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Home Camera Lenses 7 Best Lenses For Bokeh Photography

7 Best Lenses For Bokeh Photography

What Does Bokeh Mean?

Have you seen those photographs with an almost dream-like quality? Usually what you’re looking at is what is known as bokeh photography. The word bokeh comes from the Japanese word boke (ボケ), which means blur or haze. It’s pronounced BOH-kay. 

What is Bokeh Photography?

Bokeh photography is the soft, out-of-focus background effect you get when you are shooting a subject with a fast lens set at the widest aperture. That results in a pleasing aesthetic quality of an out-of-focus blur in the image. You see the bokeh effect frequently used in portrait photography to really enhance the appearance of the subject.

The bokeh effect is achieved using a fast lens set at a wide aperture which results in a blurred background as seen in this picture of a hand holding a flower.
The bokeh effect creates a pleasingly blurred background which focuses attention on the subject

Why is the Lens Important for Bokeh?

To achieve the perfect bokeh effect, you’ll need a fast lens–in fact, the faster the better. You want at least an f/2.8 aperture, but faster apertures, like f/2, f/1.8, and f/1.4, are even better. 

Why does the Aperture Shape Matter?

Aside from the speed of the lens, the shape of the diaphragm blades–the aperture–is also important. A lens with more circular shaped diaphragm blades will result in softer, more rounded orbs created by out-of-focus highlights. A hexagonal-shaped aperture will reflect that shape in the out-of-focus highlights.

The shape of the aperture is reflected in the out-of-focus highlights, as seen in this image with hexagonal highlights.
The shape of the aperture is reflected in the out-of-focus highlights

What are the Best Lenses for Bokeh Photography?

Okay, so now you have a better understanding of bokeh and why the lens is important. So, what are the best lenses for this effect? Here are a list of 7 lenses professional photographers prefer

1. Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 105mm f/1.4E ED Lens

This mid-telephoto prime lens produces a beautiful bokeh while at the same time producing superior image quality with distortion correction and a smooth creamy background when shooting with a shallow depth of field. It has a maximum aperture of f/1.4 and a diaphragm with 9 blades. It also has Extra-Low Dispersion–or ED–elements that help to reduce flare, ghosting (a type of lens flare), and chromatic aberration (color fringing around objects). 

Here are the specifications for Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 105mm

  • Focal Length: 105mm
  • Minimum to Maximum aperture: f/16 to f/1.4
  • Lens construction of 14 elements in 9 groups
  • Diaphragm Blades: 9
  • Weight = 985g
  • Price: $1896.95

→ Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 105mm 

2. Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM ART Lens

This wide-angle lens has a maximum aperture of f/1.4–that results in a very shallow depth of field–and it has a rounded aperture ring that produces a soft, natural blur effect. It also has an advanced low-light shooting capability, an ultra-fast autofocus, high-end optics with a multi-layer coating to reduce flare and ghosting, and it’s compatible with multiple mounts including Canon, Nikon, Pentax, Sigma, and Sony.

Here are the specifications for Sigma 35mm:

  • Focal Length: 35mm
  • Minimum to Maximum Aperture: f/16 to f/1.4
  • Lens Construction of 13 elements in 11 groups
  • Diaphragm blades: 9
  • Weight: 665g
  • Price: $649

→ Sigma 35mm 

3. Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM Lens

The Canon EF 85mm is a great medium telephoto lens that produces a dreamy bokeh for a variety of different photographic subjects including landscapes, action photos, and even videos. It has circular aperture blades that make it easy to create the blur effect. It also has a fast autofocus, an ultra-sharp image quality, and optimized lens element shaping that suppresses flare and ghosting. Additionally, it’s durable and weather-sealed to protect it from moisture and dust.

Here are the specifications for Canon EF 85mm:

  • Focal Length: 85mm
  • Minimum to Maximum Aperture: f/16 to f/1.2
  • Lens Construction of 8 elements in 7 groups
  • Diaphragm Blades: 8
  • Weight: 1,025g
  • Price: $1849

→ Canon EF 85mm 

4. Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G AF-S VR II Nikkor ED-IF Lens

This ultra-fast telephoto zoom lens has a wide aperture of f/2.8 and a circular diaphragm for a dreamy bokeh. It also features ED optical glass with an anti-reflective Nano Crystal coat for incredible sharpness, reduced ghosting and flare, and minimized chromatic aberrations.

Here are the specifications for Nikon 70-200mm:

  • Focal Length: 70-200mm
  • Minimum to Maximum Aperture: f/22 to f/2.8
  • Lens Construction of 21 elements in 16 groups
  • Diaphragm Blades: 9
  • Weight: 1,540g
  • Price: $2,146.95

→ Nikon 70-200mm 

5. Zeiss Otus 85mm f/1.4 Apo Planar ZF.2 Series Lens

This premium short lens offers outstanding image correction as well as elimination of chromatic and spherical aberrations. It produces incredibly sharp images with a creamy bokeh, and it is available for both Canon and Nikon mounts.  It has nine aperture blades and a maximum aperture of f/1.4 that results in a shallow depth of field.

Here are the specifications for Zeiss Otus 85mm:

  • Focal Length: 85mm
  • Minimum to Maximum Aperture: f/16 to f/1.4
  • Lens Construction of 11 elements in 9 groups
  • Diaphragm Blades: 9
  • Weight: 1,200g
  • Price: $3,816

→ Zeiss Otus 85mm 

6. Opteka 85mm f/1.8 Aspherical Lens

This is one of the best low-priced short telephoto lenses for Nikon SLR and DSLR cameras. It is a fully manual lens that has no autofocus, so if you prefer hands-on, this is the lens for you. Its maximum aperture of f/1.8 produces a perfect bokeh effect, and it has low-dispersion, high-index multi-coated HD optical glass that prevents flare and ghosting. It has six rounded aperture blades that capture high level accuracy in the depth of field and the orbs of light in the blurred background.

Here are the specifications for Opteka 85mm:

  • Focal Length: 85mm
  • Minimum to Maximum Aperture: f/22 to f/1.8
  • Lens of Construction of 10 elements in 7 groups with 1 aspherical element
  • Diaphragm Blades: 6
  • Weight: 380g
  • Price: $109

→ Opteka 85mm 

7. Sony SEL28F20 FE 28mm f/2-22 Lens

This is one of the best standard lenses for photographers who use mirrorless cameras, and with a maximum aperture of f/2, it creates a dreamy bokeh effect. The circular aperture has 9 blades, and produces beautiful rounded orbs of light. The lens is made with ED (Extra-Low Dispersion) glass that also has multi-coated layers that reduce flare, ghosting, and chromatic aberrations. The aspherical lens helps reduce spherical aberration, which is when the misalignment of light rays creates blurred edges.

Here are the specifications for Sony SEL28F20 FE 28mm:

  • Focal Length: 28mm
  • Minimum to Maximum Aperture: f/22 to f/2
  • Lens Construction of 9 elements in 8 groups with 2 ED glass elements, 2 aspheric elements, and one advanced aspheric element
  • Diaphragm Blades: 9
  • Weight: 198g
  • Price: $448

→ Sony SEL28F20 FE 28mm 

Now that you’ve got a good idea about the best lenses for bokeh photography, let’s discuss a few tips to create that dreamy effect.


Bokeh Photography Tips

We’ve already discussed perhaps the most important tip – use fast lenses with wide open apertures. But, there are a few other things you can do to create that beautiful bokeh. Here are a few tips:

  • Increase the distance between your subject and the background: This will enhance the bokeh by further blurring the background.
  • Get in close: At the same time that you’re increasing the distance between your subject and the background, you want to get in close to your subject. This will increase the bokeh effect. 
By getting in close to your subject and increasing the distance from your subject to the background, you can create a beautiful bokeh, as seen in this image of a parrot.
Increasing the distance from your subject to the background and getting in close to your subject produces a beautiful bokeh
  • Use longer focal lengths: Zooming to the maximum focal length of your lens will increase the area of the bokeh. If you have a lens with a focal length of 200mm or more, you can increase the blurred areas in your image significantly. 
  • Choose subjects that have highlights in the area that will be blurred: When we’re talking about highlights, that means the light sources for the image. So, for example, if you have a subject posed in front of trees with sunlight shining through the leaves, that will produce beautiful orbs.
  • Set groups on the same plane: If you’re shooting more than one subject, set them on the same focal plane and have them touching at some point. For example, you could have their cheeks touching. Then, focus your camera on the point where they’re touching. A good rule of thumb when shooting more than one subject is to increase the f stop number to the same number as the number of subjects you have–you don’t need to go above f/4– and that will ensure that everyone is in focus.
To produce a beautiful bokeh when photographing more than one subject, have them on the same focal plane and touching, as seen in this photograph of a group on the beach
To produce a beautiful bokeh when photographing more than one subject, have them on the same focal plane and touching

With the right lens, and by following these tips, you can create images with a beautiful bokeh that viewers are sure to love. The perfect bokeh effect will give your images a dreamy appearance, and you can turn a not-so-picturesque background into a beautiful setting for your subject. It’s a common technique for portraits, and by using backlighting, side lighting, or hair lighting, you can give a positively angelic appearance to your subject.

Key to achieving the right bokeh effect is the lens you use. You want a fast lens, and lenses with more blades create a more circular aperture, which results in a more pleasing bokeh effect. Additionally, the best lenses to use are prime lenses–that means a lens with a fixed focal length as opposed to a zoom lens. But, as we’ve discussed, you can achieve a great bokeh by zooming to the maximum focal length. And, the best lenses for bokeh photography that we’ve discussed include lenses for every budget and various mounts.

A beautiful bokeh can turn a ho-hum image into one where the subject jumps off the page, as seen in this image of a woman on a bridge.
A beautiful bokeh can turn a ho-hum image into one where the subject jumps off the page

By creating a creamy, smooth bokeh, you can take a ho-hum image and turn it into one where the subject seems to jump off the page; one that viewers feel they can reach out and touch. All it takes to get images you’ll love is a good lens, the right subject, a good setting, some nice highlights, and lots of practice. 

Catherine Gaither
Catherine Gaither
Catherine Gaither is a professional bioarchaeologist. She has traveled the world photographing archaeological sites and artifacts, and studying human physical remains. She has written numerous professional publications. She continues to work as a forensic consultant and author.

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