Bokeh galore
September 12, 2008 1:38 PM   Subscribe

What are some of your favourite bokeh lenses and settings for head-and-shoulder portraiture?
posted by johannahdeschanel to Technology (19 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
To answer the inevitable question: It's Nikon as the tags indicate.
posted by Tomorrowful at 1:42 PM on September 12, 2008

Response by poster: um, i am quite biased but i deleted it.
posted by johannahdeschanel at 1:44 PM on September 12, 2008

I don't have a Nikon, so I don't have specific lens recommendations, but for settings you'll want the aperture wide open and a focal length (equivalent) in the 70-100mm range.
posted by echo target at 1:50 PM on September 12, 2008

Digital? Easy: Nikon 50mm f/1.8.
posted by exogenous at 1:54 PM on September 12, 2008

I'm not sure how one would objectively judge bokeh, but I have a Canon 50mm f/1.4 (which on a crop sensor equates to ~80mm). Shooting wide open with the subject fairly close, it has rich, buttery bokeh. Here's an example.

Next up, the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 L does quite well. I don't know exactly what 'bad' bokeh would look like, but these two lenses are great when you want to take portraits that really 'pop.'
posted by mullingitover at 2:15 PM on September 12, 2008

On flickr (and just about anywhere else, I guess), you can look at the EXIF data of portraits that you like.
posted by Stylus Happenstance at 2:17 PM on September 12, 2008

The bokeh king is the Canon 85mm f/1.2, by far. Never seen anything quite like it. (PS by tags, did you mean to type "Nikon" but type "meditation"?)
posted by bonaldi at 2:35 PM on September 12, 2008

I'm lusting after the 85mm 1.2 (Canon for me, please). The settings are a case-by-case thing, but the classical is wide open. Also theoretically (which is practically in most cases too), you should focus on the eyes - such wide apertures close to a subject make DoF razor thin.

I've been using the cheapo 50mm 1.8, and I'm pretty happy with it. I've got some portraits on my flickr stream (it's on my profile) using just that. And yeah, checking out the EXIF data on portraits you like is always a good way to both learn something and get "technically inspired".
posted by neblina_matinal at 2:37 PM on September 12, 2008

Bokeh... of those things that seems to enthrall amateur photographers, pixel peepers, and Leica owners.

Nobody else (including clients of professional photographers) in the whole world gives a damn about it.

I'm not trying to beat you up but am simply stating a fact.

If it's important to you, prime lenses like the 50/1.8 that exogenous suggested are, as a rule, better than zooms. Fast high end zooms are better than variable aperture slower zooms.

If I had a client come to me and ask specifically for some limited depth of field images with creamy backgrounds, I'd go with my 35/2, 50/1.4, 85/18, or 70-200/2.8, depending on the angle of view required.

Two years ago I shot an ad campaign with exactly that requirement and used my 50/1.4 for most of the ads and my 35/2 for one due to location constraints. In all honesty, I could have shot them all with my 17-55/2.8 and the final images would have looked pretty much the same as those I delivered.
posted by imjustsaying at 2:57 PM on September 12, 2008

The 85mm 1.2 is a really awkward lens to shoot with. I rented it for a weekend and got some real low light shots, but using it still totally made me not want one.

The manual focus only works while the shutter release is half down, and the minimum focusing distance wasn't far enough. And it was slow to focus. And it was heavy. Ugh. I prefer the 50mm f/1.4 lens a lot.
posted by aubilenon at 2:57 PM on September 12, 2008

For Nikon, you can go with the 85mm f/1.4 the 50mm f/1.4 (or 1.8, the 1.8 is cheaper) or a 35 f/2 (which gives great bokeh and is also ~50mm if you are using a dx sensor). Also, little known is the 45mm f/2.8 pancake lens which is always very pleasing.
posted by Upal at 2:57 PM on September 12, 2008

I use my 70-200mm f/2.8 IS for nearly all my portrait work. Don't know what I did before I owned that lens!
posted by blaneyphoto at 3:02 PM on September 12, 2008

If you're using Nikon gear, definitely the 85mm 1.4. If manual focus doesn't bother you, you can always find a used 105mm f/1.8 for pretty cheap too.
posted by Venadium at 3:12 PM on September 12, 2008

Nobody else (including clients of professional photographers) in the whole world gives a damn about it.

This is deeply wrong. If you mean nobody cares about the quality of the bokeh there's something in that, yes, at least as far as some pixel peepers push it. If you mean they don't care whether or not a portrait has a blurred background, you're incorrect.
posted by bonaldi at 3:12 PM on September 12, 2008

posted by jeffburdges at 3:52 PM on September 12, 2008

My favorite portrait lens is the 50mm f/1.4. I'm a Canon girl, but I've recommended it to at least two Nikon people who are head over heels with it, too. Here are a few examples from my camera, and one from my Nikon wielding friend's.
posted by mewithoutyou at 5:27 PM on September 12, 2008

It may not fit what you're doing, but give a Lensbaby a try. Not so much bokeh I suppose, but wicked focus control...
posted by photomusic86 at 6:21 PM on September 12, 2008

My favorite lenses, bokeh-wise (that I own):
Rodenstock Sironar-S 150mm f/5.6 in a copal 0 shutter (covers 4x5")
Bronica Zenzanon 150mm f/4 S and 250mm f/5.6 PS for the SQ system
Pentacon 135mm f/2.8 16-blade aperture for M42
Canon 85mm f/1.2L
posted by jedrek at 10:11 AM on September 13, 2008

If the most interesting thing about your photographs is the out of focus area, than you might want to rethink your photography.

That said, I have the Canon 85mm f/1.8 which is great and affordable, but obviously not a Nikon lens. I've been told the f/1.2 is nicer, but it's also far more gigantic and focuses slower if I'm not mistaken. (That might not be a big issue for portrait photography.)
posted by chunking express at 12:10 PM on September 15, 2008

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