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It’s another rainy day on the East Coast (of Taiwan), which means I did not feel particularly inspired about going outside to take some grey pictures.

So, I’ve decided to take out my d7100, put it on a tripod and test a couple of lenses that I have. I’ve never actually done this before, I’ve wanted to find out at which aperture they produce good results, at which aperture they suck and I also wanted to have an overall comparison between the two.

The 2 lenses I’ve used are:

nikon kit lens

Nikkor 18-55mm f3.5/5.6 VR (the cheapest kit lens available)

50mm

Nikkor 50mm f1.8 (this one is actually a full frame lens from Nikon, so it works perfectly fine on a DX body like the d7100, the only difference is that it works as a 75mm lens due to the 1.5x crop of the DX format).

So, how did I test the 2 lenses?

I placed the camera on my tripod and shot at many different apertures keeping all the other settings identical. They’re indoor shots with relatively low light (thanks, clouds!) so I used the built in flash.

There’s of course a big difference: the 50mm starts at f1.8, so those shots would have been useless in a comparison with a f3.5 lens(and it would have been useless to test the kit lens at 18mm as wel.

Let’s start: first set of pictures: f5.6 (the Kit Lens is at 48mm, that’s what destiny planned)

50mm

50mm f5.6

Kit Lens

Kit lens f5.6

Let’s crop the star at the top:

50mm

starcrop 50mm

Kit Lens

starcrop kitlens

Yep, there’s THAT much difference. The picture from the 18-55mm looks like what I’d usually see if I take off my glasses, while the 50mm produces a very sharp image even far from the center.

Let’s try one more: f10, identical settings

50mm

50mm f10.0

Kit Lens

Kit Lens f10

Same crop:

50mm

starcrop 50mm f10.0

Kit Lens

starcrop Kit Lens f10

The Kit Lens benefits immensely from the higher aperture, and the crop looks much better than its f5.6 counterpart.  On the other hand, the 50mm looks a bit softer at f10. That’s not what this lens was made for though, a 50mm f1.8 should shine as a portrait lens, and for that you don’t usually set your camera at f10. Keep in mind that on a DX body it works as a 75mm lens, so way too wide for landscape photography.

In before:”WAIT A SECOND, I took some beautiful landscape pictures with that lens, what are you talking about! This is blasphemy!”

Yeah yeah, I know, in the right situation and under the right circumstances you can get an amazing landscape even with a 75mm lens, especially when it’s that sharp. The problem is that with a wide angle lens you would have very likely managed to get an identical shot, with the added benefit of a wider framing which means more stuff inside your picture (I’m pretty sure “stuff” is the correct technical term here). When I got the 50mm about a month ago I tested it in a park and I really liked what you can achieve in landscape photography with a f1.8 lens because you can isolate a subject incredibly well, whether it’s a monument, a set of leaves, an animal in the foreground etc etc. But I’d never think:”TODAY IT’S LANDSCAPING DAY, LET’S PACK THE 50MM F1.8, THAT ALONE WILL DO”.

So, what’s the conclusion of my test?

It’s not easy to compare these 2 lenses: one is a very generic jack of all trades that basically comes for free when you get a Nikon Dslr, the other one is a full frame portrait lens that has fixed focal length and aperture.

Which lens produces the best images? The 50mm f1.8 by a mile.

Does the 18-55mm Kit Lens suck? Not really. The reason why it does not suck comes down to a couple of factors:

a) Price. The 18-55mm kit lens is not a lens that you’d buy on its own, but when bought together with a Nikon body the price is virtually nil. If you already have a lot of Nikon glass you don’t need this lens, but if it’s your first Dslr ever you should highly consider it, also because…

2) Range. The 18-55mm range is extremely generic. Not particularly wide, but wide enough to get a lot of stuff inside your picture. The 55mm range is not useful if you want to zoom in on an eagle or an owl, but for everyday photography is usually sufficient. This range will give you a great idea of what  you need next.

If you find yourself shooting 99% of the time at 18mm and you wish you had a wider lens for you landscape and architecture pics, you can invest in one of the many Wide Angle lenses available.

If you’re constantly at the long end of the zoom, you may want to buy a super zoom lense to get up to 200mm or even 300mm.

If you often take pictures where you want to isolate your subject from the background, there you go, get a lens with a f1.4/1.8 aperture.

And there are of course many more options available once you start to take a lot of pictures and you realize what you like and, consequently, what you need.

Disclaimer1: that’s not dust, I should clean my wall.

Disclaimer2: if you’re willing to spend a bit more, the new Nikon 18-140mm that can be bought in combination with any Nikon body is much much better than the 18-55mm both in terms of image quality and range, but that comes at a price. If you’re not on a tight budget, that’s the way to go.

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