Sunday, February 16, 2014

Don't Fear the Kit Lens


EOS 350D, Kit Zoom Lens
Yesterday, I finally got out for a good 2 KM walk for the first time this winter. It's been so brutal here, and just overnight, the weather has turned horrible again, with much more snow to come this week. I was starting to fear for my health, being cabined-up for so long, not getting the much needed fresh air and exercise.

The camera I took with me was the great old EOS 350D (or EOS Rebel XT), with it's standard EFs 18-55mm little plastic wonder kit lens. This camera was given to me by a friend last year, and I really like it a lot, in spite of it being ten years old, it's still great! The Rebel XT was Canon's second "consumer" DSLR - the follow-up to their very first, the EOS 300, which was otherwise badged simply the "Digital Rebel", about a dozen years ago. We're talking real ancient history here when it comes to digital camera innovation and technology, where twelve years is like twelve life-times. Nonetheless - that may be an illusion, as this camera with it's kit lens still takes great pictures, and performs pretty much the same as any modern Canon Rebel Series DSLR, all built in a very compact and lightweight shell.

But you see, the thing with Canon's Rebel kit lenses (the lenses that are packed and sold with the EOS film body) is that they are built so horribly cheap that nobody really seems to take them seriously, and this is still true to this day. I'm not sure about the inner construction, but the outer shell is 100% plastic, with a plastic mount also. They are loosely put together, completely void of features (such as distance scale, manual focus over-ride and internal zoom), and easily broken if dropped or mis-handled. But they do have on thing in their favour - that which really counts the most - good image quality. And that is a very good thing, because Canon no longer has a "mid-range" line of zoom lenses like they did a Decade ago (talking about the awesome EF 28-105). Since around 2008, you either had to settle for the kit lens, or jump up to the hyper-expensive and professional orientated "L" range, with nothing in between. Either that, or go for the very good third-party makes such as Sigma and Tamron - this is in fact what most Canon Rebel DSLR owners do, I'm sure.

But, just because Canon's Kit Zooms, along with their not much better range of USM Telephoto Zooms look so cheap on the outside is no reason to just leave it in the box and go out to buy something better. There certainly is merit in putting most of your investment into fine (and expensive) lenses, but if you just give that little plastic tube lens a chance, I think you'll be surprised with the results you get. They might even be more durable than they look -after all, mine is ten years old, and still works perfectly, although I think it was lightly used and handled carefully by it's original owner.

EOS 350D, Kit Zoom Lens
These lenses aren't exactly "tack sharp" as they say, and that seems to be the holy grail which digital photographers are chasing after - "sharpness". Rather, I would characterize the Kit Zooms as being more "painterly", with more emphasis on great colour, good contrast, but perhaps somewhat lacking in sharpness.

If you're really on a tight budget (which is what my Blog has always been about; low-ball photography), you might be happy to know that EOS 350D's wth the EFs 18-55m Kit Zoom are now selling on Ebay for less than $125.00. Stay away from the "Buy It now" ones for $200 or more and try bidding for one instead.

EOS 350D, Kit Zoom Lens
This was a great mid-winter walk, and here are the rest of the shots I took with this now amazingly inexpensive DSLR "Kit". When I look back, I realize how every one of these photos is far and away better than anything I took with the EOS 7D, which I quickly realized was a terrible camera for me, and promptly got rid of it - launching me instead into a very active film shooting period.

I still think that the EOS 5D Mark-1 (The Classic) is one of the finest cameras ever made, and as I've mentioned before, the EOS 350D is roughly of that same vintage; I still think there's something to be said for these older DSLR's with a low Pixel Density (the 5D is full-frame 35mm with 12.8 MegaPixels; the 350D is APS-C 24mm with 8 MegaPixels). It seems to me that the 350D even has an edge over it's successor, the 400D, which is 24mm with 10 MegaPixels. I owned a 400D for awhile, and found it's output to be just slightly ho-hum in comparison with the 350D. although I'd highly recommend both cameras now as ultimate digital bargains. Don't fear the old, and don't fear the kit lens - regardless of what level of photography you're at, there are tremendous bargains out there right now, as people are selling off these older models simply because they are enticed by more megapixels and more features.


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