The art of the soft portrait
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?
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 ...
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.
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.
Ed Sukach, FFP.
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.
I've got a nice Mamiya 145mm f4 Soft Focus I really need to bust out more myself.
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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.
For the RB67 the 150 with discs is not to bad price wise. $300 or less used.
Judging by the high prices of soft portrait lenses versus normal sharp lenses, I would think we're in the beginning stage of some sort of revival for it. Whether it goes mainstream is not certain, but the cult following for soft lenses is certainly quite strong. Higher prices must mean an increasingly healthy sellers market for the stuff.
Maybe part of it's a natural cyclic fashion thing.
Certainly part of it is a repulsion from the perfection and ubiquity of digital imaging.
a thousand dollars is quite a bit of money.
i hate to suggest this, but i will ...
lens baby makes a single cell meniscus lens
with sink strainer apertures. it is basically their
take on one of the most popular portrait lenses
of all time - the rodenstock imagon. it is a glass lens,
and it comes in their new mount system.
you won't spend anywhere near 1000$
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.
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.