I must admit the obsession for bokeh came about from watching DigitalRev TV (YouTube channel) where Kai, the host repeatedly described certain lens having buttery smooth bokeh or bokehlicious. This got me really intrigued as it seemed to be one factor I could not possibly achieve with the twin kit lens (EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS and EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS Lens) that came with the camera package.
The whole reason for getting the kit lens was so that I would not need to purchase any other lens. However, it did not take long for me to see the downside of having a cheap(ish) lens where the f-stop quickly goes to the f/5.6 end when zooming in. It was not such a big problem in bright daylight but it would have forced me to increase the ISO setting or shoot with a lower shutter speed, which would introduce possible problems with image sharpness/clarity as the light availability decreases. The other issue I found was that image quality quickly degrades on all sides further away from centre, which some may think is not an issue as it can be masked by introducing artificial vignetting in all corners.
All of that reasoning concluded and justified the need for a new lens. After much research and pain, I reached into my wallet for my first “separate” lens purchase. The amazing Nifty-Fifty was supposed to be the best lens that matched my budget that could let me feel a bit of this bokeh magic. The Canon EF 50mm F/1.8 II offered amazing value for what it is for. However, to be brutally honest, I never enjoyed shooting with it due to its loud focus motor (turns heads and scares insects alike away) but mainly because the Canon EOS 550D is a (1.6x) crop sensor camera so the 50mm effectively became 80mm, which means I have to stand further away from my subject. Don’t get me wrong, a 75+mm lens is really good for portraits photography but at that time I wasn’t comfortable photographing people. Even my mum wouldn’t let me take a photo of her!
Thinking back, I think the main drive that made me committed to the first purchase (that lead to many others) was not the reasons mentioned above, but simply that I wanted to be ‘slightly’ different from everyone else. Having shallow depth of field (generally means >f/4 aperture) was great for bringing the subject into clear focus while blurring the distractions in the background. The quality of bokeh is determined by many factors and they are directly associated with the price you pay for them.
Take away message #1: Read as many review and photography forums you like but understand your camera/ requirements first and do not fool yourself that the gear you buy today is for the next 10 years.
Take away message #2: Bokeh or shallow depth of field is all about subject separation. Use this to focus the story about your subject and don't be distracted by the background (noise).