I am new to photography and am looking to purchase my first DSLR or mirrorless camera. While reading Buying a digital SLR on Digital Photography Review the author keeps referring to the camera's kit lens, but never explains what he means. Is kit lens shorthand for starter kit? Does it refer to the lens that comes with the camera? Or does kit lens mean something else entirely?
DSLRs are designed to allow you to change the lens. They are offered as "body-only" for people that already have compatible lenses, or know exactly what they want.
Most folks who are new to DSLR want to buy a complete camera, body and lens. So all the manufacturers offer a combination of the body with a cheap lens. This is the "kit lens"
For entry level DSLRs, i.e. the Canon Rebel series or the equivalent in other brands, the kit lens is usually the EF-S 18-55mm F3.5-5.6 lens. Its a starter lens. It sells retail for about $100. This is in fairly stark contrast to many popular lenses, such as the EF-S 17-55 F2.8. At a quick glance, these two lenses seem very similar, same basic zoom range. But the EF-S 17-55 F2.8 sells for $1100, so its ten or eleven times more expensive.
In general, the kit lens is the cheapest lens that the manufacturer can make, and it will satisfy an entry level user. Many folks stay happy with the kit lens for years. Others want something faster, with better image quality, better build quality, etc. Its a personal choice.
A kit lens is a lens included with a camera.
The Wikipedia article for kit lens begins with:
generally an inexpensive lens priced at the lowest end of the manufacturer's range so as to not add much to a camera kit's price.
The tag wiki excerpt for kit-lens:
A "kit" lens is a lens included with a camera body at time of purchase.
A kit lens is a lens that is designed to be sold together with a new camera body to make it immediately useful to new customers. This typically implies a number of things:
- It is designed to be flexible and usable by novices, which nowadays means a zoom around the "normal" focal length, and of course autofocus.
- It has to be cheap to keep the price of the kit attractive, which means that low cost will be prioritized above features and quality. Don't expect a kit lens to be the best for any particular purpose.
- It is produced in very large numbers, which means that it will typically be quite reliable and provide good value for (the small amount of) money, since R&D costs can be spread over many units, and keeping warranty costs low is a top priority.