In addi­tion to focal length, aper­ture, focus­ing speed, each lens also has a pat­tern. The lens pat­tern is a bit like a ghost, or like true love: every­one has heard of it, many peo­ple talk about it, but few can say exact­ly what it is. Let’s take a look at this arti­cle in detail and with exam­ples.

The pic­ture is not direct­ly relat­ed to either the focal length, or the aper­ture ratio, or the man­u­fac­tur­er, or the price. This is not some mag­i­cal fea­ture that only expen­sive lens­es have. One of the most char­ac­ter­is­tic and rec­og­niz­able draw­ings of the Sovi­et Helios is the famous twist­ed bokeh.

The blur­ring of the back­ground seems to be twist­ing — this is not a post-pro­cess­ing effect, this is a lens draw­ing / Pho­to: flickr.com

What is lens pat­tern
Sharp lens for land­scapes and sub­jects, soft lens for por­traits
Blur char­ac­ter (bokeh)
Calm bokeh and ner­vous bokeh
Twist­ed bokeh and oth­er cre­ative effects
What is lens plas­tic­i­ty
Is it pos­si­ble to change the pat­tern of the lens

This term is dif­fi­cult to give a pre­cise def­i­n­i­tion, so it is often used ran­dom­ly. The design of the lens depends on the opti­cal design: on the num­ber of lens­es inside it, on how light pass­es through these lens­es, how it is refract­ed and scat­tered.

The def­i­n­i­tion of draw­ing includes:

  • sharp­ness or soft­ness;
  • plas­tic;
  • back­ground blur char­ac­ter.

Inter­est­ing­ly, if you turn on the bore, draw­ing is a bug. At the dawn of pho­tog­ra­phy, the main task of the cre­ators of tech­nol­o­gy was to devel­op a lens that would min­i­mal­ly dis­tort real­i­ty, trans­mit it as accu­rate­ly as pos­si­ble. Due to the imper­fec­tion of tech­nol­o­gy, this could not be done, the lens­es still gave slight dis­tor­tion. Which, in gen­er­al, form the same pat­tern, unique for each lens.

Mod­ern opti­cal designs allow the trans­mis­sion of real­i­ty with less dis­tor­tion, for which some peo­ple con­sid­er them devoid of pat­tern, bor­ing and inex­pres­sive.

But let’s talk about every­thing in order.

The first thing that deter­mines the lens design is whether it is sharp or soft. All lens­es can be divid­ed into sharp­er and soft­er ones. More­over, it is impos­si­ble to say for sure that one is bet­ter and the oth­er is worse. For macro pho­tog­ra­phy or a sub­ject, the sharp­ness of the lens will be a def­i­nite plus, for por­trait pho­tog­ra­phy it may turn out to be a minus. A sharp lens will empha­size all the small details: wrin­kles, pores on the skin, hairs. And there are chances that all this will have to be retouched lat­er, espe­cial­ly when it comes to super-large por­traits.

This also works the oth­er way around: if you need to con­vey as accu­rate­ly as pos­si­ble, for exam­ple, the tex­ture of a leather wal­let for a cat­a­log shoot or the anten­nae of an insect, then the soft­ness of the lens will become your ene­my. Most like­ly, the image sharp­ness will then have to be fur­ther raised.

Read also:

What is sharp­ness and how to raise it in Pho­to­shop, Light­room and online

Sharp lens­es are espe­cial­ly use­ful when you want to show max­i­mum details in the pho­to / Pho­to: unsplash.com

In terms of sharp­ness, primes are usu­al­ly sharp­er than zooms. This is due to the great com­plex­i­ty of the opti­cal design and the mobil­i­ty of the lens­es of zoom lens­es. In addi­tion, macro lens­es will be sharp­er.

The sharpest lens­es include Sig­ma AF 50mm f/1.4, Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II, Canon EF‑S 24mm f/2.8, Nikon 85mm f/1.4G, Fuji­film XF 90mm f/2, Sony 50mm f/1.4, Sony FE 90mm f/2.8 Macro G OSS, Olym­pus 75mm f/1.8.

As for the soft­est lens­es, there are some­what few­er of them. How­ev­er, there are spe­cial mod­els with a soft pre­fix: for exam­ple, Canon EF 135mm f/2.8 Soft focus or Pen­tax SMC FA Soft f/2.8.

Anoth­er impor­tant part of the lens design is the nature of the back­ground blur. The nature of the blur or bokeh will be promi­nent on rel­a­tive­ly fast lens­es. If you shoot at closed aper­ture val­ues, there will be no back­ground blur. Accord­ing­ly, there will be no blur char­ac­ter.

Bokeh can be calm, it can be ner­vous.

Calm bokeh and nervous bokeh

The nature of bokeh is eas­i­est to show in the pic­tures with the evening lights of the city, gone into blur. In a spher­i­cal ide­al in a vac­u­um (which, as we know, does not exist in nature), the lights will blur into a calm, even cir­cle. With­out any jumps in bright­ness. That is, the edge is not brighter than the mid­dle, not dim­mer, and there is no stroke around the edges.

On the left, the spots are not round­ed, the stroke is clear­ly vis­i­ble along the edges. Bokeh is more ner­vous. On the right, the nature of the blur is more calm / Pho­to: unsplash.com

In prac­tice, the more calm the bokeh, the less the back­ground will dis­tract from the main sub­ject.

On the left is a shot on Nikon 50mm 1.8 d, on the right — on Fuji­film 35mm 1.4. With plus or minus the same size and sim­i­lar shoot­ing para­me­ters, the back­ground looks a lit­tle dif­fer­ent / Pho­to: flickr.com

These two shots demon­strate the dif­fer­ence between ner­vous bokeh and calm bokeh. Look­ing at the details, the back­ground in the image on the left looks more con­trast­ed and over­loaded, it has more details, due to this there is more mess, and it is more dis­tract­ing from the mod­el. In the pic­ture on the right, this con­trast is less, the mod­el looks more well sep­a­rat­ed from the back­ground, and the back­ground itself is more uni­form.

One could attribute this to the slight­ly larg­er aper­ture of the Fuji­film lens, but no. The pic­ture on the right was tak­en in crop, on the left in full frame. The crop just takes a stop of aper­ture, so the lev­el of blur in these pic­tures from a tech­ni­cal point of view is absolute­ly the same, although the bokeh looks dif­fer­ent.

How­ev­er, around what kind of bokeh char­ac­ter is prefer­able, a lot of copies are bro­ken. The fact is that most more or less mod­ern fix­es have a calm bokeh. And many adher­ents of warmth, filmi­ness and lamp­ness find such a lens pat­tern bor­ing, over­ly tech­ni­cal and inex­pres­sive.

But here we real­ly enter into a swampy abyss of taste, from which every­one has to look for a way out. Some peo­ple like a more strict and tech­ni­cal calm bokeh, some­one — more ner­vous, cre­at­ing more con­nec­tion between objects and the back­ground. How­ev­er, there are a num­ber of bokeh types that are very far (but thus very inter­est­ing) from calm­ness, which are worth talk­ing about sep­a­rate­ly.

Twisted bokeh and other creative effects

The famous twist­ed bokeh of Helios-40 and 44 is prob­a­bly famil­iar to every­one who is inter­est­ed in pho­tog­ra­phy. This fea­ture of the lens pat­tern shows itself inter­est­ing­ly when shoot­ing por­traits at an open aper­ture.

The whole world is spin­ning around you / Pho­to: flickr.com

It is inter­est­ing that this effect just aris­es due to the imper­fec­tion of the opti­cal scheme of the lens. In Helios, the front lens is some­what small­er than it should be for smoother bokeh. This was done to reduce lens spher­i­cal aber­ra­tions, and inter­est­ing twist­ed bokeh was a side effect.

Anoth­er inter­est­ing type of bokeh is soap bub­bles. It is typ­i­cal for the Mey­er-Optik Tri­o­plan F/2.8 lens.

The lens allows you to cre­ate a very inter­est­ing artis­tic effect on open aper­tures / Pho­to: meyer-optik-goerlitz.com

A sim­i­lar effect is also pro­duced by reflex lens­es, such as the Samyang 500mm f/6.3. These have a small mir­ror in the cen­ter of the front lens. Because of this, the bokeh takes on the char­ac­ter­is­tic look of a donut or cres­cent.

The pat­tern of such lens­es is dif­fi­cult to con­fuse with some­thing else / Pho­to: flickr.com

Plas­tic­i­ty is the most vague and hard-to-define term of all that has to do with lens design. Plas­tic­i­ty is the abil­i­ty of a lens to cre­ate the illu­sion of vol­ume on a flat medi­um.

It has to do with dynam­ic range and deter­mines the abil­i­ty of the opti­cal sys­tem of the sys­tem to work with close tones. Plas­tic­i­ty (also called micro-con­trast) deter­mines how soft or sharp the tran­si­tion from dark­er areas to lighter ones will be.

Con­nois­seurs con­sid­er Leica and Zeiss ZM lens­es to be the best in terms of plas­tic­i­ty. Also, some 7Artisans lens­es and many Sovi­et lens­es are clas­si­fied as plas­tic.

The lens design can be changed. But not much. For exam­ple, an over­ly sharp lens can be made soft­er (for exam­ple, for a female por­trait) by using a soft fil­ter.

As for bokeh, chang­ing its char­ac­ter is dif­fi­cult, but it is easy to change the shape of the bokeh. Change the cir­cles, for exam­ple, to hearts or stars. Read more about this here.


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