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Monday, 13 January 2020


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I’ve always liked the look of HP5 film, I’ve used it almost exclusively for years. I know the way it reacts and I’ve learned to overcome its shortcomings.
My digital path started with a Pentax K100D (that you accurately called “Totally, Completely Okay”) and then a Canon XSi.
Now I shoot with an Olympus EM5 but, even though you can shoot with an iso value of 25.600, the image quality is only good enough from iso 200 to maybe (maybe) 1000.
From that number up the images are, well, totally, completely rubish.
In everyday use, the Olympus is not that far from HP5 (iso 400).
My point is that, while it has certainly improved, my low light shooting hasn’t changed that much going from film to digital.

I've been discussing some of these issues on my blog lately. http://alifeinphotography.blogspot.com/2019/12/normal-0-false-false-false.html

I think that it's partly influenced by photographic fashion, or 'flavour of the month'. Then, if you do want a narrow depth of field with a relatively short lens on an apsc camera you have to have around a stop wider. So f2 becomes f1.4.
But you are right, there is a status thing going on as well.

Plus-X, ISO 80, yellow filter... I always knew we were soul brothers.

The shallow-dof look signals more than just status, which probably means "I have enough means to afford an expensive exotic lens."

I don't think it's coincidental that the shallow-dof look rose to popularity with the advent of two things: digital cameras and the shift toward sharing of small images online to be appreciated at a glance.

As the number of photos shared exploded and first point-and-shoot and now cell phone cameras have improved, how does the photo enthusiast signal that "I care enough about photography to spend time on it and take it seriously?"

In "the good old days", just getting a properly exposed and sharp photo was achievement enough. If you wanted good pictures, you'd use a real camera that required real skill to manipulate. Today, well-exposed photos with seemingly infinite depth of field are a dime a dozen; it often takes real skill to make your technically superior "real camera" photos look as good at a glance as the computationally-corrected cell phone image.

The thing cell phones can't do as well? Shallow dof. *That* apparently is how you show you're a "real" photographer in your instafacer feed. It's identity and appreciation more than status they're seeking.

I have an old Leica-R 60mm f/2.8 macro lens, adapted to my Fuji APS-C cameras (so it's 90mm equivalent). Used for portraits, at f/2.8 this lens produces a very pleasant background: definitely blurred and distant, yet still with enough detail to reveal what the actual objects are that meld into each other to make up the background.

There is nothing wrong with complete blurring either, but I prefer a background that still has some degree of actual information. In the 19th-century treatises on the nature of photography, one of the key terms was "incidental detail", and to me that still is one of the defining characteristics of Straight Photography. If the background still has some discernable incidental detail, it adds weight to the photograph as the unique capture of a specific moment in a specific location.

“I went crazy shooting in what I considered very poor light. A wonderful experience.”

I really enjoy the challenge and results that come from roaming the dark looking for faint pools of light. All that moody light combined with dreamy bokeh makes for interesting pictures. Low light shooting was a big reason for buying my 6D many years ago. Its full frame 20MP sensor and -3 EV center focus point were a revelation. Once I had the 6D I immediately bought the 26 ounce EF 135mm f/2 to take advantage of my vastly improved night stalker (Kolchak) abilities. The results are beautiful.

Lately though, I’ve been eyeing the 24 ounce Tamron 85mm f/1.8 VC. I’ve never needed vibration compensation in a shortish prime before but for night stalking duties it makes sense…especially considering I’m not as stable as I used to be.

Typing the phrase “night stalker” made me think of a goofy old TV series that I haven’t seen in 40 years, Kolchak: Night Stalker. We’ve been talking about unusual cameras recently so I did some digging and apparently Carl Kolchak’s camera of choice was a Rollei 16s with a Carl Zeiss 25mm Tessar f/2.8 lens, 12x17mm negs, selenium meter, and available in chrome or black, red, green, creme snake skin. Wikipedia tells me that Chris Carter cited Kolchak as a "tremendous influence" in creating The X-Files.

Everything you say is right. Big bokeh lenses are currently overrated. And yes, a long lens is a very good tip.

But: though I use M4/3 now, I've kept a ff Canon and the Canon 85mm 1.2 lens.
Why did I get it? Your loyal readers may remember that I had this charming web site with pretty nekkid ladies. And one set I bought for it was unusual: even the full figure pictures had beautiful soft backgrounds. So I got the lens the photographer had used.


You have an interesting theory, but I'd speculate it's more to do with digital photography and the ease with which we can obtain front to back sharpness in imagees.

When I first picked up a camera (manual focus of course) getting sharp results was hard; it took skill and practice. Even a sharp negative wasn't enough, you needed to have a good enlarger and work hard in the darkroom too.

After a while, I started to despise photographers whose prints looked less sharp than mine, and envy those whose prints were sharper. Blur was the default, sharpness was earned.

Then, with digital photography, I suddenly discovered the opposite was the case. It was trivial to sharpen images - the real issues were artefacts and the 'crunchy' look that gave the image. The small sensor digital cameras that were affordable for enthusiasts had so much depth of field everything looked sharp. Sharpness was the default, and attractive looking blur had to be earned.

When I started, I didn't even notice out of focus elements in my images, unless they were really distracting. Looking at old images now, it's one of the first things I see. I suppose now there's less need for it, I value it more.

Well, I do have a number of BHEF lenses....but they’re “legacy” lenses from my days back in the 80s & 90s, when I was shooting musicians in small clubs and you NEEDED all the speed you could get.

Now that I’m back shooting film more, I’m using those BHEF lenses again....shooting musicians in small clubs (w/ P3200)....

In my humble opinion, this issue of appropriate d-o-f boils down to whether one's focus (no pun intended) is on the esthetic/subjective or the practical/objective. You can choose whatever aperture and d-o-f you like for esthetic purposes. Viewers may then agree or disagree with your choice, but their opinions and your choice will be understood as subjective. On the other hand, there are some subjects that, without enough d-o-f to "read" them, would make the photographer look incompetent. I understand and agree with your point about status but, to use an analogy, it's a tad silly to wear a Rolex watch and not have it set to the correct time and date.

I recall reading about a fashion photo shoot wherein the model was being photographed with (I kid you not) a 600 mm f/4 lens used wide open from about 60 feet away. This provided an absurdly narrow angle of view and a totally out of focus background, mostly just a wash of color. Shifting the model and camera position a few feet yielded a very different background color.
This was before the advent of cell phones, so the crew communicated between the model's position and the camera's with walky-talkies, as the distance was too far to shout orders. Sounds like a lot of work.

While all of what you say is true (and what I teach my clients when training them to use that super-duper new SLR someone else gifted them), there is one factor in favor of the wider-aperture lens. In general, if you compare the wider-aperture lens with a narrower counterpart at the same aperture, the wider-aperture version provides a higher quality edge-to-edge image. For sharpness and contrast nuts like myself, this justifies the price differential. I rarely use a lens at maximum aperture. I buy these expensive lenses less for that wide aperture and more for the better image quality at most large f-stops.

if you superimpose the small rectangle inside the big one, the image from both will overlap, and the d-o-f will be the same. It's just that it will appear to be much more on the larger film and much less on the smaller one because of what else is in the frame of each

Yes, the DOF will be the same at the original in-camera image scale if they were done at the same absolute aperture. Since DOF is a subjective sense of what is blurry and what isn't, the additional enlargement of the smaller-format picture that's needed to display both at the same size will emphasize what's out of focus, and give the appearance of less DOF for the small frame. The more expansive framing of the larger picture isn't relevant to DOF, just to the extent of the scene.

Ha! The best deal in bokeh has got to be an older 135mm f:2.8 lens. No body wants this focal length and KEH (and others) are just giving them away.

Here's a Nikon for $94 bux.


Step away from the brand names and prices go even lower.

On e-bay there's a Star-D 135/2.8 for Canon FD mount with a BIN of about $34.

So, Boke-it-up. I bet for less than US $100 you can get all the bokeh you can eat, and still have change for lunch and a cuppa Joe.

Word! (Can you use it like that when you agree with someone?)

Even though I am a reasonable person I find that it is easy to get sucked in. Mostly because a lot of people that show photos and write about photography also try to sell something. Usually the latest and greatest lens and then of course using it it the way that separates it from the more "mediocre" offers.

There are two things that really help me. My wish for a small and light setup that I can actually bring with me and my unwillingness to spend the pennies I have on diminishing returns.

Mike, this is one of those things where if you don't see why it makes sense, it doesn't mean other people don't. I for one rarely shoot at anything other than wide open and I'd be perfectly happy if larger apertures and true shallow DOF were available on every lens, even phones. Large DOF is often less desired than shallow for me and I don't have a problem with OOF dogs nose

[Yes and I have no problem with that at all. We all have our tastes and desires! I'm never saying what everybody should do. That would be madness. --Mike]

Shallow D.O.F. really is a modern day fetish, isn't it. What with trying to get good looking bokeh, avoiding diffraction but still stopping down enough for max resolution, avoiding mirror slap (doesn't that sound a little bit dirty?), it's a frigging miracle anyone manages to take any photos at all.
I have some ideas for lens/camera designers. Why isn't there a menu selection for infinity? At night or in other conditions when it is difficult to focus but you KNOW that you want infinity focus, and you can't just turn the focus ring till it stops anymore, why can't I choose infinity from the menu?
While on the subject of D.O.F., why don't we have a menu choice for hyperfocal distance? Set the aperture, auto-iso or whatever, then choose hyperfocal distance in the menu, job done.
Or after focusing why can't I tell the thing to set a D.O.F. of 10 feet and have it set the appropriate aperture to accomplish that? No reason why the info for your lenses can't be stored in memory, at least for supported lenses.
Is this too much to ask? We have these computers in our hands and they don't make use of them.

Beautifully explained! I had never seen a more succinct explanation of the relations among depth of field, lens focal length and camera formats.

Responding to the title, I suppose one can get a used 50mm f/1.2 Nikkor AIS lens for ~$250 and a ~$400 Nikon d600 full frame to mount it. The lens gives terrific bokeh and is fairly easy to focus even at night on the streets at f/1.2!
https://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/39940838441/in/album-72157691981250764/

We need an additional commentary on fast lenses as low-light documentary gear: are they really necessary at a time when ISO 6400 or even 12800 is available, and narrow DOF is usually *undesirable?* I started shooting when Kodachrome II was rated at ISO64, and shots we now take routinely would have been impossible. At that time, you scrounged for every bit of lens speed you could get.

Now, rather than deciding between a "fast" or "middle" aperture it's quite common to leave the camera on the lens' best technical aperture (5.6 or 8?) and scroll the available ISOs for the shutter speed you need -- and given the best sensors, and the peculiar qualities/aesthetics of documentary, ISO 12800 isn't out of play. (I also think that if you looked at the Lightroom libraries of most enthusiast photographers, *most* of their shots would be considered documentary -- kids, dogs, landscapes, colorful events. They might also have a specialty, but for that, they can often get along with one additional lens -- for astro, birds, sports, flowers, etc.)

I think very fast lenses for generating razor-thin depth of field are for specialty shooters. I have a Nikon Z 85mm f1.8 for portraits, the other thing that I really like to do, and while it's not super-fast, it's just fine. Between that, and the Z's 24-70 and soon the 70-200, I have all that I need.

One of of my regular photographic subjects over the past decade or more has been small wargaming miniatures. For years, I shot those not with DLSRs, but with compact point and shoot cameras, because the smaller sensor and therefore very short focal length lenses gave me the greater depth of field I needed to keep the entire miniature in focus.

I'm in love with fast lenses for an entirely different reason. Now, with cameras that have useable super high ISOs, I can walk around doing nighttime street work and even work using light from a full moon... all handheld! It's opened up a whole new world of photography now. (My current favorite is the Sony 24mm f/1.4. Stunning and very small lens.)

I think the large sensor / BHEF lenses fad has been driven by the fashion for shallow depth of field, rather than the other way around. Here in New Zealand I was struck by the sudden onset of a fashion for extremely shallow depth of field in the trendy foodie magazines a decade or so ago. Our commercial photographers and designers tend to be fast followers, rather than innovators, so I assume they were copying a look that was then becoming fashionable in the more high-status parts of the world. The big Zeiss, Sigma et al lenses came later, presumably when their marketing droids saw what sort of work the fashionable photographers were turning out.

Unfortunately many people seem to have been brainwashed(*) into thinking aperture is the most important consideration when it comes to bokeh, hence this craze for ultra-fast lenses. I almost fell into this as well, but by then I was reading TOP and I chanced upon a Ctein article that enlightened me. This, as well as my experiments with different focal lengths and sensor sizes, made me realise distance to subject and focal length - and not aperture - were the main factors.
At the end of the day it all came to nothing because I stopped pursuing bokeh, but the lesson was learned. Thank you Mike, Thank you Ctein.

(*) These people can be found ranting against Micro 4/3 and trolling about "equivalent aperture" on DPR forums and comment boxes.

I don't care about OoF dog's noses, I do dislike OoF people's noses. Soft ears are OK, though. \;~)>

But, about perspective; in the link you provide to 300 mm fashion shots, notice that he is careful to keep all of her body close to the focal plane. Even on the sofa, her legs are pulled up close against the cushions.

Ages ago, Modern Photography did a wonderful series about perspective. Shooting a model longing on a beach, leaning back a bit, with her legs out straight to the camera, they changed subject distance to maintain the same size on film. With a wide lens, she has long, skinny legs, with a long lens, short, fat legs.

Same things with noses, their apparent size, relative to the rest of the face, varies with distance to the face.

I am, in fact, a fan of using long lenses for portraits with nice subject/background separation, without too shallow (to my taste) DoF in the subject. But paying attention to perspective effects is useful.

So true about the motivation behind buying heavy expensive glass. Canon knows this very well and created its L (luxury) line of lenses with the red stripe so you can show off your exquisite taste in gear.

Have you seen the YouTube video about Tony Northrup's bokeh intervention. It's hilarious. You can find it on the Camera Conspiracies channel.

In addition to getting closer to your subject, you can move the subject further from the background to make the background appear more out of focus. To some extent, it’s the ratio between camera-subject and subject-background that matters.

Mike, it is my understanding the the term bokeh is not synonymous with the concept of shallow depth of field. Rather, bokeh, in my understanding, is the particular characteristics--shape, mostly--of the out-of-focus elements when you have a shallow depth of field. Am I missing something?

[ https://theonlinephotographer.typepad.com/the_online_photographer/2009/01/what-is-bokeh.html


Now that I am older (old) my viewpoint has changed a bit, but when I was younger, and didn’t worry about carrying 40 or 50lbs. or gear, instead of using that capacity to carry huge lenses I preferred to carry huge (large) cameras with the necessary tripods, film holders and ancillary stuff. And I usually struggled to get enough dof. Portraits needed ‘just right’ dof, not the ‘one eyeball surface’ dof that seems to be considered optimum now.

It’s all fashion, in any case, both now and in previous times, but I have no desire to lug some BHEF lenses around. And I believe I’m no longer constrained by ‘status’.

Or you could use the Brenizer Method: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brenizer_Method

With age and arthritis I've gone in the opposite direction. Lighter and smaller fit my needs. So I mainly shoot primes with maximum apertures of 2.8 or 2, especially on digital cameras where I can crank up ISO without much penalty. I particularly love the Cosina Voigtlander F/2.0 or 2.5 primes. Wonderful optical quality little jewels.

Yes, all my life I've been plagued by insufficient DOF, and I react with considerable surprise to people who think ultra-fast lenses are important primarily for less DOF (I even hear people say that's a big reason for full-frame sensors).

Fashions can change faster for art photography than for documentary photography, I hypothesize, because documentary photography is more constrained by things outside the photographer's control.

You should maybe mention the f/4 lenses that have been around a while—especially 70-210/4, cheaper versions of the classic f/2.8, and similarly for "normal" zooms like the Canon 24-105/4. Some people are apparently happy living at slower apertures.

Conspicuous consumption as a status symbol was evident as early as Thorsten Veblen's 1899 book of the same name. For some it's big diamonds or top-tier cars never driven out of an urban area, for some, it's f/1.2 lenses that end up in a stoutly constructed drawer.

Veblen correct, of course, that this leads to waste and other irrational distortions of economics and good judgment.

Bokeh, schmokeh, hasn't this fad about run its course?

As one who began his color photography days shooting the original ASA 25 Kodachrome and frequently used a polarizing filter, I'd say that your travails with Plus X were benign.

And about that "…nobody uses filters any more"—well, I still carry and use my polarizers frequently. The natural benefit that they render by removing glare is an effect that can't be duplicated by digital manipulation; at least, not on my keyboard.

The technical and compositional advantages that derive from tripod use are just as helpful to me now as they were when I loaded my first roll of K25.

Is it a Lubetel that model is holding?

You forgot the other way to have shallow depth of field.
Big Prints
I find that at f/8 an 8x10 foot print of has fairly limited depth of field.

I would really like to get more depth of field I'm doing some landscape panoramas with a 600mm lens and at f/22 I can't get the foreground at 3/4 of a mile and the background at 20 miles both adequately sharp.

The Typography and letterpress crispness on that book title page is something else! delicious.

Nice bit of common sense. What I find even more amusing are those that want shallow DOF with a 14mm lens, and go out using a monster 14 f1.4 or such.

I'm really not convinced by the examples in your claim: "In case you want to achieve shallow depth-of-field (i.e., lots of "bokeh"), there are other, more efficient ways to do that than buying a big, heavy, expensive lens of large maximum aperture." How are they more efficient?

A longer lens will frequently be larger and bulkier than the fast shorter lens. If I prefer to shoot with a 50/1.4 and then follow your advice and choose instead to shoot with an 85/1.8, it will typically be an even larger lens! A 135/2.8 even larger!

As for getting closer, well, that may work, but then it has to be approriate. To get the equvalent level of focus control I have when shooting a 50/1.4 at 6 ft, I have to move in to 4 ft when shooting a 50/2.8. That might sometimes work, but will often not; it will often seem just too intrusive when shooting people.

It's just easier and more flexible to stick with the 50/1.4. The problem lies with lensmakers aiming to eliminate all aberrations and try to keep up with 60 mp sensors and designing bazookas like the latest round of Otis, Panasonic, Leica 50/1.4 lenses, not with good 50/1.4 lenses in principle.

Using rangefinder lenses like the CV 50/1.5 on a secondhand leica M gets you small size, light weight, relatively inexpensive, and yet still fast lenses. The best of all worlds.

Hi Mike,

What might be worth exploring sometime is the practice of using classic old cult lenses wide open with an adapter on modern digital cameras in pursuit of the sometimes exotic bokeh that often results. They're light and can be inexpensive, even in fine quality specimens.

In shooting with my Helios 58mm 44M-6 on my modern Pentax digital, I engaged in no crass display of wealth. That lens cost me about $100 in like new condition on that Bay website, because it was the standard lens for Zenit film cameras, and was produced by the million in the old Soviet Union back in the day. That some excellent specimens were produced but never made it to market may reflect on the performance of photography equipment markets under Communism, I suppose; also, such screwmount lenses were apparently produced into the late 1990s or even later, a couple decades after Pentax and other lens makers abandoned the screwmount for other, preferred lens mounts. I also took on no burden of weight or size (though one of my Carl Zeiss 135mm's, a singlecoated specimen from the early 60's I think that someone noted is built like a Warsaw Pact tank, is kind of hefty). These screwmount lenses are manual focus, so many photographers may view them as obsolete in these days of auto focus. But I love manual focus and it works fine for my nature photography.

Now, I am not selling anything here and I have no ax to grind. If I had a snazzy and expensive new lens I would not put duct tape on it to keep it wide open, I have no need to do so (like you, I wonder if the gentleman who says he does this is pulling our leg). And I always think about framing and what I am focusing on and what the light is urgently whispering to me, that goes without saying, or should.

I mention that I use a Pentax digital this way (a K3-II) because it is ideally suited for use with classic M42 screwmount lenses with an adapter, and as I understand it, other brands require a bigger and heavier adapter than Pentax's slim adapter ring. (Just search eBay for "genuine pentax m42 to k mount adapter" and you'll see it is indeed slim and simple, and sells there for somewhere around $40 to $50 in excellent condition; seven results show up right now for that wording, so, a few, not hundreds, are out there at the moment.) There are technical reasons for that ideal suitability and small adapter, related to Pentax previously using the screwmount natively itself, on the Spotmatic for example, where brands like Nikon and Canon used their own mounts back then.

I appreciate that you included my comment about my use of the Helios 58mm wide open in your previous post, though it may have been a bit off topic there. Here though, it is apposite and timely. No muss, no fuss, other than making use of the Bay which does have its angles to think about. I have had a lot of success with it myself and very few problems with rogue sellers, though there were a few; in that regard, I returned a supposedly mint Nikon FE that was somewhere around a 7.5 or lower on the KEH condition scale, but didn't bother to argue over that beautiful but alas, decentered Meyer Lydith 30mm that I received; I just got another one for not much dough and it works great. For $100 or $200 a lens for 25-30 lenses, I got almost that many keepers at almost every focal length under the sun, most in excellent or even near mint condition, glorious Takumars, brilliant Carl Zeiss "auf Jena's," and other highly esteemed German optical company brands from the days of great glass, in many cases, though my Helios lenses and a couple Zeisses are much more recent than that.

Anyway, I think there are more than a few others who have gone this route successfully. Would I boost this to everyone? Of course not, you need to do your research and understand what you are getting into. The fascinating thing is how quickly it works well once you are in and have one of these classic lenses on your camera. Like everyone else, I preview my results as I go to make sure the exposure levels are appropriate and don't shoot with such low shutter speeds that my image stabilization can't help keep things steady, rarely below 1/10 of a second in other words. That's, ahem, with my slender and elegant f5.6 200 mm Takumar, and don't try that speed handheld when you're shooting film.

I haven't tried shooting sports with it, and rarely test my Pentax frames per second and buffer performance by using continuous, rapid-fire shooting. I have other fish to fry and they're quite good.

My year long exercise in shooting just with this lens and just wide open as far as my Pentax dslr was concerned was a version of your own similar idea, though I did also shoot with other cameras, Nikon FM film cameras in my case via my local community college and a couple film classes there. I had no need to be a purist. What was fun though was that I got results that did the job, the active bokeh on this lens and others like it is a nice alternative to the smooth bokeh of my Taks and more marked than the sometimes wiry bokeh on my Carl Zeiss lenses.

I like'em all!

Jeff Clevenger

I remember you writing that calling Leicas "retired stomatologist cameras" is disrespectful. I don't know Mike, but it seems to me yer doin' kinda the same thing here. If shallow depth of field is a status thing, surely expensive cameras with cult following are too?
I kinda disagree about that, anyway. It's an aesthetic. You either like it, or you don't. No need to bring status into it.
As for the "come closer use longer lens" - thing is, distance and focal length do things with human face not everyone might like. Come too close, you get bulbous noses and wide set eyes, stand too far away with a long lens and you get massive shoulders and big hair, not too good for people with closely set eyes, either. It's not by accident the 85 (or its equivalent) became a standard portrait lens.
And finally, cheap bokeh - just buy an old Spotmatic with a 50 1.4, that I seem to recall you liked. Add a roll of Portra, and Bob's yer uncle.

The trick with shooting at a longer distance is... tricky. It's actually zero sum for DOF IF you keep the object size on the focal plane constant.

Here goes the reasoning:

1. apparent object size varies roughly at the inverse of distance, e.g. at 2x distance, object appears 1/2 in size
2. using a longer lens while keeping object size on sensor constant forces a proportional increase of shooting distance
3. field of view angle decreases proportionally to increase in focal length
4. The increased shooting distance increases DOF by exactly the same amount as it was decreased by the longer focal length.

It's easy to verify with any DOF calculator. Just enter focal length F and shooting distance X, getting DOF D. Now enter focal length 2F and shooting distance 2D (to keep apparent object size on sensor roughly constant). You will get the exact same numerical DOF D as before. The absolute DOF remains constant.


Regardless of lens focal length, if you keep the same subject size (e.g. a full length portrait), the DOF is the same for a given aperture. What does vary is the distance from the subject to "fill the frame" and thus the perspective. So getting shallower DOF is not just a matter of using a longer lens, you either need to use a larger aperture, or use a longer lens at the same distance and thus have less in the image.

Interesting to see these posts on The Basics.
With all the automation, auto focus and "if you use Photoshop your images become ART" so many do not understand how the camera and lens works.
Film and darkroom and manual control helped push this a lot more than we see now. Not everyone understood it - way too much to hope for. But the hands on nature of controlling ISO/Focus/Aperture/Shutter speed helped push one along the path to a basic understanding. No Modes, no automation to speak of. No shooting 35 shots of the same thing bracketing like a fool - as we were limited by frame length rolls of film - or the weight of sheet film holders.
The answer now? Who knows? Those who experiment will learn and for the others there is always "P" mode..., for "Professional"?

From what I read online, the big, heavy, fast primes like the Sigma ART series, etc are designed or have reputation for being "sharp wide open" across the entire frame. I'm not sure why this attribute is so lusted after. If I'm shooting wide open, having sharp corners doesn't matter, it's not in focus anyway, at least for how I shoot wide open. And if I want it sharp across the frame, it's just a matter of stepping down like your previous article on aperture discussed. I suppose there could be application for sharp across the frame wide open for astro-photography, but I have no idea/experience in that regard.

In any event, I own only one fast prime, a Nikkor 58mm 1.4G, and it's criticized online for not being sharp wide open, but I personally love this lens. And it's not big and heavy, thankfully.

I went through Lightroom and did some poking - out of my favorite shots, 70%(okay, 65.3%) were at ƒ2 or wider. I like shooting in dark places, and the shallow depth of field is often a side effect rather than the feature. I even got pretty not horrible at getting focus with an SWC wide open, which, admittedly, isn't very open - but magic for bar shots in New Orleans after midnight. Depends on the subject, but I'm going to have either motion blur or shallow DOF, so if it's moving then the choice is made.

I am enjoying the stabilization on my X-H1, so that average should shift...but I'll likely just shoot in even darker places.

The APS-C (Fuji) dilemma :-).

And for those of you who like deep dives into technical nitty-gritty, Ctein as a nice post on this subject on TOP (appropriately titled "Depth of field hell"): https://theonlinephotographer.typepad.com/the_online_photographer/2009/06/depth-of-field-hellthe-sequel.html

" in theory, cameras with rigidly fixed lenses focus on a geometrical plane that is parallel to the plane of the sensor (the reality departs from this somewhat). "

It always seemed to me that that plane, although parallel, is not flat but curved? Group shots (even with very good lenses) - if focus is made on a person in the center, always seem less sharp for the people on the ends of the group.

Should we instead lock focus on people at the edges of groups, since DOF (supposedly) typically extends a bit more further, rather than closer to, the point of focus?

Mike, you mention in your article that "d-o-f is a property of aperture and focal length". I may be wrong, but I was of the impression that the two main factors affecting depth of field are aperture and focusing distance, with focal length playing only a relatively minor role. Thus, for both a telephoto and a wide angle lens, if the same subject occupies the same fraction of the image, the total depth of field is essentially the same (e.g. see the following sites for further explanation and examples of this: https://www.cambridgeincolour.com/tutorials/depth-of-field.htm; http://www.normankoren.com/Tutorials/MTF6.html; https://www.techradar.com/how-to/photography-video-capture/cameras/what-is-depth-of-field-how-aperture-focal-length-and-focus-control-sharpness-1320959; https://luminous-landscape.com/dof2/). Thus, if my understanding of this is correct, with respect to your excellent advice to take advantage of telephoto lenses to enhance bokeh, it might be useful to also mention that it may be advantageous to compose such that the subject takes up a proportionally larger part of the final image compared to a lens of shorter focal length, as well as considering, as you have done, how alterations in the composition caused by the change in perspective affect the quality of the bokeh.

Ah yes... some of the most important photo equipment we always have with us: our feet! They allow us, amazingly, to get closer to AND further away from a subject. They can move to and fro in both small and great increments. Provided we have our cameras (natch!), we carry them along with us via our feet, and viola! Big changes! More (or less) bokeh! Compositional clarity!

As Hank Wessel said (and many others, I am sure), there are two things we photographers can control: When we push the button, and where we stand (in relation to the raw material).

We just need to remember to use those controls and put our feet in motion.

As a living fossil, I find the whole super-fast lens thing very strange. One of the best pictures I've made in the last couple of years was taken looking in through a window into a not-particularly-brightly-lit space, at night, using Tri-X (developed at box speed) and a 1-stop-ish yellow filter (the yellow filter was on the lens because I forgot to take it off), with a 50 f/2 lens, probably wide open. Of course it's not critically sharp by modern standards but, well, neither is any picture HCB ever made (I am not comparing myself to him). But it's a lovely picture: sometimes I take prints of it out of the box just to look at them, and I almost never do that with prints of my pictures. If I can make good pictures, at night, with what is effectively ISO 200 film and an f/2 lens, anyone can.

Since I first saw reproductions of the famous Matthew Brady-credited photos of the Civil War period, I have always been charmed and fascinated by the strange shallow yet somehow deep-seeming depth of field exhibited in the images from 8x10 view cameras when shot with normal lenses (300mm) at or near wide-open apertures (f/8 or sometimes f/5.6). At one time, before I had much photo/camera/lens experience, I fantasized that that 'deep and shallow'
look could be obtained by shooting a 24x36 camera with a 50mm or 60mm lens at a super-wide aperture like f/1.2. Alas, it's not the same look. May I have my [inexpensive] 8x10 digital field camera soon?

For those of us who still use those old-fashioned cameras with an optical reflex viewfinder, our fast prime lenses offer two other characteristics that might be an advantage: a bright viewfinder image, and a shallower DOF in the viewfinder image (to make manual focusing a little easier).



The most effective way to get shallower depth and/or more blur is by using a shorter hyperlocal distance. For using a larger aperture, a longer focal length or a larger format you might need a faster and more expensive lens, a longer lens or even a new camera. Doesn’t seem a low budget solution.
The 300mm can only solve the problem when you have enough space. Somehow I always end up with my camera in small spaces with low light. No, not dark brown pubs or brothels, but old historical buildings, churches, temples and museums.
My fast MFT primes used wide open are not always the best solution because if you get too close the DOF gets so thin that your subject ends up in a dense fog. A real gem is my Panasonic 42,5mm f/1.7 that I bought secondhand. I also have the lovely Olympus 45mm f/1.8 but the Panasonic gets you really close.
And the bokeh of that lens is a dream.

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