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So I'm about to buy my first DSLR (definitely a Canon, probably the 700D) and my original plan was to buy the one with the included 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens.

At the same time I was thinking about picking up the 50mm f/1.8 on account of the fact that it's cheap and I love taking photos of people with a shallow depth of field.

A couple of friends who are big into photography both suggested that the kit lenses aren't that good and produce blurry, distorted and drab imagery. They also both suggested that I should use the money saved by just getting the body to offset the cost of a decent prime lens.

At this point their views differed:

  • One suggested that I should get the Canon EF 40mm f/2.8 STM. This works out at only £12 more expensive than the kit. They said it takes much better photos than the 50m f/1.8 for only a small amount more and it's very light.

  • Another suggested that I go directly to the Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 as it's a lens that I'll never ever need to replace. This works out at £150 more expensive than the kit, although I can take (very small) comfort in the fact that I'm saving £80 by not buying the f/1.8 as a stepping stone to the f/1.4.

Both also suggested that once I'd had some lessons, learnt how to use the camera and absolutely must have a zoom lens, then I save up and look to buy something decent at that point in time, rather than use the kit lens.

Should I drop the kit lens and pick up a decent prime? Will I be missing out on some types of photography without the kit lens? Or should I start off with the kit and nifty-fifty and upgrade each component over time?

  • For what it is worth, I bought the 50mm f/1.8 (it was a bargain at £50) and then, three years later, replaced the kit lens with a Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM which I've been extremely happy with. – Richard Sep 27 '16 at 23:28
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We have so many question/answers already here that address all of the questions you have. See:

If you have a very specific question not answered by the above answers, please either edit this question significantly(before it gets closed) or ask a new question.

My opinion

The kit lenses of today are generally not that bad, especially for the almost zero cost that they add to the body price in most cases. Even though they are not that bad as far as image quality, they do have limiting maximum apertures(f/3.5-f/4.0 to f/5.6 typically) though so that is the main reason picking up a inexpensive f/1.8 lens is usually recommended. Having that huge aperture opens up possibilities that you simply can't have with a f/4 lens. It is also literally eye opening when comparing it to a point and shoot camera, since f/1.8 is nearly unheard of in a point and shoot camera.

What should you do? I would buy the kit anyways due to the very small additional cost, use it for a few months, then when you know what is limiting your progress in the art, you will know what to buy! If you really have the extra cash, the 50mm f/1.8 or f/1.4 will be great to own at the same time as a kit 18-55mm zoom lens. Many, many people go this route.

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    +1 for both links and specific advice; I found kit lens + 50mm f/1.8 a great starting combination – Brian Jul 11 '14 at 15:56
  • I wouldn't say "f/1.8 is nearly unheard of in a point and shoot camera" when most phone cameras these days are less than one stop slower than f/1.8. What I would say is that, "The depth of field achievable by f/1.8 on an APS-C sensor is eye opening when comparing it to the minimum depth of field achievable on a point and shoot camera." – ESultanik Jul 11 '14 at 18:00
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    I bought the kit plus the 50mm f/1.8 and have been very happy with the combination. Having just the 50mm would have meant that many photos simply wouldn't have been possible because I couldn't move far enough away to get everything in the shot (e.g. landscapes, Wimbledon tennis, photos inside a room). – Richard Jul 13 '14 at 8:49
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In my opinion both lens serves in different areas, so it can not replace another. Lets dig deeper.

18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS:

  • As mentioned by Mychael this is the most crucial focal range. Everybody plays within this range (28-88mm 35mm equivalent) most of the time unless he/she is a dedicated bird or macro photographer.

  • Comes with IS which is very handy.

  • Produce decent quality images.

  • It will allow you to focus much closer than 50mm.

50mm f/1.8 (80mm 35mm equivalent)

  • Great image quality in terms of sharpness and colour. Low distortions too.

  • 50mm and f/1.8 both is perfect for portrait (Which is your priority as of now).

N.B.- I assume that you are going to shoot in raw format or you will start soon. Then you can easily rectify distortion, chromatic aberration etc.

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The kit lenses these days are considerably better than they were a few years ago. The EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-56 II that I bought with my first Rebel a little over five years ago was a pretty crappy lens. But Canon improved the optics (and apparently the Quality Control) when they replaced it with the EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS, and then subsequently replaced that one with the EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS II (mainly cosmetic changes from the first IS version). Now the 18-55mm kit lens paired with many Canon cameras is the EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 STM. The two generations past the original 18-55 kit lenses are significant improvements. But having said that, none of these lenses will probably play into your long term plans, especially since Canon and their competitors seem to be pushing future mid-grade DSLR bodies into Full Frame territory. In fact no EF-S lens will be usable if you every move to a full frame body.

One thing you might consider is going with the 650D instead of the 700D. There is very little difference between the two other than external cosmetic changes. The amount saved, at least here in the U.S., gets you 2/3 of the way towards the difference between the body only and the kit price of the 700D with the EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-56.6 STM. In other words, the 650D + 18-55 STM is only a little more than the 700D body only. That is what I would do, and then save towards the EF 50mm f/1.4. Until you build a collection of higher quality glass, either fast, constant aperture zooms or high quality/low cost primes, the 18-55mm range fills a vital role.

I own both the f/1.8 II and the f/1.4 version of the Canon 50mm. There's not a lot of difference in terms of image quality, but the f/1.4 is much more usable in my opinion due to 1) a real manual focus ring(rather than having to turn the end of the front element without letting your fingers get in the FoV) 2) Allowing you to focus manually even when the AF/M switch is set to 'AF'. The f/1.4 does have smoother bokeh than the f/1.8 when the f/1.8 is not set wide open at f/1.8, and the f/1.8 lens is a little soft at f/1.8, as are most lenses when used wide open. I've personally found that I use the EF 50mm f/1.4 much more frequently than I did when the EF 50mm f/1.8 II was in my bag.

I would doubt that the EF 40mm f/2.8 STM takes better pictures than the Ef 50mm f/1.8 II. Most tests show the 50mm slightly sharper in the center,and the 40mm slightly sharper on the edges when both are used at the same aperture. Here's one side-by-side comparison. The 50mm is better suited to portraiture with a wider aperture and sharpness tuned to the center, the 40mm is better suited to video or landscape work.

  • I wish I would have bought the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 instead of the Canon. Too late now :) – dpollitt Oct 25 '13 at 13:46
  • Is your f/1.4 still under warranty? If it is that bad send it to Canon and tell them to fix it. I've been very happy with mine. – Michael C Oct 25 '13 at 13:49
  • I wish it wasn't so soft from f/1.4-f/2.2 or so. No warranty, I bought it used. – dpollitt Oct 25 '13 at 13:50
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    I think you bought a bad or misadjusted lens. The Sigma only tests very slightly sharper at f/1.4. From f/1.8 to about f/4 there is no real difference. Above f/4 the weird CA of the Sigma means the Canon beats it for wide DoF. Click 'Measurments-->Chromatic Aberration-->Field Maps (or profiles) and select f/5.6 or f/8 for both lenses. dxomark.com/Lenses/Compare-Camera-Lenses/Compare-lenses/… – Michael C Oct 25 '13 at 13:58
  • The side-by-side at TDC shows almost the exact same comparison as DxO's raw data does. CA gets ugly in the mid-frame to corners at about f/5.6 and up with the Sigma. the-digital-picture.com/Reviews/… – Michael C Oct 25 '13 at 14:00
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Another near-duplicate:

Are all kit lenses poor? (And if so, why?)

Kit lenses tend to be well-matched to the bodies they're sold with, and if you're just starting in photography, a kit lens will serve you well as a learning tool. I'd venture to say that 9 times out of 10, the poor results your friends refer to could be attributed at least as much to the poor technique of a beginning photographer as to the poor optical qualities of the kit lens.

Both of the alternatives you mentioned would be fine choices, but don't discount the far more versatile focal length range of the kit lens, and by no means should you dismiss the kit lens as junk.

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Kit lenses often get a bad rap. Think about it, would a major camera maker risk their reputation? The kit lens is chosen to be a good comprise, general purpose introductory lens. You are making a mistake to reject the kit lens unless you have a specific photographic task in mind that requires a specialized lens or you have deep pockets so you can afford a lot more for your first rodeo.

Anyway, we normally mount, as our first and only lens, a lens with a “normal” field of view. We are talking, not wide-angle, not telephoto, but “normal”. We mount a “normal” lens to replicate the way we humans see the world. This camera sports an APS-C format. That nomenclature refers to the size of the digital sensor. In this case, it measures 15.6mm height by 23.5mm length. We fit a “normal” lens based on the diagonal measure of the format rectangle. In this case the diagonal measures 28.2mm. We round this value up to 30mm. In other words, the “normal of the lens is 30mm focal length. Your idea is to mount a 50mm. The 50mm is ideal for portraiture, it’s a moderate telephoto. The kit lens is a zoom, at its widest it’s a modest wide-angle. You zoom it to “normal” thru to a modest telephoto. That’s why the kit lens is what it is. My advice, get the camera with the kit lens. After you have some photography time under your belt, you will be in a better position to choose what lenses you need to upgrade your capability.

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