Everyone who knows me knows that I am obsessed with style and character of bokeh. I've had countless hours of discussion with friends in the industry regarding minute differences in the "look" of a certain lens. Today I want to share the most unique and comprehensive array of totally unique looks I've found.
I must admit, I've spent far too much time and energy trying to make this "special character" a signature look for me and to make me unique. Of course, gear doesn't make the photo and knowing that I still am in such awe of these types of things, and have owned many.
My journeys to character bokeh have led me through all the reasonable options for DSLR, fast 85's, 135 f/2, 200 f/2 etc. all the way into digital medium format with Phase One. Sensor size affects the look, dof is different because of the framing being different for a same focal length lens. That in combination with my obsession with trying to be Joey L, led me to that decision.
The Bokeh Factory - Palecwnosie is the very creative work of one man in Poland, and he modifies old lenses to fit modern cameras and create a unique look that just isn't possible with modern glass. Part of this is by design from the lens manufacturers always working to improve, some of the "flaws" in old glass design such as sharpness or coating to affect flare is what can give a lens such a unique look.
Sometimes "improving" isn't always better but there are tradeoffs. So for a working professional, one of these special lenses isn't likely to be good as your primary or only lens in a certain focal range. Since they're generally manual focus, you will have some missed shots that you would likely have had "sellable" with an AF lens. That being said, to have as an add on to your existing workflow, these can provide an incredible unique look which is very rewarding for those willing to take the time to get it in focus and use it right. For the ultra pixel peepers, these lenses also aren't for you, they aren't going to be Zeiss OTUS level sharp - that's not why we use them. We use them for the "feel" and character they can provide, mostly an analog type feel that is increasingly popular amid all the craze of over-retouched images that were the craze a few years ago, most people I have met are now leaning the other way as a result and missing the film characteristics and "realism" of the whole image.
With the medium format alone still not satisfying my thirst for bokeh, I found The Bokeh Factory - Palecwnosie and bought right away. After waiting not so impatiently, for the delivery truck each day I was like a little kid at Christmas to see the box arrive with Polish mail stamps on it, which I cut out and saved because I was literally that excited. I opened it up and took out my shiny Schneider Ultra-Cinelux 100/2 with the custom Phase/Mamiya mount. The Cinelux are a family of projector lenses made for movies working on 70mm film (IMAX) How cool is that? - It's fixed at f/2 and there is no stopping it down. Of course, why would you want to? You buy this lens to shoot wide open, so I don't see that as a negative since it's a purpose-lens and not intended for your every day general flexibility and work. You definitely win the on-set style award for this one!
The Bokeh Factory offers many different mounts, some only work with certain cameras and others are more universal. He explains on his page about each. On his website, the navigation basically takes you to Facebook galleries for each lens with a description in the top of the gallery regarding what it fits, what it does and why he likes that specific vintage lens.
Some examples of the character offered by these amazing lenses he sells:
What I Like
- Many options for different looks.
- Gallery of samples for each lens that really gives a feel for what it'll do. Big name manufacturers don't even do a good job of this on modern lenses, most of the sample images I see might look good, but don't really speak a lot about anything unique to that specific lens, usually they are too generic.
- Excellent customer service and quick product delivery, especially considering it's coming from another country (for most of us)
What I Don't Like
- Manual Focus
- Sharpness isn't always what we expect from a modern camera/sensor
- Flaring/CA - Although those characteristics aren't necessarily a negative, they can be used in a way that it's a positive.
There's not much to dislike, really just manual focus and image sharpness are your drawbacks to some of these lenses. But when used properly, it's not really too big of a negative.
I've been using this type of thing for so long now and my primary workhorse is a Zeiss 85, the manual focus doesn't bother me anymore. I'll admit it took some getting used to, but I believe it makes one a better photographer. Making you think about what you are doing, rather than just hitting a button for AF while you are on autopilot during a shoot.
Options For Precise Manual Focusing
If you are serious about using a manual focus lens in today's workflow, there are options.
With Nikon/Canon, you have Live View with zoom. This is a tremendous help to aid in achieving perfect focus. But it's very slow, especially on Nikon for example, where if you use live view, then zoom, say 3 or 4 x in... then pan around the image to find the eyes, dial in focus, and take the shot. Problem is for the next shot, the zoom is reset and starts all over again. It's a very slow process and doesn't work very well in bright light outside either, it's difficult to see the screen that well when your eyes are adjusted to the bright sun.
Mirrorless cameras offer focus peaking. This is a tremendously cool way to see on your viewfinder quickly what's in focus, and many believe a very fast and efficient way to accomplish this. Eyepiece magnifiers help a little bit, but in my opinion aren't enough to really nail perfect focus for 85mm at 1.4 on a half body shot for example. There is a big difference in focus on eye lashes and eye ball at certain distances... and in the small eyepiece, it's very difficult to tell the difference.
Another option is to borrow some technology from video production and use an external monitor, such as the Feelworld FW-760. This can offer several things all at once. The obvious being a larger screen, so you can precisely see what you are focusing on without the need to zoom each time. Focus peaking is available on this particular model as well as some other useful features like exposure zebra stripes, etc. Sure you're going to have a big device now hanging off your tripod, or some other mount. But you can achieve perfect focus every time this way. Even autofocus is not 100%, there's something to be said for this.
I really think everyone needs to experience and learn to use a lens such as one of these at some point, just to really stretch out your creativity, forget about being all caught up in the pixel-peeping technical aspects of it all, go shoot! Make something unique and pretty.
You can learn more about what The Bokeh Factory has to offer at their website.