Before all the pro photographers out there get sniffy about standard kit lenses, they do have their place and can be quite useful in the right situations.
One lens that is bundled with many Canon APS-C DSLR cameras is the Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM. This lens doesn’t just represent good value for money, but it also produces respectable images in the right circumstances.
This lens provides an equivalent focal length of 29-88mm, a close focusing distance of 25cm, plus a highly useful image stabilization system offering four stops of compensation.
Although it may not be able to compete optically with higher-end lenses, if you consider its asking price, this lens packs in a whopping amount of functionality for the money. So, let’s dig deeper and see exactly what this versatile zoom lens is all about.
When you first lay your hands on the Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM, it’s immediately apparent how lightweight and compact this lens is. At only 205g and 75mm in length, this lens feels very balanced on most crop sensor Canon bodies, with a focal range that goes from more or less standard views to medium telephoto.
As this lens is at the cheaper end of the range, the lens barrel is made from solid plastic and is obviously not weatherproofed. However, with careful use, this lens should last a good long time.
The lens barrel itself has a very narrow focusing ring and a large rubberized zoom ring as well as AF/MF and on/off stabilization switches. The autofocus system also allows for full-time manual override.
The stabilization system offers four stops of compensation, which by itself has simple operations, but with a camera that has built-in IS, it can also detect panning movements. For the video guys, the STM motor offers extremely quiet autofocusing that is complemented by advanced AF algorithms and a fast CPU for the best performance.
It would have been nice to see a nine-blade diaphragm in this lens, but the featured seven-blade rounded version is as good as it gets with this price point of lens.
The Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM in Use
In reality, the Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM is a very straightforward lens with a non-rotating 58mm filter thread. The very narrow focusing ring is just about wide enough to grip. This is probably part of the design as the target audience will most likely use predominantly autofocusing.
Manual focusing override is available and while there are no hard stops at each end of the range, at least the ring is extremely smooth to hit focus. The STM motor is quick to lock onto focus, only struggling at times in very low light conditions, but it’s also surprisingly quiet for such a cost-effective lens.
As you would expect with a typical kit lens, there is an obvious amount of chromatic aberration at the widest apertures, most particularly seen in high contrast areas. Light falloff or vignetting can also be seen at the widest aperture and shortest focal length.
The effects aren’t overly dramatic, but they are visible and also correctable in post-processing. There’s evidence of barrel distortion at the widest focal length, but it goes back to normal levels by the middle of the range.
The lens has a close focusing distance of 25cm, which may not verge into macro lens territory, but with a maximum magnification of 0.36x, the EF-S 18-55mm is still capable of providing relatively sharp images for small subject matter.
Bokeh, or background blur, from this lens can be dialed in when required. The effects are not as creamy smooth as what you would find from a prime lens, but it can still produce relatively smooth transitions of color, as long as the background isn’t too complicated.
As for the sharpness levels, at 18mm the center of the frame looks the best from f/4 up to f/11, with the edges looking their best from f/5.6 onwards. Diffraction starts to take a toll on sharpness from f/16-f/22 as expected.
The middle of the zoom range at 35mm produces the sharpest images in the center from f/5.6-f/11, as with the edges of the frame. Then at 55mm, the aperture will need to be stopped down to f/8 for the sharpest results. The overall image definition is actually quite good at this price point, with a good rendition of color and contrast without being oversaturated or over the top.
How Does It Compare?
Normally, even the most obscure lens has a good bunch of competitors. But as the Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM has such a minuscule price and is essentially a kit lens, one good starter lens comparison is the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM. This is a prime lens, so it doesn’t have the versatility of a zoom, but it does have a wide f/1.8 aperture with great optics for the price.
The EF 50mm f/1.8 is extremely affordable and is ridiculously lightweight at 160g. If a prime lens is more your thing, with better low-light workings than the EF-S 18-55mm, you can’t go wrong with the highly capable EF 50mm f/1.8.
|Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM||Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM|
Although the build quality of the Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM isn’t the greatest, it just means you need to be a little more careful with its use. Image stabilization at this price point is a wonderful bonus and provides far more scope for creativity in low-light conditions.
Autofocusing is quick and quiet, which would make it a good budget choice for video work, although you need to have a precise grip to get hold of the narrow focusing ring.
As you would expect from a kit lens, image quality and sharpness is good, but not overwhelming and it does need a fair bit of stopping down for the sharpest results. However, you have to consider what you’re getting for the very reasonable asking price.
Even if you had to buy the Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM separately from the camera body, it provides an amazing amount of value. Obviously being bundled with a camera makes this lens even more cost-effective.