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05-22-2009, 10:02 AM   #1
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18-55mm kit lens vs primes?

I recently got a K10D as my first digital SLR, my choice largely being driven by having a collection of good Pentax K mount lenses from film cameras. The K10D came with the 18-55mm kit lens, which I didn't have especially high hopes for. I haven't done any exhaustive tests myself yet, but various reviews I've since read suggest to me that the kit lens performs much better than one would expect, particularly away from the limits in terms of focal length and aperture - i.e., from, say 20mm up to 50mm, and from f5.6 to f16. Now, given that some of the primes I have fall into this range (namely 28mm, 35mm and 50mm), I'm wondering how much real-world difference I'm likely to note between the kit lens and my primes in this range?

The unquestioned 'truth' is that these older primes are inevitably going to be better than the kit lens, but has anyone rigorously tested this, with images to prove the point? I can't help but wonder whether the benefits of advances in computer aided lens design might offset some of the downside of cheapness of build in the kit lens.

05-22-2009, 03:34 PM   #2
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fact: DA18-55 is a good lens (considering it's price/category)
fact: it's SLOW, and if you have to stay away from limits it's even slower
fact: good prime is always opticaly better (less vignetting, better sharpnes, much better corner performance, less underexposing...)
so it all depens, what primes do you have. There is bazilion of 28/35/50 leses out there. Some are not much better then DA18-55. Some are even worse in some areas (flare resistance etc) but some are WAY better, and with those you would see difference in shots (though not that much if you only shoot to pring on 6x4)
So, you tell us what primes you have, and we'll tell you if they are better or not. In mean time enjoy using "the kit" it's really nice lens capable of great results..

BR
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05-22-2009, 03:51 PM   #3
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The 18-55 is good enough at f/8 that I don't hesitate to use it rather than my primes when the situation seems to call for having a zoom. However, I *enjoy* using my primes in that range (M28/2.8 and DA40) more, so I normally carry them instead of the zoom. Since I do a lot of shooting indoors in low light, f/2.8 rather than f/4.5 or so is a factor, as is being able to get *excellent* results at f/4.5 instead of "so-so" results. But it's just personal personal preference - I simly *like* the primes better. I do take the zoom when I expect to want wider than 28mm, but really, that just isn't very often.
05-22-2009, 04:06 PM   #4
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The primes I have in that range are:

1. SMC Pentax-A 1:2.8 28mm
2. SMC Pentax-M 1:2.8 35mm
3. SMC Pentax-M 1:1.7 50mm

I also have a Ricoh XR Rikenon 1:2 50mm which seems to have a glowing reputation for sharpness.

The shots I most care about are landscapes, so lens speed for low light isn't such an issue for me (although of course getting shots with a narrow depth of field can be important as well). On the whole, though, I'm more likely to be using f8 to f22 than wider apertures.

One thing which changes the game a little for me from film days is that the performance at ISO 800 seems to me to be so good that I don't need as fast a lens. I haven't really done any side by side comparisons with, say, ISO 200, but it's certainly pretty impressive.

05-22-2009, 04:38 PM   #5
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Yes, the K10D won't do badly shooting landscapes at f/8 on your 18-55.
However, if funds permit you, you will no doubt see a difference in your results if you use a 12-24 or 16-45. Sharpness may not be as obvious, but contrast, colour rendition and overall 'pop' would be - hence their significantly higher price tags.
Alternatively, manual primes like your A 28/2.8 produce stunning shots, if it's wide enough for your landscapes...
05-22-2009, 04:43 PM   #6
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QuoteOriginally posted by J2R Quote
The primes I have in that range are:

1. SMC Pentax-A 1:2.8 28mm
2. SMC Pentax-M 1:2.8 35mm
3. SMC Pentax-M 1:1.7 50mm

I also have a Ricoh XR Rikenon 1:2 50mm which seems to have a glowing reputation for sharpness.

The shots I most care about are landscapes, so lens speed for low light isn't such an issue for me (although of course getting shots with a narrow depth of field can be important as well). On the whole, though, I'm more likely to be using f8 to f22 than wider apertures.

One thing which changes the game a little for me from film days is that the performance at ISO 800 seems to me to be so good that I don't need as fast a lens. I haven't really done any side by side comparisons with, say, ISO 200, but it's certainly pretty impressive.
I did test the kit lens (version 1) along with a bunch of 28mm lenses a couple of years ago, including copies your two 28s. By f8, the test results were about the same. In the real world, f5.6 would be close, probably fine on version 2. I've never compared at 50mm, and the kit is 3.5 stops darker so it's giving up a lot. There also aren't a lot of old inexpensive primes below 28mm, where the kit is a good iexpensive solution and a bit faster.
05-22-2009, 08:28 PM   #7
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I also started with a K10D plus 18-55mm. Hands down, the best thing I did for my photography was to buy the FA 50mm f/1.4. This let me experiment with a lot shallower depth of field, and the better IQ inspired me to learn more. Yes, I did notice a substantial difference in quality. Also, I shoot a lot between f/2.8 and f/4.0, which the kit lens simply cannot do at 50mm.

That being said, I loved the kit lens for outdoor shooting around f/8, especially with a little contrast boost in post processing.
05-22-2009, 10:42 PM   #8
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hmm, i've owned 2 copies of the DA 18-55 kit lens (ver 1) and in both cases it was the lowest performing lens in my collection, even compared to an array of low end Sigma and Quantaray short tele zooms. I stepped up to the DA 16-45 and noticed a significant improvement in IQ vs the kit lens.

well, recently, i picked up an old Vivitar 24mm prime and for kicks set up the 16-25 at the same focal length on tripod and ran a gamut of comparisons at multiple apertures. I then waited a day or two and jumbled up all the images so i couldnt tell which lens was used. then, i categorized by aperture and ranked the shots.
while comparing, i noticed that the f5.6, f8, and f11 sharpness was showing an obvious difference in quality and assumed the 16-45 was kicking the Vivitar's butt. when i finally looked at the metadata, i was surprised that the cheap Vivitar prime was actually the sharper photo with better color and edge sharpness.

as a result, ive been leaning toward primes for most of my shooting.
and you've gotta know your 50mm 1.7 is leagues above any kit lens, right?

05-23-2009, 01:42 AM   #9
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DA 18-55mm / F3.5-5.6 AL is a good performer if you stay away from the extremes. If you plan to shoot landscapes at F8+ you`ll struggle to find the difference, especially if you are going to PP the results.

However when shooting portraiture or shallow DOF close-ups 50mm / F1.7 is a whole world away from the kit lens.

Dont you want to try it yourself and let us know?
05-23-2009, 02:54 AM   #10
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Use it for day to day stuff. If you're taking a shot where you want the best quality, I'd use a prime. Plus primes are just fun to use.
05-23-2009, 11:00 AM   #11
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QuoteOriginally posted by Just1MoreDave Quote
I did test the kit lens (version 1) along with a bunch of 28mm lenses a couple of years ago, including copies your two 28s. By f8, the test results were about the same. In the real world, f5.6 would be close, probably fine on version 2.
There is undoubtedly some sample variation, differences in how people go about testing, and differences in what they are looking for. But FWIW, I did a similar test using two different 28's (the M28/2.8 and a no-name) against both versions of the kit lens. I found the no-name 28 was no improvement over either kit lens in any way aside from being a stop faster. The M28/2.8 was sharper than the version I kit lens at all apertures up to f/11 (which is as far as I tested), and was sharper that version II at all apertures up to f/6.7 or so. By f/8, there was very little difference, in the center, but the M28/2.8 still won in the corners, if only slightly. The two kit lenses, BTW, were pretty similar up to f/5.6 or so, but the version II got much more noticeably better by f/8.

Still, we're talking about pixel peeping differences. I can use those tests to rationalize why I prefer using the M28/2.8, but again, really, it's mainly because I like primes because they are smaller, faster, and this one at least has a nicer MF ring.

QuoteQuote:
I've never compared at 50mm
I did. It wasn't pretty. Differences between my 50/1.7 and either kit lens at 50mm and f/5.6 were *obvious* in favor of the 50. In fact, the 50 was noticeably sharper at f/2.8 in the focus plane than the kit lens at f/8. My 50-200 - now that actually gave the 50/1.7 a run for its money. Not bad at f/4, and by f/5.6 way better than the 18-55 and respectably close to the 50/1.7.

QuoteQuote:
There also aren't a lot of old inexpensive primes below 28mm, where the kit is a good iexpensive solution and a bit faster.
Quite a few of us think of our kit lenses as DA18/3.5's.

Last edited by Marc Sabatella; 05-24-2009 at 10:19 PM.
05-23-2009, 01:01 PM   #12
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Thanks, everybody, for all the feedback. I'm interested that the superiority of the primes is something people here have actually seen with their own eyes, as so often there are assumptions made which are not tested. The kit lens will probably work pretty well for me, in fact, as (for the moment!) I have no primes below 28mm, so that 18mm is handy, and I'm likely to be happy enough with f8 and above.

I'm quite happy with the use of primes, but I have just been a little taken aback by the exposure problems with stop-down metering on M lenses, something which I had not heard about before I bought the camera. Having said that, there does seem to be an aperture, or range of apertures, for each lens where the metering is fine, and I just need to do extrapolate from that point. I did some testing with my SMC-M 300mm lens today and around f8/f11 the exposure seems fine, any problems being correctable in post-processing. I was pleased to get a good sharp shot, hand-held, of a gull in flight, taking advantage of ISO 800 setting (which allowed me a shutter speed of 1500), and shake reduction (which may not even have been necessary at that speed). It's a great camera, and I'm just beginning to get to know it.
05-23-2009, 01:55 PM   #13
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Old were the days that all cameras came with a 50mm lens as standard.
05-23-2009, 04:25 PM   #14
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QuoteOriginally posted by Marc Sabatella Quote
There is undoubtedly some sample variation, differences in how people go abut testing, and differences in what they are looking for. But FWIW, I did a similar test using two different 28's (the M28/2.8 and a no-name) against both versions of the kit lens. I found the no-name 28 was no improvement over either kit lens in any way aside from being a stop faster. The M28/2.8 was sharper than the version I kit lens at all apertures up to f/11 (which is as far as I tested), and was sharper that version II at all apertures up to f/6.7 or so. By f/8, there was very little difference, in the center, but the M28/2.8 still won in the corners, if only slightly. The two kit lenses, BTW, were pretty similar up to f/5.6 or so, but the version II got much more noticeably better by f/8.
The M28/2.8 was the one lens that I did not test at that time. I found the Pentax-A version first, and I believed what I read about the M version being not as good. It is easy to talk yourself into this with the convenience of an A version, but I would be more comfortable if I had verified it myself.

My Cheerios box at a forgotten random distance test was carefully conducted, so I absolutely trust my results. What is annoying is that you think you've considered everything. Then later you decide that you don't need a hundred Cheerios box photos. Then a few months after that, you realize what you forgot, and regret trashing those "useless" test images.

QuoteOriginally posted by Marc Sabatella Quote
Quite a few of us think of our kit lenses as DA18/3.5's.
I was going to stop doing that and buy the DA 15/4 until I found out its price!
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