Today we'll be reviewing a product called The Bokeh Master's Kit. We'll tell go through what it is, how to use it, and whether or not you should consider adding it to your arsenal of photography tools.
What is Bokeh?
Before we go into what the product does, you should understand the concept of bokeh. When you have a lens that is of ample quality to produce a relatively shallow depth-of-field, the background becomes extremely blurry when the foreground is in focus (and vice-versa).
Because of a whole lot of complex physics (aka. spherical aberration) and the way light is fed through the lens, out of focus points of light essentially take on the shape of your aperture. In most cameras, this produces a round or near-round (sometimes slightly octagonal) shape representing the points of light in the distance.
Though the lens and aperture are distorting the true image, the result is something quite beautiful and is generally regarded as a positive feature of an image.
The image above is a perfect example of how bokeh can add significant aesthetic value to an image (image source). Keep in mind that this image was taken at f/2.2. If your lens doesn't go below f/4 or so, you might have a hard time producing a good bokeh.
The Bokeh Master's Kit
What the Bokeh Master's Kit does is change the shape of the bokeh in an image by filtering the light through a custom-shaped hole on the front of your lens.
As you can see in this sample image from the kit's website, the results can be quite fun and unique. So how does it do this exactly? Let's take a look.
What You Get
To give you a good idea of what you'll get in the kit, here are a couple of pictures that I took when I first received mine.
As you can see, you get five plastic sheets containing pieces to punch out. The red sheet is a little box that you fold up to hold your disks, and the rest are disks containing different shapes to mold the bokeh along with the holder piece that is placed over the camera.
Here's a more comprehensive list of everything included:
How To Use It
To use the kit, simply place one of the disks in the holder, place the holder over the front of your lens and use the included rubber band to strap it on.
The tricky part is that you can't just take a picture of anything. You have to create a setup like the asian doll picture above where a good bokeh is already being produced. Remember that the kit modifies bokeh, it doesn't create it!
When I first received the Bokeh Master's Kit, I was a little hesitant to attach it to my lens with the rubber band. Sure enough, when I tried it, the rig in combination with an autofocus lens (and therefore a moving lens) seemed to be a bad combination as it was wearing on the gears a bit.
Turning the autofocus off was an easy solution, but then you're forced to manually focus and my focus dial is unfortunately near the front of my lens, which was obstructed by the bokeh kit. In the end I found it to be easy enough to place a disk in the holder and then just hold it in front of my lens while I shot.
However, I think the disk holder would be much better if it were actually a lens attachment similar to a modified polarizer or lens cap. This would really increase both manufacturing costs and the end customer price, but the improved setup would be worth it.
Moving on to usage, I first tried the kit with a low grade Canon 18-55mm F/3.5-5.6 lens. Unfortunately, the results with this lens were quite fickle. Though I could fairly easily produce a decent bokeh, it was really tricky to get the kit to reshape it in any way. Despite the fact that I was trying to produce a star, I kept getting Pac Man shapes!
Faced with failure on my cheap kit lens, I decided to get more serious and pulled out a Canon f/2.8 lens. To setup the shot, I grabbed a few studio lights, set a toy catapult on a pool table, and placed a pile of Christmas lights in the background. Here's what I came up with straight from the camera.
Just to give you a good idea of what's going on here, the settings are as follows: 1/15 sec exposure (with flash and tripod), f/3.2, 100mm. As you can see, the bokeh is coming through quite nicely.
This time, equipped with a decent lens and a better setup, the effect of the bokeh kit was instant and required zero fiddling with settings or adjustments. In fact, the results were excellent!
Placing the bokeh kit over the lens considerably darkens the image but as long as you adjust your settings accordingly it's not a problem. Also, it places a dark vignette around the edge of the photo. Some photographers might find this annoying but I was loving the effect on this particular setup.
Though I was frustrated with the results from the cheaper lens, once I had the right setup I found the kit to be a blast to use. It's an admittedly cheesy effect but it's something you can't normally achieve and is really neat to have on hand for certain occasions.
Here are a few more images from the same shoot:
So should you get one? I vote yes. It's currently only $25, which you'll earn back in positive comments from your friends and family wondering how the heck you achieved the amazing effect. The best application I can think of is for children's portraiture. The fun shapes really lend themselves to kid photography and you'll no doubt snag a few clients with the originality of the images.
Before you purchase anything, just remember my advice about making sure your lens is up to par and also that it's probably a good idea to turn off auto-focus prior to attaching the kit to your lens.
For all you do-it-yourselfers out there, the effect is actually pretty easy to achieve on your own. Check out this guide from DIY Photography or run a search on Flickr for "custom bokeh" to see what others have come up with.
Use the comment section below to let us know what you think of the product and whether or not you'll be ordering one. Also be sure to let us know if there are any other products you've been considering purchasing that you'd like us to review.