Monday, January 08, 2018

About That Olympus Feathered Bokeh

Olympus' latest lenses, the F1.2 PRO primes, 17mm and 45mm both have this new feature named "feathered bokeh". Olympus claims that when shooting at F1.2 wide open, feathered bokeh can be achieved, rendering softer looking background for better defocusing effect, isolating the subject better and creating that 3-dimensional look. Alternatively, a more solid background can be acquired by stopping down the lens to F1.8, which is the ordinary look from any other lenses. During my course of reviewing lenses, both the 17mm and 45mm F1.2 PRO, I have come to appreciate the buttery smooth and pleasingly creamy bokeh that these lenses can do at F1.2. However, is there really that huge of a difference between the F1.2 and F1.8? I am not asking in terms of shallow depth of field (obviously the F1.2 can create a blurrer background, no doubt), but the bokeh quality. Is it really that much better?

17mm F1.2 PRO. Taken at F1.2 obviously and the bokeh is just so beautiful to look at. Transition is smooth and the blur is pleasingly creamy. If I were to pick one image to show the capability of the 17mm F1.2 lens being used wide open, this would be the one I pick. Stunning sharpness on the eye in focus, and the absolutely delicious bokeh rendering. 



45mm F1.2 PRO. Image shot at F1.2, here the advantage of F1.2 is very obvious. 

45mm F1.2 PRO. Shot at F1.8

45mm F1.2 PRO. Shot at F2.8

I am no expert when it comes to bokeh. I do not have extensive experience with all different kinds of lenses. The Leica users would certainly have their own preference on how their bokeh should look like, for example. Now what intrigued me was the claim Olympus made on their feather bokeh, as if it was not just the characteristics of the optics itself, but also due to a direct aberration measurement and on the spot adjustment done shot by shot. You can read all about the science and explanation behind the feathered bokeh on Olympus' official site here (click). I insert here a simplified technical explanation diagram on the comparisons between different bokehs. 



Now here is another question that I have. It is mentioned clearly that when shooting at F1.2, we get the feathered bokeh, and if we want solid bokeh (the conventional one), then stopping down to F1.8 will make that happen. How about the in between F-Stop numbers? Like F1.4 abd F1.6? Do we get the benefit of feathered bokeh as well? I have done my own fair share of shooting and trying to find out the results but these things are so difficult to identify, and obviously I am no bokeh expert. Maybe that Kai (previously from Digital Rev TV) can have something to say, because I certainly have a lot of difficulty telling them apart.

Take a look at comparison of 4 shots taken below, from F1.2, F1.4, F1.6 and F1.8. The shape and rendering of the bokeh balls change as the aperture changes, but if you just randomly pick one out to show me and ask me what aperture it was taken with, without any comparison shots, I will not be able to tell you, honestly!

 17mm F1.2 PRO, shot at F1.2

17mm F1.2 PRO, shot at F1.4

17mm F1.2 PRO, shot at F1.6

17mm F1.2 PRO, shot at F1.8

Bokeh comparisons

Why am I asking these questions? We all know that these F1.2 PRO prime lenses from Olympus are not cheap to begin with. They are also not small and compact enough for most people (looking at the amount of complains about the size and weight on the internet). From my own testing, it is evident that these new PRO lenses were super sharp even at wide open F1.2 aperture, and technical flaws are generally well controlled. The only other interesting feature, the key selling point of these lenses is the new "feathered bokeh". I am not saying I do not see them, I do see the awesomeness of F1.2 bokeh. I also want to hear what you think. 

17mm F1.2 PRO, shot at F1.2

45mm F1.2 PRO, shot at F1.2

So guys, tell me, do you see the feathered bokeh? Share your thoughts, and are you happy with the bokeh quality of the lenses that you already have?

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21 comments :

  1. Most of the time I am using Panasonic 12-35/2.8 and the bokeh, even though it could be a little bit softer, is nice. Love bokeh on my M. Zuiko 60mm.

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    1. I have not paid much attention to the Panasonic's 12-35mm, but I am getting good bokeh from Olympus 12-40mm. When I use the Olympus 60mm, I seldom shoot wide open, usually stop down to F5.6 or narrower for my macro shots.

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    2. From what I've read those two are very similar (12-35 and 12-40). Same here, but love 60 as it doubles as a potrait lens (the focus is not so good though). Sharp at 2,8 and the bokeh is nice.

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    3. Both are great lenses. While I did not use the 12-35mm panasonic long enough, during my short encounter with it I was very impressed.

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  2. Wonderful article and very explanationary graphic. The maro bokeh is kind of a speiality. In for example fashion portraits of the whole body you would see the difference between f1.2 and 1.8 easily. Keep in mind that it is actually just the difference between f 2.4 and f3.5 in fullframe terms.

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    1. For full body portraits, I suggest using the 75mm F1.8, or 40-150mm F2.8 lens, zoomed in to 100mm or further.

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  3. Hi Robin,
    Thanks a lot for sharing your thoughts and wonderful pictures with us.
    It is great and enjoyable article.
    I have one question though. Have you tried to compare the 45 f.18 and this 45 f1.2 lenses at f1.8 or at any other apertures?
    If yes, then what do you think? What is your it, we ordinary people with ordinary job and salary are missing without this wonderful f1.2 lens series.
    Thanks in advance.

    Regards,
    Bahman

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    1. I am avoiding any sort of comparisons in my review, and only will comment very quickly. Too much undeserved drama.
      You may read my notes on my thoughts in the original review.

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    2. I understand fully.
      Thanks for you reply.

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  4. As an enthusiast, I'd like to say that these Pro lenses are rightly named. I went from the EZ pancake 14-42mm f3.5 that came with with the EM10.3 to the 25mm f1.8 to quadruple my speed. The big improvement in depth of field and bokeh were icing on the cake. On that lens, I can definitely tell when I've forgotten to put the lens wide open due to the smaller bokeh balls. But like you said, do I ever really need better bokeh than f1.8 can give me? Not really, not as an enthusiast/hobbyist. If this was my profession and I had paying gigs to pay for lenses, then I probably would go for the very best I could afford in that profession. But until people start paying big bucks for my pond shots and cat pictures, the f1.8 was the only choice versus a f1.2 Pro lens.

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    1. To me, the F1.8 lenses Olympus produced are already so good, and I am happily shooting the 45mm F1.8 and 25mm F1.8 in most of my street shots. For hobbyists, you are right, the F1.8 bokeh is already so good, and most importantly, these lenses are so sharp and totally usable wide open.

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  5. All your examples show a fairly close subject with a pretty far away background. I don't think that different lenses show that much of a difference in this scenario. I guess a more interesting composition would be a head-and shoulder portrait with a rather close busy background (e.g. a barkeeper). Another interesting composition would be a picture in which you see the focus gradually blur into the background.

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    1. Here is the issue, if the subject is indeed that far away, then the blur background won't be blur enough to be useful/meaningful. Ahhh the shortcomings of Micro 4/3 system.

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  6. Hi Robin, does the 25mm 1.2 have the "feathered bokeh" just like the 17mm 1.2 and 45mm 1.2 as well? Thank you!

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    1. I have just asked Olympus Malaysia (was curious as well) and yes, they claim that the 25mm F1.2 also has the feathered bokeh.

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  7. Interesting analysis. I am not seeing the feathering as indicated in the Olympus diagram. In the lego man shot I like the F1.4 the best. Also I think the top middle of the shot is better for analysis. There you can see its smoth in the f1.2 shot leading to the smaller ball on blue in f1.8 and more nervous looking. The transition from smooth to nervous there to me is best at f1.4, and works with your subject.
    Thank you for this.

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