“I’ll be getting my first digital SLR soon, maybe the EOS T1i, but I’m not sure yet. I was wondering if I should buy it with the 18-55 mm kit lens. It only adds $100 to the price and I can’t believe they can make a really good lens for that price. What would be a better first lens?” —Fernanda W.
We don’t test inexpensive kit lenses Fernanda, but I have used several; they varied in quality. Some are actually quite decent in spite of the affordable price. For example, the current Canon EF-S 18-55 mm f/3.5-5.6 IS zoom is much better than the older version according to SLR Gear, a reliable Web site that you should check when considering any kit lens.
But sure, an 18-55 mm lens—of any brand—rarely provides the same level of quality as a more expensive lens. Still it should be fine if you plan to make or order letter size or smaller prints. More importantly however, an 18-55 mm zoom—or the superior EF-S 18-70 mm f/4-5.6 IS lens at $760—is really not very versatile, extending only to short telephoto. That’s why some D SLRs are available in a kit including both an 18-55 mm and an affordable 55-200 mm or 55-250 mm lens for great versatility.
The telephoto kit lenses often score quite well in test reports. For example, Sony’s DT 55-200 mm f/4-5.6 zoom is “an excellent all-around value”. Some manufacturers also package certain DSLRs with a wide angle to telephoto zoom, such as Canon’s EF-S 18-135 mm f/3.5-5.6 IS model, “an excellent all-purpose lens … with very good performance” while the EF-S 18-200 mm f/3.5-5.6 IS kit lens is also “fairly impressive”. Some Nikon DSLRs are available in a kit with an AF-S 18-200 mm f/3.5-5.6G IF-ED VR II lens and it “makes an excellent all-in-one lens” according to SLR Gear. If your budget allows, a two lens kit or a multi-purpose lens would provide the best value, in my opinion.