I always seem to notice two types of beginning DSLR photographers. There’s the type that never upgrade their kit zoom on their Nikon or Canon (these folks may never venture far from the Auto exposure mode either). And then there’s the type who immediately throw that kit zoom on craigslist and start researching other options. I’m guessing you readers fall into column 2. Good thing there are TONS of other zoom options for you out there!
There are many routes to go on here. One way to go is to look into purchasing a much higher quality lens in the same zoom range. The 18-50mm range is great for hitting most of the standard focal lengths for a crop sensor lens and there are some pretty great upgrades that get your pro quality glass for a hefty price tag.
The Third Party Options
Another option is to explore the options offered by third party manufacturers. For $300-400 you can find sharper glass, wider apertures and a fixed maximum aperture, for a very reasonable price tag. In my opinion, the most important upgrade is the fixed maximum aperture, if you’re shooting with a regular kit zoom with a variable max aperture, when you’re shooting at 35mm wide open, then go to 18mm your aperture will adjust smaller. This can be really disorienting if you’re trying to maintain consistency in a shooting session.
Both Tamron and Sigma offer 17-50mm zooms that fit all major camera manufacturers: Pentax, Canon, Nikon and Sony.
The Tamron 17-50mm comes in a couple of different flavors and each have their own groups of devotees. Both have a fixed 2.8 maximum aperture, but one has vibration compensation and the other doesn’t. Some say that the non-VC lens creates sharper images, but you be the judge.
Check out the Tamron options next to popular kit lenses. They have versions for Canon, Nikon, Pentax and Sony.
Tamron 18-55 vs kit lenses from 4 major manufacturers
The competing option is the Sigma 17-50, which has a similar feature set, including a maximum 2.8 aperture at all focal lengths.
Sigma 18-55 vs kit lenses from 4 major manufacturers