When considering lens options for purchase or rental, certain criteria may stand out to you more than others. This depends on what you shoot most often, or what a project demands. Perhaps as a run-and-gun doc shooter, you simply need the extra stop you get with one 85mm lens for the same price as another that doesn't vignette as badly. Or you gave up a contrast performance you really preferred in favor of the IS lens of greater overall value. But what if money were no object, and focal length and speed were matched? An aspect you'd find yourself evaluating closely is the way each handles its bokeh, or de-focused areas of the image. DigitalRev's latest Battle of the Bokeh is a comparison between Canon, Nikon, and Sigma 35mm f/1.4 lenses in precisely this spirit -- with some unexpected results.
Aside from being very entertained, I was genuinely surprised what the lens community-voted as 'Best in Bokeh Show' -- especially since the Canon and Nikon cost $1350 and $1600 respectively, while the Sigma goes for $900. Granted, bokeh represents an aspect of optics that is a bit more subjective, rather than something more concrete and measurable like MTF performance. There's such a thing as 'good' and 'bad bokeh,' to the extent judging such a thing is possible -- but very few of your audience members will be detracting points for 'poor out of focus performance.' This is because bokeh, by definition, is the area out of focus (read: the part you're not supposed to be looking at), so it gets a bit more leeway than the other optical byproducts.
Still, though -- really? Sigma? Shame on me, I guess, for not watching the comparison with a completely open mind! (Let us know if you guys agree below). While we're on this bokeh-rific subject, there's plenty more viewing you may do on the subject from DigitalRev. Here's a few more of the offerings from Battle of the Bokeh, featuring the following lenses:
- Nikon Nikkor AF 105mm f/2 D DC
- Nikon Nikkor AF-S 105mm f/2.8G IF-ED VR Micro
- Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM
- Sigma APO 70-200mm F2.8 EX DG OS HSM
- Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8 L USM
- Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8G ED
- Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM
- Sigma 50mm F1.4 EX DG HSM
Were you guys surprised by the results of the first Battle at all? To what lengths have you gone to achieve superior or more-pleasing bokeh? Is sub-par de-focused performance a deal-breaker for you, or a less-than-vital consideration?