Affordable prime for good bokeh on a Nikon

Discussion in 'Nikon' started by Paul Furman, Jun 1, 2005.

  1. Paul Furman

    Paul Furman Guest

    I've got super wide and tele zooms so was looking at a 50 or 35mm prime,
    then it was suggested the 50 f/1.8 had rather harsh out-of-focus (OOF)
    qualities. Then it was suggested the 1.4 was only slightly better & the
    Nikon lenses in general tend to be over-corrected for sharpness while
    ignoring the soft OOF characteristic of the finer LF/MF lenses and even
    other 35mm brands.

    So I'm wondering if anyone has recommendations for a fast normal-ish
    prime for say under $400. Used manual focus would be fine for this
    purpose, wider like 35mm would be more ideal because this is going on a
    D70 digital. On the other hand, I don't have a macro & shoot lots of
    closeups where the OOF quality really matters.

    The whole bokeh thing was just hashed out in the dslr newsgroup but I
    thought these more film oriented groups might have more to offer. I put
    together some notes from those discussions and a list of potential
    lenses with a reputation for good bokeh. One idea is to put a LF lens on
    the D70 and maybe even play around with one of those "plunger-cam" hacks.

    Here's my notes:

    And the lens list for comment (from that page):

    Carl Zeis Luna Sonnar 135MM F4 for Contax Rangefinder or Hasselblad
    Soft but polygonal highlights. Possible to get adapters to mount to an
    SLR and inexpensive, like $200 used.

    Nikkor 135 f/2.8 AIS MF $320 new $100 used

    Nikkor 105mm f/2.5 AI-S


    Nikkor 85mm f/1.4 AF-D
    Tamron 90mm macro

    (Nikkor 85mm f/1.8)

    Leica Summilux 50mm f/1.4 $2000

    Nikon 50mm f/1.2 (manual focus $430 gray market new, $150 used)


    Nikkor-O 35 mm f/2 [non-AI, AI]

    Nikkor 35mm f/1.2 ($$!!)

    28/2 AF

    Also the galleries below explain what I'm used to for reference:

    best regards,
    Paul Furman, Jun 1, 2005
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  2. Hello Paul,

    I'm not sure I understand. Do you want something around 30mm focal
    length (a normal-ish lens on the D70), or a macro (60mm and up)?

    I'm not aware of a really good bokeh lens in the range around 30mm.

    As for macro lenses, the longer the focal length, the easier it is
    to control the background. If there are no sharp highlights and
    hard constrasts in the background, lens bokeh does hardly matter.
    So, with longer macros (100mm should suffice on a D70) IMHO the
    photographer is more important than the lens in getting a
    smooth background.

    My Bokeh test images:

    Christoph Breitkopf, Jun 1, 2005
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  3. Shouldn't you be more concerned with how sharp the lens is rather than
    how it looks out of focus? people amaze me!
    Randall Ainsworth, Jun 1, 2005
  4. Paul Furman

    Escaper Guest

    How about the Nikkor 45 F:2.8 P?
    Not only is this lens sharp, it also has one of the best out of focus
    character. Although it is only a manual focus lens, it can meters with
    the D70 since this is a P lens with a CPU inside.
    See Ron Reznick's comments about this lens:
    [ ]
    Cheers, C.
    Escaper, Jun 1, 2005
  5. Paul Furman

    Tony Polson Guest

    An excellent suggestion, if the OP can live with an f/2.8 maximum
    aperture. It is worth shopping around, because there are a lot of
    these lenses gathering dust on the shelves of camera stores.
    Tony Polson, Jun 1, 2005
  6. Paul Furman

    Paul Furman Guest

    Heh, I'm not sure either. Maybe both. When I started looking, it seems
    the longer portrait lenses are the only ones designed for good bokeh. I
    was initially looking to fill a gap I have in the 24-70mm range.

    It seems fairly rare to even get anything out of focus at 35mm but the
    35mm f/2 can get really close and older models (pre-1970's) reportedly
    have good bokeh:
    I suppose that wouldn't meter though which would be a burden.

    Yes I'm learning that high contrast backgrounds can be troublesome. I
    heard lots of folks talking about the tamron 90mm macro and that it's
    actually pretty good with OOF rendition.

    Thanks I had run across that, now I see if I just plug in 100 pics per
    page I can see everything. I'll have to study some more & cross
    reference prices & metering ability.
    Paul Furman, Jun 1, 2005
  7. Paul Furman

    Paul Furman Guest

    Yes well that too but the way I got onto this is I don't have a standard
    50mm f/1.8 & figured I should get one, then someone pointed out that
    lens has harsh out of focus character and the thing it, being such a
    fast lens there is going to be a lot out of focus so it's a pretty
    important quality for a lens in that range.

    Take a look at examples I'm dealing with now to see how this can ruin a
    picture or give it a great look:
    Paul Furman, Jun 1, 2005
  8. Paul Furman

    Paul Furman Guest

    Thanks. I wonder though if the good bokeh attributed only refers to the
    rounded aperture blades. Christoph's samples of the GN (vs P) model of
    this lens don't look that great wide open but maybe there really is a
    big difference in those models.

    Hmm, OK I'm reading even more reviews and found this:
    "[typical nikon 50mm prime is sharp] But other characteristics of photos
    it delivers -- compromises the lens designers made to achieve that
    excellent sharpness at mid apertures -- displeased me: harsh, not
    gradual, tonal gradations; harsh out-of-focus areas, often with doubled
    lines I found distracting; an inability to hold detail in shadow areas.
    These are not important aspects of a photograph to many photographers,
    and for them the 50 mm Nikkors (I've used the 1.2, 1.4 and 1.8 lenses)
    are outstanding tools. But they caused me to move to the 35-70 f/2.8 and
    35 f/1.4 Nikkors (the 60 mm Micro-Nikkor is also very good).

    So I was excited to read that Nikon was releasing the 45 mm f/2.8 P
    Nikkor. Tessar optical designs, which this lens is, typically render the
    look of photos I prefer while maintaining good sharpness.

    .... Manual focus feel is perfect, and quickly makes one remember how
    loose the manual focus of so many AF lenses"

    I think we have a winner here.
    Paul Furman, Jun 1, 2005
  9. Paul Furman

    Paul Furman Guest

    I found one locally for $340 but adorama has the black version gray
    market for $290.
    Paul Furman, Jun 1, 2005
  10. Paul Furman

    BC Guest

    I took a look at your tests of 50mm lenses, and found it interesting
    that the much-praised 50/1.4 Zeiss appeared to have similar (if not
    worse/harsher) bokeh than the much-maligned 50/1.4 Nikkor. The shape
    of the aperture stop when stopped down was, naturally, vividly apparent
    in all examples, which completely contradicts much of what has been
    said recently on this N.G.

    BC, Jun 1, 2005
  11. Paul Furman

    Tony Polson Guest

    $290 sounds very good.

    You should make sure that you are happy with the unusual handling of
    this lens. The focus and aperture rings are very narrow. Obviously,
    the aperture ring will not present a problem if you are content to set
    apertures from the camera body, but the focusing ring is not so easy
    to ignore. ;-)

    Check out the lens hood - a disc shape with a circular hole. It's
    either very cool or very weird, depending on your point of view. The
    bokeh is very good.

    I'm sorry I didn't think to mention this lens earlier in the thread,
    but I had completely forgotten about it. Not many have been sold, and
    many remain unsold, hence the very attractive price.
    Tony Polson, Jun 1, 2005
  12. Paul Furman

    Tony Polson Guest

    The GN and P models are completely different optical designs and the
    results from these lenses are very different. Apples and oranges.

    The GN was optically mediocre, but it offered an interesting method of
    obtaining near-automatic flash exposure.
    Tony Polson, Jun 1, 2005
  13. Paul Furman

    Paul Furman Guest

    Should I be a bad boy & go to the local shop, make them take it out of
    the box so I can play then order online? <evil grin> Maybe if the silver
    doesn't look too bad I would even get it from them. I'd also like to
    test if it can be reversed on the front of my 70-200 for macros & a step
    down ring for the closeup diopter lens.
    Paul Furman, Jun 1, 2005
  14. Paul Furman

    Paul Rubin Guest

    3x as expensive as the more complex 50/1.8 is an attractive price? Sigh.
    How about the 35/2 AF or for that matter the 60/2.8 micro?
    Paul Rubin, Jun 1, 2005
  15. Paul Furman

    Gordon Moat Guest

    The best Nikon 50 mm I have found is the early 50 mm f2.0 AI, with the long
    lens barrel. This is a great lens at mid to close distances.

    With the 35 mm length, the best one I have found is the 35 mm f2.8 shift
    lens. Unfortunately, that might not work on your D70 due to mount
    restrictions. Anyone, it is a preset aperture lens, and tough to use at any
    setting other than f2.8 for normal photography.
    Some of the older Leica 135 mm choices could also be used that way. A few
    have a head that unscrews from the main focus mount, allowing them to be
    mounted on a VisoFlex unit. The bad thing is that once you add the adapter
    cost, the price might be more than a Nikon 135 mm f2.0 AIS.
    I have a harsh opinion of this lens, and think it should only be used
    stopped down to f5.6 or f8.0. Wide open, I think it is one of the worst
    Nikon lenses I have ever used.
    In my opinion (shared by many), this is the best Nikon 35 mm format lens
    ever made for wide open and close to mid distance imaging.
    Nice, though heavy and often expensive. I don't think it is as nice as the
    105 mm f2.5 AIS.
    The newest one is better, though complex and expensive. The better Leica 50
    mm is the f2.0.
    Not worth the expense, and worse at the edges than any Nikon f1.4. The only
    good choice of f1.2 from Nikon is the very rare and expensive 58 mm f1.2
    manual focus lens. That one makes a Leica lens look like a good deal, though
    if you really want to find one, and are patient, you might get a reasonable
    price on one.
    I have not tried that one, though there were some favourable reports in the
    past. The cost is definitely low enough to experiment, though I already have
    the 35 mm shift lens.
    The f1.4 is okay, but not as great as you would expect for the price. The 28
    mm f2.0 is better up close, though the view is different.
    Really not a bad lens. However, with any 28 mm, you have to get close to get
    much of any defocus area in your images. Getting that close is not a good
    idea with people images, but can work well for other subjects.

    The 20 mm f3.5 AIS is another example of good defocus rendition. However,
    you need to be impossibly close to get anything out of focus, almost like
    using a macro lens. This is just not normal usage for wide or superwide
    You can help defocus rendition by using a PK-11 extension tube. Obviously,
    this works better on the longer lenses, like the 105 mm and 180 mm f2.8. The
    idea is that the minimum focus distance gets slightly shorter, and DOF gets
    much shorter.

    Another thing to remember is that high contrast spots, or point light
    sources, in the defocus areas, will cause some distracting rendition. This
    is true of nearly every lens from every company, though it is more
    noticeable from some lenses than others. Plan and think out how you are
    shooting, and you can get some nice results.
    Gordon Moat, Jun 1, 2005
  16. Paul Furman

    Paul Furman Guest

    Re: 45mm f/2.8 P
    List price is $450 but it's such an oddball, probably hard to move.

    The 35/2 is on my list. Hmm, I finally found a good bokeh test shot
    which looks very nice:
    This one less impressive (but challenging):
    Paul Furman, Jun 1, 2005
  17. Paul Furman

    Dick R. Guest

    Hi all,
    another thought ... Ebay!
    If you broaden your search, you might find a lens from
    a seller who doesn't really have a clue as to the value.
    My wife is a "master" Ebay shopper, and she always looks
    for incorrect spellings, descriptions, etc., and sometimes
    one can find a real bargain.

    Dick R.
    Dick R., Jun 1, 2005
  18. Paul Furman

    Tony Polson Guest

    No need to sigh.

    If you really don't care about its harsh bokeh, the 50/1.8 represents
    superb value for your $. The 45/2.8 represents superb value for a
    highly competent lens with smooth bokeh.
    All versions of the 35/2 have harsh bokeh and the current AF-D version
    is probably the worst of them all.

    Like its 55mm predecessor, the 60/2.8 micro has one of the harshest
    OOF renditions of any Nikkor ever made. But it is very sharp, and
    does a good job as a macro lens. Just don't shoot portraits with it.
    Tony Polson, Jun 1, 2005
  19. Paul Furman

    Roger Guest


    I second the idea of the 45mm f2.8 AIP. I have one and it's an
    excellent lens. I love it's coverage angle on film, the bokeh is
    excellent especially at middle distances and on digital (a D70) folks
    in the shop were oohing and awing.

    Especially on the Bokeh fronts I can offer the following:

    1) All 50mm Nikkors are lacking in that department with the exception
    of the 50mm f2.0 AI at middle distances (already mentioned in this
    thread). If it matters, the bokeh at large distances and high apertures
    is better than wideopen at middle distances. Bokeh from specular
    highlights (e.g. light through tree branches is IMO annoying).
    2) The 35-70mm f2.8 AF lens does reasonably well in the bokeh
    department. However it is so smooth to be rather lifeless, but
    definitely not harsh.
    3) I'm partial to the 24-85mm f3.5-4.5 AF-S "G" lens. It's bright,
    contrasty, fast focusing, great coverage, and has good out of focus
    treatment throughout it's range. I'm of course disappointed that they
    don't offer one with better low-light performance.
    4) Of the following AIS lenses, none except the legendary 105mm f2.5
    lens excel at out of focus treatment: 24 f2.8/28 f2.8/35 f2.0/50 f1.8
    recessed and flat/85 f2.0/105 f2.5/135 f2.8. I will say that the 50mm
    f1.8 recesed AIS lens is a favorite but I do try very hard to avoid
    specular highlights anywhere in the frame.

    The 45mm f2.8 is unquestionably my favorite lens. It's turned my F100
    into a carry everywhere camera. With the 24-85mm f3.5-4.5 AF-S the 45mm
    f2.8, F100 (or F5) and SB80dx has become a favorite travel kit. For
    more minimalist fun, it's on an F3 for those times when it feels good
    to be more back to basics.

    When I want a bit more speed, it's a hybrid 50mm f2.0 or a 50mm f1.8.
    Both have similarily recessed front elements and aren't so dependent on
    a hood; they are very sharp but the 50mm f1.8 can be very harsh in the
    OOF renderings.

    My bokeh standard is a 50mm Summilux. My sharpness standard is a 35mm
    ASPH Summicron. The Summilux is far better in the OOF areas than the
    Summicron. But the Summicron still beats the Nikkors.
    Roger, Jun 1, 2005
  20. Paul Furman

    Paul Furman Guest

    Thanks Gordon and Roger (and all), I've updated my list with these

    I'm going to go test the 35/2 & 50/2 and will keep the others on the
    Paul Furman, Jun 1, 2005
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