In part 2 of 'Kit lenses & Super-zooms', we take a closer look at the differences between kit lenses and similarly priced prime lenses.
In this closer look, you can see an example image on the left that was taken on the Canon 60D using the kit 18-135mm 3.5-5.6 IS Lens. This kit lens retails for $500 and was released in 2009 and later pared with the Canon 60D. The picture was taken at 60mm @ f/5.6 which is the fastest this lens performs at that aperture. For this test, we will compare this image with the same photograph taken with the Canon 60mm f/2.8 prime lens. The Canon prime sells for the same price as the kit lens yet does not offer any zoom range or image stabilization. It does however offer 2 stops more light with a maximum aperture of f/2.8 yielding better bokeh, image separation, and low light capabilities. For the first part of this test, we took the same picture with both lenses at 60mm f/5.6 for a level playing field. When zoomed out, the images look similar. But as we take a closer look, you can see large differences.
Image taken with the Canon 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS @ 60mm f/5.6 viewed at 100%
Image taken with the Canon 60mm f/2.8 @ 60mm f/5.6 viewed at 100%
As you can see, there is a striking contrast in sharpness. The Canon 60mm prime is unbelievably sharp with a perfectly clear picture. It also contains a good amount of contrast and color as well yielding great results at 100%. Even at f/5.6 the kit lens looks flat and dull with an obvious lack of detail. It is clear that inexpensive kit lenses, while offering a convenient wide range of coverage, are far below the quality of an equally priced prime lens. While modern professional lenses now come close in sharpness and detail to great primes, these lenses will be expensive. If you are looking for an inexpensive way to produce stunning photographs, prime lenses offer a great alternative.