Many SLRs of all brands are sold in kit with an 18-55 mm zoom lens. This lens has the advantage of being generally of very best quality and allows you to start without spending too much. But very quickly you feel the need to ‘zoom in’ more, to make close-ups, to ‘see further’ and you are looking for another lens.
Here are the choices that are available to you to complete or replace an 18-55 mm.
Why A 18-55 mm Zoom?
When you discover photography with a DSLR, you don’t necessarily know which lens to choose. Manufacturers make the decision easier by offering ‘case + lens’ kits including a SLR and most of the time a 18-55 mm zoom.
The zoom 18-55 mm it is the range of focal lengths (expressed in mm) that proves to be the most versatile for the ‘everyday’ photo. And since this type of zoom is relatively cheap, it makes up most of the SLR kits.
The 18 mm position with an APS-C reflex (DX at Nikon) corresponds to a wide-angle (equivalent 27 mm in 24×36). This allows you to frame wide for landscapes or street scenes and group photos.
The 55 mm position corresponds to a small telephoto lens (equivalent to 82 mm in 24×36). It is ideal for close-up portraits or close-ups of family scenes.
Between the two you can vary the position of the zoom (the focal point) to adapt the framing to your desires.
18-55 mm Zoom Limits and Solutions
Using an 18-55 mm zoom you find yourself fairly quickly limited. It is usually the maximum position that is the cause of this limitation. You can’t zoom in enough, make close-ups ‘from afar’. So, you need to use another lens.
There are many possibilities to complete an 18-55 mm zoom. Here are the main ones commonly chosen by expert photographers who like you have started with an 18-55 mm or equivalent.
1. Choose an Additional Zoom
The first solution is to invest in a complementary zoom like the 55-300 mm. This model is also often offered in double reflex kits 18-55 + 55-300.
This zoom has the advantage of being perfectly complementary with the 18-55 since it starts at 55 mm to go up to 300. At 300 mm you have a real telephoto lens to take close-up photos, bring the most distant subjects closer together and frame very tight. In addition, this zoom remains accessible, making it a wise choice if your budget is limited.
Conversely, the disadvantage of using a 18-55 + 55-300 torque is that you will need to change your lens regularly to cover the entire range of focal lengths. In addition to the fact that you have to fit both lenses in your camera bag, you also have to realize that the 55 mm pivot focal length is usually the one that is problematic because it is often the most used. And it turns out to be the maximum focal in one case and the minimum focal in the other.
Which lens to choose to rotate around this focal if you do not know too much what you are going to photograph? Eternal dilemma.
Also do not neglect the fact that changing the lens may allow dust to enter the case, which can give black spots on your photos.
2. Choosing A Mega-Zoom
The second solution that is available to you is to replace your 18-55 mm zoom with another zoom of greater focal amplitude. Manufacturers thus offer mega-zooms among which are:
• the 18-200 mm
• the 18-300 mm
• the 18-270 mm
• the 16-300 mm
These mega-zooms are more expensive than the 55-300 mm but they have many advantages.
They save you from having to change your lens too often since they replace the previous couple by themselves. This is especially useful when you want to travel light without taking the risk of manipulating goals several times a day.
Mega-zooms also allow you to be more responsive since you just have to rotate the zoom ring to go from a super wide-angle (focal 16 or 18 mm) to a super telephoto (focal 200 or 300 mm).
The price is higher than that of the basic zooms but in use you find yourself there largely.
Conversely, mega-zooms remain models with sometimes limited performance. The maximum aperture remains blocked at f/5.6 or higher, the background blur is more complex to manage and the distortion at the edges of the image is often important at extreme focal points (barrel effect or cushion effect, vignetting, chromatic aberrations).
These zooms are also larger and heavier than models with reduced focal amplitude. You will be less discreet and more visible. The mega-zoom however remains the solution to consider if you want to make it simple and effective.
3. Choose A Medium Amplitude Zoom
Another good solution is to choose a medium-amplitude zoom that is found in different manufacturers. You have a choice of:
• 16-85 mm
• 24-85 mm
• 18-105 mm
• 18-140 mm
• 24-120 mm
Compared to mega-zoom the limitation in telephoto position is real. But it is largely offset by often higher quality over the entire focal range and greater compactness of the lens. These models are also sometimes classified in the expert ranges of manufacturers and have good performance. This is the case of the 24-85 mm f/2.8-4 and 24-120 mm f/4 at Nikon for example.
These zooms remain very versatile and are more compact and lightweight than Mega-zooms. They provide you with more discretion on the ground, prevent you from changing goals, their budget remains reasonable. Some are compatible with full-format cases (e.g. the Nikon 24-120 mm) and so you can reuse them if you ever take the step.
These lenses are quite widespread among expert amateurs, they are quite easily found on occasion unlike Mega-zooms that rarely change owners. Browse the ad sites and you will find quite easily some great deals.
If the maximum focus may seem like a real limitation, tell yourself that it may also be an opportunity to take an interest in composition, framing and that it is not always by ‘zooming in’ that you will make better pictures. A good frame at 120 mm is better than a confusing (and fuzzy) image at 300 mm…
4. Choosing A Complementary Fixed-Focal Lens
What if you took the opportunity to switch to fixed focal lengths? This choice always seems curious when you start because a fixed-focal lens ‘limits the possibilities’ and you prefer the flexibility of a zoom. Yes but… have you ever taken the time to imagine what you can do with a fixed focal length?
The advantage of a fixed-focal lens is that it has a much larger maximum aperture than the equivalent zoom. When the standard zoom opens at best at f / 3.5 the slightest fixed focus opens at f/1.8. This is the guarantee of being able to photograph in low light by minimizing motion blur (with a higher shutter speed) without going up to ISO (thus reducing digital noise).
It is also the guarantee of being much more discreet, to be able to get closer to your subject for more creative frames.
Fixed focal lengths are generally of much better quality than zooms for a very affordable price. The Nikon 35 mm f/1.8 DX for example is a model with recognized performance and it costs less than 180 dollars. There is also a variety of used fixed-focal lenses, with the 50 mm f/1.8 being among the most common. For barely 150 dollars you can be in possession of a lens used by the pros and that will give you images of much better quality than those made at 50 mm with a mega-zoom.
The disadvantage of fixed focal points is that the focal point is… fixed. So, you need to have several goals to cover your needs. It’s not so dramatic since in practice you can get away with two lenses: a 35 mm for street, travel, group scenes and a 50 mm for portraits.
If you want to go further, complete this choice with an 85 mm or a 105 mm and you will have everything you need. In wide-angle, choose a 20 mm or a 24 mm.
Learn the Photography with A Fixed Focal Length
Choosing fixed focal lengths also means making different creative choices. Rather than just turning a zoom ring and shooting, you will learn to get closer, to turn around your subject, to work your compositions. And you will progress in photography.
For example, you can decide to use only one focal point for a trip, and thus give a true unity to your photo report rather than making totally disparate images as is the case with a zoom.
What to Do with the 18-55 mm That We No Longer Use?
By changing the lens, you can have an 18-55 mm that is no longer of use to you. You have several solutions to address this problem.
The first solution is to keep the 18-55 mm to complete a mega-zoom and travel light when you need it. Or have a rescue goal if ever the main one has a problem. The 18-55 mm remains versatile enough for a trip or family party, no need to carry bigger. So, it’s a good addition.
The second solution is to use the 18-55 mm as a complement to a fixed focal length. You will have a total versatility between the zoom mat anywhere and the more expert fixed focal lengths.
Finally, the third solution is to resell the 18-55 mm to recover some money and finance the purchase of another lens. Don’t expect to get much out of it because these lenses are inexpensive to buy so they don’t sell very expensive. But it’s always better than letting them sleep in a closet.
Different solutions are available to you and you can make a reasoned choice. But that’s not all…
You have one last chance…
If you have not yet purchased your equipment, you can simply avoid having to choose by purchasing a SLR without the 18-55 mm zoom. you can find the same case in the ‘bare case’ version and complete it with the lens of your choice. Or ask your dealer to compose a kit including the case and the lens chosen without it being the 18-55 mm. Most dealers offer these formulas and large brands offer kits 18-105 or 18-140 for example. You will not have to ask yourself what to do with the 18-55 mm and you will immediately take advantage of the possibilities offered by your new set.
When it comes to choosing a goal there is no rule because we all have different needs and budgets. The advantage of the reflex system is that it allows you to easily change the lens without questioning the choice of the case. The offers are numerous, suitable for all budgets. And expert models are often found on occasion at even more affordable prices. So, it’s easy to make an initial choice and change your mind later if your needs change.
This is also one of the good reasons to practice photography than to regularly question your creative choices, right?
QUESTION: You already have an 18-55 mm zoom and you want to move on. What is the need you feel, what limits you and motivates this decision? Please comment…