View Full Version : Modern Lenses with great Bokeh

Ron Bose
13-Feb-2004, 11:40
Okay, okay, I've been spending too much time on the Leica forum on photo.net ...

Which of the modern day lenses, like the Sironars, Super Symmar XLs, etc. have the awe inspiring bokeh that creates the same excitement as certain Summicron and Elmarit glass ?

Or are LF lenses stopped down too much to have meaningful out-of-focus areas ?

CP Goerz
13-Feb-2004, 11:47
'Bokeh' is Japanese for bull$hit, just thought you might like to know ;-)

cp goerz

Arne Croell
13-Feb-2004, 12:17
Some examples of LF lens bokeh can be found in Merklingers online article on the topic: <a href="http://luminous-landscape.com/essays/bokeh.shtml">http://luminous-landscape.com/essays/bokeh.shtml<a/>

David A. Goldfarb
13-Feb-2004, 14:28

How modern is "modern"? I find this Schneider 210-370/5.6-12 Symmar convertible to be surprisingly smooth, and it's a nice portrait length for 4x5". That might or might not transfer to the more recent Symmars, which are better corrected.

Jason Greenberg Motamedi
13-Feb-2004, 16:32
The new Cooke Portrait is supposed to have "awe inspiring bokeh". However, the examples on their website aren't very encouraging.

and by the way, "Bokeru" is Japanese for senility.

Andrew O'Neill
13-Feb-2004, 16:35
My Japanese wife calls me this all the time. Boke means mentally weak, faint, fade. Now you know how boke can apply to a photograph according to the Japanese......but not my wife. It only applies to me. (She's pissed at me for all that 8x10 film and 16x20 paper I purchased).

Bob Fowler
13-Feb-2004, 17:37
The saying "One man's trash is another's treasure" comes to mind. Liking the "look" of a particular lens in a particular application is a very personal thing. Too many factors come into play to nail down a "best" lens...

David R Munson
13-Feb-2004, 20:08
I've been very pleased with my 210mm Nikkor-W in this respect. "Bokeh" has come into play a fair amount with this lens in both portrait applications and in situations where I'm specifically defocusing/swinging and tilting the "wrong" way for very selective focus.

Oren Grad
13-Feb-2004, 21:28
Ron -

I wrote one of the articles in the now-(in)famous bokeh special feature in Photo Techniques magazine a few years back.

I'm a big fan of the Rodenstock Apo-Sironar-N and -S series. Under optimal conditions and with appropriate subjects, I think their rendering is absolutely sublime, nicer even than that of Mandler's marvelous 35 Summicron, one of my favorite lenses in 35mm. Also among recent plasmat designs, to my eye Schneider Apo-Symmar bokeh is not bad at all; on the other hand, I dislike Nikkor bokeh and intensely dislike Fujinon bokeh.

Thanks to David Goldfarb for posting that example. To pick up on his final point, an Apo-Symmar would indeed render this picture differently. I prefer the way an Apo-Symmar renders backgrounds to what we see of the old convertible Symmar in this picture, though I can understand why some may find the older lens more flattering for portraits because it's not so intensely sharp or "clinical" in the way it renders objects at the plane of focus.

But this just underlines the most important point: you shouldn't rely on the judgment of someone else who doesn't know you and your tastes very well. If you follow the messages here over time it will be obvious that different people have very different tastes in image character, and some don't much care about it at all. There's no "best" in any absolute sense - the only way to really know what's right for you is to test different lenses for yourself on subjects typical of what you like to photograph, and see a) whether there are any differences that matter to you and b) if so, which you like best.


Frank Petronio
14-Feb-2004, 04:53
Doesn't the shape of the aperture opening play a role? The Copals and most other LF shutters use fewer blades than the Leica lenses, so wide open I often get hexagon shaped flare and out of focus highlights, whereas with Leicas and my old Nikkor 85/1.4 I got round shapes.

David A. Goldfarb
14-Feb-2004, 05:17
The shape of the aperture affects the shape of out-of-focus highlights, and more round is generally considered more desirable, but overall design of the lens is more important, particularly the degree of spherical aberration. A lens that is "overcorrected" can produce out-of-focus double lines and highlights that are brighter at the edges than at the center clearly showing the shape of the aperture. Lenses that are considered to have good out-of-focus rendering don't produce double lines in the out-of-focus area and produce out-of-focus highlights that are bright in the center and fall off at the edges, making the shape of the aperture less important, because the shape isn't so clearly defined.

It is only recently that photographers started talking about these effects as "bokeh." In the age of soft focus all of these issues appear in advertisements that attempted to describe the particular qualities of one or another soft-focus lens.

Frank Petronio
14-Feb-2004, 09:03
For commercial work up until the mid 1990s, everything had to be sharp. Only with the trend towards selective focus has this bokeh stuff become a factor. Trend dogs!

David A. Goldfarb
14-Feb-2004, 09:26
"From the 1990s" but since when? I suspect the trend toward making the whole image sharp across the field started in the 1930s and by around 1960, sharpness and to a lesser extent distortion were the only characteristic considered by most purchasers and therefore manufacturers of new lenses. Here's a historic description of the Verito, for instance, published by Wollensak in their advertising materials:

"a specially designed double lens... which, while it gives the desired diffused or soft optical effect, shows no distortion, double lines, or other optical imperfections, and being rectilinear gives an even diffusion over the whole plate... Will not make sharp negatives with wiry definition unless stopped down to f:8."

"Double lines," or classic "bad bokeh," are an "optical imperfection" circa 1920.

Jim Galli
14-Feb-2004, 11:56
Actually, LF lenses are born with good bokeh for all the same reasons that make the 35 sumi stellar. In 35 it's the closest thing to perfect set back (actually 40mm is even better) and can be designed with the simplest elegance. No extra design considerations to compensate for film to nodal distance. Since we focus with bellows our lenses enjoy that same advantage. I have a couple of fave's but unfortunately you may chastise me for not meeting the "modern" requirement. The image below was done with a Schneider 305 Repro Claron. Not a lens folks normally think of for bokeh. Shot wide open on a piece of 8X10 APHS graphic arts film. Small .jpg's are troublesome but in the original print the detail in the Chevrolet "Bow Tie" will make your heart jump, and the transition to de-focus is silky.

Bokeh Chevrolet

Pretty subjective subject really and someone else might not care for this "bokeh" at all. Another lens that always pleases but is even less "modern" is the Voigtlander Heliar. Shot at f4.5 they are smoooooothe.