Beach near Mbotyi on South Africa's Wild Coast

Caption: A pristine beach near Mbotyi on South Africa’s spectacular Wild Coast. This picture was taken with Canon’ s kit lens, the EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS standard zoom, at a focal length of 47mm. Aperture was f/11 and shutter speed 1/400.

The next picture, from a similar vantage point, was taken with the EF 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 IS USM zoom lens at 70mm, with the aperture on f/5.6 to get a softer background. The third picture was taken on one of Mbotyi’s other beaches, also with the kit lens, at 50mm focal length, aperture of f/8 at 1/500 sec. I was standing in shallow surf, facing the sun, hence the monochrome look.

Wild Coast beach, Mbotyi, South Africa

Beach in monochrome, Mbotyi, Wild Coast South Africa

The Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS kit lens is cheap, light, and compact and comes with a plastic mount, yet is capable of producing surprisingly sharp images. It is usually bundled with one of the Canon EOS entry-level digital bodies, but can be bought separately for around $110.

If you want a similar focal length but need more professional specs, the Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM zoom is available with a constant f/2.8 maximum aperture and USM focusing — but costs anywhere from $990 to $1130.

That’s a huge price differential and one has to ask whether it’s worth it. I guess it depends on your particular requirements. I need a small, light lens for the odd scenic shot and as a handy walkaround lens, so the cheap version works fine for me.

But if you’re a professional wedding photographer, for example, who needs a fast maximum aperture lens with quiet and fast autofocus, then the cost of the 17-55mm f/2.8 can probably be justified.

Later this week I’m returning to Mbotyi on the Wild Coast for a few days, staying in a rustic cottage overlooking the ocean, and no doubt my little kit lens will again come in handy.

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+Scotch Macaskill