The bokeh of MFT WAs: A test and an opinion poll

Started Oct 7, 2012 | Discussions
Anders W
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The bokeh of MFT WAs: A test and an opinion poll
Oct 7, 2012

There have been quite a bit of discussion about the bokeh of various MFT lenses on the forum lately. To my surprise, the discussion has not only focused on longer FLs, where the quality of the background blur is of obvious importance, but also on the wide-angle end of the lens spectrum.

Personally, I haven't, up to this point in my 40 or so years of photographic life, paid a whole lot of attention to the OOF rendering of WA lenses for the simple reason that I rarely use them for the purpose of creating subject isolation by means of background blur. The primary reasons why I don't do so are twofold. First, you need to get pretty close (with all but the fastest WAs mounted on an FF camera) to create any background blur to speak of. And when you get to that point, you will get a fair amount of perspective distortion, which may be fine as a special effect at times but not something I opt for on a regular basis. Second, the wide FoV means that you will include a lot of background at low magnification, thereby significantly reducing the perceived amount of blurriness in comparison with what you would get with a longer FL used at the same subject magnification.

With such thoughts in mind, I asked the OP in a recent thread on the Olympus 17/2.8 why he found the OOF rendering of that lens so important. He replied that, in spite of shooting mostly subjects at close-to-infinity, he favored a style of landscape images that uses very subtle background defocus to give some "3D pop" without losing context. Fair enough. Although it is difficult to create much in the way of background blur with a lens like the 17/2.8, it might often be used in such a manner that at least parts of the background is outside the depth of field and thus unsharp although not manifestly blurred.

Even so, this answer left me somewhat puzzled. The reason is that I have never been able to perceive much of a quality difference between different lenses in the zone where their rendering is merely unsharp as opposed to clearly blurred. So I decided to make a little test of what my own eyes as well as those of others can actually distinguish when it comes to WA bokeh in this twilight zone.

Since, right now, I happen to have access to quite a few MFT WAs, including all Olympus and Panasonic WA primes and quite a few of the zooms with a WA component, I was able to make this test a rather encompassing one. Among the samples I post, you will thus find images produced by

Olympus 12/2

Panasonic 14/2.5

Olympus 17/2.8

Panasonic 20/1.7

Panasonic 7-14/4

Olympus 14-42/3.5-5.6 IIR

Panasonic 14-42/3.5-5.6 (not the X PZ version)

Panasonic 14-45/3.5-5.6

Although I will eventually reveal which image was produced by which lens, I will not do so before I have your comments on how you perceive the quality of their out-of-focus rendering. The reason is that I do not want to bias your perceptions so as to fit any preconceptions you might have about the various lenses. For now, I will instead ask three questions that I hope as many as possible will care to answer:

1. Do you see any significant differences between the sample images as far as the quality of the out-of-focus rendering is concerned?

2. If yes, which images are better and which are worse from this point of view?

3. If yes, in which way do you find some of them better and the others worse.

There is no requirement that you try to answer all three questions. If you answer no to the first of them, the other two are of course irrelevant. And if you answer yes to the first one, you are excused if you skip question three in case you find it difficult to specify exactly why you like the OOF rendering better in some cases than in others.

The sample images themselves will appear in a separate post right after this one!

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Anders W
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Re: The bokeh of MFT WAs: A test and an opinion poll
In reply to Anders W, Oct 7, 2012

Picture 1

Picture 2

Picture 3

Picture 4

Picture 5

Picture 6

Picture 7

Picture 8

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Tim in upstate NY
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Re: The bokeh of MFT WAs: A test and an opinion poll
In reply to Anders W, Oct 7, 2012

. . . I'm not sure what to look for at this viewing size but no. 2 seems to have the smoothest looking OOF background. Is that what you wanted to know or did I misunderstand your OP?

. . . Colors are hard to choose with very little difference but if I had to pick one it would no. 5.

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dko22
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Re: The bokeh of MFT WAs: A test and an opinion poll
In reply to Anders W, Oct 7, 2012

Anders, a very interesting idea and I hope you get some useful responses. For me, unfortunately, none of these shots give any sort of what I would call bokeh, just varying amounts of somewhat out of focus backgrounds, none of which are any more or less unpleasant than the others. Perhaps the whole post is slightly tongue-in-cheek? As you say, to create a real blur requires closer focussing, esp. with m43

David

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mapgraphs
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Re: The bokeh of MFT WAs: A test and an opinion poll
In reply to Anders W, Oct 7, 2012

Yes there is a difference between the examples, from my point of view. Numbers 1 and 6 being what I would call “richer” or providing a separation of what is in-focus and what is soft. This is purely a value judgment, a bias, preference, appeal.

I would suggest that a shorter focal length is as capable of separation as longer focal lengths; the defining factors would be distance to subject and distance of background to subject and quality of light (diffuse, point, color etc.) on the subject and contained in the background.

I did a similar study of small aperture diffusion and was surprised at what I got from some lenses and didn’t get from others. Both short and long.

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Anders W
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Re: The bokeh of MFT WAs: A test and an opinion poll
In reply to dko22, Oct 7, 2012

dko22 wrote:

Anders, a very interesting idea and I hope you get some useful responses. For me, unfortunately, none of these shots give any sort of what I would call bokeh, just varying amounts of somewhat out of focus backgrounds, none of which are any more or less unpleasant than the others. Perhaps the whole post is slightly tongue-in-cheek? As you say, to create a real blur requires closer focussing, esp. with m43.

Well, by "bokeh" I mean in this case just the quality (as opposed to quanity) of the out-of-focus rendering, even though, as I pointed out in my OP, the background isn't strongly blurred.

And it's obviously quite OK to answer yes as well as no to the first question or I wouldn't have asked it.

By the way: These samples are shot at pretty close distance. The focus target (the top of the rightmost post of the fence) is about one meter from the camera.

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tt321
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Re: The bokeh of MFT WAs: A test and an opinion poll
In reply to Anders W, Oct 7, 2012

The amount of blur seems smallest in 1 and 3, and largest in 2, where even the tree trunk on the left is starting to be unsharp.

That seems to be the easy part, as to the quality of unsharp areas, they are more or less the same for me. Lighting conditions changed a bit so it's not possible to discuss any one thing fairly.

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Anders W
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Re: The bokeh of MFT WAs: A test and an opinion poll
In reply to Tim in upstate NY, Oct 7, 2012

Tim in upstate NY wrote:

. . . I'm not sure what to look for at this viewing size but no. 2 seems to have the smoothest looking OOF background. Is that what you wanted to know or did I misunderstand your OP?

Yes, you understood my question right.

As to viewing size, I posted these at 1200x900 but the DPR interface shrinks them. You can click on "View: original size" below each picture to view them at full size. I would like all of them to have appeared at full size right away but that doesn't seem possible with the new interface. I'd also be glad to repost the images at still greater resolution if that helps.

. . . Colors are hard to choose with very little difference but if I had to pick one it would no. 5.

Colors are not really important here unless they are directly related to the OOF rendering. As you can see, the lighting conditions varied slightly from one shot to another due to the sun moving slightly while I was shooting. Not much I could do about that.

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jagge
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Re: The bokeh of MFT WAs: A test and an opinion poll
In reply to Anders W, Oct 7, 2012

great idea BUT very small out of focus effect in ALL of them, not much to judge by

jakob

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Anders W
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Re: The bokeh of MFT WAs: A test and an opinion poll
In reply to tt321, Oct 7, 2012

tt321 wrote:

The amount of blur seems smallest in 1 and 3, and largest in 2, where even the tree trunk on the left is starting to be unsharp.

I tried to keep the amount of blur the same across all lenses but minor differences in this regard are inescapable.

That seems to be the easy part, as to the quality of unsharp areas, they are more or less the same for me. Lighting conditions changed a bit so it's not possible to discuss any one thing fairly.

Yes, lighting changed as the sun moved slightly while I was shooting. Nevertheless, I think it's pretty constant in the background, which is the important part in this case.

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Anders W
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Re: The bokeh of MFT WAs: A test and an opinion poll
In reply to jagge, Oct 7, 2012

jagge wrote:

great idea BUT very small out of focus effect in ALL of them, not much to judge by

Well, the small out of focus effect is what is interesting in this case. As I said in a previous reply, I still went as close as one meter from the focus point so this is pretty much what you can expect in WA shooting with MFT. The DoF is in this case a mere 0.5 meters, which means it ends about three decimeters (one foot) behind the rightmost fence post.

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Anders W
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Re: The bokeh of MFT WAs: A test and an opinion poll
In reply to mapgraphs, Oct 7, 2012

mapgraphs wrote:

Yes there is a difference between the examples, from my point of view. Numbers 1 and 6 being what I would call “richer” or providing a separation of what is in-focus and what is soft. This is purely a value judgment, a bias, preference, appeal.

Many thanks for your answer!

I would suggest that a shorter focal length is as capable of separation as longer focal lengths; the defining factors would be distance to subject and distance of background to subject and quality of light (diffuse, point, color etc.) on the subject and contained in the background.

Well, what I had in mind when I said a longer FL can create more perceived background blur than a shorter even both are shot at the same subject magnification and the same f-stop is explained on the page I link to below:

http://toothwalker.org/optics/dof.html

Look at the samples under the heading "Background blur" some way down the page and you'll see what I mean.

I did a similar study of small aperture diffusion and was surprised at what I got from some lenses and didn’t get from others. Both short and long.

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Vlad S
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1 and 6
In reply to Anders W, Oct 7, 2012

Anders W wrote:

1. Do you see any significant differences between the sample images as far as the quality of the out-of-focus rendering is concerned?

I would say the differences are visible, but not significant, i.e., they require an effort to discern.

2. If yes, which images are better and which are worse from this point of view?

1 and 6 are the best in my opinion, even though 1 has very little blur.

3. If yes, in which way do you find some of them better and the others worse.

In images 1 and 6 the OOF areas are smooth and the edges fade out gradually. In the remaining shots I see double edges or sharp outlines around the blurred objects. I am mostly looking at the highlighted branches.

Vlad

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Tim in upstate NY
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Re: The bokeh of MFT WAs: A test and an opinion poll
In reply to Anders W, Oct 7, 2012

Anders W wrote:

tt321 wrote:

The amount of blur seems smallest in 1 and 3, and largest in 2, where even the tree trunk on the left is starting to be unsharp.

I tried to keep the amount of blur the same across all lenses but minor differences in this regard are inescapable.

. . . My interpretation of your question about the quality of the OOF background was whether it was smoother looking and less distracting in relation to the in-focus foreground. A few of the other responses seem to be about the amount DOF which doesn't directly correlate with the actual quality of the OOF areas IMO. I've gone back and clicked full size on each image and still think that no. 2 is the best but the differences are small.

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Anders W
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Re: The bokeh of MFT WAs: A test and an opinion poll
In reply to Tim in upstate NY, Oct 7, 2012

Tim in upstate NY wrote:

Anders W wrote:

tt321 wrote:

The amount of blur seems smallest in 1 and 3, and largest in 2, where even the tree trunk on the left is starting to be unsharp.

I tried to keep the amount of blur the same across all lenses but minor differences in this regard are inescapable.

. . . My interpretation of your question about the quality of the OOF background was whether it was smoother looking and less distracting in relation to the in-focus foreground. A few of the other responses seem to be about the amount DOF which doesn't directly correlate with the actual quality of the OOF areas IMO. I've gone back and clicked full size on each image and still think that no. 2 is the best but the differences are small.

Thanks for taking the trouble Tim. Your interpretation of my question is the correct one. I think most others have interpreted it correctly too, although they additionally point out that there are minor differences in the amount of blur. I have done my very best to keep those differences at a minimum but I am afraid that small variations are inescapable.

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Anders W
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Re: 1 and 6
In reply to Vlad S, Oct 7, 2012

Vlad S wrote:

Anders W wrote:

1. Do you see any significant differences between the sample images as far as the quality of the out-of-focus rendering is concerned?

I would say the differences are visible, but not significant, i.e., they require an effort to discern.

2. If yes, which images are better and which are worse from this point of view?

1 and 6 are the best in my opinion, even though 1 has very little blur.

3. If yes, in which way do you find some of them better and the others worse.

In images 1 and 6 the OOF areas are smooth and the edges fade out gradually. In the remaining shots I see double edges or sharp outlines around the blurred objects. I am mostly looking at the highlighted branches.

Many thanks Vlad.

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dko22
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Re: The bokeh of MFT WAs: A test and an opinion poll
In reply to Anders W, Oct 7, 2012

Anders W wrote:

dko22 wrote:

Anders, a very interesting idea and I hope you get some useful responses. For me, unfortunately, none of these shots give any sort of what I would call bokeh, just varying amounts of somewhat out of focus backgrounds, none of which are any more or less unpleasant than the others. Perhaps the whole post is slightly tongue-in-cheek? As you say, to create a real blur requires closer focussing, esp. with m43.

Well, by "bokeh" I mean in this case just the quality (as opposed to quanity) of the out-of-focus rendering, even though, as I pointed out in my OP, the background isn't strongly blurred.

And it's obviously quite OK to answer yes as well as no to the first question or I wouldn't have asked it.

By the way: These samples are shot at pretty close distance. The focus target (the top of the rightmost post of the fence) is about one meter from the camera.

OK then, as it looks like you are serious about this, my answer to the first question has to be that I see no difference in quality but i do see a difference in quantity with no2 for instance being more blurred than the others. In other words, no -end of questionnaire!

What I would love to see is a comparison of fast w/a lenses wide open at the same aperture-- the obvious technical hitch with this being that there is not usually more than one lens of this nature at the same f/l......

David

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Anders W
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Re: The bokeh of MFT WAs: A test and an opinion poll
In reply to dko22, Oct 7, 2012

dko22 wrote:

Anders W wrote:

dko22 wrote:

Anders, a very interesting idea and I hope you get some useful responses. For me, unfortunately, none of these shots give any sort of what I would call bokeh, just varying amounts of somewhat out of focus backgrounds, none of which are any more or less unpleasant than the others. Perhaps the whole post is slightly tongue-in-cheek? As you say, to create a real blur requires closer focussing, esp. with m43.

Well, by "bokeh" I mean in this case just the quality (as opposed to quanity) of the out-of-focus rendering, even though, as I pointed out in my OP, the background isn't strongly blurred.

And it's obviously quite OK to answer yes as well as no to the first question or I wouldn't have asked it.

By the way: These samples are shot at pretty close distance. The focus target (the top of the rightmost post of the fence) is about one meter from the camera.

OK then, as it looks like you are serious about this, my answer to the first question has to be that I see no difference in quality but i do see a difference in quantity with no2 for instance being more blurred than the others. In other words, no -end of questionnaire!

Thanks David!

What I would love to see is a comparison of fast w/a lenses wide open at the same aperture-- the obvious technical hitch with this being that there is not usually more than one lens of this nature at the same f/l.....

I hope to be back at a later point with a comparison of the bokeh of the primes I have at my disposal right now (12/2, 14/2.5, 17/2.8, and 20/1.7) at wider apertures and still closer distance than what I used here.

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dko22
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Re: The bokeh of MFT WAs: A test and an opinion poll
In reply to Anders W, Oct 7, 2012

Anders W wrote:


What I would love to see is a comparison of fast w/a lenses wide open at the same aperture-- the obvious technical hitch with this being that there is not usually more than one lens of this nature at the same f/l.....

I hope to be back at a later point with a comparison of the bokeh of the primes I have at my disposal right now (12/2, 14/2.5, 17/2.8, and 20/1.7) at wider apertures and still closer distance than what I used here.

Great --will really look forward to that.

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Bob Meyer
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Re: The bokeh of MFT WAs: A test and an opinion poll
In reply to Anders W, Oct 7, 2012

Anders W wrote:

Well, by "bokeh" I mean in this case just the quality (as opposed to quanity) of the out-of-focus rendering, even though, as I pointed out in my OP, the background isn't strongly blurred.

That's the ONLY definition of bokeh. Quantity of OOF rendering is DOF, not bokeh. Unfortunately, most people don't seem to understand that.

I can see differences between the images, but I'll have to study them more carefully before I comment on that. DPR's new forum design really makes this a lot harder though. I'd have to say that, on balance, the new forums are a major FAIL. DPR managed to make what was a poor forum for text but excellent for photos into one that is poor for both text and photos.

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I've stopped thinking in terms of "equivalent" focal lengths on m43. 25mm is what it is, and what it might be similar to on some other format doesn't matter to me any more. We need to learn what to expect from our current equipment, not keep mapping it to the old. No one refers to their 50mm FF lens as "equivalent to 80mm on MF."

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