Incense

by Bart Arondson

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I always read that when possible it's best to "get things right in camera" which I always aim for - so following that line of thinking, would it be worthwhile to get the Canon 135mm f/2.8 soft focus lens for those times I want soft focus portraits, like the one Canon published here:

http://www.usa.canon.com/CUSA/assets/app/images/lens/ef_135_28sample1.jpg

Or do you think it would be best to use a super sharp lens like my new Zeiss 135mm APO Sonnar and then apply some kind of effect in post? Would it be the same kind of softness look as in the example photo above? Or does the lens designed with soft focus add something significant to the equation that post only tries to emulate?

Thank you.

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1 Answer 1

If you already own a different 135mm prime that is sharp I see virtually no reason to buy that lens. Canon doesn't make it anymore for a reason, it simply isn't necessary. Sure you can save a bit of time doing it during the shot instead of post, but you also have to weigh that with the cost of the additional lens to carry and buy.

As for how you can create this effect in Photoshop, it really isn't all that hard and once you learn the technique it is easy to reproduce when needed. We already have a great question/answer thread that addresses that so I won't go into much detail here. See: How can I approximate 'soft focus' digitally?

This review sums it up nicely: http://www.the-digital-picture.com/Reviews/Canon-EF-135mm-f-2.8-with-Softfocus-Lens-Review.aspx

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3  
+1 There is an aspect of a soft focus lens that is more difficult to reproduce digitally: Spherical Aberration. This is really what causes "soft focus", a strong spherical aberration...however it also produces a particular aesthetic to boke (both foreground and background blur, particularly background blur circles.) You can see this effect in my answer here on soft focus lenses. Soft focus is an effect in 3D, so approximations in post will always just be that...approximations. Sadly, Canon doesn't make anything the Nikon 135 f/2 SF these days. –  jrista May 4 '13 at 3:21
    
Reading over the "how to approximate" post, I find Stan Rogers answer helpful. What I get from it and jrista is that the look can be aimed for but not done as well as the $200-$300 Canon lens, especially when you consider the work in looking for a good plugin or doing it manually. Time is worth more than 200 bucks when it's all said and done –  Greg Thompson May 4 '13 at 5:29
    
@GregThompson - I think it really all comes down to how often you want this effect. I personally do it very seldom, so creating it in post is not a burden. If I was going to shoot soft focus 5% of the time or greater, than it would make sense. Right now I probably use it for something like .05% of shots. I also think the effect created in post is good enough to the same effect created in camera, but that is a personal taste opinion, yours may differ. You already have a 135mm lens, the time it would cost you to try it in post is near zero - so try that first before spending more money! –  dpollitt May 4 '13 at 14:29

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