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I am on the edge of investing in the Sony a6000. The reason I keep straying away is the fact that people seem to hate the kit lens. I can't afford much more than either the kit lens or the body and a single focal length lens. I am going on a trip to Europe in a couple of months, and I really would like to bring a nice camera, so my question is, can I take a large range of excellent pictures with just a single focal length prime, and if so, what would it be? 35mm or 50mm? Otherwise, is the kit lens good? I've heard awful things about it, but the fact that it can zoom in and out is appealing. To clarify, this is not specifically asking about focal length, but whether a single one is usable by itself.

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    Kit zooms are the undeserved whipping boys of internet photography forums. Rent one for a day or two and see what you think. – osullic Apr 24 '16 at 10:20
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    The answers thus far are way to opinion based. As is I don't think the community can handle this question as on topic. – dpollitt Apr 24 '16 at 20:34
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    @Itai One most certainly can rent a kit zoom...along with a body. That was what I meant. My local pro camera store will rent you anything that they sell, and will offset the rental charge against the purchase price if you subsequently decide to buy that item. – osullic Apr 24 '16 at 21:09
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    Isn't this the kit lens, available to anyone in the US to rent? lensrentals.com/rent/sony/e-mount/lenses/… – dpollitt Apr 24 '16 at 22:17
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    I just wanted to say that I am very happy with my purchase of the Sony a6000 along with its kit lens. The only downside I have found in my amateur photography is the limitations on depth of field. Otherwise, the kit lens is a decent size for going around town and having the versatility to easily frame my subjects. My next purchase will be a fast prime, but I am very happy that I started with the kit lens. – Ryan Apr 29 '16 at 21:07
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I am on the edge of investing in the Sony a6000 ...

Ok, fallacy #1. :) You never invest in a camera unless you're a pro and can write it off on your taxes. Cameras depreciate. Even while new. Your "investment" will never give you any monetary returns. This is an expense, pure and simple.

(If anybody has other suggestions in that price range - I am open).

With mirrorless, I say that if the sensor is most important to you, Sony e-mount; if the system and lenses are most important to you, then micro four-thirds (Panasonic/Olympus), and if the color and UI/haptics are most important to you, then Fuji X. Don't forget that you can purchase used cameras and lenses as well.

The reason I keep straying away is the fact that the kit lens isn't very highly regarded. ...

This, my young Padawan is true in any interchangeable lens camera system. That doesn't mean the kit lens is garbage or that by its very nature it will instantly make every photo you take with it butt ugly. It is a limited lens, and there are nicer ones out there. But generally a lot of the crappy images you see taken with one are due more to beginner's mistakes with it, trying to use it for subjects outside its limits (low light), and simple bad composition from newbs.

A better camera doesn't make better pictures all by itself. It's just the tool or instrument. More expensive cameras seem to take better pictures, because the more dedicated photographer who's willing to put in more effort, 10,000 hours, and think about photography a lot more is liable to own the higher end gear, and learn the post-processing skillz, too. In other words, just because Itzhak Perlman plays a Stradivarius doesn't mean that buying a Stradivarius instantly confers on you the ability to play like Itzhak Perlman.

Chances are good you're going to be a bigger limit to image quality than the kit lens for at least a month. Maybe a year. :)

... is the kit lens good? ... the fact that it can zoom in and out is appealing.

This is your tradeoff between the kit and a prime. The kit zooms, but is slow. The prime is fast, but doesn't zoom. What do you prize more? Framing versatility? Or night time/indoors shooting? The prime can be better optically, but bad technique could easily wipe out any advantage the prime gives you. And f/8 is a huge equalizer among lenses, if you're shooting in the sunshine.

I can't really afford much more than either the kit lens, or the body and a single focal length lens.

Ok, THIS is actually what I see as your main issue. The versatility, ability, and power of a camera system is the ability to use multiple lenses. If you can't afford more than one lens, you can't take advantage of this. System cameras, by their nature, are astronomically more expensive than fixed-lens cameras. You may want to reconsider whether you actually can afford a system camera vs. getting an advanced compact instead, such as a Sony RX-100, Canon G5/7/9X, or Panasonic LX100.

If you're really jonesed about getting a fast prime you might even consider a Fuji X70 or X100.

See: What do I need to consider to choose between dSLR, mirrorless, or a compact as my first "serious" camera?

Can I take a large range of really good pictures with just a single focal length prime, and if so, what would it be? 35mm or 50mm?

You can't take a massive range of images, but you can take really good images in what is probably your most-used range with a single focal length prime. However, as a beginner, you're more liable to be frustrated with the framing limits of a prime than a more experienced user might be. In Europe, I'd probably travel with a wide-ish normal fast prime (which on APS-C, would be in the 24-35mm range), an ultrawide zoom, and a longer portrait prime. I could also take my X100T (fixed 35e prime) if I felt I had to go super light, but I'd feel more limited vs. the three lens route. OTOH, I'd also feel a lot lighter and free-er.

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    OP's budget may be limited to a body and a single lens today, or even within the next few months, but it certainly doesn't have to stay that way. Lots of people get DSLRs and a single lens (not uncommonly the manufacturer-supplied kit lens) only to extend later by buying more lenses, flashes, remote triggers, larger and faster memory cards, battery grips, and so on and so forth (I'm obviously not speaking from experience, should the irony be lost on anybody). An interchangable-lens camera body/system provides this flexibility even if that flexibility is not taken advantage of immediately. – a CVn Apr 24 '16 at 20:18
  • @MichaelKjörling The system provides it, but you still don't have it. If the OP's OK with that and the near-endless spending over time that comes with a system camera, well and good. But better to forewarn them upfront about what's ahead. – inkista Apr 25 '16 at 0:22
  • +1 for investment vs expense. Even for a pro it is a depreciable expense, though. You'll very rarely, if ever, buy a new piece of camera gear and eventually sell it for more than you paid for it. Maybe if you're Itzhak you can buy a Stradivarius and sell it for more later on - after you've performed with it for several years. – Michael C Apr 26 '16 at 4:23
  • Re: "Investment". There are different kinds of investments. Buying a new piece of equipment is an investment because you're hoping it will pay off in the photos you get with it. Virtually any kind of purchase can be characterized as an investment. OP almost certainly didn't mean a financial investment as in paying off monetarily. – Era May 3 '16 at 14:50
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Question asks for opinions, but the answer can be subjective and still be on spot.

The first thing to consider when taking photos is your skill, not the camera. And unless it comes to professionals or experts, the kit lens is the first thing that 90% of users will come in contact with (and often the only one); do you really think that Sony couples its systems with terrible lenses so to get its customers dissatisfied with their new toy and ask for a refund?

You can take a good range of photo with a prime, absolutely. 35mm if you are going to shoot a bit more panoramas and buildings, 50mm if you think you will shot most at objects. Consider that for wide panoramas you can easily stitch (search this site for panorama) together various 35mm shots and yet get really good results. Or be creative and come up with something like this 1

And speaking about Flickr and such: why ask to others if a lens is good enough, when you can judge yourself? Just a couple of examples of what can be done with the A6000 kit lens: https://www.flickr.com/photos/cameralabs/albums/72157643275821273 https://www.flickr.com/photos/jactoll/15576247474

Search on the web for samples and try to understand which good is good enough for you. Or take a look at other kit lenses for other systems, to understand a bit better what a kit lens can do; for example, the collage I added before come from a friend album and most of her shoots are with a Canon 1000d and the kit lens. She is not a professional at all and she use just a basic equipment, still...check it here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/10817705@N03/

Then, a final consideration: even if you'll probably never get rid of the kit lens (they are not so easy to sell), having one will help you understand what you like to do. Go on holiday, go around, take pictures. Tons of pictures. Keep the one you like. Then pass them through ExposurePlot, and learn a bit more about yourself ;-D

  • +1 one for a good answer, but a note about panoramas/stitching is that they have limitations when they include moving subjects like birds or people gettyimages.com/detail/photo/… – wedstrom Apr 28 '16 at 18:50
  • @wedstrom: yeah, ok, that's true, but if you want to buy an expensive mirrorless, with only a lens, and do everything, and still be on the cheap side...I mean, you can't have everything :-D – motoDrizzt Apr 29 '16 at 20:31
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    Of course. That's just one specific drawback of using a prime with a narrower field of view vs the widest setting on the kit, for instance. – wedstrom Apr 29 '16 at 22:18
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    Re: selling a kit lens--it can make a listing for a used camera body more attractive to a first-time buyer. I.e., it can make it easier to sell/give away your old camera. – inkista May 4 '16 at 15:05
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Don't be fooled by what others say about the kit lens. Sony has a reputation to live up too. The kit lens specifications has been chosen to provide a good entry level lens. Your best choice is to start with the kit lens and then build your inventory of lenses after you learn how to use your new camera.

  • Not really. It has been designed to give a complete camera for the lowest cost possible. Although in the old days, you used to get a starter memory card too but now you have to get one on your own. – Itai Apr 24 '16 at 15:13
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It’s very subjective, if the kit lens is good or not. Most people can't tell the difference between a photos taken with a high quality lens and a fair one, only the really bad lenses stands out for the non photographer.

Also using primes vs. zooms is very much based on price/quality vs flexibility. Some will choose primes based on low price, very high quality and very fast as well. Personally I’ll favour zooms for it’s flexibility,

In fact, my preferred travel lens is a Tamron 16-300mm APS-C lens. It’s dark, the optical quality is mediocre at best, but the flexibility is really unsurpassed for system cameras, and the IQ is still better than superzooms or bridge cameras like Nikon P900. Even Sony’s new RX10 III (1500$) 1” sensor camera doesn't produce better images than a Sony A6000 + Tamron 16-300mm, despite the RX10 III having a much faster lens.

So the real question is, what is most important to YOU for the price, it is IQ, flexibility, low light capability, what?

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Generally speaking, kit lenses are "good enough" to get you started taking decent pictures, but not good enough for technically outstanding picture quality in anything but absolutely ideal conditions (and often not even then). That said, keep in mind that when people derate kit lenses, it is often in comparison to high-end lenses. Because they are made to target completely different markets, you can't meaningfully compare the quality of a $150-$200 kit zoom lens with that of a $2,000 professional-grade prime lens (such as for example Canon's 85mm/1.2L II USM) or even a $2,000 high-end zoom (such as for example Canon's EF 24-70mm/2.8L II USM or EF 70-200mm/2.8L IS II USM). Note that all of these are examples only; other manufacturers have similar lineups, but Canon is what I am most familiar with personally.

Neither of the above examples (the kit lens or the high-end lenses) are indicative of what's possible, but rather, they are indicative of what is available at a certain price point. If you want to compare lenses, you should be comparing similar types of lenses in a similar price range: it makes more sense to compare, for example, a $200 kit zoom lens with a $300 zoom than with a $2,000 prime. That something selling for a large multiple of the price is better is not surprising; the question is whether the cheaper alternative is adequate in your specific situation.

Also note that "adequate" does not equal "good", and certainly does not equal "great". A smartphone camera may be adequate, and it may even be quite good when compared to other similar products, but it's not going to be able to hold a candle to a large-format digital back with high-end optics coming in at prices reminiscent more of brand new cars than of camera equipment.

Being able to get really stunning photos often comes down more to skill, experience and knowing how to use what you have to the fullest, than to having expensive equipment you don't know how to use.

The question you should be asking yourself therefore is: how do you plan to use the camera? The answer to that will be indicative of what you should be looking for in lenses.

For snapshots, where you would perhaps consider a compact point-and-shoot camera, the kit lens is virtually always perfectly adequate. Its specifications are chosen to be a decent match for the camera body it is paired with, and the kit lens tends to have a reasonable zoom range tailored for the camera's sensor size.

For professional use, the kit lens may or may not be adequate, but you would have to know how to work around its limitations (or even use them to your advantage).

It sounds like you want a reasonably versatile camera setup that will take decent pictures in common situations without killing your budget. For that, the kit lens is almost certainly adequate.

Prime lenses have their niche, less so today than historically now that high-quality zooms can be bought even by relatively mere mortals, but particularly if your budget currently only allows a single lens you need to be aware of their limitations. Unless you have a single specific type of photography in mind, at this point a prime lens may be unnecessarily limiting for you. Even people who use prime lenses tend to have them in plural. (I started out with prime lenses on a traditional film body, and ended up with the set 35 mm, 50 mm, 135 mm and 200 mm. That was reasonably versatile.)

To answer the question in the title: Yes, you can get great photos with just a single prime lens, but (say) if your only lens is a short telephoto prime (which the 50 mm would be on an A6000, because of the A6000's 1.5x crop factor relative to full frame) then you will be missing out on a lot of opportunities.

For someone starting out, I would recommend getting and using the kit lens. Take photos. Get to know what kinds of photos you want to take. Using the kit lens will point you toward areas where it isn't a very good fit for the kind of photos you want to take. Armed with that knowledge you can start looking at other lenses to figure out what you perhaps should buy next.

There is always a better lens, if you are willing to spend the money and are willing to lug it around. As an extreme example, consider what gets built into optical telescopes. The key is to find where your needs and your budget intersect. And unless you have a very specific need that you know about up front (in which case you wouldn't be asking this question) you will only learn about that intersect point with time, because you don't know exactly what your needs are. In the meantime, get out and take photos.

  • The first part is nonsense. A low price doesn't make something acceptable despite poor image quality. If it is soft and blurry in corners, it simply is. One must judge the value of paying more to avoid such issues. – Itai Apr 24 '16 at 15:16
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    @Itai Where did I say that? I said that you can't meaningfully compare one lens to another where the latter is 10x the price and expect them to be of similar quality. But if the OP doesn't know what their needs are, spending $2000 on the 85 mm prime makes no sense if what they really need is the 70-200 or even 100-400 (using Canon's lineup again for examples). I'm saying the kit lens is a good way to figure out what your needs are by allowing you to take pictures and experiencing where its limitations actually limit your ability to do so. – a CVn Apr 24 '16 at 19:55
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    Note that "adequate" does not equal "good", and certainly does not equal "great". Lots of people find their smartphone cameras to be perfectly adequate; few professional photographers use such cameras as their sole tool in their profession. – a CVn Apr 24 '16 at 20:12
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Get the kit lens!

Some background: I have a Sony NEX-3N. I put a lot of miles on the kit lens, I've taken it everywhere. It's very portable. We've been through a lot of mud together. I take risky shots I simply wouldn't with a more expensive lens. And you know what? I have taken some great pictures. I can get the droplets in a splash of water on a lake in the early morning, in shade no less! It is a truly competent lens.

I then bought the Sony 50mm F1.8 prime. It is glorious. I now truly understand what being a portrait lens is about. It's my (don't tell my kit lens) my favorite lens. It's sooo fast!!! It makes people look good! I use it whenever I can make it work, sometimes to a fault.

So why do I recommend the kit lens?

  • Portability - Weight, size
  • Less aversion to hostile situations
  • Versatility - Landscapes AND portraits (This one right here!!)
  • Cost

You are going to Europe. You will want to take portraits AND landscapes. You CANNOT GET A PRIME LENS THAT'S GOOD AT BOTH. Believe me, I've looked. (See Will a 14mm f/2.8 prime be useful for nearby action shots?) Panoramas will only get you so far (though perhaps far enough to swing your decision towards a prime). You cannot get these shots with photo stitching.

If you can afford to buy at least two lenses to specialize, go ahead and get a solid prime at the focal length you want most, in addition to the kit. It will be glorious and beautiful at that one set of tasks it is good for. If you jump the gun, you WILL MISS SHOTS. The best photo is the one you take. Unless you are comfortable dropping either landscape or portrait(In Europe!!!), you will be sad about a missed opportunity. The kit lens isn't bad, it's really quite good - much better than a missed opportunity.

Update: Started shooting in raw over the weekend, and found out just how much correction the kit lens actually needs (when shooting in JPG the correction is handled automatically, in camera). The barrel distortion is pretty extreme (correctable, for sure, but it's something to be aware of). I'll post some shots as soon as I can get some software that can process Sony's proprietary raw format(ARW).

  • Also, look into renting a second lens for your holiday or buying a refurb A6000 with a kit, then buying a new or refurbished prime. If you are going to be stuck with just one lens for a long time, and you really are that mistrustful of the kit, you may even look at a cheaper body to afford the extra lens. The second lens will result in better pictures than just the body upgrade would, at the expense of usability. However, if you can get your second lens relatively soon I would stick with the A6000 - with just the kit and a good prime you can keep yourself quite happy for a long, long time. – wedstrom Apr 28 '16 at 18:29
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The kit lens is designed to be versatile and very cheap which is exactly what it gives you. For very little money you get a wide to normal reach with rather poor image quality, so you can take souvenir photos but they will not be of quality.

A prime lens will restrict you to one focal-length but will not only produce higher-quality results, it gives you more versatility in terms of depth-of-field. The kit lens does not have a great aperture near wide-angle and gets quite dim at the long end. So if you want to isolate your subject, produce background blur, you will be better served by a prime lens.

Many photographers will say that using a prime lens will teach you to be a better photographer since you will have to pay more attention and put more effort into composition. While this may be true, you should understand that some shots will not be possible with a single prime lens. You will have to find the composition that is possible, rather than zooming in (or out) on what you want. It is a different way of working but neither is invalid.

A friend went from Australia to England without flying and brought some impressive photographs with only prime lenses, three of them completely manual, the last one with AF. So a zoom is certainly not required. Personally, I would completely skip the kit lens. I once considered getting one as a backup to my most used lenses but losing the quality was not worth it. If you cannot afford a good first party lens, there are some reasonably affordable Sigma and Tokina ones of good quality. Sigma now produces a number of spectacular lenses, but they are priced accordingly.

As for which focal-length to get, it is a very personal choice. A 24mm would be good to get buildings and landmarks into a single-shot but you can always take panoramas for wider view. A 28 or 35mm would provide a normal view with something longer more flattering for portraits. 50mm would be on the long side though for a single lens, so anything between 24 and 35 should serve without much more effort. Look into lenses with F/2 or brighter to have good control over depth-of-field and isolate subjects easily. Sigma makes a 30mm F/1.4 for Sony E mount which does not cost much.

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    Can any downvoters comment on what they didn't like about this answer? – Era Apr 27 '16 at 20:44
  • Using only prime lenses <- Note the lenses, plural. The OP specifically says he can only afford one lens, that is a key problem - he needed separate lenses to get those shots. Your panorama point is important, and may be enough to get him by with a nice 24mm prime, but he will be hobbled if there happens to be motion in the shot google.com/… – wedstrom Apr 28 '16 at 18:38
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    My guess is the flat statement that the kit lens has poor image quality and is unable to create a quality image might be the other point of contention. As counter evidence, I link to a dpreview kit lens competition. – inkista Apr 28 '16 at 22:56
  • The is a difference between quality photo and good photo. One can take a good photo with a phone but not a quality one. Also note that I have used a dozen or so kit lenses from each of Sony, Canon, Pentax, Panasonic and Olympus, plus easily over 40 ones from Nikon. They invariably show very poor optical quality and it is getting worse, not because the lenses are changing but because sensors are exceeding greatly these lenses ability to resolve details. While some kit lenses were passable on a 12 MP camera, I have not seen a single one perform reasonably on 24 MP. – Itai Apr 29 '16 at 2:49

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