All images - Panasonic G3 14-42mm zoom kit lens
I really can't remember when I last went out with a Panasonic standard zoom "kit lens" with serious intent. If I've bought a new camera, I've usually taken some test shots with the supplied zoom and put it on ebay soon afterwards. So yesterday was a reminder of when I first started with m4/3 and there were very few lenses (2 in fact) to use on the original camera I had, the G1.
I have used other "kit lenses" on other cameras. I've used the various 14-42mm lenses on the Olympus Pens I've had, I particularly liked the 18-55mm on the Samsung NX10 I owned and I've used the Nikon 18-55mm on various bodies. However considering how well the 14-42mm performed on the G3 yesterday, I really should have used my previous copy more.
This "neglect" is often what happens to "kit lenses" as far as I'm concerned. After all they aren't very "sexy" are they? I don't think I'm alone in regarding them as somewhat irrelevant, and I'll freely admit that these series of tests has surprised me as to how good the quality is on, what after all, are actually very useful lenses.
Why I wouldn't have noticed this before, is probably down to my desire to use the other faster, better specified lenses I have as quickly as possible. Why take out the standard zoom when there is a 25mm f/1.4 or an m-mount Zeiss to put on the camera?
True there are some pretty ordinary "kit lenses" about. The Canon 18-55mm instantly springs to mind, but to be honest, that's probably not typical. Certainly not of the mirrorless CSC's. Because after all, it is in the manufacturers interest to make these as good as possible. They are aware, I'm sure, that in many cases, people who buy their cameras won't buy any other lens. When Panasonic first brought out the G1, many of the reviews noted how good the 14-45mm lens sold with it was. I do remember that there was some surprise about that, considering what you got as part of the average DSLR kit at the time. To a certain extent, Panasonic "changed the game" and set a standard for these lenses that seems to be emerging as the pattern. You can see how they are taking this on with their new X lenses and the prototypes for the "pro spec" zooms that should emerge next year.
Sure the average "kit lens" probably won't give you the optimum results for the sensor in your camera, and they certainly aren't particularly fast and consequently aren't exactly the most useful lens for low light. But I think they are often a lot better than they get given credit for. Certainly the ones I have currently for my m4/3 and NEX cameras are very decent lenses and from the tests I made, when mounted securely on a tripod they are capable of pretty impressive results.
My trip yesterday produced some very sharp images, and I'd be lying if I said that I could tell the difference between pictures taken with the 14-42mm and some of my other more highly regarded and expensive lenses, in a blind test.
So in answer to the question - "Kit lenses - are they any good?" My answer is yes they are. I suspect I won't be putting then on ebay as quickly as I usually do. I'm not sure I need three m4/3 versions though, and I will have to decide which one to keep, but while I'm using m4/3 cameras I will certainly be looking to keep one, as I will certainly keep the 18-55mm for any NEX camera I use. The humble "kit lens" may not grab the headlines and they certainly aren't "objects of desire" for many of us, but they are probably the best value lenses available to us as photographers, and for that alone they deserve to be treated better.