Experimenting With Bokeh Using Three Vintage Lenses for a Christmas-Themed Shoot

Photographer and filmmaker Mathieu Stern took to the streets of Paris to see what shots he could produce using three different vintage lenses, creating various different bokeh effects.

He took some model friends out in the evening, testing out the results of his chosen equipment.

50mm f/1.2

A staple of many portrait photographers' kit bag, Stern purchased this cheaply at just €80 ($95). Ideal for the low light he would be facing for his night shoot, the 50mm f/1.2 can also be credited with producing large, round bokeh when photographing lights behind your subject.

Mir-1B 37mm f/2.8

The second is a Russian lens that Stern modified to create a globular effect. It creates a more unusual bokeh, with the blur becoming more intense around the edges of the photo. In later shots, you can see the circular effect Stern spoke of.

140mm f/1.8

The third is a much larger Russian projector lens that cost Stern less than €50 ($60), which he described as being “massive.” He adapted it to function with a mirrorless camera using parts from Rafcamera, saying, “It needs specific parts to be adapted, but the results are amazing and it has the same effect than a $700 Petzval lens, if not better.”

This lens created a much shallower depth of field with larger bokeh.

Making stops at six locations around Paris, Stern used the city’s light displays and Christmas decorations as backdrops for creating varying levels of bokeh. He also used the portable YN36O11 LED light, creating an added dramatic effect very similar to using gels in a studio.

Your thoughts?

See more of Stern's work at his website and blog.

All images used with permission.

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Location #6 with the Mir-1B 37mm f/2.8: Love it.

Matthias Dengler's picture

The pictures themselves are really pure snapshots, the model doesn't look good n those images. I think sh looks way better in reality! But the idea and the craziness of those lenses is mind blowing!!

Spy Black's picture

Although the 37mm is kooky fun, you can get similar, and in some cases better bokeh using vintage off the shelf lenses for cameras like Nikon, Pentax, Minolta/Sony etc. Canon users are SOL on this one, but of course if you have a mirrorless and appropriate adapter you can go to town. My 135mm f/2 Ai Nikkor wil probably give me better bokeh than that 140mm, I'll have to mess around with it like this to see. I suspect my 50mm f/1.4 Nikkor SC will give me similar results.

Quinn Wilson's picture

I really love that globular effect. Don't really understand how to make it myself tho :(