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Bokeh 101: The Best of and the Worst of

Discussion in 'Lens Lust' started by kgill, Sep 1, 2008.

  1. kgill


    Jul 25, 2007

    I am intrigued by The Dude's thread on 35mm f/1.4 - 50mm f/1.2 - 85 f/1.4 (AF). Not intending to hi-jack Dude's thread, I thought I'd post this

    I would like to see your best samples of "ideal" bokeh here, so I can get an idea of what the Cafe can agree on exemplifies great bokeh. But also bad samples alongside great ones are welcome. (please obviously include which lens you've used and if known, the focal length)

    Does the "Cream Machine" produce excellent bokeh at all focal lengths, or are there ideal focal lengths for this? I think I remember someone saying the best bokeh ever is on the 300mm f/...(can't remember which). Is it the same-- do these lenses always produce great bokeh? Does shutter speed matter? Should I be able to make out what's in the background? Should the edges of everything be rounded and smooth? Should the background me muted and soft so as to not 'compete' with the foreground? All of these, none of these?

    I have read about bokeh and the relationship with blades, etc., but I guess I just want to see what to look for and how to increase the possibility that I might introduce it into my images. I'm not really from Missouri, but for the purposes of this post, just pretend I am and SHOW ME!! (for the non-American readers, Missouri calls itself the "Show Me" state)

  2. Ill bet we will see some tele shots with compressed backgrounds (with no highlights or close subjects) as examples of great bokeh, cause that is without doubt the "general" perception of bokeh...:smile:
  3. cotdt


    Jul 14, 2007
    Bay Area, USA
    tele shot with compressed background:

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  4. You missed the part with no highlights or closed subjects...:biggrin:
  5. As for what you like its offcourse highly subjective.

    But if we are to generalize the bokeh that is most commonly described as "good", has circular highlights with smooth edges (not defined or double outlines) wich makes for a smoother transition from focus areas to out of focus areas. practical terms, means the appearence is smoother and it may not detract to much from the subject.

    Keep in mind though, bokeh alone rarely makes the pictures .-)
  6. pforsell


    Jan 15, 2008
    one of my favorites is the Nikkor AIS 105/1.8. Two samples below, first at f/2.8 and the second at f/1.8.

    Smooth boke without double lines, doughnuts, circles or abrupt edges. The results are very creamy.

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  7. V_kids


    Jul 4, 2006
    Bokeh from Zeiss 50/1.4 @ F1.4 on D3

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    View attachment 246616

  8. kgill


    Jul 25, 2007
    Hey Paul-- I almost didn't recognize you with your new avatar...I said to myself "Hey, there's another Paul L. on the forum...!" hahaha

    Cotdt-- are those jellyfish behind the trees in the first pics? :wink:

    So I see a big difference in the bokeh in these shots. At least to my novice eye. Do we have anyone willing to present shots with undesirable bokeh?

    I remember someone did a Tokina 11-16 shot, but I haven't found it to be so horrible, here you see one I did with the 11-16 which I don't think looks so bad...?
  9. LeeF


    May 24, 2008
    Massachusetts, USA
    This is one of the first images I've made with my new 70-200 2.8 VR and I was very satisfied with the bokeh here.
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  10. Chris_B


    Mar 12, 2006
    Arlington, VA
    With a 300VR + 1.7 TC.

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  11. 85mm 1.4 @1.4

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  12. I've always liked the bokeh on this shot of a shadow puppeteer:

    35mm f/2
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    And another with the same lens and settings with pleasing to my eyes bokeh

    View attachment 246621
  13. That is pretty subjective

    That is pretty subjective and I like it.

    Great bokeh, I noticed, depends on 4 things:

    The two main ingredient of the great bokeh recipe are, separation of subject and background elements.

    1st is the separation of the background from the subject, the greater the separation the creamier the bokeh is likely to be. This gets us to the second ingredient.

    2nd is the shutter speed, the fasted the shutter is the creamier the bokeh will end up looking. The more time the light has to get to the shutter the more defined the far elements of the composition will be.

    3rd is the lens, the faster the lens the better your bokeh will be since you can get a faster shutter speed, hence a f/1.4 lens will give you better bokeh than a f/4 lens but wait a minute ... There is a fourth element.

    The fourth element is light, in great light even a slow lens can produce great bokeh. I have seen so many people showing us "exceptional" bokeh with slow lenses... Of course, the main element of the photographic composition was close to the front end of the lens and the background of the said composition was located meters away in bright sunlight.

    One thing I have noticed in the last couple of years is the bigger the front element diameter is the better and creamier your bokeh is going to be (or that great bokeh will be easily achievable)

    Then we do have lenses such as the 85/1.4 which is a consistent winner in the bokeh department, so is the 200/2 and 105/1.8.

    But great bokeh is subjective and comes down to personal taste - unless we come up with a formula for it or a few pictures we can all agree on over which all other bokeh are measured.

    Now lets show some examples... The subject (the fig and hands) are located about four feet from the background. The background is a coiled yellow water hose and low lying plants. Shot with a 24-70/2.8, good light and shutter speed creamed the background even when the background isn't that separated from the subject (sheer luck)

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    To show separation from the subject and background using a 35/1.4 @ 1.4... Creamed the background (intentional)

    View attachment 246623

    Again separation of the subject and background using an 85/1.8 this time (just trying out a lens, accidental result...)

    View attachment 246624

    80-200/2.8 Push pull at 2.8 (purely accidental resulting bokeh)

    View attachment 246625

    Resulting bokeh from the 70-200/2.8

    View attachment 246626

    View attachment 246627

    View attachment 246628

    85/1.4 at 1.4 (Planned, I was trying to melt away the background) The background here is a busy city street

    View attachment 246629

    28/1.4 at 1.4 (accidental - when you try to take a picture in a dark place without flash)

    View attachment 246630

    200/2 planned separation of subject and background...

    View attachment 246631

    200/2 again

    View attachment 246632

    and again the 200/2 VR...

    View attachment 246633

    To get the best bokeh you need the best ingredients and of the four ingredients the one which had delivered consistently again and again is without the shadow of a doubt the 200/2 more so than any other lens I ever tried. (that was Frits lens I was trying on that day :biggrin: Thanks Frits)

    But my main point is that any lens can produce good to great bokeh (to taste) since many factors contribute to generating bokeh, but bokeh, what makes it great ... is according to taste, some people prefer chocolate ice cream some people vanilla :rolleyes: :wink::smile:

    View attachment 246634

    View attachment 246635
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 1, 2008
  14. A lens at F/1,4 will NOT automatically give you a "better" bokeh then @F/4.

    Bokeh and subject isoaltion isnt the same thing...
  15. The 85/1.4 at f/1.8
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    The 300/4 + 1.4 TC at f/6.3 (was supposed to be shooting birds :wink:) 
    View attachment 246637
  16. PeterRH

    PeterRH Guest

    Subjects close together

    Paul will be getting very smug with lots of shots of faraway backgrounds as he predicted - so here's an example where the background is just a few feet back.

    85mm 1.8 @ f/2

    And same lens, background about 10 ft back, same aperture f/2
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 1, 2008
  17. I'd be interested to know whether these shots qualify as showing bokeh. I find it's a creamy background, but if I understand bokeh correctly, they lack some pinpoint highlight.

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  18. Leif


    Feb 12, 2006
    My understanding is that bokeh depends on the lens and the way that it is used.

    You can improve bokeh in use. Background clutter can be reduced by using a longer focal length lens, or a wider aperture.

    But some aspects cannot be altered given a specific lens. I'm thinking of the shape of the iris, and the optical behaviour of the lens. Basically highlights take the shape of the iris, and rounder is generally better. The nature of the blur is largely dependent on how well the lens is corrected for spherical aberration (and I suppose chromatic aberration too). If the lens is perfectly corrected, the out of focus highlights have equal density i.e. no hard edge or hard centre. If the lens is under corrected, then highlights on one side of the subject (I forget which) have a bright edge (like a doughnut), and on the other side a bright centre (which looks nicest). And the converse is true if the lens is over corrected.

    Anyway, enough waffle. My 200m micro has nice Bokeh IMO. But that is largely due to long focal length. My 60mm micro is not so good, in part due to an angular iris.
  19. lovD300


    Feb 25, 2008
    The Dude,

    Thanks for the info, this is great. Now I have something to aim for if I am trying to get that bokeh down perfect!....

    1. Separation of the background from the subject
    2. Fast shutter speed
    3. Fast lens
    4. more light the better!

    So really if you look at like the d3 or the d700.. with the whole iso 6400, you could call these bodies the True Cream Machines! From what you say... Wouldn't the higher ISO help you make those slow lens faster, grab more light, and increase shutter speed!...

    So then these two bodies (D3, D700) will actually help create better Bokeh?
  20. waleedy


    Aug 2, 2007

    This is taking with my D300, and 105mm VR Micro, f/7.1, 1/60s, ISO 800 ..I did not do anything to clean the noise .. but I always liked the bokeh of the 105mm

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    and also .. the 70-200VR !
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    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 1, 2008
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