Posts Tagged ‘bokeh’

That seems like an odd question but Chinese lens Maker Zhong Yi Optical is trying to say YES! This company makes three lenses with the exotic F/0.95 lens opening. The three lenses are as follows:

  • 50mm F/0.95 full frame for Sony FE. Sells for around $700
  • 35mm F/0.95 APS-C for Canon M, Sony E, and others. Sells for around $500
  • 25mm F/0.95 MFT for Lumix, Olympus, Fuji and others. Sells for around $350

I have a Canon EOS M5 so I got the 35mm version. There are not too many photographers that haven’t jonesed for the so-called “dream lens” Canon 50mm F0.95 for the 7 rangefinder. These however are now fetching massive coin routinely selling in the $2000-$4000 range. A bit rich for a soft lens. But collectors understand just how significant that lens is to photographic history.

For those of us that are a bit more modest with our dispensable cash, there are a variety of lens makers coming on the scene with surprisingly good optics and rather fair prices. The Mitakon 35mm F/0.95 is one such product. I ordered mine recently and have taken a great many photos. This is a solid piece of glass figuratively and literally.

Although the 0.95 opening can offer up an extra 2/3 stop of low light exposure versus a comparable F/1.2 lens, the primary reason to own this is the bokeh and subject isolation afforded to lenses with ultra wide apertures. The smaller your camera format, the more challenging it becomes to get these dreamy bokeh lenses. This is due to the physics of optical photography.

The depth of field is controlled physically by three primary factors. Most people think of aperture as the primary control of depth of field. And it is certainly a major driver. But the focal length is even more so. Longer focal length lenses will have a more shallow depth of field. For example a 35mm lens on a full frame camera is a moderately wide-angle lens. That same focal length on a micro four thirds camera is a short tele, portrait lens as far as perspective is concerned. However it is still a 35mm focal length and as such the depth of field at any given F-stop will still be deeper than a comparable 70mm lens on a full frame camera. It is this fact that has led cell phone makers to utilize multi-lens and software modes for artificially blurring the background. The tiny sensors used in phones need ultra short focal length lenses that almost always have extended depth of field.

As an example a 35mm lens on MFT has the same relative perspective as a 70mm lens on a full frame camera. At F/2 however the depth of field is much different. So when shooting a head shot here’s what it looks like:

  • Canon EOS 5d Mk III with 70mm F/2.0 at 4 feet distance would yield a sharp depth of field of only 1.35 inches!
  • Canon M5 with 44mm F/2.0 at 4 feet yields 2.3 inches.
  • Panasonic Lumix with 35mm F/2.0 at 4 feet yields 2.8 inches. More than twice the depth of field of the 5d

But all of them are shallow enough, right? Maybe. One of the often overlooked methods of obtaining a soft background with any lens, is the relative distance of the subject and background to the camera. So it depends on how far away the background is. Remember the blur gets more creamy and dreamy the further out of focus it is. So the 5d might get a dreamy bokeh with a background 3 feet behind the subject but the Lumix might need a few more feet back to go full soft. Things get real interesting when you go for a 3/4 length shot. Now you are focused at maybe 8 feet distance and the 5d has less than 6 inches of depth of field while the smaller sensor has pushed out close to a full foot. Now getting dreamy, creamy, backgrounds on the small sensor may need the background at 12-14 feet behind the subject.

When focusing up real close most lenses will blur a background that is far off in the distance. For example a 12mm F/4.0 full frame lens focused at 2 feet distance wide open will have roughly sharp focus from 15 inches to 4 feet. Beyond four feet will get progressively softer the further back you go. But we can’t always stuff our camera right up close to our subject without other problems. That same 12mm full frame lens while wide open, has a hyper-focal distance of just 4 feet. Hyper-focal is a focusing distance in which depth of field will include infinity and approximately half the focus distance in front of the lens. That translates as 2 feet to infinity is sharp WIDE OPEN. Cell phones often use much shorter focal lengths than 12mm.

So the notion of having that delicious swirly bokeh gets more difficult with small sensors and that is where lenses like this Mitakon 35mm F/0.95 can make a HUGE difference. This lens supports APS-C sensors. On Sony and Nikon it has a 1.5x crop factor which means it has the perspective angle of view of a 53mm on FF and with Canon’s 1.6 crop factor it is akin to a 56mm lens on FF. Let’s look at a 35mm lens on my Canon M5 at different apertures to see the depth of field difference when focused at 3 feet distance.

  • F/2.0 – 2.07 inches
  • F/1.8 – 1.84 inches
  • F/1.4 – 1.46 inches
  • F/1.2 – 1.23 inches
  • F/1.0 – 1.03 inches
  • F/0.95 – 0.94 inches

At F/0.95 there is less than an inch of depth, just breathing can move you out of focus. The difference between F/2.0 and F/0.95 is about how far “gone” that background is. Getting a sharp photograph hand-held or mounted with a living subject is a serious chore with the shallow depth of field of a 0.95 lens.

I got my depth of field values from a nice website called “doffmaster” here. Here are several photos made at different aperture values to show the difference in depth of field. These are animated GIF images that will give a slide show of the different f/stops.

So all that on the table, how is this Mitakon 35mm Speedmaster? In a nutshell it is very good and for the money it is outstanding. I have been pleasantly surprised by the performance. Compared to the KamLan 50mm 1.1 I wrote up last year, this is a superior lens in all respects. It is however two and a half times more money, so it ought to be better methinks. Likewise it is less than half the cost of any of the high-speed premium lenses, so don’t expect perfection.

The lens is very sharp in the center wide open and pretty soft in the corners. Both the corners and center sharpen up consistently as the lens is stopped down and by F/2.8 it has excellent sharpness more or less to the corners. The build quality is solid with all metal construction and nicely damped focus.  The fit and finish lacks the “premium” feel of more expensive lenses from the likes of Voightlander, Zeiss, and Leitz; but let’s face it, this lens plays in a different sandbox than those and offers a blue-collar price against the CEO levels of cash needed to purchase the others.

This lens is not small, compact, or lightweight. It isn’t terribly unwieldy, but it weighs in at around 430 grams, which is just shy of a ton, um, I mean pound 😉 It does not come with a lens shade but it does come with a really plush, leatherette, tan and black presentation case. That’s pretty cool.

The trick to getting the real creamy, delicious bokeh, is a combination of close to the subject, far away background, wide aperture, and long lens. This Speedmaster f/0.95 allows you to get three of the four with a nice tight close focus of about 12 inches, crazy bright 0.95 opening, you setup the shot for the faraway background and voila, you have ‘bokehliciousness’.

Compared to the KamLan 50mm F/1.1 this is a sharper lens at all stops but the KamLan delivers a similarly shallow depth of field despite its smaller opening as the focal length is a bit longer. That lens is priced at well under $200 while this lens is closer to $500. The difference is that this lens can work as a straight multi-purpose shooter with a sharp center and overall excellent sharpness beginning around F/2.0. The KamLan never quite gets to “excellent” on the sharpness and is a bit of a ‘one trick pony.’

I did a video review of this lens as well, here. Here are a few more shots with the Speedmaster 0.95/35mm


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In the mirror with the 1.2

I have written about my love of mirrorless bodies and their ability to easily mount vintage lenses from almost any camera system. Although my money camera is a full frame EOS 5D Mk II (yes I know that body is getting a bit dated), The camera I have the most fun with is my EOS M3 mirorless body. I owned the original M body and wrote about it here. I now use the M3 which is everything the M and M2 should have been. I wrote about that camera here.

My good friend and business associate Graham has been hounding me to get a “real” lens for my mirrorless body. You know a Leica Summicron 35mm perhaps. I am a lover of fast glass and 2.0 is fast but a Summilux 1.4 is better 😉 Of course the need to have a Sultan’s cash to get a Summilux tends to push back at me. Not to mention that the APS-C crop sensor in the M3, as good as it is, will not likely show me the superiority of the Leica lens. If I buy a Summicron or even a price bloated Summilux I have what amounts to a fancy badge and bragging rights with no real advantage on the images. My friend, uses a newer Sony A7 and that camera is capable of utilizing the amazing Leica image quality. It make sense for him to have the superior lens.


Look at that haze! Looks worse than it is but still…

So I own several vintage lenses and a modern M Mount Voightlander lens as well. Recently I acquired a 50mm f/1.2 rangefinder lens from the 1950s and 60s era; mine is from the late 1950s . This was an upgrade lens for Canon 7 (35mm rangefinder) buyers that could not quite make the bill for the legendary f/0.95 lens. I got this lens for a ridiculously low price but it came with the caveat that there was some internal hazing that would affect the picture quality. I decided to give it a go, just for fun. Sometimes I buy these lenses and I can clean them up myself. The hazing on this example as it turns out, is specifically located between two cemented lens elements. The rest of the glass is MINT perfect. Unfortunately my skills do not allow me to mess with a cemented group. The photos are affected particularly in backlit scenes where the haze scatters the light and kills the contrast. It also creates a soft glow on the light source. This gives a very classic vintage look to ambient light scenes reminiscent of days gone by when rendered in B/W. I love it. On properly front lit scenes the haze has very little negative effect. It is absolutely softening the contrast and maybe even causing a little loss of sharpness, but this lens is not noted for being tack sharp wide open anyway.


Muffin the Cat, EOS M3 with 50mm 1.2 @ f/2.0 800 ISO

Mint condition examples of this lens tend to fetch upwards of $700. I have to decide if spending $200-$300 to have a lens expert separate and reset the cemented group is worthwhile. For now I am enjoying the creamy, soft bokeh of a classic F/1.2 lens that I got for well less than $300.

So I am enjoying a vintage time warp of sorts as I make images that have a definitive old school feel. Even if the quality when measured against the absolute perfection of modern lens design is weak, the images are not. I have found that I can trade a little digital noise for perceived sharpness using tools in Photoshop or Lightroom.

I would love to have this lens in perfect optical condition, but I am not convinced the quality is good enough to justify the expense of “perfection”. The only shot in this series of images I have today that really sucks is the backlit shot below which has clear issues with flare and contrast. But in black and white it has a certain vintage look that is a bit raw and could be a great way to capture that feel of a smoky 1950s nightclub. With just a little bit of effort in Lightroom, I can create pretty good images with the lens despite the lens haze. It is quite amazing actually!

The take away here is that ideally we want our lenses to be free of severe haze and fungus and such, but look at how good the images can be with significant haze. Note that the image showing the haze makes it look worse than it is, but it is pretty bad and yet some of these images are pretty good despite the flaws. I am shooting with a true exotic lens for which I paid what amounts to chump change. Bear in mind that I use vintage gear, I don’t collect museum pieces. You can often find lenses with minor flaws in the glass far less significant than the severe haze this lens has for heavy discounts off a mint example. If you want to make images, buy a slightly to moderately flawed lens and enjoy it. Often there is no perceptible loss of quality even with noticeable marks in the glass. I used to buy rough condition Leica lenses because I knew the image quality would not suffer and I could own the best lenses in the world for prices that I could afford. These days, Leica lenses have become so valuable that the rough ones are being repaired rather than sold as is. Many other fantastic lenses are out there in varying degrees of condition, go try some. This Canon 50mm 1.2 is just another reason I love modern digital photography 🙂


Socks the Cat, M3 with 50mm 1.2 @ f/2.0 3200 ISO Cropped 100%


Socks the Cat with M3 and 50mm 1.2 @ f/1.2 3200 ISO Cropped 100%

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