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Saturday, June 03, 2006

Once More, Without Feeling

I noticed a long "BOKE Thread" on dpreview, in the course of which there is much agonized inventing of definitions. Once again, bo-ke is just blur, specifically out of focus blur as opposed to motion blur or camera shake, and long ago I added an "h" to it to help people pronounce it properly—whether you use the "h" or not has nothing to do with how polite you're being (!).

There is nothing implied that requires the blur have specular highlights in it or that it somehow show the characteristics of the lens. If the picture contains o-o-f blur, then it's "got" bokeh.

For the past half-dozen years or so, I've generally just said "blur" in talking about it.

The opposite is (also rather awkwardly) called "pan-focus," meaning that everything is in focus from front to back (nothing having to do with "panning").

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON

Featured Comment: from JK: "In retrospect, in those articles in PT we should have introduced one more Japanese word: 'pinto' (prononunced 'peen-toe,' not like the beans). It means in-focus. Anything in a photo that isn't pinto is boke. It really is that simple." [John Kennerdell was the author of one of the three articles in PHOTO Techniques that introduced bokeh to the West. The others were Oren Grad and Harold Merklinger. —MJ]

11 Comments:

Blogger falmanac said...

My 20D (&10D & dRebel) seemed to favor pan focus while my 5D (using the same lenses) seems to lean towards bokeh. Why is that? Or am I just seeing things?

3:37 PM  
Anonymous 01af said...

Terminology (or the evolution thereof) can take wicked ways. Just recently I came across a person who seriously believed 'bokeh' had nothing to do with pictures or the blur therein but referred to a lens property ...

-- Olaf

3:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've always considered boke to refer to the (subjective) quality of the out-of-focus regions of a photograph, not simply the out-of-focus regions themselves. And lens therefore can have the characteristic of producing pleasing boke, but of course the lens itself doesn't "have" boke.

7:20 PM  
Anonymous JK said...

In retrospect, in those articles in PT we should have introduced one more Japanese word: "pinto" (prononunced "peen-toe", not like the beans). It means in-focus. Anything in a photo that isn't pinto is boke. It really is that simple.

8:31 PM  
Anonymous Dean Johnston said...

Not sure if this will really contribute anything. I don’t read Japanese photo magazines, because my Japanese is nowhere even close to being up to it, but I do know that the term “bokeh-aji” is often used to describe the way a particular lens renders the out of focus areas on a photograph. “Aji” means ‘taste.’ So, bokeh-aji is a term for talking about the feeling or character of the out of focus areas of a photograph. “Bokeh” itself just means blur (or senility). A friend of mine, who is fluent in Japanese and who is an avid reader of Japanese photo magazines, tells me that bokeh-aji is the term most used here. Back to work then.

10:40 PM  
Anonymous Dierk said...

Even more interesting than th etymological discussion is the inherent idiocy of the "concept" bokeh in itself. I don't deny differences between lenses rendering out-of-focus areas - but are they quantifiable? Are they real or simply a matter of taste?

I always wonder what people come up with to find "real" quality differences; eventually it is only for justifying one's past (or sometimes) future decisions. "My camer/lens/car/DVD-player is better than yours because [insert any inane idea you have]!"

Current gear is so good that technical differences can only be seen in laboratory tests but very rarely in real world shots. We could now focus on the contents and creative input of photos - which is much harder than coming up with numbers, like in the Megapixel debate (another completely superfluous discussion).

3:27 AM  
Blogger Mike Johnston said...

"I don't deny differences between lenses rendering out-of-focus areas - but are they quantifiable? Are they real or simply a matter of taste?"

Of course they're real, and of course they're a matter of taste.


"Current gear is so good that technical differences can only be seen in laboratory tests but very rarely in real world shots."

I don't know who told you that, but if you buy it, you're in luck--you don't need to worry about the differences because you can't see them, and you can be happy with anything. I wish it were true.

--Mike

8:41 AM  
Anonymous Dierk said...

MJ, I am quite aware of visible differences between lenses - especially if I compare, say, a € 2000 Nikon with a € 150 Kiev (do they build lenses?). But between a top of the line 400 mm from Canon and the same from Nikon?

How come Bokeh does only play a role in discussing lenses for the past 10-15 years? Where former lenses so bad that we just didn't care about the background? Why have I never heard or read about this when Carl Zeiss or Leitz lenses were discussed?

There's only one - completely different - lens design Bokeh was discussed (not under that name): mirror lenses.

Ah, well, if people like to bicker about background blur ...

11:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Current gear is so good that technical differences can only be seen in laboratory tests but very rarely in real world shots."

Ironically, I believe that statement may be true only in so far as "sharpness" (maybe resolution?) is concerned. "Sharpness" seems to be the attribute of a lens most talked about, and the only attribute some people seem to care about. What I like about all this talk about "Bokeh" is that it represents the other attributes of a lens that really do show up in a print: quality of out of focus areas, control of flare, distortion, etc..

I'm suspicious that anyone who dismisses "Bokeh" (bokeh, smokeh) might also be a "sharpness freak"

1:02 PM  
Anonymous oren said...

How come Bokeh does only play a role in discussing lenses for the past 10-15 years? Where former lenses so bad that we just didn't care about the background?

People have been paying attention to this attribute of optical character probably as far back as lenses have been used for photography. For a nice example, check out the description of the Wollensak Verito lens in Wollensak's 1912-3 catalog (http://www.cameraeccentric.com/html/info/wollensakcate/p12.html). The Verito is characterized as showing "no distortion, double lines or other optical imperfections". "Double lines" is what we talk about today as "ni-sen boke", a Japanese term that literally says the same thing.

4:49 PM  
Anonymous CW said...

Why have I never heard or read about this when Carl Zeiss or Leitz lenses were discussed?

Actually it has always been there. Classic dagor large format lenses are known for their pleasant bokeh. With apologies for a third-hand reference, Bill Pierce once told me that he had a long discussion with the Leitz team that designed the Noctilux. They didn't use the *term* bokeh, but emphasized that when you design an f/1 lens, you realize that more than 90% of the area of most pictures will be out of focus, so you'd better pay plenty of attention to the rendering of out of focus areas. Other Leitz "M" glass is also famous for oof rendering. Compare a 50 Summilux with a 50mm Nikkor and the difference will leap out at you. Same if you compare a Rodenstock Apo Sironar with any comparable lens from Fuji.

5:49 PM  

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