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Canon 135mm f2.8 Soft focus vs Soft focus filters

Harry Joseph , Feb 04, 2011; 01:15 p.m.

I kind of like the "old fashion/traditional" soft focus portraits that are hanging on the walls in many portrait studios. Unlike the more artistic portraits that are meant to reveal a subjects personality, the soft-focus lportrait is less realistic in that it portrays how a subject Wants to look, making it perfectly suited for Senior or Wedding photography.
There are mainly 3 different ways to get that soft-focus look. Either in Photoshop, by using soft focus filters, or by using a soft focus lens. I tried Photoshop and soft focus filters(not very good ones) but was not really impressed. I even tried spreading a diffuser over the lens to try to get that look, but was not really happy. Sometimes they worked and some times they didn't. With photoshop, I found the whole operation tedious and time consuming. Just imagine if you had to apply soft-focus to a hunded different images.
With that in mind, would a soft focus lens be the answer, or does this type of lens have it's own peculiarities. I mentioned the Canon 135mm because they are relatively inexpensive especially if you buy them used and they can be used as as a normal lens. The f2.8 max aperture is not too bad either. Does anybody own this lens and can recomend it ?


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Matt White , Feb 04, 2011; 01:47 p.m.

I have and love the 135/2.8, but I bought it because I wanted a fast medium-telephoto prime and couldn't afford the 135/2. If the SF is set to 0, it's extremely sharp, even wide-open. It's also very well-built for a non-L.
I've played with the softfocus on occasion, but it's easy to overdo it. I don't use it all that often. One neat thing about the SF ring is that it doesn't have to be set to the 0, 1 or 2 clickstops. It can be set to anything in between to finetune the effect.

Martin S. , Feb 04, 2011; 01:59 p.m.

I would probably pursue the Photoshop route more. Duplicate the bg layer, apply different types of blur and experiment with the layer blending modes.

More flexible I'd say, unless you're itching for more gear.

By the way, weren't the old fashioned soft focus images created by smearing vaseline on the front lens?!

Tom Harvey , Feb 04, 2011; 02:23 p.m.

I've used my Pentax 67 120mm soft focus on my 5DII and was impressed with the results.

David Manzi , Feb 04, 2011; 02:36 p.m.

I agree on the Photoshop route. the ability to create "knockouts" and keep the eyes and teeth sharp while selectively bluring other parts of the photo is too valuable. Honestly, given what PS can do with an image I don't see the need for "soft focus" lenses and expect them to disappear.

In the old days I used to put a Zeiss Softar (I, II, or III) over the lens and while they did s nice job I never liked the soft focus effect on the eyes. I like the eyes sharp.

JDM von Weinberg , Feb 04, 2011; 02:55 p.m.

"Real" soft focus has more to do with spherical aberration than with out-of-focus effects (see the Wiki article on it at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soft_focus ). Thus it is another of those lens effects, like polarization, that can be very difficult to successfully "duplicate" in post processing. So I doubt that such lenses will go away for the cognoscenti. 'Fuzzy' filters can be emulated very successfully in Photoshop, and those have "faded away" to a large extent already.
Mind, I don't have the 135mm f/2.8 SF lens, but have long been intrigued by it. The fact that I have several lenses that are made as "soft-focus" (e.g., Sima Soft Focus, Portragon) plus other lenses that have achieved this sort of design without really intentionally doing so (e.g., some American lenses from the pre-WWII era), will probably keep me from getting the Canon lens.

Harry Joseph , Feb 04, 2011; 03:01 p.m.

"By the way, weren't the old fashioned soft focus images created by smearing vaseline on the front lens?!"
I tried that back in the days, it got real ugly.

JDM von Weinberg , Feb 04, 2011; 03:27 p.m.

smearing vaseline on the front lens

This is ugly, since it's really very hard to get vaseline (petroleum jelly) off the glass. Never, ever do this on the lens itself, but rather on a cheap UV filter or some such. I've often wondered why people don't use, if they must do this, some water-soluble lubricant jelly, which will come off more easily with water?
If your nose is stopped up, on the other hand, there may be an argument for Vick's Vaporub™.

Mark Sanderson , Feb 04, 2011; 03:50 p.m.

What about Lensbaby or a Lightroom Plugin that you can apply to a group of photos at once, I am sure there is one out there?
You can also use the Develop/Vingnette tool to get some nice effects.

Steven King , Feb 04, 2011; 04:47 p.m.

I have found the best soft-focus effect is created by using a homemade soft-focus filter. I simply take a UV filter and paint the outer two-thirds of the glass with clear fingernail polish. The effectiveness of the filter varies with the f/stop. The wider the lens aperture, the more the soft-focus effect; the smaller the aperture, the less effect. I have attached a sample made with the filter.

Soft Focus

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