Nikon's definition and use of the word, "Bokeh"

Discussion in 'Casual Photo Conversations' started by tom_mann|1, May 17, 2012.

  1. I just received a newsletter from Nikon in which they use the word, Bokeh, in ways such as:
    • "To achieve bokeh in an image..."
    • "To increase the likelihood of visible bokeh..."
    This is consistent with a definition they give early in that article:
    • "Bokeh is defined as “the effect of a soft out-of-focus background that you get when shooting a subject, using a fast lens, at the widest aperture, such as f/2.8 or wider.” Simply put, bokeh is the pleasing or aesthetic quality of out-of-focus blur in a photograph."
    Note that their definition is not the same as defining it as the out-of-focus background in an image, with no attention paid to the quality of the background rendering, ie, whether it is soft, harsh, jittery, etc. With the latter definition, statements such as the two I quoted would make no sense because all images would have some form of Bokeh.
    For at least a decade, my impression was that the latter definition was correct, but lots of newcomers to photography have been using the term in the same way as in the Nikon article.
    I don't know Japanese or the full history of the word, but I'm sure some of you do. Which definition / usage is correct? Has its meaning been changed by common usage? Inquiring minds want to know.
    Tom M
  2. It depends on who you ask. If the 'quality' of out of focus portion is relevant, the commentator often indicates that in some way, e.g. "good bokeh". I haven't found a technical definition to be important at least for my experience. Maybe others do. I don't know.
  3. Maybe all of us should send photo's to Nikon and tell them this is what Boken is:
  4. Sorry here is the photo
  5. The latter, Tom. That's my take on it. Yes, the word essentially means "blur" in Japanese. But the context for its use is (in meaningful use of it!) the quality of the blur, aesthetically. Meaning, I've got three different 50mm lenses. They each produce the same DoF and more or less equally blur the background as a matter of degree. But the visual nature of the blur is wildly different between those lenses. When I use the word bokeh, I'm referring to the qualities of that blur, not the quantity. I think that's how most people, not counting un-nuanced newbies, use the word. As two-syllable shorthand for "quality of the out of focus blur."

    I don't think Nikon's helping matters with the first part of what you quoted! People who say, "I want a fast lens so I can have bokeh" are saying something along the lines of "I want new tires so I can have ride." What kind of ride? Smooth? Tight? Those new Goodyears have a solid, but smooth rideh.
  6. Wikipedia has a pretty good article describing the definitions, orgins and applications of bokeh:
    I prefer the original Japanese definition of "blur". Evaluating the aesthetic quality can be done with additional descriptors, ranging, say, from "outstanding" to "crappy"...
  7. As to if something has good blurr or bad blurr, I refuse to use the japanese word as pretentious nonsense, perhaps I am an un-nuanced newbie, is surely a matter of opinion. The example above I assume was posted as an example of good blurr by Lauren .. in my opinion it is bad as soft highlights distract and should be avoided at all costs .. so it cannot be good blurr. I saw the soft highlights before I searched and found the berries I assume was the point of the photo. I gather it can also be influenced by the number of blades of the diaphram .. though how this can be when shooting at f/1.4 puzzles me. But I'm just a newbie in all this. LOL
  8. I always thought of it as: Bokeh: The out of focus background in a photo.
    Beyond that I would not define it from a certain f/stop such as Nikon as you can render the background out of focus with f5.6 if you have a little distance between the subject and background. As far as good bokeh or bad bokeh that is subjective. When I shot Minolta's I thought they produced excellent quality Bokeh using Minolta glass and Reala film. But then I switched to Nikon and I have always felt that the qualtiy of Bokeh took a hit on that move but the pictures seemed sharper and of course Reala is gone. (Bad move from fuji). Then I bought a DSLR and the bokeh from my D200 is yet another step downward however it has it's good points.
    Now the Leica glow I am not sure about. I think you actually have to own a Leica to experience that.
  9. Hey, "bokeh" is much easier than the german term, "verwacklungsunschärfe." It makes me glad I have mostly Japanese lenses. :-D
  10. The term is derived from a Japanese word (or so they tell me), but the concept and the definition, as explained in the Wikipedia source above, is essentially Mike Johnston's idea.
    Bokeh does not have to be smooth and creamy, it can be other:
  11. From Wikipedia - Bokeh has been defined as "the way the lens renders out-of-focus points of light"

    From Ken Rockwell - Bokeh describes the appearance, or "feel," of out-of-focus areas. Bokeh is not how far something is out-of-focus, bokeh is the character of whatever blur is there.
    From (or if you prefer) - a Japanese term for the subjective aesthetic quality of out-of-focus areas of a photographic image

    Take your choice, I use it as in the last reference. Since it is subjective there is no such thing as good or bad bokeh as it's in the eye of the viewer - what's good for me may be bad for you. 'Good' or 'bad' could even change depending on the specific image. In a typical portrait 'buttery smooth' bokeh may be preferred but if the background was an illuminated Christmas tree a something harsher may be more suitable depending on what the photographer was trying to accomplish.

    What Nikon, or any manufacturer, says is strictly marketing.
  12. An extreme example of bad(?) bokeh.
  13. Every so often, somebody here calls it "brokeh" - a felicitous renaming if there ever was.
  14. I always thought the old Rokkors gave the best bokeh.
  15. Very nice Andy.
  16. All you really need to get a handle on this is a proper bokeh meter.
  17. It seems to me that these discussions of bokeh generally treat it as a background vs subject distinction. I've always thought of it as the subjective quality of any out of focus area - starting with the transition from critically sharp.
    Those wondefully rendered soft backgrounds make the bokeh characteristics easy to perceive / describe and serve as an indicator of how those same characteristics affect the slightly out of focus parts of the subject. To me, some lenses just seem to render three dimensionality better than others and it seems to be tied to how well the very out of focus areas are rendered.
  18. Don't forget acutance and other edge quality metrics like lack of CA. If you can render a very sharp or "crisp" edge to the foreground object that sets up a contrast with the background, that's a big factor in that use of the "3d effect." Then you want the background to not have too much detail - the eye should slide across it and hit an edge. If your background has too much going on, it doesn't work. I can see where my flower shot could have been composed a bit differently in relation to the background and would have worked better.
  19. {/Maxwell_Smart=ON} Yup, you can't fool me. I knew you would pull the old bokehometer (sic) trick, Matt. {/Maxwell_Smart=OFF}
    Tom M
  20. James G. Dainis

    James G. Dainis Moderator

    I wish that the world could drop the word "bokeh" and just use the plain word "blur". Too many people don't understand when they see a strange word like "bokeh" and assume it is just pretentious with no validity. But blurred backgrounds are valid. There can be good blur and bad blur. You can have smoke ring blur, cat's eye blur and double stick blur to name a few. Here is an example of double stick blur (AKA nisen bokeh):

    If a person comments that the background looks funny that is because of bad blur (or bad bokeh, if you will).
  21. I agree with Andy: bokeh is not as meaningful to me unless the main subject is sharp. That difference between a sharp subject against a beautiful blurred background, is what is most pleasing to me, and I think the best example of this is the Leica 35mm f/1.4 Summilux lens.
  22. Hey, "bokeh" is much easier than the german term, "verwacklungsunschärfe." It makes me glad I have mostly Japanese lenses. :-D​
    Sarah, can I assume that you are not a native speaker of German? 'Verwacklungsunschärfe' has nothing to do with 'Bokeh', but simply means that either you have moved the camera when taking a picture, alas it is blurred for some reason, or the object of desire you wanted to photograph has moved.
  23. "I wish that the world could drop the word "bokeh" and just use the plain word "blur". Too many people don't understand when they see a strange word like "bokeh" and assume it is just pretentious with no validity." Half the fun of being an amateur photographer like myself is being pretentious.
  24. "Verwacklungsunschärfe' has nothing to do with 'Bokeh'"
    Well, Monika, we could at least use "Unschärfe" as an alternative to "Bokeh"... ;-)
  25. Sarah, can I assume that you are not a native speaker of German?​
    Well, that was intended more as a joke -- i.e. that I would have to use a more difficult to pronounce term to describe blur in a German lens, so fortunately my Japanese term is at least easy to pronounce. My apologies to speakers of German for conspiring with Google Translator to butcher their language! Anyway, I now know (and am absolutely horrified by) the German term for motion blur! When the German lens manufacturers jump on the image stabilization bandwagon, I'll then know what to say their technology prevents! ;-)
  26. Of course it would be all too easy for someone to make the typo "boken," which would describe something very sharp (a knife). I have no idea what the more egregious typo Hoboken means, but it relates to baseball and is located in New Jersey.
    I say we use the terms "fuzz" (= good bokeh) vs. "fizz" (= bad bokeh, or brokeh), both being likely typos of each other.
    OTOH, seriously, I have no problems with the word bokeh. The simplest English translation, "quality of blur" has 250% as many sylables and exactly 300% as many characters, including the two spaces.
  27. Tim. I guess one could say " a soft blurring of the background" would work also:
    Tim Holte [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG], May 18, 2012; 07:32 a.m.
    "I wish that the world could drop the word "bokeh" and just use the plain word "blur". Too many people don't understand when they see a strange word like "bokeh" and assume it is just pretentious with no validity." Half the fun of being an amateur photographer like myself is being pretentious.
  28. I think I'll just keep trying to shoot it properly and try not to be "baka" about "bokeh"...
  29. James G. Dainis

    James G. Dainis Moderator

    This just isn't your day, Sarah. :)

    If something has 3 times as many characters it is a 200% increase

    If something has 2 times as many characters it is a 100% increase

    If something has 1 times as many characters it is a 0% increase.

    Don't worry. 90% of the people make that mistake, even (gasp) politicians. "The budget deficit has increased ten fold over the last years. That is a 1000% increase." No, it is a 900% increase. How can these guys run the country when they don't even understand simple math?
  30. I think we can say (subjectively) that there is good/pleasing bokeh or bad and then there is also bokeh that works for the photo or doesn't. So, generally, we might prefer or find aesthetically pleasing the type of bokeh that one lens produces over another. But even the nicest bokeh can be badly used in a photo. And even what we consider a lousy bokeh might work really well in some photos for a variety of reasons.
    Kind of like being a handsome guy or a beautiful woman (which is also subjective). Yet, I can see a very bad picture of a very handsome man. Why, because the photographer has done a lousy job of photographing him. Doesn't necessarily make the man ugly (just like a poor photo doesn't necessarily make the bokeh look ugly), but just doesn't harmonize the photographic elements into an aesthetically workable image.
    So, the case with Lauren's photo above is one where someone might say they love the bokeh but don't think the photo works well because the subject gets lost. Doesn't really have to do with the quality of the bokeh as much as the overall workings of the various elements of the photo.
  31. James, I didn't say 300% more, I said 300% as many. Different animal. It sounded more impactful than "200% more." I'm a 10 percenter. ;-)
    This is to say...
    as many = the same amount as
    100% as many = the same amount as
    200% as many = twice as many
    Is that a mathematical Southernism?
  32. "Is that a mathematical Southernism?"​
    Not sure about the Southeast but in Texas "half in two" was one of my grandmother's Southmath expressions.
  33. Lex, your grandmother's
    expression seems to
    have been known in
    Mississippi too since it's
    used in Robert Johnson's
    song, "32-20 Blues." ("If
    she gets unruly and say
    she don't want to do, take
    my 32-20 and cut her half
    in two.")
  34. If one uses the word bokeh one is using twice as many sylables as blurr... though unfortunately if one must say 'the quality of blurr' then bokeh is a shortcut. However there is more to it than that but the way people use it and rabbit on about it.
    [ and there I used a three sylable word to avoid using a single sylable twice in a sentance, or perhaps it would be a double negative :) ]
  35. Yes, there is pleasant, and not as pleasant Bokeh. It's derived from the actual design of the lens.For whatever reason, this topic is getting way too much attention in the last few years. Seriously, when was the last time you looked at a fantastic photo, and said to yourself, "Wow, what a great shot, but too bad the Bokeh sucks"?
  36. "Seriously, when was the last time you looked at a fantastic photo, and said to yourself, "Wow, what a great shot, but too bad the Bokeh sucks"?"​
    The 3rd of this month.
  37. Blur and bokeh are not the same thing. Blur is an objective characteristic related to the degree of unsharpness of an
    image or portion of an image. It is an optical term. Bokeh is a subjective term referring to a perception resulting from the
    quality, amount and shape of blur.

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