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05-22-2014, 05:24 AM   #1
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Understanding bokeh.

I did not really bother to think about bokeh any other way as personal preference, but when it comes to review the lens, it's complicating to understand how people rate lens bokeh in reviews.

I have the lens to review, Pentax smc F 80-200mm. The one thing I personally like about that lens is its bokeh.
It's even, "creamy" and makes pleasant background. However, in reviews photographer don't give much high grade to that bokeh. I would say, most of the time its 9 or 10, not 6 or 7.
Could you please tell me how can you evaluate test bokeh of that lens?





05-22-2014, 05:51 AM   #2
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Pretty difficult to come up with a rating scheme for a subjective quality, Micromacro.

To some, the Helios 44 has distracting bokeh highlights, to others they're mad and glorious.
05-22-2014, 05:55 AM   #3
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Clackers, you are right, and that exactly what confuses me! Honestly, even after reading about the subject, I don't understand bokeh evaluation at all.
However, I noticed that in movies nice, evenly blended background is pleasant to eyes. Perhaps, it's different in photography.
I'm also confused when looking at threads like "post your best bokeh".
05-22-2014, 06:02 AM   #4
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Different people appreciate bokeh differently. A matter of taste... However, creamy bokeh is generally valued. Bokeh is a function of the lens: as a general rule, better lenses produce creamier bokeh. But you can smoothen bokeh by minimizing the DOF. The rules regarding DOF apply to bokeh, too: you get a smaller DOF either by using a larger aperture, or by getting close to the subject, or by using a longer focal length, or by a combination of these factors. Thus, you might like the bokeh of your 80-200 in a close-up picture, but take a few steps back and photograph the same thing (e.g., the chair in the second pic), and you might not like it. Looking at the second pic, I can see the bokeh produced by the 80-200 is "nervous," but its "nervousness" is attenuated by the small DOF, which in turn is an effect of the camera's closeness to the subject (and probably of the aperture you used--I can't see the EXIF right now...).


Last edited by causey; 05-22-2014 at 06:45 AM.
05-22-2014, 06:20 AM   #5
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causey, somehow my lightroom did not show EXIF (need to figure out settings). The "nervous" bokeh pic is 1/320, f 5.6, ISO 250. I see what you mean. Need to shoot more pictures.
05-22-2014, 06:25 AM   #6
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Perhaps the question should really be, name just one master work where you first noticed the quality of "Bookeh"



Exactly. I didn't think so.
05-22-2014, 06:33 AM   #7
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From your two images I'd say the bokeh is pleasant, but not the smoothest I've seen. In particular, the second image shows that it can become busy. Nothing as dramatic as the DA21 LTD:



Still, a busy bokeh is not necessarily a bad thing. With the DA21, I think that it gives pop to the images, a 3D effect, some movement maybe. I like it anyway. But some won't. It all depends on what you are shootnig and what look you are trying to achieve.

What's sure is that a macro lens will give you a smoother bokeh.
05-22-2014, 06:39 AM   #8
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Take a look at the Mirror Lens Club for some examples of "bad" bokeh. Like the first shot in this post:
https://www.pentaxforums.com/forums/122-lens-clubs/71775-mirror-lens-club-47.html#post2577843

Mirror lenses tend to produce doughnut-shaped out-of-focus highlights, as you can see in the trees/leaves in the background. This also makes ordinary objects, like the car in the background, look like they are vibrating. Hence the "nervous" or "harsh" descriptor. This is subjective, and sometimes the effect is desired/intentional.

Not trying to pick on mirror lenses - that is a known characteristic and folks who use them accept that. As a more conventional example, I have a Sigma 28-300 superzoom that also produces harsh bokeh, which is why I try not to use it.

Anyhow, once you see harsh bokeh, then you will have a better appreciation for lenses that produce "smooth" bokeh, like the FA31.

05-22-2014, 06:41 AM   #9
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It's definitely a subjective thing for me. I've seen shots that people call out for nervous/busy/ugly/whatever bokeh, and they look nice to me. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
05-22-2014, 06:44 AM   #10
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QuoteOriginally posted by micromacro Quote
causey, somehow my lightroom did not show EXIF (need to figure out settings). The "nervous" bokeh pic is 1/320, f 5.6, ISO 250. I see what you mean. Need to shoot more pictures.

Exactly: shoot more, take different exposures, vary the parameters. Understanding bokeh requires a bit of experimentation.
05-22-2014, 07:14 AM   #11
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QuoteOriginally posted by micromacro Quote
Could you please tell me how can you evaluate test bokeh of that lens?
I don't know about "creamy", but I do know about:
  • Pleasing
  • Smooth
  • Busy/nervous
  • Jarring
  • Unpleasant
  • Smeary
  • Blobby
  • Circular/swirly
The key is in the smoothness and grace of the blurred tonal transitions. Many reviewers are obsessed with the outline of the OOF highlights and will down grade even very acceptable blur if the blade count is not high.* Eight-sided is better than six which is better than the wretched five and please save us from the abominable four!!! It is not a problem for me in that specular highlights are not a prominent feature of most background blur.

What I have found can be summarized:
  • Most lenses (including zooms) have pretty good bokeh
  • Some excel in this regard (I have three "bokeh queens")
  • Some are unique (i.e. swirly)
  • Wide angle lenses originally designed for 35mm film often stink (tend to be nervous or busy)
  • Ditto for APS-C 24mm and below
  • Some very sharp lenses fail here (how do we spell X-R R-I-K-E-N-O-N?)
  • Ultra wides and fisheyes should not be evaluated for bokeh
Just my 2-cents worth


Steve

* Those reviewers LOVE the older manual and preset aperture lenses with their high blade counts. I think my Jupiter-9 has 15 blades and an essentially round iris opening.

Last edited by stevebrot; 05-22-2014 at 07:23 AM.
05-22-2014, 07:24 AM   #12
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QuoteOriginally posted by bdery Quote
can become busy. Nothing as dramatic as the DA21 LTD:
I would call that bokeh a mess because, imo, the background does not compliment the subject. However, it would give the strong statement with different subject.

---------- Post added 05-22-14 at 07:25 AM ----------

QuoteOriginally posted by Tanzer Quote
Take a look at the Mirror Lens Club for some examples of "bad" bokeh. Like the first shot in this post:
https://www.pentaxforums.com/forums/122-lens-clubs/71775-mirror-lens-club-47.html#post2577843
That exactly what I meant above: the right subject- right bokeh, imo. Wonderful picture.

---------- Post added 05-22-14 at 07:32 AM ----------

QuoteOriginally posted by stevebrot Quote
What I have found can be summarized:
  • Most lenses (including zooms) have pretty good bokeh
  • Some excel in this regard (I have three "bokeh queens")
  • Some are unique (i.e. swirly)
  • Wide angle lenses originally designed for 35mm film often stink (tend to be nervous or busy)
  • Ditto for APS-C 24mm and below
  • Some very sharp lenses fail here (how do we spell X-R R-I-K-E-N-O-N?)
  • Ultra wides and fisheyes should not be evaluated for bokeh
Just my 2-cents worth


Steve

* Those reviewers LOVE the older manual and preset aperture lenses with their high blade counts. I think my Jupiter-9 has 15 blades and an essentially round iris opening.
At least something to understand... and I still don't when it comes to reading an experts
I just thought about one thing: in lens review it would be helpful if every reviewer would add years they do photography. For example, on jewelry supply forum I can see who leaves feedback to product: student, amateur or professional.
So, if I write review on the lens without telling that I got my first DSLR last November, I may just give the wrong impression about my skills and a credibility of my opinion.
05-22-2014, 07:43 AM   #13
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Bokeh is quite subjective. But it does have a certain character, and while it is difficult to say which bokeh is "good" you can quickly notice when its "bad." But it depends on many things! It depends on lens design, aperture, and distances (between photographer and focus, between focus and background, etc.) as well as the background itself. Ideally, bokeh would be part of your consideration when deciding which lens to use. But most of us don't have that many lenses and don't have their specific bokeh-types memorized. There are some rule of thumbs, but they might not always apply. Generally speaking, fast lenses and tele lenses will create "more bokeh" (as wrong as that phrase may sound), while wide angle or slow lenses tend to make more jagged, harsh bokeh. Of course, even jagged bokeh can work for some photos. I'd like to post two examples. The first one is the DA 40mm XS with its rounded aperture blades:


Blur flowers (big version and exif here)


The transition between in-focus and out of focus isn't jarring, and while the background flowers are out of focus, you can still tell their shapes. To me, this is quite pleasing. The OoF area doesn't take attention away from the subject, but it compliments it.
Then here is the 14mm Samyang. It is such a wide angle, people don't usually associate it with bokeh, since wide angle lenses tend to have a huge DoF and aren't really used for bokeh photos. Its bokeh is quite dramatic, so it might not work for most photos. But I think in this case, it works because it enhances the contrast between the snowy, winter background and the little golden leaf hanging on. But its not exactly "beautiful" (even though its pretty good for a UWA). And I expect some viewers to disagree and most viewers (non-photographers) to not even consciously notice this.


UWA leaf (big version and exif here)


So yes, when a review is trying to quantify bokeh, the best it can do is to describe its character and compare it to other lenses of similar focal length

Last edited by Na Horuk; 05-22-2014 at 07:50 AM.
05-22-2014, 07:59 AM   #14
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QuoteOriginally posted by micromacro Quote
I would call that bokeh a mess because, imo, the background does not compliment the subject. However, it would give the strong statement with different subject.
To my eyes, with that particular picture, I think it helps bring the subject forward. But while some people love that rendering, others dislike it and I can understand why.

The DA21 is a lens that grows on you and does not deliver its best results right at first. However it can certainly universally pleasing results

05-22-2014, 08:01 AM   #15
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QuoteOriginally posted by Na Horuk Quote
So yes, when a review is trying to quantify bokeh, the best it can do is to describe its character and compare it to other lenses of similar focal length
Yes, with all those examples it seems impossible just to rate bokeh in some number because it depends on many things including subjective preferences. At least this part is not confusing any more.
Actually, bokeh is interesting subject to learn about it.

---------- Post added 05-22-14 at 08:03 AM ----------

QuoteOriginally posted by bdery Quote
To my eyes, with that particular picture, I think it helps bring the subject forward. But while some people love that rendering, others dislike it and I can understand why.
I think that the pure example of personal taste and also most likely experience in photography.
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