Thoughts On Bokeh

So there I was, verifying that my brand new cheap Nikon 50mm AFS 1.4G actually worked. I noticed a tiny bit of back focus when doing ridiculous tests that probably wouldn't show up in the real world. Made minor adjustments just so it wouldn't be flying around my head while shooting things I care about. I hate distractions that nag at me when shooting. As usual after I think I am done with that I go shoot a bunch of stupid crap handheld just to see what happens when I shoot like I normally do.

Typically I shoot random StupidCrap™ and in doing so my mind wanders around paying not a whole lot of attention to what I am shooting. The first thing that wandered around is how brutish the D600 and stubby fat AF-S lenses look mated together. Like some sort of little black broad shouldered bulldog. Not elegant at all. It really should bark instead of clack when you shoot it. Not just the Nikon but all DSLRS with big fat stubby lenses look this way. Sort of the same impression you get of a black Dodge Charger or something. Brutish and bulldog-ish. I really wish they had a bit more elegance to them. I kinda like how thin the metal barrels were around old glass and the various seemingly purposeful white engraved lettering on the front of a lot of them on a very thin matte but not too black edge took somehow just looked right. Whatever it makes nice pictures.

The second place my mind wandered was looking at the out of focus rendering. Yes I care about that. Details and nuances are definitely important in photography. There are tons of them in every image that you make. Equipment factors, optical properties, subject expressions, light. Each of them have seemingly endless factors and we try to manipulate, understand, and bring all of them together for whatever we individually conjure up in our mind's eye as perfection.

Here is my take on Bokeh. Ignore this if you are a Bokeh-head - more power to you, I guess. First and foremost there are lenses I absolutely do not like in terms of the way they look. Some of this may have to do with out of focus rendering but it's probably not just that. For me it's kind of a bottom line kind of thing that nets it all out. I can tell if I am going to generally like or dislike the way a particular lens renders in about 10 minutes shooting it. Sometimes but not usually I can tell looking through the viewfinder - not todays useless almost clear viewfinders but older fantastic focusing screens that give you a much better idea what looks like what.

Once I decide if I like the way a lens looks I am pretty much good to go. Here's why. I shoot in one of three modes. Shallow mode, I don't really care about depth of focus mode, and deep mode. In shallow mode I operate somewhere from f1.4 to f4 with my typical go-to glass. If you don't know what that is - it's somewhere from 50-105mm on FF. Once in a while it's 35mm. Yea I am limited. All of those apertures on all of those focal lengths are pretty shallow at the ranges in which I use them. As long as they look good in general I am a happy camper. I won't go into the other two modes - they aren't relevant to this discussion.

So what about bokeh. Well… Lenses I like, quite a few of them would probably rank fairly low on bokeh-heads list of oh so so wonderful bokeh-generators. A few of them may actually be categorized as bad. Well from f1.4 to f4 all of them have fantastic bokeh in my pictures so I am okay. Here is my take on all of the internet bullshit you read about "bad-bokeh" or so so "bokeh". Having extensive experience with a shit load of lenses that the illuminati would consider fantastic to so-so to bad in terms of out of focus rendering, what these guys are really saying is more like "If I try my hardest to provoke sloppy, shitty, looking out of focus rendering - this particular lens looks the best. It still looks like shit but less shitty".

Here is what I mean… There are certain circumstances that really look bad. Some look even worse when they are out of focus. Tree branches against blown sky comes to mind or things like that. In general they will look like crap from the worst OOF rendering to the best. I take the approach of "hey doctor, it hurts when I do this… Doctor says well don't do that". Paying attention to OOF areas is pretty important in image making - I take that approach rather than relying on the "perfect" lens to make my lack of attention look less shitty, in reality it will probably still be shitty-er than if you used a sub-optimal lens and shot differently.

Now here is the other rub… I have lenses that bokeh-heads would consider the ne plus ultra as well as the so-so or even ummmm ugly. Without exception there are cases and circumstances where I prefer one OOF rendering over the other rather than always just the generally thought of "best one". In some images under some conditions the OOF characteristics of the "ugly ones" look better and in some images and conditions the "good ones" look better. I bottom lined this a long time ago for me. Unless I hate the rendering of a particular lens it will be circumstantial whether I prefer one over another and generally they will be nits anyway. I also continue to shoot so that my OOF areas will hopefully look good and contribute the same way I have been doing it and as I continue to learn and explore become better at it. A little experience goes a long way - both in making backgrounds not look shitty as well as getting to really know your gear and it's imaging properties.

There you have it. This is the kind of stupid shit I think of when doing mindless exercises like focus tuning and testing.

Shot at top with 50mm 1.4G and VSCO film03 polaroid 690-. I declare it fine. Ps. In this shot I was playing w/ focus plane to get as much as I could from front to back in focus. Tilt the camera more perpendicular move down and you will have an explosion of OOF stuff.


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