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How To Get The Most Out Of Your Kit Lens Or Other Cheap Lens

Updated on September 23, 2015
Photo taken with the Tamron 18-270 Di II - a really cheap lens
Photo taken with the Tamron 18-270 Di II - a really cheap lens | Source

When you first start photography you will most likely be using a kit lens or another cheap lens. It can be disheartening when your lens is not performing up to your standards and is letting you down on crucial shots. Jumping up to professional quality lenses will set you back a few grand, a step which most amateur photographers can not justify.

Do not despair as there are ways that you can improve the performance of your lens and get more of the killer shots you want! So how do you get the most out a kit lens or a cheap lens?

1) Shoot Raw.

RAW format is a way of saving photos where all the information that the sensor receives is stored and not compressed. They are larger files than JPG, but have a lot more information. Setting your camera to shoot in RAW will mean you have more flexibility when editing. You don't have to have Photoshop as almost every photo editing software will have the ability to easily access and edit your RAW files. The software that came with your camera is always a good place to start. You will see a substantial improvement in your photos if you bump up the contrast, vibrance and sharpen your images. Shooting RAW will also mean you have more options as you improve with Photoshop and photo editing and want to do more with your photos.

To change your camera to shoot in RAW go to your shooting menu and under 'Quality' select RAW. RAW is fantastic, but the but the files are larger so make sure you bring an extra SD card.

Before and after editing. Taken with the Tamron 18-270mm Di II.
Before and after editing. Taken with the Tamron 18-270mm Di II.

2) Find the sweet spot in the zoom range.

Quite often your lens will perform its best in a certain zoom range. With my Tamrom 18-270 Di II this occurred at around 100mm. When taking photos with this lens photos I try to stay between 30mm and 200mm as anything out of this range becomes less sharp.

You can find the zoom range where your camera performs at its best by taking several photos of the same subject at different focal lengths and seeing what they look like. Most kit lenses tend to perform best in the middle of their zoom range.

Photos taken at different focal lengths
Photos taken at different focal lengths

3) Find the best aperture for your lens.

Like with the zoom, your lens will have a sweet spot for aperture. If you are used to shooting in auto, then switch you camera dial to A on Nikon or AV on Canon. Set the aperture (the f. number) to around f6.3. This will help to make your pictures clearer and reduce chromatic aberration (the strange purple and green fringes that sometimes occur).

If you are used to shooting in Manual or Aperture priority mode then play around with a few shots to find what aperture your lens takes the best shots at.

Photos taken at different apertures
Photos taken at different apertures

4) Check if your lenses focus is correct. If not correct it.

I have used several lenses that have been back focusing, focusing behind the subject, or forward focusing, focusing in front of the subject. This is an issue that effects not only cheap lenses, but is more likely to occur in them. The result is that the subject you focus on will never be in focus and your images may appear blurry. If you try and take good photos with a lens that the focus out its just no going to happen. Fortunately it is an easy issue to fix, all you need is a calibration chart. They are a good investment, as you should calibrate all new lenses you buy as well as recalibrating when you buy a new camera.

There are several good calibration charts on the market.

The one that i use, more expensive but lasts a lot longer.

How to correct focus.

  1. Place your camera in A or AV, extend your lens to the longest zoom and set your f. to the smallest number possible. This is likely to be f5.6 or f6.3.
  2. Place your camera in single focus mode.
  3. Set your camera up at least 10m away from the calibration chart.
  4. Focus on the centre point on calibrator.
  5. Take a photo.
  6. Look at the photo on the back of your camera. Zoom in to see if the area on the ruler or side is in focus in line with the centre point of the calibration chart.
  7. If you need to ajust then on a Canon you will find it under AF Microadjustment, on a Nikon AF Fine Tune and Pentax AF Fine Adjustment.
  8. Move the slider on your camera back and forth. Moving the slider forward will make camera focus further forward and back, backwards.
  9. Repeat the process to see if the lens in focusing correctly, it may take a little trial and error to get it right.

5) Be conscious of the limitations of your lens and play to it's strengths.

You will not be able to recreate every stunning photo of your favourite photographer, but dont let this deter you. Know when your lens is going to perform at its best and work to it's strengths. You will be often shooting at a higher aperture than professionals and less light will be entering your lens. To overcome blurry photos because of this, shoot in bright light or use a flash.

Focus on getting your framing right as a properly framed photo will mean that you do not have to crop. Cropping will only amplify any issues that your lens has. While you are still learning when your lens takes the best photos, chose subjects that wont mind you taking several photos at different setting so that you can chose the best ones. When you chose the photo, have a look at what setting you have used. This can be found in all editing software. In Lightroom it is displayed in the right hand column and in Photoshop you can find it under File>File Info...>Camera Data. Remember this setting and use it again in the future.

An example of where you will find your settings. This one is in Adobe Bridge.
An example of where you will find your settings. This one is in Adobe Bridge.

So there my tips for getting the most out of your kit lens or cheap lens. There lenses are great first lenses and are perfect for travel because they are so light, but they are far from perfect. If you are not ready to invest in a more expensive lens or you like how light these cheap lenses are then these tips will really help to take your photos to the next level.

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