Life Through a Lens – Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM

There are two main types of SLR lenses. The first – the one you’ll see most often – are zoom lenses. As the name suggests, these are lenses that can zoom in and out.

Then there’s prime lenses. These are lenses with no zoom – a fixed focal length. And there are good reasons to buy one.

  • They’re lighter and smaller – because you don’t have to build in the zoom motors, or any extra gear like that;
  • They have wider apertures – when you’re shooting sports, and need a fast exposure, or when you’re shooting portraits and need an artistically blurred background, you need a wide aperture. Wide-aperture zoom lenses can be had, but they’re terrifyingly expensive; on the other hand, the EF 50mm f/1.8 (the “thrifty fifty”, ask for it by name) goes for about $150, making it nearly the cheapest lens in the Canon lineup;
  • They have better image quality for the price – you tend to get sharper images from a prime than from the equivalent zoom. Like, say, this one:

(Not a) Pagoda

More after the jump.

I took the 50mm f/1.4 down to Chinatown and shot a few on the weekend.

This one turned out quite well:

Buddha's Tooth Temple detail

This is a detail of the Buddha’s Tooth Relic Temple, which opens on Thursday, in Chinatown. It’s enormous – three storeys high, with about the same footprint as a small office block – and has incredibly elaborate gold detailing on the outside.

I dialed the aperture down to the minimum (which also cuts the depth of field), and focused on the second gold dot from the right. The end result is razor-sharp detail on the gold ornamentation, and a nice soft-focus effect on the rest of the photo. (The small depth of field also makes this lens great for portraits.)

The rest of the photoset is here – there’s a nice photo of the Pagoda Street markets hiding in there as well.

Side note: I went out to Sim Lim Square afterward. If you’re coming up to Singas, you must go here – you’ll emerge bankrupt, with arms full of cheap electronic gear, and it’ll be worth it. It’s kinda like the Golden Shopping Centre in Sham Shui Po, but slightly less hardcore. Bonus – it’s only about ten minutes on the subway from the centre of the city.

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