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I am planning to buy a DSLR soon.

Before I zero in on the model, I want to know whether it is advisable to buy a kit (body + 18-55 lens) or not? OR should I go for the camera-body and the lens separately?

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Especially with Rebel bodies, sometimes the kit price with the 18-55 is lower than the body only price from certain sellers like amazon.com –  Michael Clark Mar 27 '13 at 10:41

12 Answers 12

up vote 21 down vote accepted

The answer is, unfortunately, depends.

First, what kit are we talking about? The 5D Mark II kit comes with the 24-105mm f4 IS L lens. The lens is roughly $1000 new, so selling it immediately, gives you discount on the body itself, so it absolutely makes sense to get the kit (unless you don't want to hassle with selling the lens). I bought the 5d2 kit, even though I already had a great copy of the 24-105 (I kept my original and sold the new one) However the 24-105 f4 IS L lens is a great general purpose zoom, so I would think twice before selling it. In kit your looking at, the 18-55mm Zoom lens isn't that all great of a lens. It works, but there are a number of drawbacks. The lens costs $170 new, but you will have a harder time selling that lens for that price.

Next, what is your budget? If you can afford a better lens, then you should buy a better lens. Lens are far more important than camera bodies. However, having no lens is way way way worse than having a "bad" lens. So if you need the 18-55mm range, and can't afford the step-up alternatives (or even the 3rd party alternatives), then get the kit lens.

Finally, what other goodies are you getting with the kit? If you search, you can find kits that also come with bags, memory cards, a filter, 2nd batteries, cleaners, etc. If you don't have these items already, they will add up quickly. Having them thrown into the kit will generally reduce your total cost.

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thanks! What is a good place to search for those kits that you mentioned? I am looking at the Canon site and their kit just has a body and a lens and nothing else. –  Lazer Aug 4 '10 at 6:30
    
@Lazer: I recommend checking out the big online retailers: BH Photo Video, Canoga Camera, and Adorama (although Adorama is a distant 3rd, in my opinion). I've purchased from all three, and all three are reputable sellers. –  Alan Aug 4 '10 at 8:10
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Be very Careful with those kits that include "everything". Sometimes they are no saving at all, or even result more expensive as some kits are simple bundles that stores put together to sell really cheap (usually "generic") accessories for a slightly higher price. It's not always the case, but happens. –  Jahaziel May 28 '12 at 14:54

The only time I would argue for not buying a kit is when you already own other lenses that cover the same focal range. If you are purchasing your first DSLR you should go ahead and get the kit. Even though the kit lenses have a bad reputation, it's been said that "99% of lenses are better than 99% of photographers", and the kit lens is going to be a great deal.

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Furthermore, when you've just got your first DSLR, many times it's best to just play with it for a while to get an idea what kind of lens would you want to spend (perhaps more signifant) money on. –  che Jul 18 '10 at 17:25

When I first did it, I bought a body and a separate zoom lens. If I were to do it again, I think I would do the same thing, but get a 50m prime lens.

Why?
Every camera company offers a 50m prime lens that is inexpensive, so it's a great buy when you are first starting out. The other reason is overload of information. When you first start out, the camera body has a bunch of settings and modes and options that are all new to you. You need time to figure them all out and to get comfortable with using the equipment. Keeping something in the equation of taking pictures simple, by having a prime lens instead of a zoom, helps you to focus (sorry no pun intended) your attention on the important parts.

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I have to agree on this. Once I got my 50mm prime it helped to really focus me on learning manual settings. Also since prime lens are fixed usually they can put better glass in side, for a better picture. –  percent20 Jul 18 '10 at 14:27
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On the other hand, if it's a APS-C body, 50mm is a bit telephoto for a general-purpose lens. But the point stands - you can also get dirt-cheap 30-35mm primes for APS-C bodies. –  Reid Jul 19 '10 at 2:25
    
I think this answer depends on if the camera is propimarily an artistic tool for learning photography, or if it is intended for general purpose photography. I agree that a fast normal prime is an excellent tool for learning about composition and perspective, but it's less useful if you also intend to take group pictures at family gatherings, and pictures at the kid's soccer game. –  Icycle Jan 20 at 16:42

Think about it this way: would you buy the kit lens if it was standalone? For example, if you needed a lens near the 18-55mm range, would you buy the kit version (which is generally of a fairly low build quality, fairly slow with a variable aperture) or would you buy something a bit more professional?

If you see no problems with the kit lens and would buy it standalone, get the kit. On the other hand if you'd probably opt for a different lens... don't get the kit and instead spend your money on what you really want.

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I understand that you are talking about:

  • Canon 500D body only vs Canon 500D + 18-55 IS lens.

For that combination I believe it is worth buying the kit. The price difference is minimal and actually if you find that you want to change/upgrade the lens you will easily sell the 18-55IS for the price that will cover the difference.

Also Canon 18-55 IS is not such a bad lens optically and it also offers image stabilisation. The build quality is indeed not too good but it is definitely worth the price also the financial consequences of braking it are not too big neither.

Upgrade in the same focal range would be EF-S 17-55IS 2.8 but that is in completely different league in terms of price.

If I were you I would get the kit and 50mm 1.8 - the kit as a walk-around and simply to learn what focal range works for you best, the 50mm for portraits and photos in low light situations and also to find out if you really need a faster zoom with better optics.

Here are some reviews of the lenses I mentioned

Because of their price/performance ratio those are perfect lenses for the begginer and should work great on the 500D body that you are planning to buy

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thanks! –  Lazer Aug 4 '10 at 6:32

Note: This answer was originally written for a different question that was later merged with this one.


For only $50 difference getting the EF 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS II with your T3i is a no-brainer. If you don't need it, you can sell it for a quick profit. The going rate for that lens used is about $80-100.

But if you are, as you say, new to the scene you need this lens if the only other option is a 50mm prime on a 1.6x crop body. This is because on a cropped-sensor camera, the 50mm lens will yield an angle of view similar to an 80mm lens on a film or full frame camera. There are just too many things at wider angles you need to try during the discovery phase of your development. There are some photographers who stay above 80mm almost all of the time. But for every one of them, I bet there are at least twenty who stay on the wide end of 80mm. Don't shortchange yourself by not exploring the possibilities of the wide to normal range of focal lengths as well as the telephoto end which traditionally begins at 70-80mm on a film or full frame body.

There is a viable third alternative: The Canon EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS II. By going with the EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 instead of the Tamron 70-300, you'll save enough to get both the kit lens and the EF 50mm f/1.8! That's what I would recommend for someone starting out with a T3i.

With a 50mm lens on the T3i, you're going to have to take most of those group photos outside unless you are in an awfully large room. You will find most residential homes or apartments too constraining. Individual portraits of a subject that can sit still long enough for you to focus will work inside.

With the EF 50mm f/1.8 II you get optical quality that is very good compared to most zoom lenses that sell for less than about $2,000. But compared to prime lenses that sell for a quarter to a third of that, you give up a lot.

  • Slow focus The focus on the nifty fifty is reasonably accurate but notoriously slow.
  • The manual focus is practically unusable. There is no real focus collar at all. Instead you must turn the end of the front element. The AF must also be switched off on the side of the lens before you can focus manually. Most Canon prime lenses allow you to manually focus without switching off the AF. You may be thinking, "Why would I ever want to use manual focus?" There are two relevant answers. First, as the depth of field becomes shallower with the wider aperture, focus becomes more critical. There is always variation of phase-detection AF from one shot to the next, even on high end bodies like the 1D X or the 5DIII. The standard deviation is about twice as much on Canon's consumer and prosumer grade bodies like the Rebels, the 60D, and even my 7D and 5DII. Second, one of the reasons you want a fast lens to begin with is for low light situations when there might not be enough light for the AF to function well. Turning on Live View to focus manually is often the best way to focus in such a situation, especially if the camera is tripod mounted.
  • Build quality and durability. The lens not only is cheap, it feels cheap and it is built cheap. I know more fellow photographers who have had the plastic mount on the EF 50mm f/1.8 split in two than all other plastic mount lenses combined. And I've never heard of a metal lens mount cracking. If you were buying it for occasional use when your kit lens was not fast enough that would be one thing. But for it to be your daily lens is probably expecting more in terms of durability than it can deliver.

I guess you could make the argument that you could buy 3 nifty fifties before you paid for one EF 50mm f/1.4. Personally, I find that due to the speed of AF and ease of MF I use my f/1.4 a lot more than I did when my f/1.8 was in my bag.

As for why you could be just as well served on the T3i by the EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS II for half the money compared to the Tamron 70-300 see my answer to Should I buy a Canon 55-250mm lens or 70-300mm for my Rebel T3i?. The Tamron and Canon 70-300 f/4-5.6 are comparable to each other optically, but so is the EF-S 55-250 and it costs half as much. If you ever wind up going full frame, you're going to want a better telephoto than either the Canon or Tamron 70-300 lenses.

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"Most Canon prime lenses allow you to manually focus without switching off the AF." ?? No. Canon lenses with USM motors allow you to manually focus without switching off the AF. (And I think even there were one or two exceptions.) –  DetlevCM Jun 16 '13 at 11:30
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Most Canon primes are USM. All of the USM lenses have FTM focus, and most, if not all, of the micro-USM are FTM focus as well. Canon currently offers 37 lenses in fixed focal lengths. 28 are designated USM. Of the remaining 9, 4 are TS-E tilt/shift lenses that have no AF, and a fifth is the 65mm 1-5x Macro that is also manual focus only. The remaining 4 include the 40mm STM that has FTM focus-by-wire. So only the 15mm fisheye, the 50mm f/1.8, and the 50mm f/2.5 Macro have AF and are not USM lenses. –  Michael Clark Jun 16 '13 at 11:52

Generally speaking, unless you are buying a high-end kit with a top of the line camera body, the bundled lenses (particularly 18-55mm lenses) that come with your entry-level camera bodies are not worth it. If you can find a kit that includes a reasonably decent mid-grade or top-grade lens, I would go for it. However, if your buying a kit that includes the bottom of the barrel lens (which the 18-55mm usually is), you are MUCH better off buying the body only, and saving for a more decent lens.

This might also be beneficial if you know the kind of photography work you wish to do, as 18mm is an ultra-wide focal length, and does not offer much unless you are looking to do a lot of landscape photography. A more useful focal range is 24-135, and any lens in that range will be much more useful from a general photography standpoint. The wide-normal lengths are useful for landscape, photojournalism, and other general forms of photography, while the 100mm and 135mm telephoto lengths are excellent for portraits and the like.

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I disagree with the generalization. The 18-55 retails for only about $100, and is well worth that as a first lens. My 50D came with their 28-135, and I found that on a crop sensor body, it was far too long. I bought a 18-55 explicitly for the extra ten mm of wide angle use. Sure, its not much of a lens, but $100 is not much money either. –  Pat Farrell May 28 '12 at 23:20
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I agree with your first paragraph but I think you are way off on that ultra-wide 18mm. It is not ultrawide on the camera in question (APS-C). You will use 18mm for Landscape but also Indoor and Group photos. Incidentially, 18-55 gets you the same fov as 29-90mm on FF, so your suggested 24-135 is wider and closer on FF. –  Unapiedra Dec 27 '12 at 21:12
    
With the Rebel bodies at times the kit price with the 18-55 is less than the body only price from some sellers. –  Michael Clark Mar 27 '13 at 10:39

I usually dont get the kit lenses. They're not always the best quality. I feel like they're offered as a way to get people up and running with a new body, without having to buy other stuff.

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If you find a kit that suits you, that is generally cheaper than buying the body and lens separately. If you buy them separately you get to choose whatever lens you want for the body.

Lenses in a kit (except for the most expensive cameras) is usually one of the cheapest models, and as they are sold in kits they can manufacture a lot of them at lower cost. So, you get a cheap lens, but at a good price.

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It is nearly always a good idea to buy the kit. First of all, you may be able to find a kit with the lens you really want - the kits are not always just the 18-55mm lens. You also might find that the manufacturers discount a body + lens purchase pretty significantly. For example, right now Nikon is offering rebates of up to $400 with a body + lens purchase.

So I would first look and see if you can find the body + lens combination you would want anyway. Even if you can't find it, you may be able to find a package with another lens that you could sell to someone else (the 18-55mm might be a tough one to sell, since nearly everyone who wants it already has it)

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Skipping the kit lens is a smart move. The focal range is similar to point and shoots and cellphones which is really convenient, but the kit lens will make you disappointed at the DSLR as it will feel exactly like a point and shoot, you could have gotten cheaper.

Primes are really good to get a real DSLR feel, where you can make thin DOF, shoot indoors without much light, make you think about your composition, etc. The 50mm 1.8 gives good images, but the AF is archaic (you can manual focus, though), and it has no weight and can fall appart - but it is really cheap. The 50mm 1.4 is a better buy, showing off Canon's great USM focus system.

If you want to shoot some wider shots there is a 28mm 1.8 prime, also with USM, or get a sigma/tamron 17-50mm F2.8 for your walkaround/party shots. You could consider Canon efs 55-250mm for your telezoom and free up funds for the "standard zoom".

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The problem with the 17-50mm f/2.8 lenses is that they are out of his stated budget unless he is willing to give up even the 55-250. My Tamron 17-50 is probably the biggest bang for the buck I've ever gotten on a lens (unless the 70-200 f/2.8 II), but it is $500. Same thing with the EF 50mm f/1.4 over the nifty fifty: you're adding $250 to the price which is more than the difference between the Tamron 70-300 and the Canon 55-250, at least here in the U.S. The EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS II is significantly improved over the earlier non IS versions (my EF-S 18-55 II was horrible optically). –  Michael Clark Jun 16 '13 at 10:40
    
300$ on ebay, and 150$ for the 55-250, 450$ total. Tamron 70-300 (the new good one, not the old crappy one that I hope for him he is not buying) is 450$. –  Michael Nielsen Jun 16 '13 at 12:48
    
At that price it would be tempting. I don't trust most e-bay sellers for photo gear. I rarely buy lenses from anyone without a 30-day no-questions-asked return policy. That would be especially the case with Tamron, who has a reputation of widely varying QC from lens to lens. My Tamron 17-50 is extremely sharp, but not all of them are. I have bought refurbished lenses direct from Canon U.S.A. when the savings were significant enough. –  Michael Clark Jun 16 '13 at 12:59
    
$300 for the Tamron or Sigma? –  Michael Clark Jun 16 '13 at 13:00
    
tamron. Most my lenses are from Ebay, and my Camera is also 2nd hand. it works fine. –  Michael Nielsen Jun 16 '13 at 14:33

Every lens has advantages and disadvantages.

Advantages of the 50mm f/1.8 compared to the 18-55:

  1. Great optical quality

  2. It will give you much more depth of field control

Disadvantages:

  1. The autofocus is painfully slow

  2. It's a fixed focal length (it takes more time to move yourself than to zoom)

  3. 50mm on a crop sensor is a little too tight, taking a group photo will be difficult or impossible in a small room

Basically the slower auto-focus and the need to position yourself (and sometimes your subject) rather than zoom will slow you down (or really teach you how to prepare and plan ahead), in exchange for this you get amazing image quality (compared to consumer zooms, the more expensive lenses tend to be better) and DOF

So, it all comes down to what you plan on doing, for posed portraits the 50mm is better is just about every way, for taking shots or running children the 18-55 is better.

Note: the Canon EF 40mm f/2.8 STM is just a little more expensive than the 50mm, it got some great reviews and should solve the main problems of the 50mm f/1.8 (the old autofocus and that it's a little too long on a crop sensor) - but I've never used one myself so I can't really tell you how it works

I have the 50mm f/1.8 and for my usage it's not a good fit, it mostly makes me wish I bought a 30mm or 35mm with a faster auto focus instead - but it is the cheapest way to experience what a fast lens can do and really see what you can get from a DSLR with a good lens that you can never get close to with a point and shoot.

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I wouldn't exactly call the EF 50mm f/1.8 II lens' image quality amazing. Compared to most consumer grade zooms it is superior, but compared to almost any other Canon prime it comes up a little short (and not in terms of focal length). –  Michael Clark Jun 16 '13 at 9:12
    
@MichaelClark - but I am comparing the EF 50mm f/1.8 to consumer zooms, the only other Canon prime even close to this price range is the EF 40mm f/2.8 STM (that I've never used myself) - I'll add a note about it to the answer –  Nir Jun 16 '13 at 10:36
    
The EF 40mm f/2.8 STM does help with the focal length issue on a crop body, but you give up over a full stop between f/1.8 and f/2.8. –  Michael Clark Jun 16 '13 at 10:50
    
@MichaelClark - I agree, but if you want a f/1.8 normal-ish lens for a crop body from Canon you only have the EF 28mm f/1.8 USM ($500) or the EF 35 f/1.4L USM ($1400)- both are substantially more expensive than the EF 50mm f/1.8 ($100) or the EF 40mm f/2.8 STM ($200) –  Nir Jun 16 '13 at 12:06
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@MichaelClark - I agree, that's why I upvoted your answer :-) –  Nir Jun 16 '13 at 14:27

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