The art of the soft portrait

Discussion in 'Exposure Discussion' started by hoffy, Aug 3, 2010.

  1. hoffy

    hoffy Member

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    Of late I have come across a couple Minolta 100mm F2.8 Variable Soft Focus lenses. TBH, they intrigue me, but have to admit that the price (around $1k US) is scaring me off at the moment.

    This has got me thinking, has the art of a soft portrait disappeared? So often now days there is so much influence on equipment that can display the most extreme resolution, that I think the Soft Portrait is a thing of the past.

    Am I being a romantic? Should this kind of thing be destined to remain in the 70's when it was so popular?

    Cheers
     
  2. Rudeofus

    Rudeofus Subscriber

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    Recently I visited an exhibition of photographs by Heinrich Kühn. He was a wealthy amateur photographer 100 years ago who perfected the art and aesthetics of soft images, much to the chagrin of his professional contemporaries who continuously fought for the sharpest and most detailed image possible. Somehow the situation reminds me of nowadays photography ...
     
  3. Ian David

    Ian David Subscriber

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    I think there are soft portraits and soft portraits. They can work well. But if you are not careful, a soft portrait can look like the worst kind of cheese... That kind of soft portraiture is alive and well in suburban portrait studios all over the world.

    Ian
     
  4. Ed Sukach

    Ed Sukach Member

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    I understand - fully - the value of softening a portrait - at least, most of them.
    I've struggled with "softening" filters and various devices, and the most effective application has been the addition of softening filters on the enlarger lens. Capture with all the resolution (etc.) that you normally would get, - it is FAR easier to reduce that in printing than attempting to increase resolution after exposure.
    This discovery came as a result of finding two 40.5mm softening filters - brand unknown - but who really cares - in a "used" box at a large photo supplier (with eBay, gone now - another story) - the size fitting my Rodenstock enlarging lenses.
    One for mild softening - two, piggybacked, more intense.
     
  5. Leighgion

    Leighgion Member

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    Shifting fashion certainly has its influence, but I think it's mostly that with digital having taken over so much of the work-for-hire market, Photoshop and its brethren have for better or worse absorbed the duty of softening up people's facial flaws. This is just my opinion, but I think a side effect has been that much of the analog segment has responded to this by becoming even more obsessed with sharpness than before.

    Hoffy, if you're interested in soft focus portraits you should by all means try them. An age without romantics willing to try things is a much poorer time to live in. We're awash in images that have been poured over for sharpness. Different is good. Who cares if somebody says it's cheese? It's no fun living on nothing but hardtack and water. :smile:

    I've got a nice Mamiya 145mm f4 Soft Focus I really need to bust out more myself.
     
  6. Chazzy

    Chazzy Member

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    Large format soft portrait lenses are going for sometimes absurd prices, so that style of portraiture is definitely back in fashion.
     
  7. Jeff Kubach

    Jeff Kubach Member

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    For the RB67 the 150 with discs is not to bad price wise. $300 or less used.

    Jeff
     
  8. jp498

    jp498 Member

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    Judging by the high prices of soft portrait lenses versus normal sharp lenses, I would think we're in the beginning stage of some sort of revival for it. Whether it goes mainstream is not certain, but the cult following for soft lenses is certainly quite strong. Higher prices must mean an increasingly healthy sellers market for the stuff.

    Maybe part of it's a natural cyclic fashion thing.
    Certainly part of it is a repulsion from the perfection and ubiquity of digital imaging.
     
  9. jnanian

    jnanian Advertiser Advertiser

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    a thousand dollars is quite a bit of money.
    i hate to suggest this, but i will ...
    lens baby makes a single cell meniscus lens
    with sink strainer apertures. it is basically their
    take on one of the most popular portrait lenses
    of all time - the rodenstock imagon. it is a glass lens,
    and it comes in their new mount system.
    you won't spend anywhere near 1000$ :smile:

    i am a big fan of soft focus portraits.
    less sharp, less in critical focus allows the viewer
    some lee-way in understanding an image.

    while some may think soft focus is cheesy
    ultrasharp and deep DOF can be just as bad.
    its just another tool to work with.

    have fun
    john
     
  10. paul ewins

    paul ewins Member

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    Perversely, the 35mm Soft Focus lenses are usually more expensive than the Medium or Large Format lenses. That's probably just supply and demand, with most supply coming from wedding photographers ditching their RB67s and P67s and the demand coming from people with smaller cameras wanting to try something different. Some of the really rare LF lenses are getting high prices (Pinkham & Smith, Nicola Perscheid) for the optics that will cover 8x10 and larger, but most of them are in the $500 - $1000 range and the most recently produced Fuji SF lenses (an Imagon style lens) can usually be found in the latest style shutters for under $400.

    The Pentax 67 120/4 soft is getting a little harder to find, but will probably cost less than $400 and there are quite a few adapters out there now to mount it on other systems. By comparison the Pentax 35mm soft lenses (FA28/2.8, 85/2.2, F85/2.8 and FA85/2.8) are rarely found for less than $400 and usually have price tags in the $600 - $800 range.

    One thing to understand though is generally a specific soft focus lens is capable of quite different things to just adding a filter in front of your normal lens. There was a lot of experimentation and some quite different approaches taken. In the Pentax 35mm line the 85/2.2 is a completely different construction to the 85/2.8. There is no right way to achieve it since the desired result is an aesthetic effect and what is beautiful to one person may be undesirable to another. Which is probably why people who get the SF bug end up with a lot of different lenses.
     
  11. hoffy

    hoffy Member

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    Thanks for the replies. At least I am not the only one who thinks that Soft Focus is pure cheese. (But then again, maybe I am cheesy myself as I am a big fan of 50's and 60's pinups. Just wish I had the means to give it a try).

    I will, though, have a look at the Lens Baby soft focus. Sounds interesting.
     
  12. benjiboy

    benjiboy Subscriber

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    I've been a portrait enthusiast all my adult life and I bought new more than twenty years ago a now very rare Canon FD 85mm 2.8 SF lens,, and ladies, especially ones of a certain age really appreciate the results I get with this lens, I see so many female portraits these days even of beautiful young girls that are just too bitingly sharp.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 7, 2010
  13. BrianL

    BrianL Member

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    I like soft focus potrait but, would never spend that type of money for a purpose built lens when I could just as well look for a pre-WWII camera with a softer lens that today is all but pooh-poohed on by many. I have a bakelite 120 camera I've used and the reuslts are very good. Of course I do not do it professioonally and know if I did and pulled this box out for a shoot, jaws would drop. I've got a couple of soft focus filters with my Bronica but they do not seem to do as well.
     
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  15. Trask

    Trask Subscriber

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    Sima used to make a T-mount soft focus lens, essentially a single element in a focusing tube. I have one, and it can create creamy,dreamy landscapes, and of course softens portraits. I use it to shoot slides. I like Gene Smith's technique of shooting without a softening filter and using a stretched black nylon or silk stocking under the enlarging lens to take just a bit of the sharpness out of a print.
     
  16. CGW

    CGW Member

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    The "look" is pure kitsch, so tired, overworked and dated. No one seems to want those "tea strainer" Mamiya 150mm lenses. Suspect those who buy them really don't know what they're getting. Rubber band some Saran wrap over your lens and say "David Hamilton."
     
  17. gandolfi

    gandolfi Member

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    Hoffy: "This has got me thinking, has the art of a soft portrait disappeared? So often now days there is so much influence on equipment that can display the most extreme resolution, that I think the Soft Portrait is a thing of the past."..

    No not by a long shot. Especially, as mentioned by Paul, in LF soft focus is very popular!

    (and SO much fun)

    Paul: "Which is probably why people who get the SF bug end up with a lot of different lenses. "

    so true. the bug will get you, if you dont take care...

    CGW: "Suspect those who buy them really don't know what they're getting. Rubber band some Saran wrap over your lens and say "David Hamilton." "

    and where do you get that knowlegde?
    wrapping a lens has nothing to do with making soft focus portraits with a dedicated SF lens.

    SF photography is hard to do! to get the right soft focus is not that easy.
    And as Paul said; there are many very different lenses (in LF) to find. all a little different from the other.

    PS: not being english speaking: what does "all cheese " mean (I love cheese, but I suspect this comment isn't that positive (?))
     
  18. Ronald Moravec

    Ronald Moravec Member

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    I mostly dislike sharp portraits. I have owned 85 Fujki SF screw mt, RB76 150, 300 mm Imagon for 4x5+,

    and 120mm Imagon . I can tell you there is nothing you can hang on the front of a lens that does what a true SF lens does. Tried everything one time or another. Softars come closest.

    The 120 is T Mount and it came for Leica R. It is now Nikon F and the only one I still own.

    If you work with photoshop, you can get close to some of the effects.
     
  19. CGW

    CGW Member

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    Since it's a look so easily replicated with PS, why bother with a dedicated lens with such limited utility? Nostalgia aside, the 70s SF look is pretty much absent from current fashion and editorial photography. The contemporary digital versions don't bear much resemblance to the old flat look.
     
  20. Gerald C Koch

    Gerald C Koch Member

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    Use a small embroidery hoop to hold the fabric taught. They come as small as 3 inch diameter. The distance between the lens and the stocking determines the amount of diffusion.
     
  21. gandolfi

    gandolfi Member

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    two problems with this reply:

    1: limited utility? I have no idea what you mean. If you use a Verito - a cooke portrait - a universal heliar - a velostigmat SF - a Ilex Paragon - an old Dallmeyer, and I could go on, the SF is a choise - your choise.

    You can make any type of image you like, and you can alter/change the SF by either changing the aperture, or use the SF mechanism, that is a part of these lenses!!

    So the use of these lenses are not limited - rather unlimted, compared to "normal" lenses...

    2: "easily replicated with PS"...
    well - we're talking analouge photography here, aren't we?
    And even if we were not - the true SF (at least in LF) isn't easily replicated. And if it were, then it just look exactely like that: a replica..

    (I have never seen a SF picture made in PS that looks right....)
     
  22. CGW

    CGW Member

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    Whatever. SF lenses are really one trick ponies. The images have a stale look however rendered or manipulated that's worn out its welcome.
    Maybe the look will come back sometime but for now the PS versions trump in camera versions for photo editors.
     
  23. jp498

    jp498 Member

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    I too disagree with the "limited utility" aspect of soft focus lenses. A normal everyday "perfect" lens will be sharp all the time, and the only thing you can control with the lens is focus and to some extend depth of field. That's limited utility.

    Put an old SF lens on a 4x5 camera. You can get way soft wide open to potentially normal looking results as you stop down (depending on the lens, but this is a pretty common outcome). Every f stop is going to have different softness for different subjects depending on the detail being photographed. Every f stop will have different contrast results too. Consider it more like having photoshop built into the lens. And you can also adjust focus and DOF like normal lenses. Furthermore some of the soft focus lenses have dedicated softness adjustments separate from the aperture, and others have the imagon strainers for additional options.

    I am interest in SF (and doing things in the camera in traditional ways) because it's the real thing and the original method. Just as people pay more than their house is worth for a shelby ac cobra compared to a modern recreation @ 1/10 the price, people will also continue to like making photographs using original means, even if it's a little more work.

    Soft focus has enthusiasts who have differentiated between what is kitsch and what is authentic and inspiring regarding styles. Examples regarding soft focus on modern commercial portraits to disguise zits and wrinkles is the kitsch they don't get enthused about. The authentic era of soft focus was 80-100 years ago.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 22, 2010
  24. BrianShaw

    BrianShaw Member

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    :laugh:
     
  25. jp498

    jp498 Member

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    Cheese and cheesy (with respect to art) are adjectives very similar to camp and campy, but without the potential homosexual meanings some people apply to camp/campy. With respect to physical construction, cheesy is a negative term implying a poor quality of construction/design, such as something meant for disposable mass consumption rather than for ruggedness.
     
  26. CGW

    CGW Member

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    Kitsch and kitschy work, too, to denote a low-brow or tasteless quality.