Bokeh – In photography terms it refers to the quality of the blur or out-of-focus areas in a photograph, it originates from the Japanese word ‘Boke’. There’s a whole Wikipedia page about the effect here that explains it much better than I can (or more to the point, want to!).
When it comes to photography I’m by no means a “gear nut”, however there are certain pieces of photographic equipment manufactured over the years that I do class as being ‘a bit special’, iconic even, and I’ve recently got one:
The Pentacon (formally Meyer Optik Görlitz) 135mm f2.8 lens – a.k.a “The Bokeh Monster”
There are two versions of this lens, the earlier ones feature 15 aperture blades that create a virtually perfect circle for any specular highlights (think raindrops, dew, city lights etc) sometimes referred to as ‘soap bubbles’, you can also get the ‘swirl’ effect which is determined by distance and aperture, later versions of the lens only have 6 blades which won’t produce the same look. Unlike modern lenses where you go through set stages of aperture such as f2.8, f4, f5.6, f8 etc with this lens you can have whatever increments you want, anywhere between f2.8 – f32. My version is also a ‘pre-set’ one which in short means I could set a ‘lock’ on the lens for the aperture I want for the scene then open it up to allow enough light in for focussing then quickly twist it round to the ‘pre-set’ and press the shutter without having to look at the lens, I’m using this on a Sony A7RII camera so I don’t need the pre-set feature*, very clever bit of engineering though it is.
This isn’t about overall technical image quality, as I type this there is a lens on my camera that cost 25x as much and out performs it in every way in a modern sense, this lens is at my best estimation 40+ years old, I waited until I could get a ‘mint’ copy as most have suffered a bit over the years. It’s all manual settings, doesn’t communicate with the camera and I’ve had to buy an adapter to use it, it is however built like a tank. It isn’t sharp, suffers from flaring and chromatic aberration in certain circumstances which have to then be manually corrected in Photoshop as there aren’t any presets, but the bokeh, the bokeh is something else and that is what this lens is all about, it has a look, a feeling, an artistic slant that you either love or hate.
So far I’ve only had one outing to test it out, it’s a lens you have to work at to use, focussing is quite tricky and it’s nearest point of focus is 1.5m which is unlike any modern lens I’ve got, same goes for the DoF (depth-of-field) which is miniscule. Having said that I’m pleasantly surprised with the results being much better than I’d anticipated, and the bokeh – wow.
Here’s a few examples, these are just test shots and won’t feature in my gallery, they’re not perfect in every sense but if I wanted perfect I’d use another lens. Unfortunately the conditions weren’t right for getting any specular highlights.
The ability to use vintage lenses on modern digital cameras has given a new lease of life to some old ‘glass’, from the same camp as this one there is the well known Trioplan, a couple of years ago Meyer Optik started making them again, but with up to date prices!
*I’ve got the Sony set up to give me a real time DoF and as such it adjusts the exposure levels so I can see to focus using live view at whatever aperture I’ve set, other digital cameras only operate ‘wide open’ on live view but as this lens doesn’t communicate with the camera the live view image would be very dark if you’ve set a smaller aperture, in those cases the ‘pre-set’ feature would be of use.