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Tuesday, 20 October 2015


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As a nature photographer primarily, I consider camera to subject distance and subject to background distance in controlling the "look."

1a) Below: 600mm, f/2.8: background is quite far away, resulting in a fairly smooth effect.

1b) Below: 600mm, f/2.8: background is within a foot or so, giving context to the egret

2a) Below: 600mm, f/3.2: background is closer so that some patterns show.

2b) Below: 600mm, f/2.8: same effect as above

3a) Below: 400mm, f/5: At a close distance to the subject, out of focus areas can be created on each side of the subject.

3b) Below: 600mm, f/4: same effect as above.

- Richard

so grumpy, but thanks for the links!

The old "equivalence" rabbit hole, still swallowing up photo hobbyists. Here's an instant cure: just try using a view camera with different sizes of backs.

Or you can use a pinhole camera, where everything is equally sharp or fuzzy.

I humbly disagree with the idea, that only photographs sharp front to back are "mature". Ever since man has begun to improve on pinhole photography, the DOF makes part of creative photographic tools, and MAY be used for this purpose: wisely or less wisely, but who can judge? In a world where Merda d'Artista is paid more than it's weight in gold, go figure what is right or wrong.
Best regards

I believe that shallow DOF is a weapon being used by Canon and Nikon against Fuji, Olympus, and Panasonic.

For Canon and Nikon to maximize their profits, they need to sell big bulky, legacy cameras (and the lenses that go with them) to people who would probably be better off with smaller, more modern ones.

The Canon and Nikon brands do not have the prestige of Leica, so they can’t increase profits by pricing their cameras as Veblen goods the way Leica does. Instead, they have to convince people that they are missing something important when they buy Micro 4/3 or APS-C.

Shallow DOF is easy to see in a photo. If people can be convinced that it is important, and that it is inherently “better” or “easier to achieve” with a full frame DSLR, then Canon and Nikon can win against Fuji, Olympus, and Panasonic.

It is better for Canon and Nikon if people are not merely thinking rationally about this, but are forming emotional attachments as well. That is true for any brand and any product. I don’t think Canon and Nikon are deliberately spreading false information about DOF, but I do think they want “get a full frame DSLR” to be the answer to every shallow DOF question.

Note that the shallow DOF meme is not an effective weapon against Sony’s FF cameras.

Agree, enough about that.

You guys need to start discussing things like the new Leica SL, or the new and sweet ZEISS Loxia 21 lens. Just saying...

In looking through the "500 cameras" book that Mike recommended, I was surprised by the number of "slow" lenses on older cameras. I thought the advent of f/3.5 and up lenses was due to the rise of fast film and the improvement in zoom lenses.

Computational photography might eventually kill the subject dead, because DoF will be something you adjust in post, like color temperature.

This may be the single biggest gain for humanity as a whole to be had from these new technologies.

Two things we didn't have to contend with, in the past, are camera porn an it's close cousin the un-boxing video. I'm not a psychiatrist (and I don't play one on TV), but what kind of deviant gets-off watching these two bokeh fests??

We've all seen the three-quarter front shot of the DSLR with both the front of the lens and the camera body OOF. Why would someone spend hours making his baby look this bad?? Un-boxing-videos seem (from my limited experience) to suffer the same fate.

Now on to real porn. Would the skin magazines have been as popular (1960s-70s) if the models eyes were in focus, but her breasts were lost in creamy bokeh?? Would the internet even exist today if early porn videos were shot by today's nothing-ever-in-focus-24/7/365 video gurus??

On one of the earlier posts someone was arguing that you had to pull a 300mm back to get the same FOV as a 35mm lens. Who would do that in real life??

You are shooting an environmental portrait in the BIG city. It's a waist shot. Use the wide angle lens and see everything. Or use the long lens and compress the shot down to the person and the skyscraper at the other end of the street.

Two different shots ... the choice is yours.

I can't believe I didn't comment on any of these,

Dear Marek,

"I humbly disagree with the idea, that only photographs sharp front to back are "mature"."

Since I cannot recall anyone on TOP, columnist nor commenter, ever agreeing with such an idea, I am not clear on why you felt the need to post this.

If it is an argument you've been having in another venue, take comfort in knowing you don't have to bring it here.


Dear Marcin,

Hahaha. 'Cause discretion is the better part of ... ?

Don't worry-- everyone at the party still loves you. We didn't make you put down your drink and leave, did we?

pax / Ctein

Maybe today I'm a little dense, but I don't understand the spanking shallow DOF is having in the comments. Many shallow-DOF pictures are very beautiful, that's all that matters to me. Let them come!

Dear Rodolfo,

As I said to Marck, shallow DoF is NOT getting a spanking.

People who want to redefine the technical language around depth of field are getting a spanking. It's a big difference.

You can like whatever kinds of photographs you like (and like to make).

pax / Ctein

Narrow depth of field is a metric that is used by certain people to show that they own an expensive lens. Why anybody would want to continually take portraits at f1.2 where only one eye is in focus and and all the other features are blurred is a mystery to me. The biggest worry is that now broken appreciation is approach the same bs as wine appreciation where people are now talking about creaminess or nervousness as one would with subtle accents of exotic fruits in a class of red plonk. You are left wondering why lens makers put adjustable apertures on their lenses, they might as well just sell them as fixed. Wide open naturally.

Dear Paul,

OK, so make a liar of me.

Nobody says you have to work wide-open or go for shallow depth of field. But, equally, nobody's going to respect you for dissing other photographers just because they don't conform to your preferences.

As for boke, just because you can't see it doesn't mean it isn't real.

More tolerance, more open-mindednesss, please.

pax / Ctein

In my engineering business, the answer to every question is "it depends". When I shoot technical macro work, as much DOF as possible is desirable (most often done using stacking software). For my landscape work, I normally only worry about diffraction and "grain". For me, sharpness at infinity in a large print is paramount. So I shoot "lots" of the same scene with different camera settings. Somewhere, in between, the DOF issue becomes important. Thanks for the links to a very well thought-out summary. Experience and trial-and-error have been the best teachers for me! Develop your own rules.

Dang. Now spent 2 work hours re-reading it all.

Ninety nine and forty four one hundredths of the depth of field discussion on the net is a diversion. It's something tech nerds like me like to talk about because it's susceptible to quantitive discussions, using equations and neat geometric diagrams labeled with Greek letters. Whoopee! But it's all strictly at right angles to anything to do with photography, at least photography as an art form. I'd far rather see a photograph made by someone with a good eye than a photograph with perfectly controlled sharpness/blur, made by a technician without vision. It's a tool, just a tool, one of many. Use it, don't worship it.

It is astonishing how much anxiety and insecurity a topic like this reveals. While it certainly takes a bit of effort to get the head round the theory, we are in fact all practitioners. Malcolm is absolutely correct when he says that experience and trial-and-error are the best teachers, but we have to do the work in gaining useful experience and we have to pay attention to the results of our trials, whether error or success. It takes time, effort and thought to get to know the characteristics of a lens and use them to artistic effect, in a process that requires a degree of open-mindedness and receptivity. As amateurs we pick up technical information, valid or otherwise, from all sorts of sources. The best way to test its validity is to ask the time honoured question: does the theory predict the results that we see in our work?

No depth of field conversation is complete without someone trying and failing to spell:
Shiemflug, er..
Schiemflug, er..
Schinflug, er..
Scheimpflug principle. ;)
Eh, just call it the Ted principle.

That such a usually well behaved crowd would go bonkers over such a trifle matter is intriguing, to say the least.
Paul, since I am one of the devotees of the church of razor thin depth of field, I feel obliged to answer - Yes, I'd be a happy user of the fixed aperture lens. And, you know what - it's possible to shoot a very shallow DOF portrait with both eyes reasonably sharp:
Also, reversing your statement, I could say I am amazed with people buying 1.2 lenses and then shooting it at 5.6. To use a car cliche, it feels for me like driving an F1 bolid to pick up kids from school. But I wont say that, not only because I don't like car cliches.

This whole discussion isn't very new you know. One of my ever favourite portraitists, William Mortensen, scolded the practice of overusing shallow DOF in his book "Pictorial Lighting" in 1935, and I'm pretty sure it was not a new thing even back then. Quote: "The quest for the three-dimensional illusion in photography is ultimately based on the idea that a face
which appears to "'come out of the picture" is pictorially beautiful. Some foolish people have even praised the accomplishment of a long focal length lens that would give you the nose in focus and the ears fuzzy—as though any aerial perspective outside of a London fog could ever produce such a monstrosity!"
As you see, shallow DOF practitioners didn't have it easy even back then :-)

The DOF valuation is fascinating, you see how it changes depending on context. In the film days, the talk was about sharpness. Normal photos were blurry, a tack sharp photo was a sign of technical prowess. Leicaphiles with their boke and wide open lenses were ridiculed in the baby days of the internet fora.

Now, photos are tack sharp by default, and a DOF of a few millimeters is the shangrila of web discussions: the proof that it wasn't shot with a smartphone, but with exceptional gear.

Shallow DOF has changed its valuation. From just one of many tools to create an image, to a universally accepted token to shown that an expensive camera was used.

Now imagine, back in the film days, large format photographers were worried about diffraction and how much they could stop down to get something sharp in the frame. Had they known how the perception of value will change in a little more than a decade!

When shallow DOF can be done conveniently in post, I'm curious what the next big differentiator will be.

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