A sophomore at an unnamed college cites the syllabus for the photography course he/she/they are taking that bans the use of kit lenses. The back story from a post on Reddit is in this screenshot of the syllabus:

Kit lens banned by school. WTF
Screenshot of the syllabus from a photography instructor banning the use of kit lenses.

A pro photographer and educator weighs in

I choose not to use kit lenses on my cameras for two reasons: First, I am a pro and appearances and durability matter. Second, all of the cameras I regularly use are full-frame and 18-55mm lenses don’t cover the format.

That said, I have a 17-year-old Canon 20D with an 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens that works just fine. As a matter of fact, several photos in the “Dummies” book I wrote were made with it and the kit lens that came with it. The point of college or any photography classes is to teach photography and advise about not dictate equipment purchases.

I take offense at the line “Student work from this class has been licensed commercially as stock photography, but if you shoot with an 18-55mm lens, you are putting your work at a serious disadvantage quality-wise.”

Give me a [insert 7-letter word beginning with F here] break! I’m sure the instructor imagines that their student’s photos sold by a stock agency are going to be blown up billboard size and here’s a reality check. Digital billboards on highways have a resolution of 1920-by-1080 pixels for the most part. That’s right. Billboards are huge HD monitors.

Stock photos that appear on websites like Photofocus aren’t big either. We use 2560-by-1440 pixel photos for the opening picture and 1600 pixel wide photos to illustrate articles. For context, the screenshot of the Reddit article above is 1600 pixels wide.

Kit lenses rock

Like the adage, the best camera is the one you have with you, the lens that comes with your camera is the best one you have when you got the camera. Obvious, right?

While kit lenses are definitely cheaply made with lots of plastic and they feel cheap and cheesy, they work just fine for learning photography and as you’ll see below for quality work. College photo courses must teach how photography works. Any adjustable camera with a manual setting for exposure — shutter speed, aperture and ISO are great learning tools.

Wide-angle, normal and telephoto in one lens

The Canon 20D has an APS-C crop sensor. The camera’s normal focal length is 28mm. Any focal length less than that is a wide-angle. Longer than 28mm means it’s a telephoto. So at 18mm the kit lens is a moderate wide-angle and at 55mm it’s almost a 2x magnification telephoto. (Divide the normal into the telephoto focal length to get the magnification. This is not to be confused with crop factor and I digress.) The point is these plastic beauties are wonderful entry-level learning tools.

Quick tests — startling results

To write this post, I dug out my old Canon 20D I got in 2004. The batteries were toast but the lens was fine. The 20D is an 8.2-megapixel camera with pixel dimensions of 3504-by–2336. Since the camera itself was sidelined, I slipped this kit lens onto my Canon EOS R5 mirrorless camera. With a cropped sensor lens, the R5’s pixel dimensions are 5088-by-3392.

That’s 68 percent more resolution than the camera this kit lens was designed for. This lens is 17 years old! The two sets of photos of foliage and a turntable show remarkable quality. Each pair of photos below are wide-angle 18mm on the left and telephoto 55mm on the right.

WTF?

I get that kit lenses are not the best optics going. I know that they have barrel distortion and chromatic aberration issues. Look at the sides of the turntable on the left. Do you see any barrel distortion? Of course, you don’t. Lens corrections in Lightroom fix it for kit lenses and lenses costing thousands.

I fail to see where the professor gets off denying students the use of kit lenses. The point of photographic education is to learn photography. The knowledge that an instructor passes to their student is the foundation upon which they will build their careers. Why limit students by insisting on a “better” lens when the money spent on one might be invested in props, costumes, locations and creativity.

Remember, professor, it’s not the lens. It’s the lensmanship.

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