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  • Holly

How to have sharp images AND creamy bokeh!

When I bought my first DSLR, I bought it with a kit lens. I wanted to have creamy bokeh backgrounds, along with sharp subjects in the foreground. BUT, I quickly learned that the lens I bought was not going to work for that at all. I needed a prime lens. Side note: I already have a feeling this blog post will turn into another post about lenses, but on the other hand, sharpness and bokeh have a lot to do with prime lenses.

So, once I learned how to achieve the shallow depth of field/creamy background/bokeh, I scoured the internet for lens comparisons; the smaller the aperture number (f/1.2, f/1.4, f/1.8), the wider the lens will open and the wider the lens opens, the more bokeh the lens can achieve. So, I needed a lens that could open wide AND be the most bang for my buck, since I didn't have much money set aside for a lens at the time.

Where to start with prime lenses? You could try a few lenses, like I did, or you can keep reading and check out my comparisons instead. Disclaimer, I shoot Nikon. :)

I usually shoot with a Nikon 50mm 1.4 prime lens, because, again, in case you haven't heard, I love bokeh and that 1.4 helps me achieve boheh. In my opinion, you can totally achieve creamy bokeh with a 1.4 prime lens. Can you achieve it with a less expensive 1.8 lens? Yes! But things can get technical and people with trained eyes are knit picky about the way the bokeh looks lol. But, I do prefer the 1.4, mainly because, the lens is faster, especially in low light situations.

So, while I was experimenting a, new to me, 50mm 1.4d lens yesterday, I did a test to see which of my 3, 50mm prime lenses were the sharpest, when shot wide open. -At the moment, I own a 50mm 1.4g, 50mm 1.4d, 50mm 1.8g and a 35mm f/2d, all nikon lenses. I'm sure I'll see one, or 2 of those, since I'm eyeing a Sigma 35mm 1.4. Anyways, since the 50mm lenses I have are so similar, with different price points, I took some test shots. For all of the images, I used the same window lighting, shot them all wide open/at their highest aperture (lowest f number) and I didn't do any editing to the images, aside from turning them into jpeg and typing the info over each. Let's check them out and compare both the bokeh and sharpness:

50mm 1.4d | 50mm 1.4g | 50mm 1.8g | Bokeh and Sharpness

I think the 1.8 compares to the 1.4 lenses, when you look at only the bokeh (and this is argued on photography forums a lot!). BUT, you can see that the 1.8's focus point isn't as sharp as the other two lenses. The 1.8 image is only slightly darker/muddier, but the lens is noticeably slower than the other two are, in my opinion.

It can be argued that shooting wide open, which is shooting at the largest aperture your lens will allow (lowest number), doesn't make for very sharp subjects, especially when there are multiple subjects. I never shoot wide open, unless I'm in a very low light situation, without a flash and I only have 1 subject I want in focus. I like to have all of my subjects sharp. I just do. It's totally my thing lol. Which brings me to wanting to try the Nikon 35mm f/2 lens. I saw a photographer raving about it on his youtube channel and after internet research, I had to try it. It's supposed to be an amazing lens. But, being an f/2 lens, how's the bokeh AND the sharpness? Let's find out!

Here is the 50mm 1.4g, wide open, at f1.4, vs the 35mm f/2, wide open, at f/2, unedited and uncropped::

Nikon 50mm 1.4d vs Nikon 35mm f/2 wide open

...While the bokeh is creamier with the 50mm 1.4, wide open, the candles are DEFINITELY sharper, with the 35mm f/2, wide open. I can't believe how sharp it is wide open!!! I have to admit, when I first compared these two images in photoshop, I was disappointed that the background wasn't very creamy, but now that I have the comparison on here, I'm simply floored with the sharpness!

Here are the two lenses, tested at the same apertures:

Nikon 50mm 1.4d vs Nikon 35mm f/2

...The 50mm still isn't as sharp at f/2, as the 35mm is wide open (which is f/2)! Check out the leg closest to the front.

Nikon 35mm f/2 vs. Nikon 50mm 1.4d

To me, these two lenses compare more closely with sharpness, when shot at f/4, but the image shot with the 35mm is still sharper than the 50mm. The bokeh isn't as creamy with the 35mm f/2 lens though. Side note: I kept the shutter speed the same as I did on the first chair comparison, which is why this comparison is exposed darker. I also cropped the images I took with the 35mm, but I was sitting in the same spot when I shot both images and didn't edit them any other way.


•Use a prime lens that can achieve a high aperture.

•Shoot at a high aperture, which is the lowest f number. Shoot wide open if you want, but that's when you risk the subject being too soft, instead of sharp.

•Give your subject and the background some space.

•Give your subject some space from you too.

•50mm 1.8g = a slower lens, not as sharp as the 50mm 1.4, but it achieves good bokeh (to me anyway).

•50mm 1.4d = bokeh, bokeh, bokeh! Not as sharp as the 35 f/2.

•35mm f/2 = sharpity sharp sharp sharp! Backgrounds aren't as creamy as the 50mm 1.4.

You can decide if you're going to choose sharpness over bokeh, or bokeh over sharpness.

Photographers, check out my etsy shop, HBPhotoActions, for photoshop actions, overlays and more! :)

Thanks for looking!!

Read my portrait lens post here

Read my DSLR post here