Kit lenses - are they any good? - Part 1

Olympus E-P3 14-42mm lens
Olympus E-P3 14-42mm lens

A new camera comes out these days, and almost invariably the first example of it you can buy is with the "kit lens". Usually a standard zoom of 18-55mm on an APS-C camera or a 14-42mm on m4/3. They are certainly usually pretty cheap in the kit. I saw one camera where the version with the kit lens cost £1 more than the body only!! And yet when you buy these kit lenses on their own, they are often quite expensive. If you buy an Olympus E-PL2 + 14-42mm camera from Park Cameras in the UK it costs £439. The E-PL2 body alone costs £399. However if you want to buy the 14-42mm lens on its own it can cost £269.99 !!!!

So is the Olympus 14-42mm kit lens worth £40, £269.99 or somewhere in between? I've decided to find out. Are these lenses any good, any use? or are they just fillers for a kit? How can they cost such wildly different amounts?

Its often stated that many people who buy a camera will only ever use this standard lens that comes with the camera, so to a large extent these "kit lenses" in many ways define the camera and its performance.

Personally I do use them, but nowhere near as much as other lenses I buy. Certainly much less on my m4/3 and NEX cameras than manual focus prime lenses plus adapters. However, in terms of sales, I haven't noticed any particular reluctance for my clients to buy images shot with 14-42mm's or 18-55mm's, so are they more useful and better quality than many of us think?

Because of buying a lot of cameras recently, I have accumulated four of them. I currently have:-

Panasonic 14-42mm for my G3
Olympus 14-42mm for my E-PL1
Olympus 14-42mm (The new pretty one pictured above) for my E-P3 and a
Sony 18-55mm for my NEX-C3.

It is my intention to see how they perform, against each other and against the prime lenses, both AF & MF, that I have. When I buy a kit containing them I often get them on ebay ASAP, and it would be interesting to see just how much of an advantage, if any, I get by selling them. Am I making a big mistake and is the quality of these often neglected optics better than I think? All will be revealed!!