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Wednesday, 10 November 2010


I like these pictures a lot, especially the second one. Gotta say, though, Mike, I never thought I'd see flower photos posted here for anything other than mockery; going soft on us?

lol...I knew somebody would call me on that, but I thought I might log more than the first comment before it happened....


P.S. For those who don't know what we're talking about, I have been known to, er, wax acerbic about flower pictures at times.

You're right on about bokeh being overdone and a crutch. I think many starting photographers don't think about the QUALITY of the background blur as much as the quantity. And then there's the fact that people use long lenses and fast apertures to make up for not really considering what's in the background of their photo...

My pet peeve related to this is the use of bokeh to describe the depth of field, rather than the quality of rendering of the out-of-focus areas of the photo. I see many times where someone says, "nice bokeh," when a shallow DOF photo has rather harsh bokeh to my eye.

It drives me batty when I see this look in cookbooks. The photos in cookbooks are there mainly to provide information, and if only 5% of a food item is in focus, well, that's just not enough information. We know you love your f/1.4, but stop it down already!

Bokeh seems to be somewhat subjective to me. Often I'll read a review touting the fantastic bokeh and I don't agree. I suppose it's all subjective but I know what you're saying. And if I'm really honest, there are times when I've screwed up a photo because of my emphasizing the bokeh too much. Live and learn, it's all I can do.

The king of wide aperture is Keith Carter, although lately he seems to be going back to his earlier work stopping down a bit more. I haven´t tried the 24mm Sigma but if it´s anything like the 50mm 1.4 it will be a very very good lens. Only negative point is the 50mm is HUGE. It is sad with Sigma I know a lot of people who won´t even give Sigma a chance, people seem to look at them as if they are cheap and second rate. But they do make a couple of very good lenses.

I almost got that lens when I was building my 5D MkII setup but it's huge size and weight stopped me. I ended up getting an excellent Olympus OM Zuiko 24mm f/2 with adapter.

But I have to say Sigma has some excellent lenses, my favourite lens on APS-C was a Sigma 30mm f/1.4. For me this lens set a standard of what should be a normal prime output. Now I'm waiting to sell my Contax Zeiss planar 50mm f/1.4 to get a Sigma 50mm f/1.4. It's not that the Zeiss is bad, it doesn't deliver the kind of wonderful image characteristics I've loved with the 30mm Sigma.

Question: Is bokeh the term for the rendering of out of focus elements, or is it the transitioning from in focus to out of focus? I've always used it as how a lens renders out of focus items.

I ask because recently I've seen the term thrown around a lot with pictures that seem to have odd transitions from focus to out of focus. The examples you post here transition smoothly and make visual sense to me.

Is someone getting tripped out in their definations? (possibly me?)

Not sure if there is more BB (bad bokeh) around, but it does seem as though some photographers are shooting with narrow focus simply to prove that their equipment--unlike the average digicam--is "professional" enough to do that.

I think part of the problem is that groups like HBW (Happy Bokeh Wednesday, http://www.flickr.com/groups/h_b_w/ ) over at Flickr really promote bokeh-based photography. It doesn't matter what the picture is of, as long as it has out of focus "stuff" in it, it's successful. Never mind the fact that sometimes there's no discernible subject and the bokeh is downright scary!

Not that you'd know if you don't watch, but it seems television has caught bokeh fever in a big way, perhaps thanks in part to DSLR video. I don't watch enough that it's a big deal to me, but the overuse of razor-thin DOF, especially in situations where finding and maintaining focus is obviously difficult, is starting to get annoying.

The related selective-focus/miniature look via tilt-shift effects is apparently still a big fad, at least in print and video advertising.

I dunno. Flowers are better than another rock, another tree. ;)

I would be curious to see analyses of examples of good and bad uses of bokeh. I know there are aspects to bokeh which are nearly measurable (such as the shape of an out-of-focus point of light: is it truly round or oblong?) however neither example picture in this post demonstrate such overt manifestations of bokeh. Without any telltale bokeh ... artifacts? ... such as out-of-focus light points I can see a picture that has much of the area being out of focus and declare the unfocused regions pleasant or not-pleasant - however this seems subjective to me. I am always interested in seeing someone else's dissection/analysis of this aesthetic idea.

Ctein, Mike, would either of you have any interest in analyzing the nature of bokeh, calling out specific details in examples of good and bad bokeh?

I am happy to offer my images for critique and won't be offended if they are used to illustrate bad examples of bokeh. (I do photograph flowers some, and favor narrow apertures in many of my photos.) ;-)

I'm guessing you're interested in the 24mm 1.8 for the same reason I am, it's the 35mm fast prime equiv on the K-5.

Hi Mike,
I don't think you are being too curmudgeonly. I think people who's first experience with photography is from small sensor cameras become a little over-focused on shallow depth of field, and over use it a bit. A little bit of understanding goes a long way, and I think most people get better pretty quickly. Some use it to slather a layer of Mystery! or Drama! or Importance! over everything they shoot, turning a technique into a cliche.

I think this is the source of the endless forum wrangling over how format x has "too much" depth of field compared to format y, and the source of absurdly high prices for large aperture C mount lenses for m4/3.

Personally, I'd love to see some affordable defocus control lenses for 4/3. Many times I want plenty of depth of field, but I really want sharpness to drop off a cliff right outside that zone.* My (limited) understanding is that one can attach a +1 diopter closeup filter, which adds enough CA to cause things behind the area of focus to drop off more quickly. Source: Dante Stella's review of the Nikon 105mm f/2D AF-DC Nikkor. Please, someone jump in and correct me if I'm wrong.


*E.g. give me three feet of sharp focus, and blur everything from 5 feet to infinity to mush. I'm looking forward to getting a tilt shift adapter for m4/3 to see if I can produce a similar effect.

This should answer your questions:



"but I thought I might log more than the first comment before it happened...."

It was the first thing that came to my mind as well.

The Bokeh is rather nice, however. Especially that first shot. Soft, painterly.

Too much bokeh makes me want to buy a Ricoh GRD. Here's an interesting article on the subject.

Is bokeh a bigger deal nowadays because proportionately fewer cameras can have it (i.e. digicams vs. old 35mm compacts)? Or perhaps that most dslr's have less of it?

"Is it just me, or are photographers in general getting a little carried away with the bokeh these days?"

Oh, I think we've been carried away with bokeh for a good four or five years now. I blame this on flickr, which has a tendency to amplify whatever trend is currently popular-- whether that’s extreme bokeh or HDR or fake tilt shift photos. (this isn't an indictment of flickr, which I use and love, rather the hive mind mentality that sometimes can happen on that site).

What normally occurs is this: a) Aspiring photographer buys f1.4 or f1.8 prime lens for the first time. b) Aspiring photographer proceeds to use lens exclusively for a period of time, shooting everything at f1.4, regardless of whether it works or not for a particular photo. c) People on flickr leave comments saying how spectacular the bokeh looks, making sure to use the word bokeh as many times as possible while probably also throwing in a reference to the rule of thirds. D) This leads to more photographers doing this exact same thing. Eventually aspiring photographer moves on to something else, but 10 more have taken his or her place by this point. Lather, rinse, repeat.

There is definitely a thing for 'razor-thin DOF' on the internet, hence the interest in f1.4 lens and 'full-frame' vs APS-C cameras.

I think it has a lot to do with how we view photography now- on a screen, illuminated- out of focus areas render in a very stimulating way.

shallow dof is a problem solver certainly and we all have to use it, but I think the eye finds more delight in areas rendered in detail, to be poured over.

If we all spent more time looking at actual prints instead of screen intermediates I think we'd soon tire of shallow dof.

Looking at the history of photography bokeh has been a minor player in the photographers arsenal- much of the great work that has been done has been mostly in focus-

one of the powers of photography is it's literal descriptive ability, and rendering vast areas of an image out of focus does not play into that strength

it is not how we see either, we see in focus for the most part.

I agree certain lenses render out of focus areas more pleasingly, or the sharp unsharp transition is better, but overall, its a one trick pony- there I said it.

I hate to make a joke about poor English, but some errors have a kind of beauty to them. One of the reviews at the BH link states that this lens "shows very beautiful bokes".

Maybe DPR can start using "bokes" as a unit of measurement so people can start arguing over whether it's worth $500 extra just for 3 extra bokes.

Sooner or later, someone will come up with a numerical descriptor for bokeh (must be possible), and will make thousands of internet gearheads very very happy that they have another concrete number to debate/criticize/obsess over ad nauseam.

Sooner or later, someone will come up with a numerical descriptor for bokeh (must be possible), and will make thousands of internet gearheads very very happy that they have another concrete number to debate/criticize/obsess over ad nauseam.

I suggest bokeh be measured in "Johnsons".

"Maybe I'm just being curmudgeonly again."

No. You're not.

If I see one more photo of a sleeping baby in which the only thing in focus is one eyelash, I'm reaching for my revolver.

Bokeh is in the eye of the beholder. Anything that gets a camera off a shelf and into someone's hands is a good thing. Let the people play!

Speaking of which, can anyone recommend a Nikon mount prime in the 28 to 50mm range that delivers "the bokes"? (love that term)

jack: How about steradians? It should be something that gives you a single value for a single shot, at least ...

Mike: yep, defocus is over-applied and under-controlled so often, it's hard to know what a lot of people are trying to get at with their photos, if they have anything to say.

You're probably not going to like this, but I personally think that a lot of people need to focus on being creative with their zoom ring for a while. A year with f/4.5?

Well, Mike, if you are showing flower pictures (ostensibly for the purpose of illustrating the Sigma 24mm f/1.8), how about a dreaded cat picture along the same lines?


Via a Pentax K100d, with the Sigma 24mm wide open (which shows as f/1.7 on Pentax cameras, for some reason).

FWIW, have mixed feelings about the lens. I think the image quality is generally terrific, even wide open, but the physical size & build of the lens are not appealing.

"I suggest bokeh be measured in "Johnsons"."

Now that's great! Went down for the count in laughter. Thanks for making my day.


"'I suggest bokeh be measured in "Johnsons".' Now that's great! Went down for the count in laughter. Thanks for making my day. Rob"

So who's this "Johnson" you guys are talking about?


It's really a shame someone won't go ahead and put a 24x36mm sensor in a non-huge camera, so you could use a normal nice sized 35mm lens on it. This 24mm Sigma lens may be great, but it's almost as big and heavy as the 35mm Zeiss ZF.

So who's this "Johnson" you guys are talking about?

By the time I'd realized it wasn't as apt as I'd initially believed I was already too enamoured with the idea of millions of forum posts comparing "Johnsons".

Nothing wrong with a bit of curmudgeoning, I do it myself all the time. But.... that first image in particular is really beautifully rendered to my taste. Thanks for sharing it.

"By the time I'd realized it wasn't as apt as I'd initially believed I was already too enamoured with the idea of millions of forum posts comparing "Johnsons"."

Oh no, I think it is perfectly apt. The importance of bokeh is so inflated on the photography forums these days that a "Johnson" is the perfect unit of measure for something one can't accurately describe but wants to be able to brag about. I'm sorry, I'm still laughing!


Daragh - now that's funny.

However, we can now have a never-ending debate between the 2 camps, the "bokes" and the "Johnstons", with attendant equivalency charts and conversion equations..

Bokes would be logarithmic, Johnsons simple doubling…

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