Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Life with a prime

I didn’t use a prime (fixed focal length) lens until early year, as my general, everyday use lens. Digital saw me with a 3x zoom on the Nikon 775 compact cam and then a 10x zoom on the Olympus C-750uz ultra zoom, then the 5x zoom on the Kodak P880. When I went digital, I had the two kit lenses on my E-510 and the story continued.

This year, David Williams introduced me to the 20mm f/1.7 Lumix pancake (40mm in old coin, film parlance) and 45mm f/1.8 Zuiko Digital (90mm in old coin). And I fell for these lenses. I wanted a shallower depth of field like in the film days plus more chance to take shots in dimmer light levels.

I fit the 20mm a lot – it allows closer camera distance, in fact, it forces a closer camera distance. And I switch over to the 45mm when I want some distance from the subject, when I have the space to back away or when I want to frame a tighter portrait.

Beginners to photography often gasp and say “What can I do without a zoom? I can’t live without one. Walking backward and forward isn’t an option I want to take or I have”. To that, I have to reply – what is impossible or immutable is only a state of mind, not an actuality of circumstances.

The honest gaze of sincere friend Kuan – we’ve known each other since University and now we’re apart except for the annual visit but we still find lots in common

The cup of Malaysian coffee is very important – after all, it’s a coffee shop. I didn’t develop a taste of habit for any kind of coffee. We used to have those old carved wood stools and marble seats, it’s been plastic chairs and melamine tables for a long while now. You’ve got to give the coffee a good stir of course, with the overflow dripping down the sides of the cup, otherwise it’s not authentic. The mouth expression in anticipation of before the event or savouring the taste afterwards.

The mahjong boys are back in town. Mahjong can be a gambling addiction and also a generational family and community pastime. Players and onlookers gaze in concentration and exclamations of animation abound when some event happens. Notice the half tiled wall (to save costs) and the unburied wire running (used to be stapled onto bulky wood runners, the modernisation brought PVC conduits. But then again, you could just run it along the wall.

The stand fan provides a breeze and if you are attired in a singlet, well that’s tropicalised wear for you.

Life goes way too fast in the concrete city staffed by Twenty-Somethings. It’s all hustle and bustle and winning the rat race except there are huge number of rats in the race.

When you’ve had your day in the sun, what you yearn for a nice tasty bowl of Yong Tau Foo. The slower you stir, the slower time passes, or so it seems. You can almost see some glimpses of past splendour and activity in the ripples and the reflections.

We close with a note to people who make such food happen. The lady below is peeling mengkuang otherwise known as Yam Bean. It’s good eaten raw, crunchy like an apple except that it is a root, not a fruit. It’s also the sweet taste in poh piah and joo hoo char

And, at the end of the day, we need money to survive. To keep the fridge stocked and running.

In the photos above, we’re not talking about action shots, urgent 5 frame per second shooting. These subjects are evocative, story telling. Yes, some of these shots are indeed cropped and a zoom might avoid that. But a zoom would, for the same price be darker, bigger, more clumsy – with these primes, you can make like you’re fiddling with your camera instead of framing up a shot.

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