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Thursday, 27 April 2017


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Reminds me of the fad for HDR a few years ago, and excess color saturation before that, creating unreal looking photos. It's the "too much is never enough" syndrome.

A perfectly good reason to own an f/1.4 lens is that it performs better at f/4 than an equivalent f/4 lens...

"if you spent all that extra money for a superfast lens, it only makes sense to shoot it wide open all the time."

I just hope those people don't own sports cars.

The preconceptions people have about bokeh and aperture are appalling. Some seem to think bokeh is an effect of aperture, while others believe cropped sensors won't give them the bokeh they crave for because they affect aperture in the same way as it does focal length.
So, Mike, did you sit with Ctein for a cup of coffee and set things into rights? I've read some useful pieces of wisdom here from him. One of them was that distance to the subject and focal length were much more relevant than aperture to create the out of focus effect that's all the rage these days. I sincerely hope whatever the issue between you both isn't unsurmountable.
And now those Japanese neologisms: I'm proud the Portuguese enriched Japanese vocabulary with so many words. The most relevant of all is, of course, 'arigato' (thanks), which derives from Portuguese 'obrigado'. And 'tempura' (spicing) comes from our 'tempero'. Germany contributed too: 'Arabaito', Japanese for 'work', stems from German 'arbeit'. But the most remarkable neologism actually comes from English, and is not 'outo fokasu': it's 'purepeido kado', from 'pre-paid card'!

Sorry Mike, we'll have to have this as an ongoing disagreement (I remember we had one ongoing good natured disagreement/discussion when we would meet face to face at times in the 80s. But I don't remember what it was! I think it was more philosophical than mere bokeh, but definitely photography related.)

While I still appreciate deep depth of field, and I've spent literally most of my life stopping down or tilting the front of the view camera, I'm swinging a bit the other way. Loosening up.

I think the bokeh has to be artful and not just random. You are right, not just shallow DOF for the sake of it. Absolutely not.

In my current aesthetic, to the extent that bokeh is a part of it, I like to think of negative space as a sort of flip, as might happen in Oriental art more often than in the west. When the bokeh is more beautiful than or just as beautiful as the in-focus "subject", and it works in the composition, it can be sort of a flipping gestalt. Two faces or a vase? A vase and some beautiful bokeh? Or some beautiful bokeh with a vase?

Back in the day, the big aperture lens was an aid to focusing, and we needed it more often to shoot because we had limited ISO and no IS.

But then, also, there was a fad for portraits with the nearest eye in focus and the rest of the face blurred. All the subjects loved these portraits. NOT!!!

I am talking 60s and 70s here.


I wound up using my Olympus 45mm f/1.8 for portrait head shots once and for the tight head-and-shoulder shot I felt that f/1.8 gave too shallow depth of field even on a Micro Four Thirds camera. For the record;I was using f/1.8 because I didn't have a lot of light.

It's when I take full body portraits with the 20mm f/1.7 that I sometimes feel like I could do with a shallower depth of field, but then again wide open or f/2 is probably going to be shallow enough to separate the subject from the background. I don't need the Olympus 25mm f/1.2 or some older full frame digital for just this…

One very good use for fast glass is BIG, fast glass. 300 or 400 f/2.8 for sports really helps clean up the background to help the athletes stand out. Not necessarily shooting wide open but you do have that option. 200 f/2.0 or 600 f/4, depending on the venue and the sport.
Wide angle fast glass is excellent for giving more options photographing night skies and Auroras. Still doesn't mean you have to shoot wide open - but the option is there if you want it and stopping down a stop or so you are often still faster than slower lenses.

As the man said: Horses for Courses.

When I bought my first SLR (a used Minolta SR7) in 1971, bokeh hadn't been invented yet, and the world was a better place. The purpose of fast glass was to make up for slow film.

Out Of Focus Area = Oofa ;-)

"Too much of a good (?) thing is never enough," e.g. bokeh, out of focus areas, etc. (attributed to Mae West) I tried really hard to get everything in focus, tilting and shifting, near-far with my 4x5. The idea of purposely making significant areas of a photo out of focus, beyond the realistic depth of field limitations of lens and aperture, seems a bit silly or perhaps artificial. "Why did you do it that way? Because I could!"

Mike, I agree, that whatever supports the picture is what should be done. I interpret John Lehet's comment as essentially saying the same thing, in a different manner and not really opposed to your statement.
I've had far too many conversations with fellow photographers about lenses, mistakenly describing fast lenses in terms of bokeh, when the design intent was usually concerned with the amount of light gathering. Bokeh was traditionally thought of as a side "benefit" of fast lenses, although the quality of Bokeh is also factored into the lens design equation.

Well, having an unending in-focus plane is, in my opinion, as artificial and gimmicky as extreme shallow depth of field. I think the APS-C, 4/3, and 1" sensors help perpetuate the fanaticism for sharpness. It is not coincidence that the iPhone 7s has a digital background blur feature. Still there's hope. If that tech gains popularity, a new generation may be inspired by someone like Sally Mann (one of your favorite photographers I believe.)

Super shallow focus food photography suddenly appeared right at the beginning of high-end digital capture era, and I think it was born of necessity. Publishers insisted on capture, but quality only came from medium format scanning backs, which because they didn't make the exposure "all at once," required hot lights instead of electronic flash. Having done a good bit of food photography in my studio days, flash was indispensable—hot lights dried or wilted or melted the products in no time flat. So, for those big cookbook illustrations photographers made do with wide open lenses to get short exposures. Then art directors decided they *liked* the look, and cookbook buyers have been stuck with it ever since.

I tend to use shallow DOF to blur out distracting backgrounds in situations where I can't control them. It can add to some photos, but I admit, I do like when you can still make out backgrounds/context. And I dislike parts of a face in focus. Many of my keepers are shallow DOF shots precisely because they're photos of friends & family in busy places, but the photos that I consider the "best" tend to have everything sharp or pretty sharp. It's nice to have options.

Hi Mike;

As manual focusing goes, fast lenses are great for accurate focusing. I find that most Nikkors are sharpest about 4 stops down. Same goes for Leica . Using them wide open in low light is great when needed. As for Bokeh, I don't know; sounds like marketing stuff that got outa hand long ago.

Fokasu sounds like a kind of Sushi.. like Foogu Sushi? I like the sound.. Out of focus bar-b-q eel sushi?

I can't help but think that the current fad of extremely shallow depth of field (in broad daylight!) is just visual shorthand for "this photograph was taken with a fancy camera and not a smartphone".

But then haven't photographers have always been doing that? Like printing large format film borders, or Hasselblad's full-frame notches.

And yeah, when I read those lens reviews that say "if you're not gonna shoot everything wide open then what's the point of this lens" crap it makes me want to throw my 50L 1.2 through my computer monitor.

Frankly, I don't think "Bokeh" good or bad has anything to do with the making an interesting photograph. For that matter, even the sharpness of the lens (sharp/not so sharp) will not make a boring picture better or a wonderful picture mediocre. Its all about framing and the right moment. The rest is for academics.

So, it would be: (I had to look all this up) "outo fokasu uhagi sushi" .. achieved by drinking several bottles of sake before eating the eel. There is a guy locally, who has a fugu license hanging on his wall. He can't serve it in the US, but it proudly hangs on his restaurant wall. You would like this guy. He and his wife run the place. When tables are full, she locks the door. No reservations are taken.

Everything is in focus for a while.

I agree with the lens point, Mike. I keep thinking of the price difference between the new Canon EF 35mm f1.4 and the EF 35mm f2 IS. The former costs 4 times the price of the latter. Ok, there are other differences in addition to that extra stop, but I wonder to how many photographers they are worth the extra money. There again, if you need f1.4 and the physical quality, then OK.

However - I do read comments by people (non-pros?) who have bought an f1.4 lens which demonstrate that they're having real problems dealing with the very thin depth of focus, especially at close range, and I wonder if they really needed it, or had the skill to make efficient use of it. I know I couldn't.

When in Tōkyō be sure to visit Dizunīrando

Hear, hear!

“Lots of bokeh” is easier to test for than “good bokeh.” It also correlates better with money spent: spend more, get more. I suspect that camera and lens makers are very happy to have people pursue quantity rather than quality of bokeh.

You mentioned "getting the depth-of-field right." That often means using apertures between the largest and smallest for a given lens and situation. I guess with digital you can make a few photos at different apertures and pick the best DoF later. But it would be nice to get get it right the first time. To that end, I wish Canon had not dropped their DEP mode in favor of A-DEP. The latter is pretty much useless. You might as well just stop down as much as possible for a given situation.

Sorry, but I can't let this slide by ...


"Tempura" is from the Portugese "tempero," as you say, but "arigato" is not derived from "obrigado." "Arigato" is a variation of older "arigatashi" and "arigataku" pronunciations, with clear linguistic roots and meaning.

Now if you had mentioned "kasutera" (castella: Pão de Castela) ...

"...Having that wide aperture available for those times when you need it..."

I love using wide aperture lenses when they are needed. And that's usually for astrophotography work. DOF and bokeh aren't very important when all objects are far, far away.

Regarding paying a bunch extra money for that fast or super fast lens…
In my opinion super fast lenses were worth having back in the roll film days when it was necessary to push the development a stop or two in a low light situation and that extra stop could put you in a more normal exposure range. But NOW we have the ability to dial up the ISO a stop or even two will little consequence to the resolution or clarity of the image. I have often wondered why some photographers drool over a f1.x lens when a perfectly fine and less expensive f2+ lens will do just fine. Maybe I am missing something, it has happened before and I am getting used to it in my old age.

Big aperture was a help nailing correct focus on a nice even matte screen because it usually had more 'snap' when rocking the focusing back and forth. Otherwise and personally I've more often had trouble not being able to get enough depth of field than having too much.

I'm an F/8 man!

oof blur

As I remember it, using the few brain cells still functioning, the correct term is Region of Defocus. So how about using the term ROD. Then good blur conditions could be called HotROD and poor blue called BadROD.

Time to quit, the cells are out of gas.

But Mike your missing the point first you buy the 135 format camera, because appearently the crop medium formats aren't that different. Then you buy the f0.95 lenses for the 135 format camera, of course mortgaging your house. Then since tou have to shoot everything at f0.95 you must buy these:


      Now why isn't that clear?

"Don't throw bokehs at me", etc.

Never mind the cost, have you seen the size of the lenses they are making these days? That's because they have to be sharp wide open, so that the 5% of the frame that is in focus is ultra sharp.

My crystal ball sees a glut of large, fast primes on the used market. Astrophotogrphers are going to love it!

It all started with the Zeiss Otus. Then came the Sigma Arts. Now the Zuiko 50mm and Nikkor 105mm. If you eliminate the size constraint from the lens design, of course you can make it sharp at 1.4. Making it fast and sharp and small is difficult, and that is why you pay 5000 for a Leica 50mm M lens.
Would you rather shoot the Pentax 77mm limited or the Sigma 85mm Art? The Olympus 50mm f1.2 or f1.8? Here is my ethical stance on the issue: large lenses are for poseurs.
I am not perfect. I have GAS. I crave the Fujinon 90mm f2 and the Panaleica 42.5mm f1.4. My desires are in conflict with my ethical stance.
Make it stop. Please.

"...permanently sick of seeing endless photographs in which 'lots of bokeh' is equated with 'good bokeh'..."

I'm more tired of seeing endless photographs in which "lots of bokeh" is equated with "good photographs".

This is why I choose to use cameras with a 4thirds sensor. Most of what I shoot will look better with more not less DoF, and smaller kit size is a happy bonus. I can isolate subjects by getting closer (or using exotic lenses), which is sufficient for my needs.

I am with Welles, Renoir, Ozu: deep focus.

John Kennerdell reports that "in recent years Japanese photo writers have evidently decided they need a cool new loanword instead of 'bokeh,' so one now often sees the fractured English expression 'outo fokasu.'"

As a resident of Japan I am familiar enough with local dialect that above statement sounds ... funy but evidently misgudied. Term "outo fokusu" is actually used very often and as such is related to (hard to guess) Auto Focus function of cameras. Except for particulary gross instances of malfunctioning auto focus it has nothing to do with "BOKE".

I don't exactly disagree with your advice that the wide aperture is there "for the times you need it". But for me, the formula is reversed. I shoot most of the photos I care about in very dark conditions (clubs with live music). My normal environment demands f/1.4 or wider.

But it sure is nice to have that spectacular f/5.6 lens performance "for the times when I need it" :-)


'Out-of-focus blur’ is much easier to type than 'bokeh' since my illiterate auto correction does not recognize the last word and maintains correcting it into ‘book.’


Thanks to DCwatch, 43rumors.com and Google we got this translation of an interview with the designers of the new Queen of Bokeh. I can only understand half of it and another half of that half is too technical for me. But it seems that at the moment these guys are in a perfect shape.

Good article, made my day.

How about 'outo fokasuh'? :)

Whoops, I was hurrying there. What I meant to say was 'outo fokusuuuugh!

One of the beauties on m43 is that larger dof for landscapes. But often the faster lenses still provide for good bokeh when required.
For my taste a Pentax K5 with the 77 ltd privides perfect oof even on the APSC.As ever there must hardly be a lens where improvement does not happen with a 1-2 stop down.

On the subject of ...because you can ... I rarely enjoy seas and rivers who live by movement being devoided of life by excessive long exposure. A slughtly elongated exposure is interesting ... a flat sea is dull. It will look as sensible as flares in a year or two time !

I have made foul of myself ... my previous comment is unfortunately flawed ... J.Kennerdell meant something else ... his expression 'outo fokasu' is in fact transcription of "out-of-focus" which is correct in this situation. Both "out-of-focus" and "auto-focus" sound pretty close in Japanese especially when written in “roma-ji” ... LOL.
Could I ask for both my comments not to be published ... Sorry! My fault!

"Japanese photo writers have evidently decided they need a cool new loanword instead of 'bokeh,' so one now often sees the fractured English expression 'outo fokasu.'"

Let's first check how terms like "outo" and "fokasu" would be transcribed, and sound like in Japanese. (Click on the speaker icon appearing in the linked pages)

outo -> オート
fokasu -> フォーカス

Let's also check what the complete expression means in Japanese.

So, 'outo fokasu', or rather, "オートフォーカス" actually means "autofocus / AF" instead of, say, bokeh. Who'd have thought, considering how it sounds ? ;-)

"I'm proud the Portuguese enriched Japanese vocabulary with so many words. The most relevant of all is, of course, 'arigato' (thanks), which derives from Portuguese 'obrigado.'

It's a bit hard to believe that a word like "arigato" that happens to be used in the 11th century manuscript of The Pillow Book would originate from Portuguese, given that the first Portuguese arrived in Japan only in the 15th century...

Also see:

As I recall the fast lenses of my past, the depth of field scales engraved on the lens barrel suggested that depth of field operates on a logarithmic scale. All the small numbers were tightly grouped together, making the range of acceptable focus. They didn't begin to widen rapidly until you got past f8, and by f11 and F16, DOF increased greatly with every stop. (And that's what I wanted then, not knowing better.)

This tells me that the change of DOF between, say, f2 and f1.4, would be minimal. Is that really worth paying double for?

Both the manufacturers and avid lens collectors seem to be running out of justifications for the fastest glass. With today's high-ISO performance, few of us really need the speed. With current EVFs, you don't need a bright lens for a bright VF image. So now they tell us we need a better lens to take a blurrier picture? But there's a software answer to that, too.

“I like lenses too much to use them wide open—where almost all lenses perform at their worst or close to their worst—”

Not always true; my older lenses—up to about 40+ years—obey this dictum, but in my experience Four-Thirds and Micro-Four-Thirds (in particularl) are usually worse at smaller apertures than they are wide-open. Photozone.de tests reveal the following:

Summilux 25mm f/1.4 is sharper at f/1.4 than f/8
Olympus Digital Zuiko 35mm f/3.5 is sharper at f/3.5 than f/11
Olympus Zuiko Digital 12-60mm is sharper at f/2.8 through to f/4 than at f/8
Olympus M.ZUIKO 17mm f/1.8 is sharper at f/1.8 than f/8
Olympus M.Zuiko 25mm f/1.8 is sharper at f/1.8 than f/8
Panasonic Lumix G 30mm f/2.8 macro is sharpest wide-open—gets worse stopped down
Olympus M.ZUIKO 75mm f/1.8 ED is better at f/1.8 than f/4!

And other modern lenses can be pretty damn good wide open as well.

Why is it that when I hear the word "boke(h)" I think of that old horrid TV show "Love Boat." Only in my version the little guy shouts, " The bokeh, boss, the bokeh!" It must be because in the digital era, I have seen so many comments on photos about the bokeh. And some of those photos were about nothing but bokeh. I still think the meaning of bokeh that I first learned--addled--applies even in photography at times.

But on Japanese adoption of foreign words. Foreign words are use quite regularly and usually written in katakana, one of the three components of Japanese writing.

"Outo fokasu" I haven't yet heard thank goodness, for katakana word of foreign origin are much harder to understand or pronounce than anything of Japanese origin. My mouth will not accept that I must use Japanese pronunciation with what I incorrectly believe are English words. In addition, some are so shortened and distorted nobody could figure it out anyway. Sorta like French words adopted into English tend to become incomprehensible to French speaker.

For example, "arofou" was popular a few years ago meaning someone aged "around forty." A lovely one I saw on an ad today was "mai-nabi-baito," for My Navi(gation) (aru)baito. An ad for company for finding part-time jobs. A combination of English origin and German cum Japanese.

No mas! No Mas!

I have to admit I am not a big fan of the limited DOF craze. To shoot almost everything wide open is just reducing your artistic vision to a one trick pony perspective. On occasion I have laboured for sometime staring into the VF or GG adjusting the aperture back and forth trying to achieve just the right DOF to get the visual impact I was looking for.

I have lenses that work marvelously wide open if that is what I am looking for but I can say very truthfully that my wide open shots are south of 5% of all the images I make

I think this whole razor thin DOF thing was adopted out of laziness. Originally it was a stylistic trick with limited usefulness but has since been adopted as the quick way to make "art"

j. thvedt: "I've seen more than one cookbook where all of the photos had paper-thin depth of field. What can they be thinking? These are illustrations. We want to see the food. All of it."


When I see a photograph of fuzzy food, I think about what I do when I see fuzzy food in my fridge; namely, toss the moldy stuff in the trash ASAP.

@John Lehet on bokeh as the foreground of the picture, '... a sort of flipping gestalt'. In that context I like to show you a reproduction of a self-made colour print from 1967. I was eighteen, deeply involved in photography, and completely innocent - I was an artistic loner and did just as I pleased. I worked with a Rolleiflex T. Here I loved the unsharpness of the playing kids, what it did to the colour of their clothing, and how it somehow simplified their expressions, against the sharp background.

(NOTA BENE Mike, I am very sorry, but I simply have no idea of how to 'put an image on the Web' - should I put it on my website and then somehow link to it, or play a trick with an FTP-folder? I have seen your instruction: Use this code: Image in comments, etc., but it still doesn't make sense to me. I clearly need an Eureka-moment... As that moment hasn't arrrived yet, I am sending you the intended photo by email. If it is too much of a hassle for you to include it, please don't publish this post. No hard feelings, Hans)

I will assume this post is around 27 days too late (or around 338 too early).

OK, I'l play contrarian. I think bokeh is like cowbell, you always need more of it. If that is offensive you can always just shoot with an iPhone and never worry about losing focus.

The nose here is just ever so slightly out: http://www.fwo3.com/Portraits/19

I am trying to remember when this "good bokeh," stuff became a fad. Back in the film era of SLR cameras, most photographers were quite happy with 5- or 6-leaf aperture lenses. And I never heard anyone complain about the out-of-focus areas in a Rolleiflex photograph. Some rangefinder lenses, like the Leica 50mm f/2.8 Elmar had many more leaves, and portraits did look nice taken with that lens. But almost no one talked about bokeh. And now when you look at the techno-dweebs at DPReview, they are obsessed with it. Would many of them even know what it was if it hit them in the arse?

At the risk of getting pedantic (can’t help it — linguistics degree) I’ll try to clarify.

オートフォーカス means autofocus. The term has been around as long as the consumer technology, i.e. since the late ‘70s. Usually in Japanese text it’s abbreviated to “AF” (yes, using the Roman letters).

アウトフォーカス (literally “out focus”) is a much newer coinage. It now appears in Japanese dictionaries, typically defined as 焦点外れ (shōten hazure), which means, well, out of focus. And recently it has come to be used interchangeably with bokeh. You can see an example in the sub-head of this piece.

Now here’s the pedantic part. That first term is Romanized as “ōtofōkasu”. The macron over the “o” extends its duration, which is as close as Japanese phonetics can come to the “aw” (IPA: \ɔ\) sound in “auto”.

Confusingly, an exact Romanization of the second term would be “autofōkasu”. In fact that’s a pretty accurate rendering of the dipthong in “out” (IPA: \au\) but unfortunately it conflates with our spelling of “auto”. So for casual use I figured it was best to go with “outo fokasu”. (Nobody ever fully realizes what a bizarre minefield English spelling is until they start to try Romanizing non-Western languages.)

Point of all this is that Mike is exactly right: even as we English speakers have embraced a Japanese loanword for o-o-f blur, the Japanese have now adopted an English loanword for the same thing.

Hi Mike, I've just fixed up my Dad's old Yashica Electro 35 CC, a compact 35mm RF with a (unusual at the time) 35mm F1.8 lens. These cameras have aperture-priority auto exposure, with auto-shutter times up to 30 secs possible. The max ASA setting is 500. This camera hails from the early 70's when many folk were taking pictures on slide film for presentations and mainly required accurate exposure. RF cameras obviously can't preview DoF in the VF, there is only a scale on the lens for guidance. At F1.8 the lens is sharp in the centre, but focus falls off gently around the centre zone. The point I'm getting to is that this "fast" lens was mainly used for improved light gathering with slow film. The artistic quality of the OOF areas was a lower design priority and the star-shaped twin aperture blades prove this doubly. Having said that, I shot most of the first roll of Fuji Superia 200 wide open, indoors with natural light and I'm pleased to see the pics have a pleasant OOF quality (also great contrast and colour) :-)

Photography is often about wanting what you don't have. When we had slow film we wanted fast lenses. When we have limited depth of field we want deep depth of field. When we have noise and grain we long for a world where these things go away. When we have large bulky cameras we want smaller more manageable cameras. There are many years of trade-offs and clear improvements where newer was unquestionably better in the areas we wanted.

The end result of decades of wanting is the high megapixel digital camera with surgically sharp lenses. It is more than "good enough" for many photographers.

So what are you going to do now?

First thing should be to look at what is being produced. If it is all that you ever wanted, then time to reassess what you are doing, because you have been limiting yourself by the trend in technology and capabilities rather than thinking about what you want to capture and show.

To that end, I think looking at bokeh or how a lens "draws" is a good thing. In the best case it shows an appreciation for a photographic approach which looks beyond the technological imperative. In the worst case it is merely annoying. In any case it is nothing new. One can look back at the pictorialists, portraitists and anyone who has ever tried to separate their subject from a background for emphasis or just plain beauty.

Other art forms have wide varieties of mediums which range from smooth, hard and precise to rough, grainy or soft. A fast lens wide open is just another tool to achieve your goals. We should not expect everyone to have the same artistic goal.

"when the tip of the nose and the hair over the forehead closest to the camera are also not in focus, well, erg."
That's me! It feels good to be mentioned on T.O.P., even in passing.

I'm so old that I remember when most of the magazine articles (remember magazines?) were about how to get ENOUGH depth-of-field, not how to get less.

[Indeed. That's one of the persistent surprises to me of the new order in photography. The other is that in the old days, long telephotos were highly coveted, but as soon as you could get extreme telephoto reach with tiny sensors, photographers seemed to lose interest. So it wasn't long tele pictures people were interested in, necessarily, back in the 35mm days, it was merely the prestige of owning big telephoto lenses. --Mike]

This photographer has developed a pronounced style out of night lights bokeh.


Similar to my pet peeve of 'printed so big it's pixelated'.

Exhibit A: The picture of the farm that is printed ever-so-big in the waiting area of every Bob Evans restaurant. It assaults my photographic senses. Not only are key areas out of focus (when someone views a scene like that, they expect every place they focus their eyes to also be in focus, and it's jarring for it not to be), but the print is obviously too big, for there is pixelation seen everywhere.

Ugh. Just because you can print it monster size, doesn't mean you have the resolution to do so. It just looks tacky.

On the subject of macro photos with lots of bokeh, it may seem artistic to the photography crowd, but most folks-in-the-street actually don't like it. Again, they want everywhere they look to be in focus. That's how your eyes work. Anything less, and it jars the viewer.

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