Some lenses were seemingly designed for their bokeh. While we’re positive that camera and lens manufacturers try to put a huge emphasis on how this beautiful out of focus area looking, some just do it better than others. And there is often a lot of work that goes into not only creating that wonderful bokeh but also trying to find a way to balance it with some eye-popping sharpness.
We’ve tested and used loads of lenses here on staff, and here’s a round up of some of our favorites.
Samsung 85mm f1.4
A very little reviewed lens indeed, Samsung’s 85mm f1.4 is a sleeper hit. It’s one of the lenses on top of our list because we’re currently testing it with the company’s Galaxy NX camera.
What do we think? We think that companies should look at Samsung in total fear just for this lens. Any journalist that we talk to about it basically enters dreamland thinking about how wonderful it is.
Not only is the bokeh scrumptious and incredibly creamy, but the sharpness wide open it one of the best that we’ve seen so far. On the APS-C cameras that Samsung puts out, the lens will render around a 125mm field of view.
To get even better results from this lens, we recommend that you use it with studio lighting to ensure that your images have adequate specular highlights. Additionally, because of the way that Samsung’s sensors work, you might want to underexpose your image and push it a bit in the post-processing phase.
Trust us, you’ll be mesmerized.
Voigtlander 17.5mm f0.95
On Micro Four Thirds cameras, the Voigtlander 17.5mm f0.95 will give you a 35mm field of view and a depth of field equivalent of f2 when used wide open. And believe us when we say that you’ll consider never stopping it down.
In fact, The Phoblographer staff has gotten together and deemed it a sin to stop this lens down.
But seriously, this lens has excellent bokeh for both photographers and videographers alike. The aperture ring was designed in a way to work for both fields, too. Set it one way and you’ll get those nice clicks that we’re all too familiar with. Set it the other way, and you’re ready for video with clickless apertures.
In addition to some of the most beautiful bokeh we’ve ever seen, this lens is only a tad contrasty–which means that it’ll translate into more film-like images that will be rendered vs extreme contrast. But remember: it’s totally manual. It’s also consistently glued to our Olympus OMD for a great reason.
Pro Tip: Despite the fact that we all love bokeh, don’t ever let it get in the way of good composition and an even better vision for the end result.
Tamron 90mm f2.8 Macro
Tamron’s 90mm f2.8 Macro is a new design and an update to the company’s older version of the very well dart used lens. 90mm lenses are useful for lots of things: portraits, food, and of course Macro objects. But when we first took Tamron’s 90mm f2.8 for a spin, we admittedly weren’t expecting much. Man, were we wrong.
When we took Tamron’s 90mm f2.8 Macro update for some serious shooting, we didn’t want to take it off of our camera. Because of the close focusing abilities, we were also able to use it to shoot product photos for the website using the lens.
Though most folks might buy a macro lens and stop it down quite a bit, you’d be robbing yourself of a great opportunity if you didn’t look at the bokeh that this lens offers.
Besides the bokeh and the ridiculously sharp image quality, the lens also has weather sealing: which means that if you’ve got a strange photographic vision that requires you going to get some gorgeous bokeh in the rain, you’ll surely be able to with no issues.
Zeiss 135mm f2
We recently reviewed the Zeiss 135mm f2 here on the site, and it obviously won an Editor’s Choice award. Hands down, it’s the sharpest 135mm lens that we’ve ever tested or handled–beating out both Canon’s 135mm f2 L and Sony’s 135mm f1.8 offerings.
As the second all manual focus lens on this list, we recommend that you use Zeiss’s 135mm f2 with a tripod if you’re shooting wide open because you’ll need focus confirmation; and in order to do that you’ll need to twist the focusing ring which will move the camera.
Wide open, the lens performs admirably with some spectacular bokeh and excellent compression for headshots and portraits. But stopped down to f4 or f5.6 will also yield excellent results with even more sharpness. At f3.5 though, you’ll reach the perfect sweet spot balance of bokeh and sharpness.
Granted, if you want to purchase this pricy lens, you’ll need to throw down a ton of dough. In fact, we only recommend it to the creme-de-la-creme of portrait shooters.
Canon 50mm f1.2 L
What would this list be without Canon’s best 50mm lens?
Canon’s 50mm f1.2 L USM is an incredibly tough optic to work with due to the samurai sword thin focusing area when shooting wide open, but when you nail that focus it’s like angels somewhere begin to sing–and the photography gods are looking down on you and smiling.
Most wedding photographers have this lens in their camera bag for the reasons that the lens is one of the best to have during ceremonies where no flash photography is allowed. Having the extra little bit of light soaking abilities with the f1.2 aperture is really nice. However, with high ISO results being what they are today, it’s almost not needed.
With that in mind, don’t ever discount the bokeh on Canon’s 50mm f1.2 L USM. It’s still some of the best you’ll see; and many photographers think that it’s totally useless to stop it down. Otherwise, just spring for the f1.4 or f1.8.
Indeed, the reason why you buy it is to shoot at f1.2.
Bonus: Contax 80mm f2 for 645 System
Back in days when medium format film SLRs were the king of the crop, Contax created an absolute beast of a system. The Contax 645 system was the envy of wedding and portrait photographers everywhere and their 80mm f2 Zeiss made lens is the one that everyone wanted. To this day, photographers try to spring for this system, lens and a digital back if possible to continue using their entire system.
Some may even call it one of the best medium format lenses ever made. It renders a normal view of view and at f2, you’ll be getting barely anything in focus due to the film plane’s massive size with 120 film.
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