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Sunday, 06 December 2009


Clarity to minus 25 to 35 in ACR is your answer. Go to -40 and you've gone too far.

I would like to try the old Minolta varifocus or the Nikon one, though.

In this and your previous post you have noted that the amount and kind of softening or blur we like in portraits relates to the way our brains are built. Our brains are built to be right into this whole face recognition thing and the softening factor needs to be based around what is important to our brains. Faces aren't just a single thing to our eyes. This directly translates to the old rule of thumb that the eyes should be sharper than anything else and the nearest eye should be sharp as possible. Shallow DOF is of course the normal way to achieve this in camera, but undercorrected aberrations are useful because they tend to affect off-axis and out-of-focus zones more, which works well as long as the eyes are in-focus and on-axis. The Nikon DC lenses allow you dial in aberrations to taste to make the blurry bits extra blurry while still being super sharp where it counts.


Many years ago when I was still shooting with my Russian Zenit-E 35 mm SLR, I'd read a bit about optics. The standard lens on the Zenit was a copy of a 58 mm f/2 Zeiss Biotar (a Helios 44-2): a 6-element 4-group double-Gauss design. I knew that by removing the rear block of three elements (easily done: the whole block just unscrewed) I would obtain a 116 mm f/4 lens, almost completely uncorrected for spherical aberration. I used extension tubes so that I could obtain focus (the tubes were dirt cheap because this was a 42 mm thread lens with no mechanical couplings -- a preset manual diaphragm). Result: a very nice soft-focus lens, ideal for portrait work (although my favourite picture was of a sheep). Perhaps we will now have a run on Zenits on eBay, just to obtain the lens (which was actually a pretty fair performer normally; it was also child's play to screw the rear three elements back in to restore normal function). Sorry I can't show you any examples: I don't have a scanner that will take 12" x 16" prints.

I've heard both the vaseline and the stocking tricks, from an old photographer. But then I got carried away with two things: sharpness and perfect color reproduction (not vivid, but calibrated to 1° hue); that last bit I appreciated not in Canon (blah color), Nikon (strong), Pentax (sorry, false) or Sony, but surprisingly in Oly dSLRs. Anyway, I digress.
Now you reminded me of the DIY effects, and added a few tricks (sharpie, paper). Thank you, Mike!

For those of you who want to try store-bought or handmade diffusion filters: The amount of apparent diffusion will vary depending on the size of your subject relative to the frame. For example, the same diffuser will have less apparent effect on a tight headshot and more effect on a full-body shot. How much is enough vs. too much is, of course, a matter of personal taste. When in doubt, start with less and work your way up to more. If an image looks obviously diffused when you preview it on your camera, it will look even more diffused when you view it on a large monitor.

Interestingly enough, I was looking for Yashica TLRs and a year ago Yashica D with the Yashikor lenses were selling for far less than Yashica D with the Yashinons. Fast forward 1 year later, Yashica Ds with Yashikors are priced at a premium. Go figure.

"Imagon-style "spherical" soft focus effect filter"?

C'mon Mike. Tell the truth. This is what you do with your fly reels in the winter...

I agree less is more. Sometimes I catch myself with a nice effect and then keep notching it up as my eyes adjust to the look. At some point my wife reigns me in (like she does on so many things).

On holiday recently I took my camera from the air-conditioned room out into a humid day. The lens instantly fogged up. I spent a great 20 mins making pictures before it cleared. And the light that filtered through the misted lens...

Another thought: Look for older, fast lenses. They've often got some spherical aberration wide open that gives "The Glow." Two of my favorites are my Vivitar T-mount Pre-set 85mm f1.8:


And my Mamiya Sekor 60mm f2.8 Macro:


Both are fairly sharp stopped down, but feature the lovely softness at wider apertures I love so much, though they might be a little over the top for Mike's tastes. ;-)

The best soft focus filter is the one you have with you.... I use any glass, drinking, beer bottle, my glasses, ash tray (clean one), vase ... hold it up to the lens and obscure portions of the frame.

Works best with longer lenses.

I always laugh at the "artsy-fartsy" makers of soft-focus photographs. And then I look at my one book of images by Josf Sudek and wonder if I could somehow do that....

It is confusing that the deliberate diffusion or softening of an image is not to be desired over the razor sharp rendering of a fine lens. Or that a razor sharp starting point is demanded and then softening tweaked for many hours using Photoshop to dial in just enough control over what the lens and the light rendered so sharply. It is especially confusing that the subject is not confronted on terms of an aesthetic and then tools used to relay that view as a condition of interpretation and enigmatic reflection of the photographer’s feelings.

Of course, an intellectual vs. an emotional exercise tasks tools and forethought that taps further questions and matters of taste response, but this effort is part of the work involved in making an image that matches well to the end result of an admirable print. I rarely get impressed viewers ever questioning the degree of lens sharpness that I may have controlled, and instead gather remarks that something is or is not working about the image as a whole.

The character of a lens can be controlled or applied when known and desired effects are wanted. This measure of control is hard won over hard comparative effort and empirical study. Sometimes fortunate accidents occur and sometimes tool components are assembled that achieve satisfaction; sometimes formulae are followed from forum suggestions to gain some scouting guide ahead toward a landmark point of understanding.

As with any lens character attribute, Photoshop too is included as a working tool and is as valid as any DIY kitchen experiment or soft filter attachment. The matter of tool selection for image rendering is perhaps best understood against a veil of concern and inspection of an end result rather than as an exercise tool kit fixation and tool formulae play, but these creative investigations help to clarify the confusion and diffusion of views that make their way into our focus of application.


Alun Carr nearly had me in tears. He mentions sheep and Helios 44 in the same paragraph. Yikes! Believe me, no sheep were harmed in the wear'n of this kilt. LOL!!

Having gotten that out of the way: I have a pair of Helios 44-2 lenses coming and was wondering which elements could be removed to give a Petzval-like effect. But Alun's comments make me realize that something else is possible.

Thank you! It's amazing what a person can learn by reading through the comments.

Re the Helios 44, that's interesting about being able to disassemble them so easily. Does anyone know of any 1.4 50mm lenses that are easy to take apart? I keep wanting to replace the aperture in a fast lens with an apodization filter of some sort.

David Hamilton from what I understand just never cleaned his lens, he just had an ordinary but very dirty Minolta ( I think it was ) lens. A well known fashion photographer I am acquainted with has a prized very beat up Nikkor 28mm f/3.5 with huge gouges in the front and rear elements and stiff focusing from being dropped hard. He won't send it in for repair to fix the focusing because he is worried that whatever makes it look so good would get fixed as well.

Re hairspray, Aquanet brand is still available, and it what you want.

back in my studio days, I had a prized rectangle of plexiglas I'd hold in front of my lens to get the soft focus look. I think I may still have it around here somewhere.

White and black fishnets have a very similar effect on me, personally :)

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