What's In My Camera Bag | My Camera Lenses & Guide to Prime Lenses

February 27, 2015

Today's post follows the 'Useful & Beautiful' theme of Posh, Broke, & Bored in which I share tips and hacks that could well be useful for your photography, blogging, or to just 'win at life'. So yes, that's useful, but how is it beautiful? Well! I'll illustrate my knowledge with ocular crack/eye candy from the five different countries I've been to this year - Latvia, UK, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Thailand. For this blog post about my camera lenses I've put together an eclectic gallery of photos - travel, street photography, portraits, food, wildlife etc. - taken by both Henry and I. A few of these you may recognise from recent blog posts but most of them are f-f-fresh off the boat, so even if you're not a budding blogger looking to level up your photography and learn more about camera lenses, you can just enjoy this post as 'Postcards from Kuala Lumpur'.

This post is a follow up from last week's Easy Style Hack - How To Turn Any Handbag Into A Camera Bag and also an introduction to my new favourite camera bag - mummy's new Birkin (which I am trying to convince her to let me bring back to London, alas, no deal). 

Isn't it just the perfect size and shape for a camera bag insert?! Also it's one of my favourite colours (dove grey ermahgerd) and my preferred shape of Hermes handbag (team Birkin!) and hardware (gold yo). Maybe I could steal it, she's got too many Birkins to notice...

Why I pick prime lenses over a zoom lens

I shoot on a crop-frame DSLR - Canon 600D - with three prime lenses - 50mm f/1.8, 85mm f1.8, 24mm f/2.8 - and occasionally Henry's telephoto lens - 55-250 f/4-5.6 - which suit my lifestyle and covers my photography needs whether it's travel, event coverage, food and product photography. Why do I carry 3 prime lenses of fixed range when I can just use one 'all-you-can-eat' zoom lens like the 24-105mm f/4? OK, first things first I'm the realest -  unlike beer, the presence of a Red Stripe on a Canon lens is a assurance of high quality but also price. While the lens covers a focal range from wide angle to a modest-zoom, it  costs nearly £1,000 yet its widest aperture is an all-too-crisp, not-very-atmospheric, light-swallowing f/4. In comparison, my three prime lenses cost me just under £700 (I shopped around) and I get a maximum aperture of f/1.8 which allows me to shoot in lower light and shorter exposures; meaning I can snap faster, brighter, and more importantly - soft, dreamy backgrounds with lots of bokeh and all the feels. Also, prime lenses teach you how to be a better photographer by forcing you to 'zoom with your feet' - running around as far or as close to get the right frame - as opposed to sitting in one spot and doing all the zooming with your lens. Prime lenses tend to be much lighter and more discreet than a bulky zoom lens. Besides, I find carrying just one prime lens like the 50mm 1.8 covers most of my photography needs for the day. Finally, quality. The clue is in the name - prime, baby - as each prime lens is designed to be specialised in one area (portrait, street etc) the glass in a prime lens is of superb quality, delivering crisp and precise shots. 

In a nutshell: while a zoom lens is convenient; a prime lens is more challenging (but ultimately more rewarding to master), is speedier, takes clear photos using less light, and if you know how to shop can be much cheaper to buy a range of prime lenses instead of one zoom lens.

Now that I've championed the prime lens, let me introduce to you my arsenal - 3 prime lenses, 1 zoom lens.

* Note - My camera's sensor has a 1.6 x crop so a 50mm lens produces the equivalent of an 85mm on a full-frame body (eg. Canon 5D) 

CANON 50MM f/1.8 II | Portrait lens

First up; the all-rounder wonder that is the cheap, lightweight, incredibly versatile 50mm f/1.8 - dubbed the 'nifty fifty' by photographers everywhere for its quality results against its unbelievable price. This is my go-to lens for when I'm rushing out of the house and I don't have time to think of which lenses to pack in my bag or when I need a light, compact lens to fit in a smaller bag. I carried just this one lens for when I was in Bangkok and it did the job - I even managed to squeeze in my hotel room at St Regis Bangkok with a bit of clever framing. There's a reason why many bloggers of every budget buy this lens - clear shots (even in dimly lit restaurants) with soft focus backgrounds, it's discreet (positively minuscule!), and it's a wallet-friendly upgrade from the (crappy) kit lens that comes with the camera. I highly recommend this lens - even when you graduate to the upper echelons of the best photographers in the damn blogosphere you can always use this lens as a spare, or for when you need to shoot somewhere rough without having to worry about damaging an expensive lens.

GOOD FOR: Low light photography (events, gigs, fancy restaurants etc), food photography, product photography, street photography, portraits...Basically, everything except wide-angle shots.

I took some snaps of Michiekins, Baby Mika, and Malibu at Michiekin's place. While it was a bright day, most of the sunlight was blocked by the foliage in the gardens and her home had to be kept dim because Baby Mika was napping. I overcompensated with an overly high ISO (400-1600, oops) yet the photos came out clear in the right places and perfectly soft everywhere else.

Louboutins and Mima - product photography done the high-end, yummy-mummy blogger way. 

Michiekins ordered these and had them shipped to my London address which I brought back to K.L for her. I'm one fancy P.O Box.

Malibu the teacup maltese wouldn't stay still for a portrait and there wasn't much light, so I upped the ISO to 1600 to get this shot.

Street scenes from hectic Hanoi. See more Hanoi street photography at my Vietnam Photo Diaries.

Food photography on the go - I was rushing through the lobby of The St Regis Bangkok (I was cutting it fine to catch my flight back to K.L) so I snapped this while walking. Lo and behold, the photo came out quite clear - not as clear as I'd like, but impressive given that it was a quick, single shot that I didn't have time to compose.

CANON EF 24MM f/2.8 | Prime/wide angle lens

A wide angle prime lens that I use for group shots, interiors, architecture, and landscapes. The 24mm f/2.8 is a good addition to my repertoire of prime lenses for when I can't get enough distance between myself and the subject.

GOOD FOR: Interiors, landscapes, group photos, and food photos for when you can't back away from the table to take snaps of your plate.

Taking in the candy coloured cityscape of Riga. More architecture shots of stunning Art Nouveau buildings in my post Things To Do In Riga.

My mother's mahjong room. I managed to get this entire wall from a close distance (just beside the coffee table next to the armchair)! This lens is good for photos of rooms, but if you photograph a lot of interiors you might want to get an ultra wide-angle like the 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6.

How could I call myself a blogger if I didn't use a UNESCO heritage site as a backdrop? Fitted into the landscape at Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

I took these snaps from the driver's seat (the car was parked). Don't judge my music taste.

CANON EF S55-250MM f/4-5.6 IS II | Telephoto/zoom lens

This lens is for those who prefer photographing wild animals over party animals. The 55-250mm lens isn't actually mine, it's Henry's - it was my Christmas present to him as an upgrade from the 18-55 kit lens (worse lens ever) and my old Canon 450D which he bought off me when I got myself a new camera. This telephoto lens is one of Canon's bestsellers; with a wide zoom range, Image Stabilisation for taking clear shots in dim light without a tripod; and crisp, sharp images. Inexpensive, too - making it an ideal zoom lens for the new photographer who wants to upgrade their kit lens and amateur wildlife photographers like Henry - check out his new profile on National Geographic!  

GOOD FOR: Taking photos from afar; animals, wildlife you want to keep a safe distance from, buildings, and architectural details etc.

Photo by Henry. Instagram: @regi_mental | National Geographic profile.
Photo by Henry. Instagram: @regi_mental | National Geographic profile.
Photo by Henry. Instagram: @regi_mental | National Geographic profile.
Henry and I went to Zoo Negara and had a jolly time, but clearly not as jolly as this white tiger! Mr. and Mrs. White Tiger were getting very frisky and playful, to the point where parents had to cover their children's eyes. I like it when rare animals mate - hopefully it'll mean babies and one step closer off the endangered list. Henry and I also saw Zoo Negara's latest residents, the giant pandas - more on that in a bit.

Photo by Henry. Instagram: @regi_mental | National Geographic profile.

CANON  EF 85MM f/1.8 USM | Portrait/prime lens

THIS LENS. Wow, where do I begin? This is my current favourite lens for taking portraits and full body shots. With a fixed 85mm focal length I have to scoot back a far bit to get all of the subject in (much further back than the 50mm). But with such a wide aperture (f/1.8) this means a) you can increase the shutter speed; great for shooting pets, sports etc. b) very precise, crisp shot with amazing contrast and an unbelievably dreamy soft focus background - fantastic for blurring out busy backgrounds like traffic, buildings, and crowds; and I can control how 'soft' I the background to look by playing around with the F-Stop (for far-away shots I use f/2 and above). This is THE lens I use for all fashion-related shoots in wide-open spaces; whether for Regimental Vintage or personal photos!

GOOD FOR: Portraits, full body shots with busy backdrops that you want to soften (ie. 'outfit of the day' photos), fast-moving subjects/objects, low-light photography, product shots and details...everything really; except wide landscapes and anything that's too near.

Digital woodland camouflage hat | Buy now from Regimental Vintage

US Air Force desert camouflage jacket | Buy now from Regimental Vintage

I took Henry out to the back of my garden and shot him (wow, that sounds so awful) for our online shop Regimental Vintage.

Black Royal Navy military jacket | Buy now from Regimental Vintage

Photo by Henry. Instagram: @regi_mental | National Geographic profile.
Fu Wa the giant panda, one of two Malaysia 'rented' from China for Zoo Negara. 'Panda Diplomacy' has existed since antiquity - as far back as the Tang Dynasty, when Empress Wu Zetian (625–705) sent a pair of pandas to the Japanese emperor - as China's use of these rare, endangered creatures as diplomatic gifts to other countries. Henry thinks that the so-called endangered status of the giant panda is a conspiracy by China to make these symbolic gifts seem more important than they are...

Henry: "It's blatantly a conspiracy! I bet there are millions of pandas in China, they're more common than rats, and everyone has a few in their basement but China keeps it a secret from the rest of the world. Every time China pisses a country off they go, 'Oh shit, let's send Malaysia/North Korea/America one of those black-eyed-bear things'. While the whole world is ooh-ing and aah-ing over how privileged they are to receive the 'rare giant panda' the Chinese are all laughing at us - Haha, we've got millions of these, the joke's on you!"

Henry's obviously joking but now I'm convinced that it IS a conspiracy and pandas aren't endangered at all. They're just pretending to be.

My face, when it dawned on me that the whole 'endangered status' of the giant panda might be the biggest hoax of the century. 

(I tried to Photoshop the 'derp' off my face but to no avail, the prime lens captures all)

Finally, one last look at my dream camera bag . Shot indoors on a gloomy day - not that you could tell thanks to how much light the lens lets in.

I hope this post on lenses has been enlightening (haha, light puns) and given you some insight into my photography tools and methods. You don't need a high-end camera or expensive lenses to take quality photos (I'm using an older model of an entry-level DSLR and modest lenses) - just an understanding of whichlenses suit your lifestyle best, how to make the most of your lenses, and practise - always shoot in manual!

More 'Useful & Beautiful' posts from Posh, Broke, & Bored:

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  1. A Birkin as a camera bag...I like the way you're thinking :-).

    1. Hehehehe 'make do and spend' is my motto ;) x

  2. Your photography / lens tips are so useful to me. I may invest in a new lens for when we go on Safari.
    Lots of love,

    SilverSpoon London

    1. Angie you MUST get a telephoto/zoom lens for Africa!!!! Otherwise you'll just kick yourself for missing out on all the wildlife photo opportunities you missed out on! x

  3. I don't blame you for wanting to re-purpose that Birkin for a camera bag, it looks like it works perfectly! And so stealth!!! I LOVE that feather jumpsuit by the way, aigh, where did you get it???

    1. Thank you Princess Lamb Chop - sadly my mother doesn't think so. That Birkin didn't come with me to London after all *sobs*

  4. This is really helpful! Next time someone asks me about different types of lenses I will have to re-direct them to this.

  5. Thank you for this helpful post :)