If Bokeh is the Best thing about your picture then it's not a good picture

I'm a huge fan of Kai and Lok era Digital Rev. Solid content, great writing and hilarious presentation. It set the standard for what photography reviews could be and how they should be handled. If there was one bad thing to come out of the Digital Rev era it has to be a focus on Bokeh. 

 Trophys

Trophys

Bokeh, as David Hancock reminds me is the quality of the out of focus areas in an image. Specifically at lower apertures. Historically having a really large lens opening was needed for the worst situations. You were in a room that was lit by candle light and you needed to drop your shutter speed to 1.5 seconds, pushing your film to 3200 mid roll and praying that something would come out.

Then digital arrived. No you can shoot all day and at shutter speeds that do not make sense. For example, my first fully manual camera was the digital  Nikon D40 and it had a top shutter speed of 1/10,000 of a second. No film camera is  mechanically is close to that speed. We could finally capture images at speeds and sharpness that were unheard of before, like catching sweat whip off a forehead or freeze a humming bird in mid-flight. 

These crazy shutter speeds enabled photographers to use large aperture cameras in the middle of the day, for portrait to separate the background from the foreground. Shooting at F1.8 in midday for most of photography required either extremely slow film or the use of light blocking Neutral Density (ND) Filters.

Digital Rev and other reviewers began to focus more on how nice the bokeh looked, pointing out when the highlights were perfectly round, a sign of extra aperture blades. The lenses that had square and more geometric bokeh were now considered distracting and unpleasant. Even old lens formulas were seen in a new light and cameras with properties we found distracting like Petzval and Sonnar, where the backgrounds swirled, suddenly became fashionable. 

I think bokeh is crutch. Meaning, composition and design are much more important. I never felt that a great picture was great because of how out clean the out of focus parts were. It's bizarre to grade lenses on how something out of focus looks. Of all the aspects of a lens, sharpness, color rendering and flare control it ranks pretty low.  

Seeing the lust after 0.95 and 1.1 f stops makes me pause. Aperture is another thing to chase and argue over but like other gear decisions doesn't lead to better pictures. Maybe if I shot a lot at night or really wanted to shoot like Phillip Barrow I would be more interested in lower f stops and bokeh. But I shoot film and the medium and camera doesn't allow for those options. I'm glad it doesn't.