« Richard Benson's Video | Main | Curiosity »

Saturday, 06 October 2012


If you want a true buffet of bokeh-peeping, let's discuss the "swirly bokeh" of cheap, old, Russian lenses... ;)

The photo was taken in a bar. The large white rectangle is a TV. There is are shelves of liquor bottles under the TV. The multifaceted highlight is an intricately cut liquor bottle. I came to this conclusion before looking at the date the photo was taken, but that is a bit of a clue.

" The multifaceted highlight is an intricately cut liquor bottle."

That possibility occurred to me too, but it seems too symmetrical--even a regularly shaped bottle would have a neck. But you might be right.


Oops, I misread the date as the 31st not the 3rd, so its not as big a clue. When I looked at the photo again i realized if it was the 31st, the bar wouldn't be quite so empty.

I vote no for the Jewish star decoration as I believe it'd have only one light at the apex, not two.

Regardless, Mike, I'm concerned about you if you're bokeh-peeping to this degree. You need to step back from your computer and get out of the house once in a while.

"Mike, I'm concerned about you if you're bokeh-peeping to this degree."


I don't do it very often. Only when I'm interested in a particular lens for some reason.


Ok, here's a challenge: have you found (or made) an "all-bokeh" image that simply focuses (ha!) on making a beautiful abstraction using bokeh? Maybe you could issue a reader challenge to create some and submit them...along with the all-important "my lens makes better bokeh than yours does" chest-thumping.

Looks like a slot machine / pinball machine to me...

Please don't take this too seriously. I just want to say that I have been developing my own film since about 1956. I also teach photography at the university level now and then, and I joyfully embrace much about digital photography. I made it through decades of photography without hearing or knowing about 'bokeh.' All of a sudden it seems to be one of the most significant words in photo-speak, and if I hear it one more time, I am going to throw up! :)

To MarkB:

That "swirly bokeh" brings back childhood memories of play-park roundabouts - suddenly I'm feeling queasy...

I would have guessed 3 christmas lights together. maybe not physically together but in line with each other on the axis of the lens (like how Orion isn't actually in one plane)

Here's an experiment in defocusing while on long exposure.


Remember Spirographs ?

I think it's a casino, that's a keno board. The whacky bokeh is cause by one of those little mylar promo things that they sometimes hang on the slots.

looks to me like it's either a bright 6 sided hexagon or 6 close and evenly spaced point light sources (most likely cut glass on a liquor bottle as mentioned earlier). such objects will often produce such shapes in the parts of the frame where the lens produces circular bokeh rings.

i see similar things often photographing flowers, where there often are some number of symmetrically spaced out of focus petals. for example: [url=http://www.flickr.com/photos/28476552@N04/6947247545/]here[/url] (under the railing) and [url=http://www.flickr.com/photos/28476552@N04/7937843280/]here[/url], though as you can see the bokeh ring borders are less clear than a point source would produce.

i also have the tendency to bokeh peek more often than pixel peep, though for me spherical aberration and astigmatism are most interesting.

Fine, I admit it. I'm a bokeh peeper too...

I recently got my father's old Kodak Vigilant working again and the first thing I said to myself was "man, this thing's sure gonna have some lens-character". Of course in my head this translated as "Oh gosh, creamy-bokeh please!" Seems just lovely so far: http://www.flickr.com/photos/thenad/8056774264/

That's not the kind of background blur I like. This is far too hard - my wild guess is that the lens was stopped down to f/2.8 - and doesn't help driving one's attention to the main object, leaving too many distractions for the eye to get lost in (the woman being severely underexposed doesn't help its cause, either).
And, as Chrislh, I'm tired of the word "bokeh", though I agree it's more convenient than "background blur".
That said I just love photographing wide open. My favourite lens for that purpose is an OM 50 mm f/1.4. What I like most about it is its ability to make the background disappear into watercolour-like brushstrokes when shooting wide open. That's my kind of blur. However, and re. the fun factor, this isn't my favourite lens. My preference goes to an OM 28 mm f/3.5 (stop giggling!). No, it isn't terribly fast, it's next to useless in poor light conditions and it can be a nightmare to focus sharply, even with the MF assist magnifying function on - but I love it because it's the one that gives me more fun. "Fun" as in "under the category of Just Having Fun".
And no, I do not have the faintest idea of what that light is. Maybe just a red spotlight bulb with some unusual hood (another wild guess), but I see your point: somehow it makes the picture more interesting. At least it gives us something to discuss.

I clicked on the link just as you said we should.
Then I clicked on the next picture in that photo stream.
Well worth it. Peeping, but not pixel peeping.

"The photo was taken in a bar. The large white rectangle is a TV."

Very likely to be true, and very sad that this sentence is a tautology these days. I don't need no ***** TV in a bar!

"To me, sharpness is the least interesting thing about a modern lens."

At a quick glance, there seem to be dozens of flickr groups devoted to bokeh appreciation, but the ultimate is probably one called "Focus is overrated -- defocus!", devoted to photos in which nothing at all is sharp.

I enjoy bokeh, too, and it's also sometimes a key factor in lens selection. But I also like me some good motion blur. Mmmm... It's too bad that in most well-lit situations these are mutually exclusive properties.

I have to admit that I also correct images I see on the net sometimes. Besides being fun, it has the added benefit of improving my Photoshop skills with some occasionally difficult images.

Another fun item for me, that is not more, was to to look at the images on the forums at dpreview which were cropped by the software before expansion. I used to marvel and how much better the images usually were with the automatic crop rather than the framing by the photographer who submitted them. The new software shows a proper uncropped thumbnail. No more fun.

Six lights close toghether?

I don't know what's causing it, but shouldn't the act of looking be called, more properly, "Bo-Peeping," as in:

"Don't mind me, I'm just doing a little Bo-Peeping."

Considering that bars are often decorated with these
I'd say it's some sort of sign.
maybe one of these?

Mike, the photographer gives you a hint as to the lens: "L-Hexanon 50mm f2.4 Collapsible" is the Flickr set.- Greets aeshnaton

I am sorry to display this minor bit of one-upsman-ship. But if you were a true Irishman and a drinker you would have know that the bokeh in question is the refraction of the large white light illuminating the medallion on the bottle of Middleton Very Rare.

Or, ... something else.


What's your REAL hobby?? Gear, pixel-peeping, PShop, printing or photography?? The combination of computers and digital cameras has made it sorta hard to know.

I always wanted to know what caused the cross hatch in the images of SF Giants games. I thought it might be the protective netting or screen, but the angle seems wrong. Now I know I'm not the only one looking at it.


"Regardless, Mike, I'm concerned about you if you're bokeh-peeping to this degree. You need to step back from your computer and get out of the house once in a while."

Daniel - don't worry too much. He could spend the next 14 years at home, making pictures that are almost entirely bokeh and collect a half million dollars for it. Stranger things have happened...

Six sided.....I vote for a snowflake decoration.

C'mon Mike. Even a bad bokeh is better than no bokeh at all.

Hi Mike,

Here's an example I like with both foreground and background lens (Heliar 1.8/75) blur.

Ripening upland rice panicles

Taken with my camera but not by me, in a recent landscape photo-shoot where most photos may be of interest for pixel- rather than bokeh-peeping.

It's a Sports Bar. She looks bored.

I think the trefoil to the lower-left of the hexagonal shape may tell the tale: A circle of six lights around a seventh might produce a star of the sort seen there.

And I think we're definitely gonna need you to stick your neck out here, Mike; how can we mortals learn your mysterious Jedi lens-deduction powers if you don't share the trick of them?

Aside from the whole bokeh discussion, I like the picture.

What ever it is that we get from photography fun should be number one.

It's good to know that I'm not the only one who tweaks other photographers' photos just for fun. I couldn't help but save the photo of the young woman and make some adjustments to suit my own tastes.

I think claiming "fair use" is not so clear cut. The concept of fair use is defined in US law but is not universally accepted in other countries. When I look at the original picture on Flickr, it is not obvious that the photographer is an American (country of origin is not stated in Lensjunkie's profile). Also the copyright statement I see on the webpage, viewing from the UK, is Copyright © 2012 Yahoo! UK Ltd.

I am not saying you are right or wrong, just pointing out that it is hard to apply country specific legislation on the internet which is international !

Woah! Another blurred bar drinks shelf. Can I detect a recurring theme? A leimotif even?

In my opinion, the biggest problem with this photo is unflattering light on the subject's face. Just a touch of fill flash would have made a huge difference. Alternatly, in post, the use of a screen layer in PS would help.

I like the little, often out of focus figures that appear in the far background of some of my photos; a couple of people talking together or someone loading up a car. An almost random moment that is too small and too out of focus to be seen in the viewfinder of an SLR.

Sometimes in the photos I take at parties, something is going on in the near background that complements the main subject. I have no idea if I've seen it, even subconsciously, when I choose the moment to take the photo .

I'll third the casino/slot machine theory.

Come on, admit it. You're at it again. Trying to see which of the flock will bite first with the new verb, to: Bo-Peep.

I'm interested in the fairly hard edges on the bokeh circles in the upper right. The odd hexagonal object also seems to be composed of several hard-edged bokeh circles. To get the hard edges, some part of the lens has to be imaging something hard, but without knowing the lens formula, and doing a lot of work, it's difficult to know just what is causing it.

Mike, if you want to see some beautiful bokeh, I recommend checking out the new movie The Master. It was written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, who also made Boogie Nights, Magnolia, Punch Drunk Love, and There Will Be Blood. One thing about this movie that is highly unusual in this day and age is that it was shot in 70mm (Super Panavision 65, with a negative about 22x55mm). As well, I'm fairly certain it was shot non-anamorphic, based on the nature of the depth of field. The look of the film is simply gorgeous: lighting, composition, color, texture, etc. I had the great pleasure of seeing it presented in 70mm at the Cinerama Theater in Seattle. Unfortunately, it looks like it won't be showing anywhere near you in 70 (even Chicago), but I expect it would look good on any good screen. I did get the sense one scene looked like it was shot on 35 and blown up because it looked so much less defined (a wedding reception scene). The director's fan site has a pretty extensive area with screen shots so you can get an idea of the appearance I'm writing about: http://cigsandredvines.blogspot.com/p/the-master.html


BTW, much is made of this movie being about Scientology. I'd say it is about Scientology like Citizen Kane was about William Randolph Hearst, or Grace of my Heart was about Carole King. A complete fabrication based on some public (and semi-public) aspects of a public figure's life.

But seriously, the look of the movie is absolutely beautiful.


I just had a small photo exhibit opening last evening and, judging from the crowd reactions I heard, it had a nice "wow" factor. Two comments you made led me to realize I'm not a very "normal" photographer (who attempts serious work). I almost always have but one camera and I usually have but one lens (like a 16-85 on an APS-C body). Your comment about sharpness is right on - my 2 x 3 to 3 x 5 foot prints on display are "sharp" (where I wanted them to be) and were made mostly with consumer grade zooms and old primes. I have used, but find little need for the super pricey optics. I also enjoyed how you were exploring small portions of your images. I am finding many "pictures" way within my larger pictures that are exceeding the whole by far. Great fun!

Mike, sorry, but the woman looks as if she wants to give the photographer a kiss. And you concentrate on a weird lens artefact in the perifery?

hi mike,

being a "professional" pixel-peeper, you can maybe help me.

last week i took this picture:


and now i cannot recall whether it was the summilux, or the c-sonnar. any idea?
i ask because i consider selling one of them, but i do not want to accidentally sell the one that i used for this picture.

and, thanks for your always interesting blog (though i usually do not follow the football excursions).


The thing that I nit pick most about lenses is the transition from in focus to out of focus. I love the way a Hasselblad with a fast lens does this.

"being a "professional" pixel-peeper, you can maybe help me. last week i took this picture: http://www.flickr.com/photos/sebastel23/8062619748/ and now i cannot recall whether it was the summilux, or the c-sonnar. any idea? i ask because i consider selling one of them, but i do not want to accidentally sell the one that i used for this picture."

Hi sebastian,
Very difficult to tell from an online JPEG, but that looks like neither--I think that was taken with a much older lens, probably a four-element. I'll take a wild-ass guess and say an Industar (Ukraine) or something Eastern European?

I'm probably pretty far off, huh? I might do better with a real print.


Dear Bill,
The law that applies in this case is US law, because that is where Mike and TOP are located. The internet my be global but law is localized.

That is why, for example, Germany can apply law prohibiting some kinds of Nazi content, where such laws would not stand Constitutional muster in the US. And why Google's Street View operates differently in different countries.

The source of the content doesn't really matter. Mike isn't under UK jurisdiction.

pax / Ctein

hi mike,

while an industar is really in my collection of unavoidable 50es, i am 100% certain that it is either the summilux or the c-sonnar.

you're right, of course, on the point of being extremely difficult in such a small jpeg rendering.

on the other hand, your identification of it looking like a tessar makes me assume, that it should have been the c-sonnar (which actually has 4 elements) ...

thanks for your help anyway -- it made me reconsider, and i'll keep them both!


I wondered if it might be one of these: http://www.sparkleball.com/index.cfm

I think the bar sign is more likely though.

"...sometimes, when I run across an online JPEG I like on a photo-sharing site, but it's just wrong, I'll download it and correct it. Why on earth would I do such a useless thing? Beats me. Fun, I guess."

My secret is out! I've done this more times than I can count.

I even became internet friends with a fella that had posted some grainy old pocket 110 photos of him in his teen band from the 1970s. He was apologizing for the cruddy scans so I emailed him out of the blue and asked if he wanted this stranger to try and make the photos better. He sent me his original scans and I was able to make them look much better. He uses my repaired versions as his avatars and so forth. That's the only time I've ever contacted the person whose photos I downloaded and worked on.

I just delete them soon after "fixing" the photos, but it's almost like a fever when I see a correctable photo on the interwebs. I just can't resist doing it, even when I know I have photos I've promised to work on for family and friends yet to "do."

I thought it was a unique personal quirk of mine that only my wife knew about.

The comments to this entry are closed.



Blog powered by Typepad
Member since 06/2007