[Do I need to mention that these posts are copyrighted? People are not allowed, legally or ethically, to grab great swaths of text written by other people and "re-post" them wherever they want to. My readers don't do this on my site, even in the Comments section, and it really annoys me when I see things like whole reviews pirated on some gnarly little backwater forum somewhere. Don't the moderators, at least, know their legal obligations any better than that? /rant —Ed.]
This cracked me up. A few years ago, late at night (after the self-regarding superego goes to bed and the id-iot is free to roam—when I do stupid-crazy $#!t like binge-watch Bill Burr clips on YouTube and critique the bad taste of Long Island mansions on Zillow*), I found myself reading a long disquisition that went into great detail about an ancient and rare brand of broadcast idler-drive turntables called Russco**. The writer was clearly a deep expert on the subject yet in several places limned the sore places of his ignorance that he still intended to explore. Then at the end of the piece he said, "Oh and by the way, my wife says I should mention I'm nuts."
If you're nuts in that gentle good geeky way, one way to tell is when you know way, way too much about something...yet you don't make any money from that knowledge. (Expertise which earns income is excused from charges of geekery.) So if you know all the fine points about, say, Alfa Romeo carburetors of the 1970s, or you find a cruddy old electric guitar on eBay and ask the seller to remove the neck so you can see the factory stamp on the joint, or you know just when a certain esoteric Japanese maker of chef's knives switched from one kind of steel to another and how to tell...it's usually a telltale sign that you're that kind of nuts.
So let me just say from the outset that bokeh (or boke-aji, a Japanese term that roughly translates to "the taste of out-of-focus blur") is not important. It's really not. Next year will mark two decades that I've been to greater or lesser degrees obsessed with it, but that's just because I'm nuts. It's not that important. In current lens-geek culture I'm annoyed by the practice of minimizing depth of field regardless of what the image calls for, and especially annoyed with the brain-dead practice—entirely post-digital, by the way—of people insisting on aperture equivalencies based on d-o-f. That's so stupid I have a bald spot on my head where I tore my hair out over it. (Well, that's my explanation for that, and I'm sticking to it.) It's not the amount of o-o-f blur that matters; if you want more, just use a longer lens and/or move closer. It's the quality of the blur.
Those two decades ago, I called the Leica pre-ASPH 35mm Summicron "the King of bokeh" in a caption in a magazine, and the phrase still pops up from time to time. Well, it ain't. That lens has very coherent, very pleasing near-o-o-f blur at smaller apertures and middle distances, but at large apertures close-in it sucks.
But there's now a lens that really is the King of Bokeh. It's a modest lens, one that almost anyone can afford. Here it is:
All $347.99 worth. (B&H Photo, Amazon, Amazon UK.) Yes, a lowly near-budget lens from an electronics giant with no particular pedigree as a lensmaker. But all the aristocrats—the Leicas and Zeisses and Canons and Fujis—can fight for second place, and all the pretenders can go home; this little lens gets the o-o-f blur, the bokeh, just right, I think. This is the blur every other lens can strive to emulate. According to me and my taste. Coherent, just a little characterful with a touch of bite, not fuzzy at all. Beautiful. This is the portrait lens I'd use if I were a portraitist. The world's prettiest, the King of Bokeh.
Who says? Well, I do, and [:eyeroll] on this subject, I am happily crazy and the nuttiest of nutcases. So there. :-)
Here's a nice review, and some samples.
"Open Mike" is the Editorial page of TOP, where the Ed. goes a little bit nuts every Sunday.
*And by the way if you think wealth inequality is not a problem, look at properties for sale on Long Island near the sea. For example, who did the guy who built this think he is, Louis XIV?
**Named for founder Russell C. Friend, and yes, I know a little too much about that.
Original contents copyright 2016 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved. Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site.
(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
Tom Hassler: "'The Estate at King's Point' made me laugh, Mike. In the '80s (when wealth inequality was present but not as overt as it is today) I shot on location in several palatial homes on Long Island. They were all beautifully landscaped and very grand on the outside, but each had a common characteristic inside: most of the rooms were closed off, never used by the occupants. Great for photography (less stuff to move) but telling in another way. I believe this is known in psychological circles as 'compensation....'"
Mike replies: I can't remember where I read it, but I read a study once that said most people live mainly in 640 square feet, even if their homes are much larger. Even I, with my 1400-sq.-ft. home (not excessive by American suburban/exurban/rural standards) have a room I seldom visit. Paul McCartney once said that he preferred small houses to large ones because he wanted to be near his family. He said something to the effect that he didn't want his kids off knocking around in their own wing where he'd never see them.
Chris Lopez: "Speaking of wealth inequality, I have the Nocticron, which is this lens's older, richer brother? Anyway it works for me, an outstanding lens."
Mike replies: Almost as good! (Just kidding.)
John Krumm (partial comment): "Since we know that Ctein is a fan of the Olympus 45mm ƒ/1.8 perhaps a bokeh-battle is in order."
Ctein replies: That'd be a wonderful idea. Except... 1.) I've never used the Panasonic lens, so I have no opinion about it. I'm not the champion for the Olympus 45mm, it just happens to be, by far, the favorite lens that I have. In fact, I've heard such good things about the Panasonic's edge sharpness at large apertures that I'm thinking about trying one out. 2.) I don't give a flying fig about bokeh. In fact I am close to bokeh-blind.
Otherwise, a fine plan [vbg].
Mike replies to John: Nuthin' wrong with that Olympus. It's no peasant. It's just not the King. :-)
hugh crawford: "I'm waiting for the Laowa 105mm ƒ/2 STF lens with high hopes for bokeh."
Don Parsons: "I also would like to see how it compares to the Olympus 45mm ƒ/1.8. I know both you and Kirk (Tuck) prefer this lens, but having not used either, can't understand why."
Trecento: "Ha! I have one! I was into it before it was cool! Finally! More temperately, I've had it since Christmas, and it's a perfectly fine lens, gives me no trouble at all, small, light, fast to focus, pleasing in it's rendering, etc.,etc. The worst I can say about it is that I seldom have reason to shoot that focal lenth, so I'm not as familiar with it as I ought to be. Certainly, it has extinguished any desire for a 'better' short tele prime. It's not as though I'd be able to better it on any system for any practical purpose I have."
Mike replies: And, it marks you as a fellow of fine discrimination and superb taste—there's that.
Dave Wilson: "Wholeheartedly agree. Only had my copy a few weeks and find it very satisfactory. This image of mine on flickr shows some pleasant qualities in the background."
Joe Kashi (partial comment): "The Panasonic 42.5mm ƒ/1.7 is an excellent all-around lens. In addition to the bokeh, it exhibits exceptional color, contrast, and corner-to-corner resolution. It's one of the smallest, yet best Micro 4/3 lenses that I've ever used, on par with the Olympus 75mm ƒ/1.8 at less than half the price."
Moose (partial comment): "Tastes vary. I do not consider most of what I see in the samples to be excellent bokeh. I generally don't like hard, visible edges in out-of-focus parts of images. I particularly dislike it when lines of tiny specular highlights are turned into lines of overlapping rings of light."
[See the rest of Moose's comment (and other "partial" comments) in the Comments section. —Ed.]
Mike replies: "When lines of tiny specular highlights are turned into lines of overlapping rings of light" is called ni-sen or "double-line" bokeh. I share your view, but some Japanese connoisseurs prize it.
Mao: "Being very, very myopic, I can say with absolute certainty that the lenses with the best bokeh are the ones in my eyeballs."