Instructor Bans Kit Lenses From Photography Course

Kit lenses frequently get a bad reputation as it is, but one photography instructor took things to the next level and banned them from her course. As is typical on the internet, outrage ensued.

A photography instructor at a university in North Carolina included a statement in the syllabus that they will not allow 18-55mm kit lenses in the course and students must find another lens to use or buy. It is explained in the syllabus that student work from past semesters has been licensed commercially and says that the kit lenses are low quality and will put students at "a serious disadvantage quality-wise." As a former instructor myself, I have to be honest that I don't necessarily disagree with the ban on kit lenses. I do, however, disagree with her reasoning.

Yes, some kit lenses can be of terrible quality. However, for students learning (and even beyond that, really), they are totally sufficient in terms of quality. Giving their explanation of the potential for getting a commercial license as a reason why students may want to upgrade lenses, instead of being required to upgrade, would have been a much better decision, in my opinion. Kit lenses aren't the worst offenders for poor quality lenses either, so without giving specific advice as to what they should get instead, they aren't exactly setting students up for success. Without knowing what is covered in the course, it could also be a missed educational opportunity.

That said, there are better reasons for limiting the use of kit lenses from a photography course in my book. I have never been a fan of zoom lenses for students. When I took my introduction to photography courses we were required to have a 50mm lens. I then went on to teach in graduate school, where I had no say over curriculum or equipment lists, and students were allowed to use any lens, the majority of which ended up being zoom lenses (and most were kit lenses). Changing focal lengths with your lens results in changes to plenty of other things, so it becomes more that students have to think about and consider at once, or they don't and their images suffer as a result. This is especially true with kit lenses since they have a variable aperture. Their aperture will change when zooming in and out, and they won't necessarily be thinking about or realizing that.

Prime lenses are a much better choice for students in my experience. It allows them to focus on the absolute basics of photography and learn things in steps, as opposed to having to juggle multiple concepts right off the bat. It also can stretch their creativity and force them to adjust in different ways when they have a single focal length, instead of simply being able to zoom in (or out) to whatever they are photographing.

I want to wrap this up with a few closing thoughts. First, I absolutely understand that some students will only be able to afford a kit lens, or perhaps they already had one on a family camera. Excluding such an affordable and accessible option will then exclude certain students from taking part in the course, which I agree is never good. Second, I don't know where this course fits within the photography curriculum of this particular university. My thoughts above are geared towards introductory courses, not advanced courses. If students already have a firm grasp of exposure basics, what focal length means and controls, and other such key concepts, then have at the zoom lenses!

What are your thoughts on the ban of kit lenses in courses? Share below!

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Stuart C's picture

Not really much of an instructor then.

Willy Williams's picture

Kit lenses really are not all that great, but what an idiot this instructor is to not use it as a teachable moment! Why not use it to the students' benefit and point out the "why" of the situation rather than come down on students that haven't yet learned about the differences?

David T's picture

But she did point it out.

Ryan Cooper's picture

I think it's kind of silly. How do you even define a "kit lens?" Is it just a lens that is sold in a kit with a body? Because that's what I'd define it as. If so, though, there are some extremely good lenses sold in kits with higher-end bodies. It's a silly differentiator because being a kit lens is just a whim of the camera maker, it doesn't mean poor quality.

For example. Fuji sells the GFX 50R Medium Format in a Kit with the 63mm 2.8. Can anyone seriously say that pair isn't good enough quality for student work? Thats a $1500 lens.

I think a better rule would be no super-zooms. (Super-zoom defined as any lens whose max focal length is equal to or more than 3x its minimum focal length). Almost all super-zooms are pretty low quality and also tend to have poor and/or variable maximum aperture. Super-zooms would thus highly limit a student's ability to learn the craft of photography as they would be constantly bumping up against the limitations of the lens.

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

The instructor was targeting 18-55mm specifically.

Ryan Cooper's picture

Ah, that makes more sense.

Marc F's picture

The instructor was only targeting the specific low quality kit zoom. If you come with a Leica 18-55mm zoom I don’t think the instructor will spit on it…

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

I don't believe there's a Leica 18-55mm. There is a 18-56mm, however. To which would be outside her restrictions.

dean wilson's picture

...and this Sub-Par lens sells for $1,995 at B & H.

Ariel C's picture

This dude has some serious trauma with the kit lens. Its not that he doesnt like the quality of the photos, he absolutly hates it, despises it to say the least !!!

Naruto Uzumaki's picture

In that case, what happens if someone walks in with the Sony 16-50mm kit lens? :)

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

16-50mm <> 16-55mm , so they'd be safe. :D

Also, the Sony 16-50mm is a f2.8, far from being a kit lens. Loved that lens when I was shooting with my a77.

Naruto Uzumaki's picture

I was mainly thinking the Sony 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS Alpha E-Mount. :)

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

Ohhhh yyyyyeeeah. Forgot about those.

dean wilson's picture

When you read the actual part of the class syllabus mentioned it makes sense, as it's in not an introduction course.

Stuart C's picture

Apart from the fact they have used that other great twat phrase 'crop sensor', I don't think I despise a photography phrase more than that one, perhaps 'togs' might beat it to the finish line. But crop sensor, the phrase used by the discerning gearhead as some pathetic attempt at being derogatory towards people using what they see as somehow inferior equipment to their exacting standards.

To top it off, how can someone sensibly throw a blanket over every single APS-C 18-55 lens and label them 'not good quality', all it shows to me absolute ignorance and in fact exposes their own lack of ability, coupled with, as someone below has mentioned, lens/sensor snobbery.

David T's picture

Or maybe she had enough bad experiences in her class?
For every stupid rule, there is somebody stupider that made it neccessary...

Like hiking tours that state "please don't wear flip flops"... or "bring water".

Stuart C's picture

Im not seeing how those 2 situations are remotely comparable, one is risking your health/life, the other is a lens.

Sorry but it just reeks of snobbery and misinformation to me, the words included in these screen shots are pathetic, to quote "if you are shooting with an 18-55mm lens, you are putting your work at serious disadvantage quality wise", talk about generalisation and just plain nonsense.

David T's picture

How many lenses are worse than 18-55 kit lenses? We all know what she means. Is this just about semantics?
What if the sport teacher says "no street clothes/shoes", will you argue about how some street shoes are actually good for basketball?

Stuart C's picture

That’s a real glass half empty way of looking at it, she doesn’t mean that at all and you are just making poor excuses for someone’s snobbery… the plain and simple fact is, a supposed tutor is making some wild assumptions about a whole group of lenses without any context or providing specific examples of which ones are poor.

Let’s say someone reads that then looks at the Fujifilm XF18-55 and dismisses it as unusable, purely based on this idiots generalised comments.

David T's picture

The XF18-55 is allowed though.

J.d. Davis's picture

I can think of only ONE lens nikon made that's a real dog: the 43-86, unsharp at any aperture and only good for drawing circles if you haven't dropped it.

Randy Kirk's picture

This certainly applies to the first version.. the updated one (with tapered front edge) is much sharper. I own the second and really like it on my Fuji XT3. Handles flare wonderfully, nice color, surprisingly good contrast and rendition..

David Vivian's picture

And, ending with this disingenuous salvo: "you should do everything within your power to never use these lenses again" a) He's a condescending prick, b) If this truly is an "advanced" class, then any "advanced" student worth their salt can make a wonderful photo at f/4-5.6 entry-level glass.

Jonathan Gage's picture

I think the "crop sensor" part is to perhaps clarify where the student might encounter the lens, as opposed to what might have accompanied a full frame camera. As Dean pointed out...this isn't an introductory class AND the instructor indicates that borrowing equipment will be necessary, so it's an opportunity to try different, and probably better quality, lenses. The last statement probably isn't necessary about never using them again, but there does at least appear to be legitimate reasons behind constraining use of the 18-55 and the mitigating resource of having different lenses available.

Stuart C's picture

In my opinion, if they are disregarding the use of an 18-55 lens (let’s forget about the word kit, or the sensor size, because focal length is the only important part) then they should also disregard people who turn up with a 35mm camera and 24-70/105/120 “kit” lens too then.

I own 2 18-55 lenses, the Fujifilm XF and the Nikon AF-P, both of them in the right hands are producing images that would win any competition(and already have)…. So this whole notion of telling people never to use them is just beyond foolish. And the fact they are implying that those crappy stock images can’t be shot with them, well words fail me on that one.

David Vivian's picture

But really, does this make sense? Making a declarative statement that because lighting equipment is required, the instructor is "blocking" this lens. Oh, and students have had work published, therefore a kit zoom isn't worthy. This really oozes some snobbery.

Bob Simrak's picture

Hmm. What does "not good quality" mean? Too, too subjective. What does "good quality" mean?

J.d. Davis's picture

Is she really teaching lens 'SNOBBERY'? If so, isn't her condition called being Short Sighted?

Paul Samson's picture

Guess I'm not allowed in her class then and that's fine with me :)

barry cash's picture

Where did you mention her name and what class she teaches
A photography instructor at a university in North Carolina included a statement in the syllabus that they will not allow 18-55mm kit lenses in the course
Are reporting this story based on the statement in the note you pasted or have you spoken to the instructor?

J.d. Davis's picture

Good question!

Jasper Stone's picture

Indeed good question.

I am a professor and taught a beginning Dance for Camera. I had the students purchase entry level cameras and their kits lenses. Why? Cost. Even provided links so they had options for new or used. My decision, as the professor, was again based on cost and just getting a camera in hand. A majority of students today have no money.

My former colleague ripped their work apart, "Gosh, your work be would be so much better if you had worked with X camera and X lens. That camera and lens are amazing. It would have made all your projects wonderful, fantastic, and amazing."

My former colleague is not a photographer and cinematographer. Her opinion was based on talking to a friend who had a camera and took photos. Her friends opinion, like all the ones I see here, was based on the outside looking in.

We have not talked with and interviewed the professor in question. We have read the syllabus only, which represents a contract for the class. We did not observe the professor in class discussing this point.

Are they teaching snobbery? After reading the comments...

A Leica Vario-Elmar-T 18-56mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH Lens was mentioned .... it is almost 2,000 dollars. As an L-mount .... how much the camera then? Leica SL2s is over 4,000.
The Canon EFS 18-55mm 4-5.6 that came with the Canon SL2 I bought .... is $249 ...with. the 3.5 -5.6 version at $199. Price wise I would put the last two in the "kit lens" category.

It is mentioned that their work is licensed for commercial stock photography. It is not the mentioned what the professor received in past end of semester student reviews. As a professor,speaking from experience, students can be pretty petty and shitty. Mostly because it is anonymous. Students could have blamed lacked of success in commercial stock photography on their "lowend gear". No matter how untrue that statement is, the professor would be held accountable and tasked to make changes. I think this is perhaps an major underlying factor.

Not mentioned is the course level. A 100 class would be a basic beginner class, a 400 would be upper level.

I look forward to our discussion with mentioned professor.

Christopher Boles's picture

I seriously doubt that a "kit lens" is going to be so bad that anyone would seriously notice in a photography class. Taking a class is about improving your abilities. Why didn't the instructor give a teachable demo on lens comparison and let the students decide what direction they want to go. Perhaps requiring that everyone use a 50mm prime.

Connor Moriarty's picture

Exactly. Especially when this is probably a 100 level class filled with kids who have no idea how to pixel-peep.

Stuart C's picture

Does anyone have any specific examples of these lenses being terrible? Because the ones I’ve tried have been far from it.

Is this just another case of someone tagging onto some stigma around a product that was rubbish in the 90s but modern examples don’t comply to that notion, so essentially feeding misinformation.

Ryan Cooper's picture

The lens is fine stopped down to like F/8 but I can imagine that if you are trying to teach a variety of techniques having a student limited to a 5.6 lens is probably a problem. Though I'd argue that the requirement should be something like: "Must have a lens that can open to F/2.8 or better" rather than specifically blowing away that one lens. There are countless other super-zooms that have the same issues an 18-55 has. (For example an 18-200 or a 70-300)

Personally, if I was teaching a course, I'd actually have specific lens requirements. Not because those are the only good lenses but because those are the lenses I'd be teaching with and I'd want students to be working with the same tools. Probably something like a 35, 50, and 85 prime on a full-frame camera.

Stuart C's picture

So your criteria of getting people on your course would be having 3 prime lenses on a full frame camera… good luck getting any subscribers.

Let me give you some advice, people who need to be taught photography aren’t strolling around with a full frame camera and 3 prime lenses, get with the real world ffs.

Ryan Cooper's picture

Oh please. Give me a break. This isn't some intro to photography class at the local YMCA. It is an advanced college course that is teaching students to make professional images. If a student can afford tens of thousands of dollars in tuition, they can afford to spend a few hundred dollars on the appropriate equipment.

I just quickly looked on Ebay.:

Nikon D610: $450
Nikon 35mm f/2D: $180
Nikon 50mm f/1.8D: $120
Nikon 85mm f/1.8D: $125
Total: $875.

Hardly what I'd call unreasonable. Many students in college are expected to spend more than that on textbooks. Sure they can spend wildly more if they want to, but to meet the bare minimum I mentioned isn't exactly oppressive.

Stuart C's picture

Ok let me put it another way, below is my Flickr profile, feel free to check the images out. I use the Fujifilm XF18-55 lens for a good portion of my shots.

On the back of that, are you going to exclude me from your 'advanced' photography course because I choose to use a lens that is a certain focal length on an APS-C camera.... because if so, ill happily laugh at you and your ignorance forever more.

David Vivian's picture

People don't realize how obtusely elitist they are about their equipment.

Stuart C's picture

Also, feel free to check this photography competition out, its hosted by a world renowned Landscape Photographer... the overall winning image was shot with a Nikon D3200 and AF-P 10-20, total cost of kit, £350. I guess you will turn him away too, although im guessing he is the one doing the teaching these days, on the back of his competition win.

Ryan Cooper's picture

I quite literally said in my first comment, it's not about quality but rather it's about making sure there is a parity of gear between myself (the presumed teacher) and all the students. This allows every student to be prepared to fully engage in the lesson I'd be teaching.

I'd add that professional photography is almost never about "Are you able to pick up a cheap piece of gear and find a way to make a gorgeous image with it?" Rather, professional photography is about: "Can you consistently create specific images under specific conditions often under specific urgency?"

The reason pros generally aren't running around with 18-55 kit lenses is not because it makes poor images or it is impossible to make a good image with the said lens. Rather, it is because that lens struggles in the majority of common professional situations.

You are a landscape photographer. Which is great, I'm not saying that to belittle you in any way. Your work is beautiful but landscape has a freedom to it that most professional photographers can't enjoy.
You can show up to a scene and hunt for a great composition and take your time to capture it. An 18-55 works for that. A talented landscape photographer can quite literally make beautiful work with a GoPro if required. Again not a dig at landscape, its just the nature of the genre.

But what if you need to capture the first kiss in a shadowy wedding venue from the upper balcony because that is where the bride told you that you have to stand? What if your client tells you they want a close-up portrait with a creamy background? What if your client is asking you to capture an athlete from across a field who is running at full speed? What if your client is asking you to shoot their newest car silhouetted against a massive moon?

I'm not saying the 35/50/85 fits all bills either, they don't. I listed those as the three I would select if I was the teacher because I'd be teaching portraiture and those 3 lenses have the capability of meeting the requirements imposed by the vast majority of clients I have worked with so it is the techniques of using those lenses that I'd teach. A teacher teaching say action sports likely would suggest a completely different lens kit. (That said, I feel a 35/50/85 is a great starting point for most photographers looking to go pro to build their kit around)

My main point is that rather than excluding a random lens, the teachers should have a list of required gear built for what is needed for all lessons of the course so that their students are prepared to engage in everything that will be taught. (Again, remember that this is an advanced college course teaching professional photography)

Stuart C's picture

But this is a college course, it should be teaching the pure creative aspects of photography, not turning people away for having a certain type of lens… whilst also throwing a blanket over every single 18-55 by claiming they ‘are NOT good quality’

Whichever angle you want to look at it, the fact remains this person (who is meant to be in a position of responsibility) is telling people a piece of gear, regardless of which one, will yield poor results. That’s isn’t right, in any way shape or form.

And just to add, the last line “you should do everything in your power to never use these lenses again” is completely pathetic.. if it was my class, I would be saying the exact opposite, I would say you should be doing everything in your power to be able to get world class results using these lenses, now that’s how to teach people, just ask Rankin, who sent his students out with a phone on his recent photography program that aired in the U.K.

Ryan Cooper's picture

No, I'm telling them it is impossible for certain pieces of gear to do certain things. You keep going back to the notion of quality. My position has nothing to do with quality whatsoever.

Again, I remind you, I wouldn't be saying "Don't use X", I agree with you that this teacher went about this in the wrong way and that it is silly to deny a single specific lens.

I'd be saying "To engage in the material of this course, you must have Y"

Paolo Bugnone's picture

What does "professional images" even means?
Stuff you can sell on stock sites? Kit lenses are perfectly fine for that.
If it's comercial work then lights, modifiers and post production skills matter way more than your lens, especially if you are smart enough to work with small apertures... there's people shooting for Vogue etc with smartphones nowadays, even a kit lens is fine if there's the proper technique.
And let's not even get started on fine art cuz equipment is definitely the thing that matters the least there, just look at how much money people like Terry RIchardson do and how they shoot...

Nick Rains's picture

Good thing my Leica CL kit lens is an 18-56mm, which is astonishingly sharp. That extra one mm obviously makes all the difference.

David T's picture

She says "crop" tho. CL is 35mm afaik.

Nick Rains's picture

CL is APS-C. Hence the 18-56mm 'standard' kit lens...

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