Fun Stuff: Bokeh Ratings and Lens Awards
Well, this is possibly the silliest and potentially least useful thing I've ever done in my life as a photo-writer, but I've decided to publish my personal list of BOKEH RATINGS. I've simply assigned a numerical ranking on a scale of 1-10 to some of the many of the camera lenses I'm familiar with, rating the subjective visual quality of the out-of-d.o.f. areas or bokeh. Here's the basic rating key:
9 - Outstanding, exceptional, capable of great beauty
8 - Extremely good, far better than average
7 - Very good, solid performer, bokeh not too much of a limitation
6 - Decent, above average in most circumstances
5 - Acceptable
3 - Pretty awful under certain conditions
1 - So butt-fugly youd have to be blind not to scream
Please note that unless you are ever-so-slightly crazy (ESSC), bokeh doesn't matter all that much. What sane photographers mostly care about is that the out-of-focus areas not be ugly or garish enough to be intrusive or distracting. If any particular lens meets that criterion in any particular picture, then you really don't have to worry about it too much beyond that. And, if any photographer wants to exploit interesting or unusual or "bad" bokeh for artistic purposes, there is, as far as I know, no law against that.
HOWEVER, if you are one of those ESSC freaks who actually care, bear in mind the following: that a) there is really no such thing as "good" or "bad" here it's all a matter of taste; b) that I've been pretty hard on certain lenses, because my standards are high; and that c) my rankings are ENTIRELY PERSONAL AND SUBJECTIVE. I'm not telling you what to think. You may disagree with me, or think I'm wrong, or call me ESSC, and God bless you. The lenses I've awarded a "10" may not be to your own liking (well, I suppose it's possible), and if I've given something a 5, no, it doesn't mean you should sell yours.
Because this column will no doubt be on the web until I am moldering in the ground and I'd like to be able to modify this list on the fly, or add to it, or remove it altogether should it earn me too much ridicule and grief, I have posted it as a free download on my storefront site. Presently there are 35 lenses rated and I should have about 20 more added by the middle of June, including some zooms. It is ABSOLUTELY FREE, no strings attached, no email addresses harvested, nothing. If you do go download it (it's a 7-page, ~540k .pdf file), you tacitly acknowledge that you got yourself into this and if I drive you crazy you have no one to blame but yourself.
For the Bokeh Ratings, go to
and scroll to the bottom of the page. The author
(me) reserves the right to terminate this offer and remove this
document at any time, if too many people who are not ESSC make fun of
I have to say I'm very happy lately, and not in a curmudgeonly state of mind at all. That's because, thanks to Gene Wilburn and 24 other guys on Jorge Torralba's Rangefinder Forum, I've discovered Lulu. Lulu is a SOTA POD site (state-of-the-art print-on-demand) that will publish book files to order, and then take care of production, order fulfillment, and shipping. Ah, bliss.
These 25 guys got together and published some of their own work
two or three pictures per photographer in book
form, and Gene was kind enough to send me a copy hoping I'd mention it
in this column. I was impressed with it for one thing,
because it's the sort of committed amateur project I approve of; for
another, as a chance to look at some better-than-average rangefinder
photography in book form; for a third, because the book itself is
nicely made and the quality of the reproductions is really quite good,
and fourth, because it really lit up that old light bulb over my head.
For a group project done for fun, the guys did a really nice job. Check
Well, finally, thanks to Lulu, the book has been published...I mean
really, as in it actually exists. I'm holding a copy of it in my hand
right now. (I know some of you may be having a hard time believing
that.) You can't buy it on Amazon.com, but you can order it at your
bookstore (theoretically, anyway) and on the Lulu site. As for those
long-suffering fans whom I've inconvenienced for lo these many years,
next week I'll be making the big order for the copies to fill the back
orders. Although filling the back orders will not exactly be a quick
process, at least from now on I'll be making real progress. So after a
string of unfulfilled predictions, this is actually happening. Whew!
And as if all that weren't enough, Issue #8 of "The 37th Frame" is
finished and set to go out on Wednesday or Thursday. It contains a
completely new type of feature, "A Visual Tour of Contemporary
Photography," featuring major contemporary photographers from all over
the world. Really fascinating to put together, and it should be an
eye-opener if you're not familiar with current trends in who's hot and
Cameras Don't Take Pictures, Lenses DoAnd now it's time for an example of that delightful oxymoron, the "new tradition." In this case, the new tradition is my ever-so-subjective First Annual 37th Frame Lens Awards. All good photographers hate cameras; but only the elite, the connoisseurs, the creme de la creme, also know enough about lenses to hate them, too. (It's a joke, son, a joke.) For those artists, the search for the lenses they hate least can be an absorbing preoccupation. The following list is presented in honor of that small, rare, and discriminating group.
Never in photographic history have lens awards been less needed. Never have so many lenses been so good; never has quality control and sample variation been less of an issue. And, ever since the advent of Photoshop, DxO, and similar programs, lens flaws can actually be corrected in post-processing, and lens properties convincingly faked.
Despite this, there is still pleasure to be taken in a great lens. "There is something magical about the image formed by a lens," wrote Ansel Adams in his book The Print. "Surely every photographer stands in some awe of this miraculous device, which approaches ultimate perfection. A fine lens is evidence of a most advanced technology and craft."
Drum roll, please...
The First Annual 37th Frame Lens Awards
Best Lens Line Available for Photography, Overall: Rodenstock
Best Lens Available for DSLRs: Olympus Digital Zuiko 50mm /2 Macro
Best Lens Available for Medium Format: Mamiya G 80mm /4 for Mamiya 7
Best Recent Lens for Fast B&W Film: Voigtlander Color-Skopar 35mm /2.5 PII
Best Lens Line Killed Deader'n Hell by Leicaphiles for No Good Reason Except Spite: Konica M-Hexanon (Possible Future Contender in this Category: Zeiss ZM)
Most Complete Lens Line (tie): Canon Nikon
Least Complete Lens Line: Contax 35mm Autofocus (R.I.P.)
Best Built AF Lenses: Pentax Limiteds
Best Dual-Purpose 35mm/DSLR Zoom: Nikon AF-S Zoom-Nikkor 28-70mm /2.8D ED-IF
Longest Lens Name: I Ain't Typing That Again
Best Independent Zoom Lens: Tamron 17-35mm /2.8-4 Di LD Aspherical IF
for Nikon, Canon, Minolta and Pentax (Also available as Konica-Minolta
AF 17-35mm D)
Best Lens in Any Digicam: Olympus C-8080z 5X zoom
Best Lens Line for Overall Optical Quality (tie): Olympus Digital Zuiko (for Four-Thirds System) Leica R (for 35mm SLR)
All just personal opinions, of course. Don't sweat the fun stuff!
He was East Coast Editor of Camera & Darkroom magazine from 1988 to 1994 and Editor-in-Chief of PHOTO Techniques magazine from 1994-2000, where his editorial column "The 37th Frame" was a popular feature and where he presented, among other things, a set of three articles on "bokeh" by John Kennerdell, Oren Grad, and Harold Merklinger that were subsequently widely discussed among photographers.
His critical and technical writings have appeared in various publications
and newsletters such as The Washington Review and D-Max. A number of his
articles written under the pseudonym "L. T. Gray" (el Tigre) appeared in the
English magazine Darkroom User.
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