Dual cameras on phones have been one of the rages of 2017, one which was picked up by both smartphone companies and consumers like a chocolate chip brownie ice-cream on a sunny Saturday afternoon. It was a feature that many previously believed belonged to the high-end segment of the market, but over time we have seen many mid-range devices carrying this duo on their backs.
And a term that we can thank this camera couple for making very popular is “bokeh.” It is mentioned every time a company launches a dual camera device, often with the word “DSLR-like” accompanying it. But what is bokeh? And what does this term even mean? Well, sit back because we are going to dumb it down for you!
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When blurring is in
When it comes to photography, the art generally demands the foreground and its subjects to be in sharp focus while the rest of the picture is blurred out. The hazed out bit of the picture actually helps the subject and the foreground stand out. But over the years, photographers have also started paying increased attention to this “blurry” background – yes, even though it is blurry, as it is capable of adding another dimension to the picture. The blurred out bit of a picture has become one essential part of photography now, and not just because it makes the subject look sharper but also for its very own aesthetic appeal. In recent times, just how the background is blurred has also become a focal point for many photographers. It was something only professionals could achieve with expensive equipment but is now something everyone can bring into their pictures using dual cameras or even apps in smartphones.
Which is all very fine, you may say, but what is bokeh?
Well, in general usage, to the many of us, bokeh is simply the blurred out backdrop in a picture. Technically, that’s not wrong. Bokeh, as per most sources, is derived from a Japanese word “boke” which means blurry, fuzzy or hazy. In photography, the term is used to describe the subject of a photograph that is out of focus.
The “depth of field” angle
Now, many people often think bokeh is synonymous with limited depth of field but guess what? It is NOT!
The Depth of field is basically the distance between the nearest and the farthest point in a photograph that is “In Focus.” This means it actually determines the part of the photograph which is in focus and it is opposite to the concept of bokeh which focuses on (pun intended) on the blurred out bit of a picture. If there is any relation between the two, it has to be inverse – a shallow depth of field will provide deeper bokeh while a deep depth of field will offer shallower bokeh or even no bokeh at all.
Getting bokeh – it is all about lights
Now that everyone wants a blurry background, there are various apps and software that can help you achieve a blurry background. But often this software generated bokeh does not highlight the foreground that well – it simply blurs out a part of the picture that you have selected. Which is why hardware-generated bokeh is important. This is the more “traditional” way to get a fuzzy, bokeh-ed background.
Perfecting the art of bokeh is all about controlling the light. Bokeh is a phenomenon which occurs when the aperture of a lens (the opening of a lens which determines how much light will enter inside the camera) is controlled. A lot of the bokeh results also depends on the type of lens that is being used, but primarily, aperture value pretty much remains the deciding factor in all cases.
Aperture is measured in f stop values such as f/1.2, f/1.4, f/2.8 and so on. The smaller the value, the bigger the opening, for example, f/2.8 is smaller than f/1.2. Larger the opening of the lens, more light will get into the camera. The area in focus will, therefore, be smaller, so this means that more background will be blurred out. In technical terms, we say the depth of field will be shallow, and the bokeh will be deeper. In fact, the best bokeh is supposed to be the state in which the background actually transforms into small blurry light spheres.
On the other hand, the smaller the opening, less light will get into the camera, which means that a greater area will be in focus. Which in turn means, less area to blur out, and lesser or weaker bokeh. Tech speak? This is a deeper depth of field as more objects will be in focus and bokeh will be shallow.
The DSLR edge…
Now, Bokeh is generally easier to achieve on DSLR cameras (and even mid-segment point and shooters) because you have control over the aperture – the size of the opening of the lens – and thus the area that is in focus and the amount of light that comes in. However, this has always been more difficult in phone cameras which generally have fixed aperture values. The presence of dual cameras, manufacturers say, allows users to surmount this.
But do dual cameras actually result in better bokeh than one? Can they compared with DSLR-level bokeh as some say? Or should one just use an app to blur out the backdrop? Those are questions we will be answering in the coming days, but as of now, the next time you pick up a camera (single or dual), you will know what they mean when they talk about bokeh. As in life, it is all about focus.