Nikon Lens Bokeh Performance

If you don’t know what Bokeh is, I suggest reading an article here. Basically, bokeh is the rendering of out-of-focus areas by a camera lens. The tests on this page illustrate how bokeh is rendered by different Nikon lenses.

The following Nikon lenses were used in this test:

  1. Nikkor 50mm f/1.4
  2. Nikkor 12-24mm f/4 DX
  3. Nikkor 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 DX VR
  4. Nikkor 105mm f/2.8 VR Micro
  5. Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8 VR

Since the focal lengths are different, I cropped images and resized them for your viewing pleasure. It is hard to compare bokeh on these lenses because it is impossible to measure them all with the same focal length. Also, the lenses vary in maximum/minimum aperture and good bokeh can only be achieved when the aperture is set to the maximum (lowest f number), meaning shallow depth of field. Focal length also plays a big role as can be seen with the 105mm VR.

All pictures were taken at ISO 200 (D300 native) with default camera settings without any post-processing, VR was turned off.

Bokeh Comparison

Nikkor 50mm f/1.4

Bokeh - 50mm

Nikkor 105mm f/2.8 VR Micro

Bokeh - 105mm

Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8 VR

Bokeh - 70-200mm

Conclusion:

  1. Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 – good to excellent bokeh, depending on aperture. Shows heptagon diaphragm as bokeh, which most people don’t mind and some even like.
  2. Nikkor 12-24mm f/4 DX – no bokeh on this lens considering max aperture of f/4 and lens being ultra wide. This lens is used primarily for landscape photography where bokeh is not needed.
  3. Nikkor 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 DX VR – very bad bokeh at all focal lengths. As focal length increases between 50mm to 100mm bokeh gets slightly better, but that’s about it.
  4. Nikkor 105mm f/2.8 VR Micro – excellent bokeh with some flare and ghosting. Try to use the lens hood all the time with this one.
  5. Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8 VR – superb bokeh with some flare and ghosting. Always use this lens with the hood.

Comments

  1. 1
    ) Luke
    September 8, 2008 at 4:22 pm

    It would be great if you could include the Nikkor 18-55mm DX lens in this comparison, as it’s the lens that comes with most new Nikons now and would be a good touchstone for those owners to compare with the other lenses you’ve tested here. :)

    • June 11, 2010 at 3:06 pm

      Luke, if I get a hold of this lens, I will certainly include some bokeh shots from it. Since the Nikon 18-55mm is a slow aperture lens, the results would be very similar to what the Nikon 18-200mm produced in the above example though, if not worse…

  2. 2
    ) Fahim Newaz
    June 11, 2010 at 1:56 am

    agree with luke…

    • June 11, 2010 at 3:07 pm

      Fahim, do next expect the Nikon 18-55mm to yield beautiful bokeh, it is not a lens for that kind of photography…you need a fast aperture lens or a telephoto lens to produce good bokeh.

  3. 5
    ) Fahim Newaz
    June 11, 2010 at 3:41 pm

    Thanks for the reply n suggestion …:-)

  4. 6
    ) ttige
    May 20, 2011 at 10:46 am

    Hi Nasim,
    I currently have a NIkon D90 with a 18-55mm 3.5-4.5 lens. I would like to shoot indoor sports, low lighting in rooms, I like to play with bokeh. I’ve been thinking of the Nikon 50mm 1.8 D or the new G; or the 70-200mm variable aperture zoom; or the Nikon 85mm 1.8 D. What would you recommend?
    Thanks for your great website,
    T

  5. 7
    ) Mayur Srivatsav V S
    June 16, 2011 at 11:24 pm

    Hey Nasim Mansurov,
    An amazing post you have here !
    I wanted to buy a lens mainly for portraits,weddings and , macro to some extent. (i already own a 18-105mm Nikkor)
    I want an amazing bokeh quality for the portraits. Out of the Nikkor 50mm f1.4G and the Nikkor 105mm f2.8 micro, which one do you recommend ?
    Your opinion would be greatly helpful.

    Regards
    –Mayur Srivatsav V S

  6. 8
    ) Joan
    July 4, 2011 at 9:30 am

    Hi Nasim,

    I have a Nikkor 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 DX VR using in D80. I know the bokeh is bad and want to buy another zoom lens used in travelling for taking people and landscape . Can you recommend a zoom lens that have the good bokeh ? Is 17-55mm suitable for me ? I know this lens is a DX lens. I may change to a new camera body in the near future. Can this lens also used in a FX camera ?

    Many thanks,
    Joan

  7. 9
    ) Gerardo
    September 21, 2011 at 8:29 pm

    Hi Nasim, Let me start with the equipment I have, Is a Nikon D7000, and I have lenses the 24-70mm f/2.8 and the 70-200mm f/2.8, after using these 2 lenses I have found on the web, that there are some lenses with great bokeh, and the best bokeh, What I like to ask is in your experience, what the Nikon best bokeh lenses, or what is the differences between the following lenses

  8. 10
    ) Gerardo
    September 21, 2011 at 8:30 pm

    the Nikon 50mm f/1.4 AIS Manual Focus Lens and the 50mm f/1.4 G AF

  9. 11
    ) Gerardo
    September 21, 2011 at 8:31 pm

    Also the 85mm f/1.4 D and another one is the 135mm f/2.0 AF DC again I’m looking to buy THE BEST BOKEH NIKON LENS, please if you have time and look on this video, look what this person says on the 3:58 min “This is the King of Bokeh”, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=twbQ8k7twX8 Thanks for all the explanation and information you have posted in your website.

    Regards.

    Gerardo.

  10. 12
    ) mel
    April 10, 2012 at 10:14 pm

    can i use the 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR AF-S DX Nikkor Zoom Lens for that kind of photograpy? and thank to your website and to you. i learn a lot

    • 14
      ) Shawn
      August 31, 2012 at 11:44 am

      Mel,

      Try this little test for yourself:
      Go outside and find a relatively small object to photograph, no larger than a person. Make sure this object is placed ten feet or more from some kind of “background”: trees, house, fence, wall… something. If the object is a real person, great, but I hope they are patient! :)

      Crank your lens out to 300mm and move as close to the subject as you are able to focus (every lens has a minimum focus distance for each focal length*). Then back away a couple of feet. Take your photograph. Call this shot #1.

      Now bring your lens back in to 55mm, then move close enough to your subject to get almost the EXACT same framing you had at 300mm. If you cannot frame it closely enough, because you are too close to focus, then you were too close for shot #1 and you’ll have to retake it, but back up a little bit. The objective is to frame the object exactly the same way at both focal lengths. OK, got the same framing, take your photograph. This is shot #2.

      Now compare shot #1 to shot #2. I think you’ll see clearly the differences in the background. I did not tell you to worry about your f-stop or any other camera settings. They should meter the same, since it’s the same subject and same framing, but even a massive variation in f-stop should not have a significant impact here because we’re talking about 300mm vs. 55mm*.

      Now that you’ve seen the differences focal length makes to your background you can play with the three other variables (one at a time!):
      1) Distance to Background: try moving the object closer to the background and then move it further away (maintain the same framing)
      2) Focus Distance: try moving yourself closer to the subject (if possible) and then try moving further away from the subject (ignore framing)
      3) F-Stop: Maintain the same framing and adjust your f-stop (aperture priority mode ‘A’ if unfamiliar)

      Now you are a self taught “bokeh” expert! I think Nasim’s other bokeh article http://photographylife.com/what-is-bokeh explains more about the shape of the out of focus circles related to the shape of the aperture blades.

      *On many zoom lenses, when you use “close focus” on the longer end, you may actually get a shorter focal length than the lens advertises. This is because the focus mechanism is shortening the focal length in order to be able to focus more closely. The alternative is to have very distant close focus which I don’t think would make many people happy.

  11. 13
    ) Shawn
    August 27, 2012 at 2:04 pm

    I’m not convinced this is a revealing test at all. If I came here and judged bokeh based on this test I would leave thinking the 18-200 cannot ever produce even an out of focus background. Granted, I do not own the 18-200, but I do own the 55-200 and I know that I can create extremely smooth (and fairly pleasant) backgrounds by shooting at the longer end (let’s say between 100-200) and framing fairly tightly. At 200mm even f/8 and f/11 creates extremely out of focus backgrounds for headshots and other small subjects. This seems to refute what this article is saying (“good bokeh can only be achieved when the aperture is set to the maximum”).

    My general rule is that the amount of background blur increases more with longer focal lengths and closer focus distances (and also the further away your background). F-stop has an impact, but much less so than focal length and focus distance. For example, I love challenging myself to take pictures with my 35mm at f/1.8, but at such a short focal length background blur is very minimal (depth-of-field is also very minimal). If I really want to throw my backgrounds out of focus, I grab my 55-200 and shoot at 200mm.

    Now, the bokeh may not be as pleasing on a slow $250 zoom as it would be on a fast $2,000 zoom or even 50mm fast prime, but you can get great results with consumer zooms if you take your time and pay attention to your focal length, focus distance, and distance to background. At a certain point, even with consumer zooms, your background will become a smooth velvet wall of subtle shades of color where those little circles just blend together and their quality no longer matters.

  12. 15
    ) saddam hussain
    December 23, 2013 at 1:41 pm

    i have nikon d 5200 and lens 18-55mm and 55 – 200… say something about 55-200 .is it best for portrait? by compairing 105mm, and 55-200 which one is best for portrait pictures? because i have heared a lot about 105mm lens

  13. 16
    ) Prosenjit
    December 25, 2013 at 11:23 pm

    Is this possible to get good bokeh with 35mm f/1.8 prime lens?

    • 17
      ) james.winters
      May 15, 2014 at 9:01 am

      Testing. 123 :) to see if this comment button works

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