Typical Voigtlander bokeh? Not so fast...

Discussion in 'Open Discussion' started by Amin Sabet, Dec 16, 2013.

  1. Amin Sabet

    Amin Sabet Administrator

    Apr 10, 2009
    Boston, MA (USA)
    I've heard it so many times: "____ lens has typical Voigtlander bokeh". Usually what someone means by this is that the lens renders "harsh" bokeh wide open. This is often said about the Voigtlander 35 or 40mm Noktons (which actually render smoother bokeh than most if not all Summicrons), but you'll hear it about almost any Voigtlander lens. Basically, Leicas cost a lot more than Voigtlanders, so Leicas get a "pass" when they render bokeh harshly. Not so much for the Voigtlanders.

    Those of us who use and enjoy Voigtlander lenses as well as Leica lenses know that there's no more such thing as Voigtlander bokeh or Leica bokeh. Just as a Leica 35mm Summilux ASPH renders somewhat differently than a Leica 35mm Summilux ASPH FLE, and both render very differently than a pre-aspherical 35mm Summilux, different Voigtlander lenses render differently than one another. Furthermore, all lenses which tend to create "harsh" bokeh will render somewhat smoother bokeh when stopped down.

    Today I borrowed a bunch of Leica lenses from my older brother to test them out on the Sony A7R, and I decided to do a quick and dirty bokeh test of the Leica 35mm Summilux ASPH FLE on the Sony A7R and my Voigtlander 17.5mm f/0.95 on the E-M1. The Sony was shot in-camera JPEG, whereas I shot the E-M1 in RAW so I'd have more file latitude to try and match color. The E-M1 got no noise reduction other than Lightroom default, and both cameras used Auto ISO to get an ISO around 1000. Like I said, quick and dirty, just to get a sense of the bokeh.

    Each file was cropped to 24:17 aspect ratio (compromise between 3:2 and 4:3) and then resized to the same size. As you will see, the Voigtlander has a slightly wider angle of view.

    Here's the Leica wide open at f/1.4 on the left with the Voigtlander wide open at f/0.95 (f/1.9 equivalent depth of field) on the right:


    100% bokeh crop (remember, this is an in-camera Sony JPEG getting lots of noise reduction):


    Now here is the Leica stopped down to f/2 for similar DOF to the Voigtlander which is again at f/0.95:


    100 bokeh crop:

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  2. GFFPhoto

    GFFPhoto Mu-43 All-Pro

    Feb 24, 2013
    This is not intended as commentary on either lens bokeh, but stopped down vs wide open isn't really fair. Its typical for aperture blades to effect the shape of the blur when stopped down.
  3. Amin Sabet

    Amin Sabet Administrator

    Apr 10, 2009
    Boston, MA (USA)
    Fwiw, I compared them two ways here: both wide open (1st set) and both similar DOF (second set). Not possible to do a "fair" bokeh comparison here, but hopefully an interesting one. I'm trying to figure out why the Leica bokeh has little dots on it.
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  4. Rudy

    Rudy Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Jan 24, 2013
    Oakland, CA
    Most likely dirt near the front element.
    Just like you can cut out a little star from a piece of paper and stick it in front of the lens and your OOF lights will become little stars (fitting your tree).
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  5. fredlong

    fredlong Just this guy...

    Apr 18, 2011
    Massachusetts USA
    While the Leica is a "better" lens (flatter field, probably sharper, etc.) I prefer the rendering of the Voigtlander. I like the simpler designs with softer edged highlights. Those hard edged lights that you get from modern lenses just bug me.

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  6. Yup... this is why pre-asphericals still have a place among many in the Leica world. The Bokeh king as many fondly refer to is not a summilux design but rather a summicon. It is also why some still prefer the previous non aspherical version of the Noctilux.
  7. Bokeh versus a specular highlights are slightly different discussion. I have seen some very dizzying swirly like bokeh from cmount lenses that actually have ok rendering of highlights.


    I dont know of anyone who gives modern Leica asphericals "a pass" on "harsh" bokeh because of their price. Its simply a characteristic that is either wanted or not wanted and accepted. If you want the classic rendering, including a softer smoother bokeh, you would choose a Summarit or Summicron. If you want a more modern rendering, including a somewhat different bokeh, you would choose a Summilux Aspherical.

    This is akin to stating that buyers give a pass to large luxury vehicles' tendancy to guzzle gas because they are expensive. Their gas consumption is a characteristic of the weight that comes with size and luxury and is accepted. If gas consumption is the concern then an economy vehicle is the choice.

    The harsher rendition of specular highlights comes as a characteristic of the aspherical modern look and is simply accepted. If a smoother look is of the primary concern, look towards the Leica non asphericals.
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  8. Amin Sabet

    Amin Sabet Administrator

    Apr 10, 2009
    Boston, MA (USA)
    Bokeh is simply out of focus blur, including OOF specular highlights as well as any other OOF blur. The example I showed illustrates the quality of OOF specular highlights as well as other bokeh, eg the radiator on the right, stairs on the left. Of course one example can't illustrate all aspects of bokeh quality for a single lens.

    Then you and I know different people. The Voigtlander 35/1.4 and 40/1.4 were designed to emulate the rendering of pre-aspherical Summiluxes and are very successful in that endeavor (example), yet they are commonly regarded as having "harsh" bokeh, while the Leicas they emulate are commonly regarded as having "smooth" bokeh. The pre-asph Summilux exhibits focus shift like the Voigtlander, but you rarely hear of that, while the Noktons are often dismissed out of hand for this issue. A Voigtlander 35/1.4 stopped down to f/2 has smoother bokeh than a 40mm Summicron-C or 40mm M-Rokkor (online source test by Roland Ruelh has been deleted) and also smoother than the 35mm Summicron ASPH (see here, here, and here), yet that Voigtlander is known for harsh bokeh, and neither of those Leicas has that reputation. I suspect that the Voigtlander 35/1.4 also renders more smoothly at f/2 than the "bokeh king", though I haven't seen that head to head. Of note, Mike Johnston, who termed the v4 35mm Summicron bokeh king in the first place, has said that lens only has beautiful bokeh when stopped well down (link).

    Classic rendering sometimes but not always includes a softer, smoother bokeh. For example, the pre-asph 50mm Summilux does not, to my eye, have softer or smoother bokeh than the 50mm Summilux ASPH (one example here). I'm not saying that smoother is better, either. I like the way the pre-asph 50 Summilux renders bokeh as much as I like the ASPH. Just two different lenses with the newer one rendering more smoothly and the older one having more distinctive (and harsh) character.
  9. This was my point. The samples dont have enough back ground texture or contrasting elements to really see or discuss beyond the specular highlights of the tree itself. The crops and discussion speak only to the specular highlights. If you were to use a cmount lens that normally produces swirly Bokeh to take a similar photo, its characteristics would be difficult to notice. Conversly, the same lens taken in high noon daylight ei high contrast with bushes or trees inthe background could leave some dizzy.... after looking.

    Not disagreeing here... we follow different people who evaluate lenses differently. I will try to elaborate more later. As for focus shift, Leica FLE was designed specifically to address a focus shift that was discussed heavily on the Leica operated forum.... so again, I wouldnt say that Leica is given a pass due to their price. The community is very critical... even more so now with digital. Also lets not forget that Leica is more than happy (with a charge of course) to adjust the earlier versions that exhibit focus shift to be ideal at a particular aperture and subject distance based on the owners needs. This is an option not available to third party lenses.
  10. Amin Sabet

    Amin Sabet Administrator

    Apr 10, 2009
    Boston, MA (USA)
    I did think of the 35mm FLE when I posted what I said, and I agree that a big part of this is that everyone is more critical now. However, one typically reads (where I have been reading at least) that the non-FLE 35mm Summilux FLE focus shift "isn't so bad", whereas the 35/1.4 Nokton gets pretty much slammed for it's focus shift without mention of the fact that the much pricier pre-asph Summilux it was designed to emulate suffers the same issue.

    I like a variety of lenses with different types of bokeh. Sometimes smooth bokeh is desirable in an image. Other times, a lens with "harsher" bokeh can be used to a painterly effect. Swirliness can be pleasing in some photos, dizzying in others. I actually like bokeh of the 35/1.4 FLE in the OP. It can be jarring, but I enjoy that effect at times as well.
  11. I would like to hear where the Nokton get slammed? When I was looking for a faster 35mm, I could not find such resources. It would also be interesting to know where it occurs and at what point ot dissappears. Of course, I was not totally concerned about Bokeh in my research placing a higher importance on how the in focus subject was rendered which lead me to decide that the focus shift was bad enough to invest in the newer FLE. My edit crossed your post.... Please also note that Leica is more than happy to adjust said lenses to tune the focus shift according to the owners prefrences... something not extended to third party lenses. Maybe that leads to more tolerance over the whole thing..
  12. Amin Sabet

    Amin Sabet Administrator

    Apr 10, 2009
    Boston, MA (USA)
    Mostly talking about threads at Rangefinderforum and the Leica User Forum. No time to try and dig up examples, but that was my impression. Could well be that we read the same threads and came away with different impressions.
  13. MAubrey

    MAubrey Photographer

    Jul 9, 2012
    Bellingham, WA
    Mike Aubrey
    I'm not sure I agree with that. What the Voigtlander has going for it and is extremely clear from these images is that the 17.5mm has the ideal spherical aberration for creating a gaussian-esque blur. That's an excellent achievement.
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  14. Not arguing that....

    Absolutely, the voigtlander renders the highlights much better. I'm simply stating that this isn't a discussion about Bokeh but rather just one single aspect of it.... the highlights.
  15. Very possible.

    Over the past year, I've pretty much stopped the time spent on both those forums (and others.. not just photo stuff) because simply of time. Work's been extremely demanding since its critical time related to the company's survival and of course the twins at home. Heck... haven't even had time to really shoot anything other than family photos. Its driving me nuts. This forum and TPF are pretty much it... these days.

    On the other hand, this also means less temptation.... In 2013, the only new camera I've purchased was a P&S.
  16. MAubrey

    MAubrey Photographer

    Jul 9, 2012
    Bellingham, WA
    Mike Aubrey
    Let me rephrase: the spherical aberration we're seeing in the highlights affects the Bokeh as a whole. It is certainly most obvious in the highlights, but it impacts the smoothness of any out of focus area. That's what I'm saying.
  17. Here's one for reference I was elluding too...


    "BOKEH - probably the mostly common cited difference in the new 35mm Summilux FLE is its “harsh” bokeh. After taking many side by side test shots with the FLE and non-FLE, while the bokeh is different, there is not a clear winner. Where one lens is smoother, the other is coarser. I would agree that the new FLE has a more “nervous” bokeh in general, but both lenses are equally capable of producing a nervous bokeh."

    My personal opinion would be extending this to the Summilux in general.

    I discussed this with my local Leica nut (and my dealer) and he has heard many of the same. It was considered as part of my decision process but in th end I chose the FLE for its other characteristics. It really boiled down to the keeping what I alread had (Summarit 35mm and Voigtlander 35mm nokton 1.2) or going with the FLE as I the focus shift was just enough to be a concern in my eyes (and I didn't feel like spending even more to have it adjusted.. I shoot between the impacted apertures frequently). I intend on selling the voigtlander (as enjoyable as it is) but much like the 50mm Noctilux its pretty unweildy and as such collects dust. I'm having difficulty letting go of the Summarit...

    PS> You have a subscription with Reid? Mine expired two years ago and just now decided to renew out of curiosity of the articles written since. There's an interesting 35mm comparison article there although I just started reading it.
  18. http://www.overgaard.dk/leica-35mm-Summilux-M-ASPH-f-14.html

    "The Version V is a very sharp lens, and so is the bokeh that can have a tendency to make sharp edges in the out-of-focus areas."

    I believe Erwin Puts' review has a similar conclusion in regard to the its Bokeh. In fact assuming my memory is accurate, his review was very/extremely critical of the Summilux 35mm ASPH... surprisingly so when I read it. Unfortunately, the links to his review are dead.
  19. Amin Sabet

    Amin Sabet Administrator

    Apr 10, 2009
    Boston, MA (USA)
    I think both of those links are good examples of how people are rarely hard on Leica for having a lens with harsh bokeh. The first says one is harsher (and goes to out of the way to say the less harsh one can still be harsh under the right circumstances which happens be true of all lenses) but no clear winner, while the second explains the harshness as a consequence of how sharp the lens is. Voigtlander lenses rarely get such polite consideration when the bokeh seems harsh. I thought Puts ignored bokeh as an unimportant component of lens performance.

    Sent from my SCH-I535 using Mu-43 mobile app
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