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Thursday, 27 February 2020


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I chanced upon an interesting comparison of the rendering of out-of-focus areas produced by two recently-released 45mm lenses for the Sony system at relatively close focus. I'd be interested in understanding whatever appropriate terms (e.g., nisen, double-line, wiry, classic, or--as you wrote above--ugly) that could be used to describe the results from the new Samyang 45 that differ so greatly from those produced by the Sigma 45.


I think the second picture is a bit of a torture test for bokeh. I've seen few lenses that deal with strongly backlit trees with aplomb. The best are the Minolta/Sony STF lenses.

Of course, that's also the kind of lighting where lenses like the Meyer Optik Trioplan would really show off their special "flavor" that has its own set of devotees. So I guess it's all relative.

After many many years of chasing "pixies" around this topic of "bokeh", I've found I much prefer lenses that have neutral or under-corrected spherical aberrations behind the point of focus.

There are only two manufacturer's sources I've found for design decisions that take this subtle but very important effect into account. One is a white paper Zeiss published some years ago. The other is the "Thousand and One Nights" series published by Nikon. Because of their affordability (being retired and living on a fixed income, and all that) I've fallen in love with old manual focus Nikkors. Their out of focus rendition is consistently outstanding.

The bokeh comparisons are somewhat similar to hifi gear reviews. For an audiophile sound is more important than music, for the bokeh lover image is more important than photography.

I can't get past the plastic rendering of skin texture on the models face. What else was "fixed" in this image? I think this makes it very hard to determine the bokeh exhibited by this lens in this image.

Before readers rush out and buy the OM 50/1.8, be aware that some of the 50/1.8s were notorious for oil leaking all over the aperture blades. You do want the "made in Japan" version that Mike shows.

The 50/1.4 is nice too (very soft and glowy wide open, but improves quickly). And Mike has previously written that the 50/2 is one of the best 50s one can buy. I agree having used it a lot!

OM serial number deciphering is a black art. I used the information at this site, which is copied from another site that no longer exists. I have found it to be quit reliable. https://www.fredmiranda.com/forum/topic/1121708/0&year=2012#10713211

It always amuses me when people talk about "natural bokeh." There is no natural bokeh. It is an effect created by the lens and varies from lens to lens. Bokeh created "artificially" by software in computational images as done in some camera phones or with pp software, is every bit as natural. Of course, we might find some bokeh more pleasing than other bokeh but that is a question of aesthetics, not "naturalness." Computationally applied bokeh is not artificial, it is every bit as valid as that created by a lens.

Konstantin's shot with the backlit trees is very characteristic of every classic (read: ca. 70s, 80s, 90s) "nifty-fifty" SLR lens I've tried, all of which have been pretty similar double-gauss designs.

They give moderately yucky (that's the optical engineering term) bokeh when used wide open with lots of small, backlit detail in the background (foliage especially). Stopping down by even one stop improves the situation quite a bit, in my experience (which, of course, is not exhaustive, given that there are probably 50+ different varieties of that particular beast). In fairness, small, backlit detail in the background is hard for most lenses, I think.

I guess I'm a connoisseur of ugly bokeh. I kinda like the OOF area in the second photo.

But really, I don't notice such things very often. Interesting photos are interesting to me, technically bad or not.

Agreeing with Jim Metzger. Just as there are different qualities of bokeh, there are qualities of sharp too. The portrait is so sharp it takes me aback -- yet it is pleasing in a way that my own over-sharpened images are not. Maybe Mike is reveling in his new eyesight and seeing everything that sharp, so he doesn't notice it. In normal life I never see anyone that sharply, particularly from the distance we're at in Mr.Konduktorov's portrait. Every hair...

Thanks for that information Mike. It seems that my two copies of the OM 50/1.8 are both single-coated lens. Good thing as I only use them with B&W film. :)

What Eamon said. I know I have an old Canon FD 59mm f1.8 stuck on my old Canon TLb that exhibits the same crunchy "bokeh", at least on slide film. Never tried it on digital.

Is inverse-mask + Gaussian blur acceptable, in good taste? I have always stopped myself short of local enhancements. Just seems a post step too far, although I suppose all adjustments are 'local.'

Response to Andy F's response to me.
I think many photographers do think of "Natural" and "artificial" bokeh. Compiled lens cameraphones that throw backgrounds out of focus are widely viewed as "artificial." About 10 years ago Alien Skins had a program "Bokeh" that enabled the user to add background bokeh and you could choose the "pattern" of bokeh you wanted based on the bokeh of some lenses well known for their bokeh. It was time consuming and not very good but I would think that the same could be done again today (and done much better) using computational techniques
The latest version of Photoshop claims to have improved its ability to create out of focus DOF.
My point is that such techniques are no more artificial, or unnatural, then what is added to an image by the lens design.
Which pattern of bokeh we prefer is another matter. Some patterns seem better with some subjects and other patterns with other subjects. I think the day is coming where PP we will look at our new image and then dial in the bokeh look we want for that image.

To my mind, the German photographer August Sander produced in much of his early 20th century work some most beautiful bokeh combined with extremely shallow depth of field. I wish I could find out what lens he used other than it being a Zeiss.

See, for example, his 'Confirmation candidate', 'Young farmers', 'Forester's child', 'Farmer' and 'Anton Räderscheidt' photos.

I agree with Rob de Loë regarding the Zuiko 50/1.8 iterations, though I’ve never had the oil problem with my F.Zuiko - lucky I guess.

I am a big fan of the 50/1.4, of which there were 3 (4?) iterations, getting progressively sharper IIRC. My samples are from the 2nd generation, and I love how they render even though many don’t think any of the Zuiko 50/1.4 are that great.

PanF+ in one of Mike’s least favoruite developers LOL -


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