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Smaller cameras, bigger lenses in bokeh quest

Posted on by Mike Evans

Compact Sony a7R and massive one-kilogram Zeiss Otus 55mm prime lens with its bright f/1.4 aperture. Most of the time an f/2 or f/2.8 lens is perfectly adequate and is tiny by comparison 

Compact Sony a7R and massive one-kilogram Zeiss Otus 55mm prime lens with its bright f/1.4 aperture. Most of the time an f/2 or f/2.8 lens is perfectly adequate and is tiny by comparison 

Writing for THEME, Japan-based photographer and author Karel van Wolferen wonders why lenses get bigger as cameras get smaller: 

Lots of swirly bokeh is what you get with large, bright lenses. This extreme example, taken with a Leica f/0.95 Noctilux, looks good. But everything except the head and torso is out of focus. It's the current fad but it breeds massive lenses for mini cameras

Lots of swirly bokeh is what you get with large, bright lenses. This extreme example, taken with a Leica f/0.95 Noctilux, looks good. But everything except the head and torso is out of focus. It's the current fad but it breeds massive lenses for mini cameras

Just as carrying basic equipment can no longer cramp our style, lens designers and manufacturers are spoiling the party. Explaining this would seem to have become urgently necessary. The quick explanation consists of two Japanese syllables: bokeh.

Once upon a time a maximum lens opening of F3.5 for a 35mm or medium format camera seemed good enough, and F2.8 desirable and more costly. Bigger openings were considered desirable only for low light situations. Super high ISO and accompanying noise suppressing software... have practically abolished those.

And in an echo of my verdict on Leica's "slow" X Vario, van Wolferen stands up for the smaller aperture.

Now we have enthusiasts on forums exclaiming, “What on earth were they thinking!”, as they castigate manufacturers for sticking with that once desirable maximum opening. What they want is nothing less than F1.8 or F1.4. Because for bokeh upon bokeh you need fast lenses.

Read more here

Out of curiosity I returned to Soho Square to reproduce this image of the conversion of St. Paul at a narrower aperture and with a different lens. This was taken at f/3.4 with a tiny 50mm Summicron attached to a Leica M. Both rider and horse are in focus this time and the background is subject to a small degree of bokeh. Which is more pleasing to the eye?

Out of curiosity I returned to Soho Square to reproduce this image of the conversion of St. Paul at a narrower aperture and with a different lens. This was taken at f/3.4 with a tiny 50mm Summicron attached to a Leica M. Both rider and horse are in focus this time and the background is subject to a small degree of bokeh. Which is more pleasing to the eye?

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