Canon 135mm f2.8 Soft focus vs Soft focus filters

Discussion in 'Canon EOS' started by hjoseph7, Feb 4, 2011.

  1. I kind of like the "old fashion/traditional" soft focus portraits that are hanging on the walls in many portrait studios. Unlike the more artistic portraits that are meant to reveal a subjects personality, the soft-focus lportrait is less realistic in that it portrays how a subject Wants to look, making it perfectly suited for Senior or Wedding photography.
    There are mainly 3 different ways to get that soft-focus look. Either in Photoshop, by using soft focus filters, or by using a soft focus lens. I tried Photoshop and soft focus filters(not very good ones) but was not really impressed. I even tried spreading a diffuser over the lens to try to get that look, but was not really happy. Sometimes they worked and some times they didn't. With photoshop, I found the whole operation tedious and time consuming. Just imagine if you had to apply soft-focus to a hunded different images.
    With that in mind, would a soft focus lens be the answer, or does this type of lens have it's own peculiarities. I mentioned the Canon 135mm because they are relatively inexpensive especially if you buy them used and they can be used as as a normal lens. The f2.8 max aperture is not too bad either. Does anybody own this lens and can recomend it ?
  2. I have and love the 135/2.8, but I bought it because I wanted a fast medium-telephoto prime and couldn't afford the 135/2. If the SF is set to 0, it's extremely sharp, even wide-open. It's also very well-built for a non-L.
    I've played with the softfocus on occasion, but it's easy to overdo it. I don't use it all that often. One neat thing about the SF ring is that it doesn't have to be set to the 0, 1 or 2 clickstops. It can be set to anything in between to finetune the effect.
  3. I would probably pursue the Photoshop route more. Duplicate the bg layer, apply different types of blur and experiment with the layer blending modes.
    More flexible I'd say, unless you're itching for more gear.
    By the way, weren't the old fashioned soft focus images created by smearing vaseline on the front lens?!
  4. I've used my Pentax 67 120mm soft focus on my 5DII and was impressed with the results.
  5. I agree on the Photoshop route. the ability to create "knockouts" and keep the eyes and teeth sharp while selectively bluring other parts of the photo is too valuable. Honestly, given what PS can do with an image I don't see the need for "soft focus" lenses and expect them to disappear.
    In the old days I used to put a Zeiss Softar (I, II, or III) over the lens and while they did s nice job I never liked the soft focus effect on the eyes. I like the eyes sharp.
  6. "Real" soft focus has more to do with spherical aberration than with out-of-focus effects (see the Wiki article on it at ). Thus it is another of those lens effects, like polarization, that can be very difficult to successfully "duplicate" in post processing. So I doubt that such lenses will go away for the cognoscenti. 'Fuzzy' filters can be emulated very successfully in Photoshop, and those have "faded away" to a large extent already.
    Mind, I don't have the 135mm f/2.8 SF lens, but have long been intrigued by it. The fact that I have several lenses that are made as "soft-focus" (e.g., Sima Soft Focus, Portragon) plus other lenses that have achieved this sort of design without really intentionally doing so (e.g., some American lenses from the pre-WWII era), will probably keep me from getting the Canon lens.
  7. "By the way, weren't the old fashioned soft focus images created by smearing vaseline on the front lens?!"
    I tried that back in the days, it got real ugly.
  8. smearing vaseline on the front lens​
    This is ugly, since it's really very hard to get vaseline (petroleum jelly) off the glass. Never, ever do this on the lens itself, but rather on a cheap UV filter or some such. I've often wondered why people don't use, if they must do this, some water-soluble lubricant jelly, which will come off more easily with water?
    If your nose is stopped up, on the other hand, there may be an argument for Vick's Vaporub™.
  9. What about Lensbaby or a Lightroom Plugin that you can apply to a group of photos at once, I am sure there is one out there?
    You can also use the Develop/Vingnette tool to get some nice effects.
  10. Harry,
    I have found the best soft-focus effect is created by using a homemade soft-focus filter. I simply take a UV filter and paint the outer two-thirds of the glass with clear fingernail polish. The effectiveness of the filter varies with the f/stop. The wider the lens aperture, the more the soft-focus effect; the smaller the aperture, the less effect. I have attached a sample made with the filter.
  11. I leased the 135mm f2.8 SF back in my D60 era. As Matt says, it's an excellent, sharp medium tele, especially useful on a crop body. I wan't sure I liked the SF effect, but I don't think it can be exactly duplicated by PS or filters. At least I can't duplicate it. After I returned it, I read somewhere on the interwebs that stopping it down to f/5.6 would cancel the SF on the in-focus subject, while smoothly blurring the background in a super-bokeh effect.
  12. I have used many soft focus filters and I also own the 135mm f2.8 SF. Here is an old thread with some samples. I find that nothing is like the Zeiss Softar--not even software simulations. If you want soft focus, just buy one. Sorry about the subject matter--had to have something more static than a real human, but believe me, the effect of the Zeiss is very exciting on a human being.
    Also, here is a review of the 135mm by Puppy Face, who posts here a lot.
    I don't ever use the 135mm SF for the soft focus because I prefer the Zeiss Softars.
  13. Apparently no one else is going to show the SF effect of this lens. All the photos I took with SF on were of my daughters. Mrs. Path says, No photos of kids on the internet! But maybe a strategic 700x700 crop would be okay. Notice the effect on the the frame of the eyeglasses, which is obviously in focus, yet softened. With all respect to the more experience photographers advocating filters or substances on filters, I don't think they quite match the SF effect.
  14. Steve that is some nice work for a DIY. Thanks Nadine I'll start looking into the Softars I hopes they are cheaper than the lens. I notice that on allot of soft focus portraits, there is some type of glow around the subject. Not sure if that has to do with the lens, the filter, PS, the lights or maybe the photographer ?
  15. It has to do with the filter.
  16. You could also use either the 85, the 100 macro or the 135 and use a set of Zeiss softars.
  17. another in the diy arena is pantyhose, hold on with rubber band, poke holes, etc. lots to experiment with and less mess than the vaseline ;)
  18. Probably the best review of Soft Focus effects:
    He covers everything from Softars to the 135mm SF.
  19. Thanks for the link, carnagex. Most people who test these filters come to the same conclusion--just get a Zeiss Softar (for people pictures). I had one for my Hasselblad, and I had a special adapter made for it to fit on my Canon 58mm filter size lenses (50mm and 85mm lenses). If you don't need to cover a 77mm fillter size area, it doesn't have to be that expensive.
  20. Thus it is another of those lens effects, like polarization, that can be very difficult to successfully "duplicate" in post processing.​
    Depends on the tools you use. From a theoretical point of view this is just a convolution with the appropriate point spread function (PSF). So if you know the PSF (e.g. because you just captured it with the lens you want to imitate), creating the effect is very simple.
  21. I have been a portrait photographer for over 20 years, and have tried many of the tricks mentioned here, including vaseline, nail polish and pantyhose. I also own the soft focus lens in question.
    The main purpose of soft focus is for PORTRAITS. If you don't shoot mostly portraits (for money), or if you don't use soft focus regularly, then you're better off with a more modern lens, especially an L lens. You can always soften the image later or use a filter when desired.
    What does a soft focus lens do that a filter or PhotoShop can't? PhotoShop can soften the pixel edges. But a soft focus lens adds a dreamy effect by increasing chromatic aberration. PhotoShop can't do that (In fact, PhotoShop is most often used to reduce chromatic aberration). The soft focus lens also improves BOKEH. PhotoShop can't do that, either.
    Plus, as someone already noted, it is time-consuming to add "soft-focus" effects to an image in PhotoShop. That costs time and money for a professional. Faster, easier and cheaper to capture it on memory card. But if you've got the time to burn, or you're charging a client by the hour, go for it.
    What about filters? Some are not bad, and are a good cheaper alternative. I used soft focus filters for years. If you go that route, do some research and get one that spreads highlights into the shadow areas, not just creates fog. BTW, to the contributor who used nail polish: good job, nice effect.
    But what I like most about the lens is that it can be switched from soft focus to normal sharpness in a heartbeat, no fumbling to find a filter at the bottom of my camera bag in a dark room, or screwing it on and off every few seconds. For a working photographer shooting a wedding reception that is invaluable.
  22. I made a faux pas in my previous comment. I used the term "chromatic aberration", but I meant "spherical aberration." Sorry for the confusion, they are two different things.
  23. I know this is an old thread now but thought I would contribute my ten pence worth. I haven't had much cause to use soft focus effects but I have tried the Cokin Diffuser 1 and found that quite effective. Unless you're going to be doing a lot of soft focus then the Canon lens could be an indulgence. I've heard lots of good things about the Zeiss Softar but they look pricey for the occasional user. The Photoshop approach should be fine because I don't see a need for doing 100's of soft focus pictures and therefore time shouldn't really be an issue once you've standardized your settings.
    Here is a shot I took with Delta 100 and the Cokin P Diffuser 1 filter.

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