginners reading out of context

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    2. HI Glenn,
      Well, my blog here is a testimony AGAINST that myth.

      Hey Ananda,
      Agreed, mostly we love shallow depth of field, but for practical reasons, it is not always the best solution. Sometimes, we do need deeper depth of field, and I need more for my macro shooting!

      Delete
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  9. Hi Robin,

    I love this article, because it stops me to order expensive lenses for my om-d e-m10 which i became a week ago. I absolutely new to photography and thought that i must have the other obviously very good lenses like the 25mm, 45mm or the 75 mm. But now I'm absolutely sure that you are right, first I have to learn to use the kit lens.

    I ordered my e-m10 with the 14-42 EZ. You used for this article the 14-42 with manual zoom, right? Is there a quality difference between the 14-42 and the 14-42 EZ? Because I still have the choice between the EX and the manual zoom. Or should i keep the EZ? I like the EZ because it's really thin.

    Thank you for your blog and you help.
    Regards Viktor

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    Replies
    1. EZ lens has the same image quality as the kit lens. Any differences are so minor that they won't show up in photos.

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  10. I had the E-520 Double-Zoom-Kit when I started into the DSLR world some years ago. The 14-42 went first when I found a 2nd hand 14-54 at London Camera Exchange. The distortion really gave me pains, vertical lines bending in ways no correction tool would mend. The 40-150 was quite good, truly exceptional for the price and far better than kit lenses from the other big brands. After all, kit lenses are a good way to start from. However, if you're coming from analog world prime lenses it's a bit different, too much compromising, too slow, less sharpness. But my set of 7-14, 14-54 and 50-200 made me forget all my prime lenses used on my analog Canons.

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  12. For me, to get a good image is the mix of several concepts, being the most important the quality of light. Sometimes the quality of light can be improved using flash, and specially off camera flash.
    So with kit zoom lens and good light a good image can be achieved. (change good by bad and, kit zoom by better zoom or prime in the last sentence)

    If light is not interesting, sometimes a better lens can make a difference and turn a bad image in a good image.

    I have used the kit lenses from Olympus (E system + E-510) with good results.

    Now about kit zooms, I think the best available in this moment is Fuji XF 18-55. This lens makes me consider to move to the mirror less world trough Fuji instead Olympus using only that lens as a starting point

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  13. It's funny you just added this article, I started using the kit lens. I've never used it before and only had been using the primes (25, 45, 75). I added the kit lens to the bag because I just found times where I needed closer than 25 or I needed to switch and I knew I didn't have time between shots. It really does a good job, plastic bayonett or not. I don't buy a lens because of what it's made of but because of what it can make.

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  14. You are perfectly right. I think that no other company except the m4/3 ones are doing so good kit lenses with ED or with UHR glass maintaining an acceptable price.
    This is why I love Olympus and Panasonic not to mention other reasons like the best price/performance cameras and objectives.

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  15. Hi, I am buying the Olympus EPL7 but does anyone know the difference between the 14-42mm EZ lens and the 14-42 II R lens?
    Thanks

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    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    2. Hi Olivia, It's been over a year since you commented. What lens did you end up buying? I'm looking to purchase the EPL7 as well. Thank you

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  16. Olivia, here is a side by side spec compare and product photo here
    There are reviews:
    EZ
    II not R

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  17. Thankyou for your help. Which one would you recommend as I am new to photography

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    ReplyDelete
  19. Hello Robin - First let me say, that I truly enjoy your down-to-earth blog. It's full of good common sense!

    I recently purchased an Oly EPL-5 to supplement my Oly DSLR wen I wanted to through something into the pack (or my pocket) without having to worry about weight or the slue of the equipment. I can only say that I am somewhat stunned by the quality of the images that you display on this page from the kit lens. My experience is somewhat different - the lens is very good at capturing a flat perspective image (the portrait, the suit/tie you posted and some stunning macro shots I've taken) but far less successful at capturing detail in a landscape (nearby small animals against trees in the background). A central focus point is very good - but there is a dramatic drop-off in detail/focus - even with a small aperture - when compared with better quality lenses.

    In fact, I took identical shots with the 14-42 lens and my iPhone and compared full and partial crops from each image and the iPhone did a remarkably better job with cold balance, contrast, and lack of distortion/aberration. Clearly, the iPhone camera is less versatile and flexible re: lighting conditions, but overall, I'd say that that Olympus is facing very serious competition in the current generation of photographers who are Instagram-ing away with their iPhones - even if they are printing blow ups from those images, they will most likely find them quite comparable to their multi-hundred dollar pen camera with kit lens.

    I was hoping to use this EPL on a trip in a few weeks - but it looks like I'll be packing my DSLR. Perhaps at some point I'll splurge for the 12-40. But until then I can't risk any landscape work with this little lens.

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  20. Hi Robin

    Great article and great help to me as somebody about to buy my first serious camera. I am looking at an OMD EM1 and it seems easy to get a good price for it 'body only'. So as I won't be receiving a bundled kit lens do I need to buy one (as a starter lens) ? Or should I get a couple of primes or a prime and a zoom ?

    ReplyDelete
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  22. I recently bought the E-PL6 with the 14-42mm. I just took pictures of my daughters with their dates before a high school dance down near the beach here in southern California. All I can say is wow. I was personally impressed and I have been showered with complements on the quality of the pics. I have been taking pictures for a while and do know how to use a camera, this was not just point and shoot, but just to say that the quality of this kit lens shocked me. I came over from an APS Canon DSLR where I had a 18-200mm, 50mm EF macro and 70-300mm IS lenses, all Canon. The 50mm and 70-300mm are (arguably) some of Canons sharpest non "L" lenses so I know what sharpness and contrast look like, and while not an equal to those, the pics that this lens produced were stunning.

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  23. I've owned Oly cameras before, and was impressed by the lenses, kit and otherwise. But the pictures I'm seeing from the M Zuiko 14-42 are amazing.

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  24. The pictures I have with 14-42 II R are really good. I'm selling my Oly Pro 12-40 f/2.8 simply because the difference for the kit lens is really minor.....also, while the kit lens cost USD 149, the 12-40 costs you USD 900!!

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  25. Great read, I am about to purchase an Olympus OM-D E-M10 MKII with 14-42mm EZ Lens, as this will be my first real camera I am hoping to get used to it as much as I can before my holiday to Singapore and Malaysia, few questions;
    1) Will the 14-42mm EZ lens kit be good for trying to capture photos at a the zoo from a distance? Or will I need something along the lines of the cheaper to start with EZM4015-R M.Zuiko Digital 40- 150mm f4.0-5.6R Telephoto Lens?
    2) How will the 14-42mm or 40-150mm handle motion picture as I am planning on Taking as many photos as I can at the Singapore and Malaysian F1

    Thanks in advance.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The 14-42mm will be fairly limited for the zoo, if you want some close-ups. If you still have the choice you should get the double zoom kit with the 14-42 and 40-150mm, which will cover pretty much everything you'll ever need. Alternatively, if you can afford it, consider the 75-300mm for some extra reach.

      F1 will always be a bit tricky, with any camera and/or lens. Probably a good idea to practice some panning shots beforehand. And remember to set your IS correctly. ;-)

      Delete
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