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Friday, 01 November 2019


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So... I guess no trees fell?

Nice article on bokeh. I've always taken what I get and will continue to do so. But good to know a bit more than I did before!

I think it's about 10-12 years since I first realized that not all out of focus looks the same, and that it can be a creative ... tool? ... property of a photograph. What I do struggle with is how many people online treat the topic. If you just go by the online concensus these days, good bokeh is a product of long lens, large aperture and large sensor. We go for "More bokeh", not necessarily better. And why is that? Well, you need to look at a lot of different samples before you start to figure out what it is you like. It takes a lot of time and effort.

For me the interesting part happens just around the transitions between focus and not focus. This transition becomes smoother and longer if you stop down the lens a little, and as you say in your article, it also improves the performance of most lenses. I think the way the midtones are handled in those transition regions connects with the viewer in a very subtle way. It can be one of the elements that can make you like or dislike an image for reasons you cannot explain. Quite different from the aperture shaped specular highlights which is a very obvious effect. Nothing wrong with it, but it is not the quality I think of first when I think of good or bad bokeh. The extreme out of focus, which I like a lot for its uses and purposes, is not what defines good or bad bokeh for me. It is too extreme. I need the hint of details in the blur to make it interesting.

On the techincal side, I do notice the differences between lenses, and how they handle various conditions and settings (focus distance, aperture, lighting conditions, subject matter, etc.). But there is one more thing. I think image stabilization, optical or IBIS, may do weird stuff to the OOF areas. And in my opinion, never for the better. If your hands are steady, it doesn't necessarily show, but if the I.S. is working hard, it becomes quite obvious for me. At least for the few cameras I have tried it on.

I don't believe anybody ever in English pronounce two or more syllables without any stress. If you force yourself to do it, it sounds robotic.
Bokeh is stressed on the first syllable, I think.

I could not find any scholarly article about it, but others feel the same way:


"I see a lot of close-up portraits of dogs where the eyes are in focus and the end of the nose isn't."

You've mentioned this before, and I assumed you meant that DoF should be deeper. But you seem to imply now that the nose is more important than the eyes. What?

Just an observation, it's much easier to get the dog's nose (and eyes) in focus if you have a pug as opposed to a greyhound.

Mr. Johnston, I've read all your old articles about Bokeh. Are Oren Grad and Carl Weese still around?

I think it would make a fascinating article about how the three of you popularised the term.

You can read my writings about lenses and cameras here ...


"Front and rear bokeh (meaning in front of, or behind, the plane of best focus) might also differ."

I have long suspected that the position of the aperture plays a big role. At least looking at lens schematics makes it seem that way to me. It would certainly account for the difference between the tessar vs the elmar. I can't find anything in the literature about the positioning of the aperture. < incomprehensible gibberish about chief rays, marginal rays, entrance pupils, aperture stops and field stops goes here> Oh and the relation between focus shift while stopping down and asymmetrical bokeh. If any of the TOP commentariat has expertise or could recommend reading I'd love to know.

Experimental results are inconclusive as my skill in taking lenses apart in not yet matched by putting them back together.

Switching to the brute force approach of literally putting a picture of the out of focus image in the lens, I am curious about your opinion of apodizing lenses?

It's probably because I took up photography initially to record my visits to old churches and walks in the countryside, but I usually do my best to increase DoF, not narrow it down. By the same token, arguments about the quality of bokeh confound me. I can see what people mean when they provide examples of 'good' and 'bad', but my reaction is still 'yeah, but ...' If I'm not invited to examine that particular quality of a photograph I never notice how creamy or vile the out-of-focus areas look (though I do appreciate the isolating effect of a thin plane of focus, even if I don't - often - try for it).

My bokeh blindness has one great advantage - I regard a maximum aperture of F2.8 as pretty fast, so I tend to spend much less on lenses.

Re: 'Front and rear bokeh (meaning in front of, or behind, the plane of best focus) might also differ.' Someone once wrote a piece explaining why a lens with pleasant rear bokeh by necessity has the opposite type of front bokeh. I cannot, for the life of me, remember who that was and where it was published, except that at the time I found it convincing and the image examples were plausible.

I think the explanation related to the fact that rear bokeh arises when the light rays from a point source meet in front of the sensor, whereas with front bokeh the rays meet behind the sensor, so for rear and front bokeh the blurry disks on the sensor come from opposite sides of the point of intersection. If we like a certain type of bokeh, we like some features of the uncorrected aberrations, and the article argued that these aberrations will go in opposite directions for disks from opposite sides of the intersection. What looks pleasing for the disks coming from rear sources turns ugly for disks coming from front sources. Mike, do you (or some of your readers here) have some optical-science insights into the relationship between front and rear bokeh?

Automatic eye focus is obviously a bad idea, at least with dogs.

Thanks a lot, Mike. Though I've never reached the point of worrying about bokeh, the worrying and thinking about it that you do for me is still very helpful, so as long as I get the dog's nose equivalent in focus, I won't worry.

Mike, I enjoyed this renewed update of your previous bokeh article, and it occurred to me that maybe you 2009 viewfinder article in Luminous Landscape would be interesting to update as well with the inclusion and/or comparison with digital viewfinders. It was a good article that I go back to every now and then to refresh the concepts in “view” of the various cameras I use. Just a thought...

Shame you dont get $1 for everytime the term Bokeh is used (or for every time it is miss-pronounced would probably be more lucrative). I still have that magazine issue and have been a (hopefully properly aligned) champion of this useful and inescapeable lens characteristic.
My favourite lens personally is the 17mm f1.8 Olympus at f2.8-4 for street. Forgiving and coherent to the point of nearly fail-safe.
I sometimes feel like I am swimming against the tide when talking to the young portraitist crowd who think Bokeh is a wide open only thing, but trends change and good holds on timelessly (I hope).

As the lucky owner of two incredible rescue mutts I found dumped on State Parks, nothing drives me crazier than the dogs nose not being in focus. The dog picture is fantastic. I actually bought one of those Minolta lenses after looking at that one. It helped that it was taken with a Fuji camera.

Why don’t you just sue Google for breach of copyright ?

[Because I don't want to be crushed to paste like a bug getting hit with a brick? --Mike]

Very useful Zeiss paper in the link by our fellow reader marcin wuu. Among other things, it answers the query from my earlier post about the difference between rear and front bokeh. See pages 37-38 of the paper, which explain why the abberations from the rear have opposite properties to those from the front. Good to see it explained so clearly.

"The most important and clearest attribute of blurring is simply the amount of it.”

Changing the blur is what Nikon tried to do with their 105mm and 135mm f2 DC (defocus control) lenses. Control is a big word for what you can do with it, but you can certainly change the front and rear fuzz a bit. Maybe if bokeh was a word that was en vogue worldwide at their introduction in 1990, Nikon would have called them BC (bokeh control) lenses.
Last year I sold my 135mm after 25 years and invested in two feathered bokeh M.Zuiko lenses. Some thought that description was silly marketing talk, but I think we could use a complete classification system for explaining the different types of bokeh.
In this Imaging-Resource article that I mentioned before in these TOP comments, ring-shaped bokeh and solid bokeh are the other two mentioned types.

I am pretty sure I have seen some cheap zooms with wildfire bokeh and pollock bokeh as well.
In general the best bokeh is the one you don’t notice.

"The above rules of thumb also predict that “worst case” bokeh is easy to provoke: it’s when you use the lens’s widest aperture, focus as close as the lens can, and include deep background with complex subject matter or harsh contrast."

So, don't stress the lens, as you instructed in a previous writing. (https://theonlinephotographer.typepad.com/the_online_photographer/how-to-stress-a-camera-le.html) Wow, hard to believe that was written in 2008! It doesn't seem more than five or six years ago to me.

That Zeiss paper is full of information, most of which I had to read twice to understand. Reminds me of the college calculus class in which my friend would draw pictures to "illustrate" the instructor's points. One drawing had a '59 Cadillac and a Airstream trailer. No wonder we didn't do so well in that class.

Bokeh is the visual umami in the current zeitgeist.

I've always felt those kinds of words are a goofy lingo mostly used to convince the less experienced that the uncertain speaker using them are of some authority.

Either way, a lens that left me a lasting impression was the 105mm on the Ansco Viking. I think I wasn't expecting much from it when I first got my hands on it in college. The grease lubricating the focussing collar has long since seized, so now the camera lives on only as a token of my more impressionable days.

That joke....is not really a joke......the punch line rings sooooo true.....35 years married.......and still having trouble knowing when to "risk it"

Don't forget Dante Stella's fun article about bokeh being the new opiate of the photographic masses (or at least of the digital imaging masses):


@Mike: You're obviously still very obsessed about this. Please seek help. I'll pray for you.

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