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Thread: Huge DOF vs Bokeh

  1. #1
    Mitch Alland
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    Huge DOF vs Bokeh

    Jono Slack wrote the following interesting statement in another thread:
    Quote Originally Posted by jonoslack View Post
    ...but if there's one thing that this forum has taught me, it's that the huge depth of field of the small sensor cameras is an asset not to be easily dismissed...
    I used to be enamoured of highly blurred-out backgrounds, but increasingly feel that use of this technique is often a gimmick: an easy way out, particularly for portraits, "to isolate the subject" as they say — most of the time I feel it's trite. The following picture was taken with the Summilux-75 on Tri-X and has the creamy rendition of that lens; but I no longer like the picture and feel that it would be better if the background were either in focus or only slightly out ot focus:




    For the type of portraits I now make I prefer just only a touch of bokeh, as in the following two pictures taken with the GRD2 with its 40mm EFL tele-converter at ISO 400. (Sorry for reposting these, but I think they make the point):








    Maggie, if you're reading this you may have noticed that I've gone with the higher contrast version of the last picture, and I've also accentuated the grain a bit through sharpening.

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    Last edited by Mitch Alland; 28th February 2008 at 18:38.

  2. #2
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    Re: Huge DOF vs Bokeh

    Mitch, I was just thinking how good that version looked! Did you use the grain files on it or is that noise from the GR-D II?

  3. #3
    Mitch Alland
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    Re: Huge DOF vs Bokeh

    Quote Originally Posted by Maggie O View Post
    Mitch, I was just thinking how good that version looked! Did you use the grain files on it or is that noise from the GR-D II?
    Maggie, that's just the grain-like noise from the GRD2 at ISO 400, heightened by increased contrast and two mid-tone sharpenings at 20/50/0 (one of them masked at the decolleté to avoid an excessive shadow from the dress) and a third sharpening at 100/2.5/20 — quite aggressive. I must I prefer this to using Alien Skin Exposure and inserting grain. I also lightened the eyes, which are hazel, and which got too dark with the increase in contrast.

    Although OT for this thread here's the other portrait from the other discussion on which I also increased contrast, as I feel it expresses the personality of the subject better than the other versions of the picture:




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    Re: Huge DOF vs Bokeh

    Mitch I like this higher contrast version more, it heightens the mood or drama of the portrait.

  5. #5
    7ian7
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    Re: Huge DOF vs Bokeh

    Mitch, and everyone,

    I did an assignment two weeks ago, and I experienced the exact opposite feeling; after shooting with a loaner Nikon D3 and D300, and the 50 and 85 1.4's, once I was editing my results I became very nostalgic for shallow depth-of-field as an ever-ready option in my personal work ... it didn't feel gimmicky at all, just beautiful and expressionistic, though I know it can be overused. And the higher resolution was just ... better, especially during post-processing. I'm not sure about the math, but the results from the high-end dSLR's still feel more like 35's than medium format cameras to me, just unfortunately cumbersome.

    On an up note, the intense bokeh from that setup inspired me to shoot a good portion of the still-life component of the job with the GX-100, using it to create a series of manually (out of) focussed pictures of backlit glass bottles — and those pictures are kind of all bokeh!

    Anyway, since then I've been lusting after one of the new Nikons, especially the D3's 4x5 crop mode, or an M8, despite a long history of terrible luck focussing Leicas! Yet again, I'm considering devoting less of my personal photography to the small sensors.

    I have been loving the challenge and aesthetic of the clarity of the small sensors, and cool miniature size and ergonomics of these little guys, but if I'm honest, I really do wish shallow depth-of-field — beyond macro — and at least somewhat greater dynamic range were at least part of the Ricohs' arsenal. Not to mention long, fast portrait lenses.

    Ok, it's late and I'm ... typically ... way over-writing.

    Cheers.

  6. #6
    Colman
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    Re: Huge DOF vs Bokeh

    I used to be enamoured of highly blurred-out backgrounds, but increasingly feel that use of this technique is often a gimmick
    My first reaction is to think that that is very easy to say when you have the good judgement to be taking pictures of pretty girls in Thailand in great locations!

    More seriously, sometimes you want a portrait just of the person and sometimes you want the person and the environment: it depends on the situation, the subject and the story you're trying to tell.

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    Re: Huge DOF vs Bokeh

    Quote Originally Posted by 7ian7 View Post
    Mitch, and everyone,

    I did an assignment two weeks ago, and I experienced the exact opposite feeling; after shooting with a loaner Nikon D3 and D300, and the 50 and 85 1.4's, once I was editing my results I became very nostalgic for shallow depth-of-field as an ever-ready option in my personal work ... it didn't feel gimmicky at all, just beautiful and expressionistic, though I know it can be overused. And the higher resolution was just ... better, especially during post-processing. I'm not sure about the math, but the results from the high-end dSLR's still feel more like 35's than medium format cameras to me, just unfortunately cumbersome.
    Well, I think that both are good, and since we are posting examples, here is a nostalgic and unhealthy picture from an English pub just before the smoking ban:

    I don't see how this could possibly have worked with a large depth of field.
    (incidentally, it was with an M8 with the 75 'cron at f2).

    I'm very happy with my current setup:
    GX100 / Dlux3 for that BIG depth of field
    E3 for the SLR moments (and of course there are some,)
    M8 for portraits, candids and some landscapes (and it's not cumbersome).

    It makes for a nice range of depth of field options, without being too cumbersome.

    I do get tempted by Medium Format, but my style (such as it is) is definitely reactive; give me a tripod and a sunrise and every ounce of creativity goes out the window!.

    Just this guy you know

  8. #8
    7ian7
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    Re: Huge DOF vs Bokeh

    Nice picture, and nice camera line-up.

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    Re: Huge DOF vs Bokeh

    Mitch -- this is a very interesting topic. I was thinking about it the other day. I find that the pictures I like best usually have a large amount of depth of field. I think that you are right that bokeh can be a compositional crutch -- just blast away all the background in order to make it simpler, but at other times it can be a very important consideration. It is one of the reasons that I like the 35/1.4 ASPH so much -- shoot it at 1.4 and you have some bokeh and can isolate a subject, shoot it at f/5.6 and you have a great deal of depth of field. I consider it a truly universal lens for this reason. That is the aspect that I miss on occasion in small sensor cameras -- not the fact that they can't do one eye in focus and one eye out, but the fact that they have difficulty providing ANY bokeh or isolation when focused at a distance.
    Here some examples to show what I mean:
    This is the 35/1.4 ASPH shot at 1.4. I shot it at 1.4 because it was dark out and I had to, but I think that the effect it gives of a sharp subject but slightly blurred (while still completely recognizable) background makes the image pop in a way that it wouldn't at f/5.6.


    On the contrary, these are images with the 35/1.4 that are stopped down and show more depth of field...



    It is easy to fall into the bokeh trap, but it is capable of making really nice images, especially when using it to gently soften the background rather than just blow it away completely. In my opinion, the reason why the superfast lenses like the 75/1.4, 50/1.4 and 35/1.4 are great is not because they can make the depth of field razor thin up close, but because you can shoot them at a distance and still soften your background. There is something about a wide angle of view and a moderately shallow depth of field that suits my vision.

  10. #10
    asabet
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    Re: Huge DOF vs Bokeh

    Quote Originally Posted by Mitch Alland View Post
    For the type of portraits I now make I prefer just only a touch of bokeh, as in the following two pictures taken with the GRD2 with its 40mm EFL tele-converter at ISO 400. (Sorry for reposting these, but I think they make the point):
    To me, a "touch of bokeh" as you put it is frequently all an image needs. However, with wide angle shots, a small sensor camera frequently renders no bokeh whatsoever, which can compromise the sense of depth. For example, here is an image of mine (sorry, posted this before but I think it works as an example here) with the GX100 at 24mm, where I think a bit of blur in the distance would have been an improvement:



    Wide angle shots with small sensor cameras sometimes produce the undesirable (IMO) effect of the subject being "plastered" to the background. Sometimes this effect works, as with Sean Reid's images taken through car windshields. In that case, it actually creates a sense of depth. More often, however, I think it has the opposite effect. Here's a DP1 portrait where I think the OOF elements improve the image. Because of it's fast lens, a GRD can create a similar effect (relatively shallow DOF) in this type of portrait, but many wide angle small sensor cameras simply cannot.

  11. #11
    7ian7
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    Re: Huge DOF vs Bokeh

    Nice work and written point-of-view.

    A travel-photographer friend based in Paris did a 4-day job in Cuba last week with nothing but the 35 1.4 and her M6, with Kodak print film, no photo bag and no backup except for the GRD that I convinced her to buy last year, which she likes in theory but rarely touches. Her results from the Leica setup still blow everything else away. It really is an easily discernible difference, what those lenses do, even on the pages of Gourmet or whatever. I also shot with a Nikon mount Zeiss 85 1.4 on the D3 last week, and that's pretty intense too, but a little weird, color-wise. Those little Leica lenses are incredible.

    Oh one more thing —*the D3 does have amazing high-iso performance, so one can achieve greater dof than ever from an slr, with low noise. Maybe not comparable with the small sensors, but impressive.

  12. #12
    7ian7
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    Re: Huge DOF vs Bokeh

    Interesting sample, Amin. That DP1 is gonna be huge, whatever hesitation any of us are expressing!

  13. #13
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    Re: Huge DOF vs Bokeh

    I cannot answer as regards Leica lenses, however I do tend to agree that some I've seen use bokeh purely for its own sake. One almost expects them to have shot where *nothing* is in focus and praise the quality to the heavens, lol.
    But, I like having the option sometimes to Isolate my subject from the back ground just a bit more.
    Ian's example of his friend using only her Leica and 35/1.4 (droool)
    is wonderful, if only from the minimalist viewpoint.
    That is exactly how I used my Hexar, albeit not in Cuba! However I only ever tended to open the aperture enough to give me the shutter speed I needed.
    NO Bokeh for Bokeh's sake
    Last edited by Lili; 29th February 2008 at 10:05.

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    Re: Huge DOF vs Bokeh

    Since I've recently taken so many photos with small sensor cameras, I've grown accustomed to having nearly everything in focus. And for the most part that's ok.

    But on some photos I find I want to add a bit of blur after the fact -- generally because other people/things in the frame are distracting me.

    The 'bokeh' was an add-on in this photo (actually taken w/ a dslr in very bright daylight).

    Some would call this cheating.


  15. #15
    7ian7
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    Re: Huge DOF vs Bokeh

    Hexar ... Hexar. It's what I keep hoping for from my Ricoh, but can't honestly claim it's there yet. My friend's Leica results do make me consider running some film through my Hexar, but .... then I'm booking time at a rental scanner ....

    P.S. I love pictures where nothing is in focus, where it's completely about light-lens-texture.

  16. #16
    7ian7
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    Re: Huge DOF vs Bokeh

    Anyway, as great as the Hexar is, it is not an M-series Leica, glass-wise (although my pictures were always in focus).

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    Re: Huge DOF vs Bokeh

    Quote Originally Posted by 7ian7 View Post
    Hexar ... Hexar. It's what I keep hoping for from my Ricoh, but can't honestly claim it's there yet. My friend's Leica results do make me consider running some film through my Hexar, but .... then I'm booking time at a rental scanner ....
    P.S. I love pictures where nothing is in focus, where it's completely about light-lens-texture.
    I wanted a digital Hexar too, still do in fact. But the Ricoh is a very different palette, and that is not a bad thing either

    I would love to have seen her work from that trip!

    In regard to your idea; actually after I made that joke, I thought about it, and realized it might be very interesting, hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm

  18. #18
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    Re: Huge DOF vs Bokeh

    Quote Originally Posted by 7ian7 View Post
    Anyway, as great as the Hexar is, it is not an M-series Leica, glass-wise (although my pictures were always in focus).

  19. #19
    7ian7
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    Re: Huge DOF vs Bokeh

    Cuba pix are for a Japanese magazine, don't know which one. When it's out she'll let me know. She has the last feature in the March Gourmet — but that's off topic, unless you want to be reminded how great film looks.

    Cheerio

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    Re: Huge DOF vs Bokeh

    Quote Originally Posted by 7ian7 View Post
    Cuba pix are for a Japanese magazine, don't know which one. When it's out she'll let me know. She has the last feature in the March Gourmet — but that's off topic, unless you want to be reminded how great film looks.

    Cheerio
    Cool, let me know if or when you find out
    I really do miss film as well.
    Sigh

  21. #21
    Mitch Alland
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    Re: Huge DOF vs Bokeh

    Quote Originally Posted by asabet View Post
    To me, a "touch of bokeh" as you put it is frequently all an image needs. However, with wide angle shots, a small sensor camera frequently renders no bokeh whatsoever, which can compromise the sense of depth. For example, here is an image of mine (sorry, posted this before but I think it works as an example here) with the GX100 at 24mm, where I think a bit of blur in the distance would have been an improvement...
    The first picture I posted above — the o-o-f samlor and the infocus cactus has the type of smooth blur that that most people would call "good bokeh". Nevertheless, I don't like the picture now because, as I said, I find it trite and gimmicky. In contrast, here is a Summilux-50 — pre-ASPH of course! — shot at f/1.4 whose bokeh I like and find effective in the structure of the composition:





    What I like a about the 40mm tele-converter is that if you take a portrait at f/2.4 in which the subject is, say, 1–1.5m away you get the "touch of bokeh" that I like, as in the portrait I posted above.

    But there are other ways than blurring the background of isolating the subject: one way is to burn in what you want to de-emphasize, as I have done with the man in the GX100/ISO 800 picture below that I posted in another thread. So man does not need to live by bokeh alone — a technique that I learned by looking at lot of Moriyama Daido photographs, which are often heavily manipulted: sometimes so heavily and obviously that you realize that he is saying, "hey, this is a photograph not the real thing" like Magrittle's painting Ceci n'est pas une pipe.





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