I'm new to photography. I'm looking at getting a mirrorless Olympus camera, and am at present selecting the lens to accompany it. There is a good deal available on a package including a camera body + average rated lens (3.5 / 5).

The lens specs are 28-84mm equivalent (Olympus - M.Zuiko Digital ED 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 II R Lens).

My question is, as someone who is starting this as a hobby am I best to spend more on a higher quality lens, or would the supplied lens be sufficient?


For a beginner photographer, a typical kit lens will provide a versatile range of focal lengths in a relatively compact and affordable lens. The raw optical quality of most kit lenses is not spectacular, but for a beginner to photography, the raw optical quality of the lens is unlikely to be to the limiting factor in the quality of images produced. The kit lens will be adequate to help you learn the fundamentals of photography, like exposure and composition.

Once you have some experience with your body and kit lens, you will have a better idea of what is limiting your photography, which may suggest your next lens. For example, if you find that you are often shooting wide open and bumping your ISO, a fast prime might be a good second lens. If you find that you are often zooming in and then cropping in post, a telephoto zoom might be a good choice.

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I've been an amateur photographer for 10 years and a staff photographer for 1.5 years. In my experience, equipment is the second barrier on the journey to making great images. The photographer's "skill" or "eye" is her/his best asset. This comes through practice and review. Take lots of pictures every day if you possibly can. Take lots of pictures of the same subject. One of them will always be better than another one. Notice why. Look at them. You'll soon develop a feel or "eye".

Besides taking a lot of pictures and reviewing them frequently, one equipment-related thing helped me a lot: a prime lens. "Prime" just means that the focal length is fixed. It doesn't zoom. The main advantage to the beginning photographer is that now there is one less variable to control. (The side benefit is that prime lenses generally perform better in low light, and make clearer images than zoom lenses.)

Limiting variables is a huge help. Put your camera on "auto" or "P" mode for a while; its computer is smart enough to make good exposures without you adjusting it manually. Let it figure out exposure while you focus on composition and catching the moment. Reality is always changing; it demands your attention if you're going to catch the expression on someone's face.

For $1,000, you can find a nice lens/body combination. Consider starting on a cropped-sensor DSLR with a single prime lens.

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  • Thanks for the feedback, @mattdm. I've adapted my piece accordingly. – Crowder Jan 19 '14 at 4:01
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    Good Answer...I find another advantage of a prime lens is that it makes you think more about composition and about you're positioning (ie where you're standing) when you take a picture. – laurencemadill Jan 20 '14 at 13:17
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    Right, @laurencemadill, prime lenses help us concentrate on the easily overlooked factor of positioning. This builds good habits. Zoom lenses tempt us to stand in one place and turn the zoom ring. But good photography involves the whole body. Good composition requires moving our feet, not just our hands. – Crowder Jan 20 '14 at 20:51

Do not skimp on the lens. High-quality lenses make an enormous difference. As a general rule, a lens should cost similarly to the camera. If you use a $100 lens on a $1000 camera, get ready to get $100 results! Image-quality is as good as the weakest link. This includes the lens and the photographer.

The lens you mention in particular is dim and soft. You have to stop it down a lot to get reasonable sharpness and edges still won't be great. You also have limited latitude for depth-of-field. You need to put as much thought in your lenses than in your camera and choose the focal-range and aperture which suits your photographic needs.

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    I whole-heartedly disagree. There are many low-cost gems out there. Beyond that, none of today's lenses are bad and all will excel in the right hands under the right conditions. – Dan Wolfgang Jan 19 '14 at 1:23
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    Well, I did say general :) If you look at typical versatile 24-70mm, 16-50mm or 17-55mm constant-aperture lenses, they all cost roughly what a good compatible camera does. Even a good bright brand-name prime goes for around that. There are exceptions as with everything else. – Itai Jan 19 '14 at 3:27

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