today i took an tao and his wife on a personal tour of boston. they'd already been up since early morning, watching a live stream of some traditional chinese mainland new year's eve variety show broadcast. we left cambridge around 11am. departing from park street, i took them to the state house, followed by the nearby frog pond where we watched people ice skating. from there we went to downtown crossing and walked down the length of washington street, visiting places like filene's basement along the way. from government center we went down the steps to quincy market followed by haymarket. next it was a quick stroll through the north end, where we bought cannolis from mike's pastries and an tao was denied a wine purchase because he didn't have any id (i had to buy it for him instead). following the water, we arrived at the aquarium, then made it to south station for a bathroom break and a short rest. chinatown came next, with backbay to come later, but sensing that they were feeling tired, we returned to park street and returned home to cambridge around 5pm.

in the evening we all went to my parents' place for chinese new year dinner. an tao and his wife helped my mother make the chinese dumplings. a lot of people wore red, the traditional color of chinese new year.

here's something for you photo nerds out there (or anyone who's interested in photography - disregard if this isn't your cup of tea):

canon EF-S 18-55mm 1/60 sec f4.5 33mm 800 iso

here is a photo taken with the standard kit lens that came with my canon digital rebel xt. if you click on it, it'll bring up the full-sized original (warning: large 3456x2304 pixel jpeg file). keep your eye on the background...

canon EF 16-35mm 1/200 sec f4.5 35mm 800 iso

here is the same shot taken with the $1300 canon 16-35mm lens. notice the background to the right of the daruma (left side of the photo, you may of the compare the original in order to fully appreciate the difference). the "three yellow spots" appear more like dots, and the pattern immediately to the right is less splotchy. overall, the background taken with this lens is less muddy, shows a smoother blurring. i admit, the difference is subtle, but once you see it, it becomes pretty obvious. notice also that with both lenses set with almost matching settings (only the focal length is off my 2mm), the shutter speed is much faster on the 16-35mm lens. that means given the same dimly lit conditions, what would take 1/60 sec to shoot with the kit lens would only take 1/200 sec with the fancy lens. the end result is less blurry photos even with people moving, so this is a great lens to have to take candids at a party without using a flash (i'm not normally a flash user, so it's important for a lens to function with low light).

canon EF 16-35mm 1/400 sec f2.8 35mm 800 iso

here is the shot again taken with the same expensive lens, but with the aperture opened all the way to get maximum blurriness in the background. it's not really a comparison to anything, it's just to show how much more blurriness i can make with this lens compared to the kit lens. with the aperture fulling opened, the shutter snaps photos near instantaneously (at 1/400 sec at 800 iso), so you don't miss any action. most of the photos taken tonight at the chinese new year dinner were taken with the aperture at f2.8.

when i played around with the lens last night, i wasn't really blown away with what i saw. after its performance tonight however, i'm a total convert, i absolutely see the advantage of having a "fast" lens AKA a lens with a large aperture. the quality of the background blurring (the bokeh) is still independent of the aperture (that's more a function of the quality of the canon L-series lenses), but a fast lens almost seems essential if you're into low light photography. of course fast lenses are also more expensive, but if i had the money, i would totally get the 16-35mm, it's pretty amazing.