By January 29, 2013 5 Comments

Bokeh with Small Sensor Cameras

People love to get fast glass and full frame sensors because the bokeh is so good.

And they think you can’t get bokeh from small sensor cameras. But in this video I show you that you can!

First let me define bokeh for you

Bokeh is the Japanese word for blur. It’s that simple.

But, in our photo culture when we speak of bokeh, we usually mean those lovely blobs of soft light in the background of our images that look like this.

If you blur your photo completely, you will get really good bokeh

To get good bokeh you need to know the three things that control depth of field.

  • Aperture
  • Focal length
  • Proximity to your subject

The aperture we all know about

The larger the f-stop the less depth of field – usually.

Focal length is also important

The longer the focal length the less depth of field. It’s really hard to get bokeh with wide angle lenses.

Proximity is something people forget

The closer you are to your foreground subject, the less depth of field you’ll get in the background.

So put all three of these things together (or even 2 out of 3) and you’ll get some great bokeh shots.

Lighting considerations for best results

Keep in mind that to get these blobs of soft light in the background, you’ll need some light in the background too.

Night shots work great. You can have a closeup portrait with streetlights in the background. Christmas lights work too.

It can be natural light outdoors, or indoor light. Keep in mind that it’s sometimes hard to get bokeh in the super bright outdoors. So you might need an ND filter to help with that.

In this video tutorial, I shoot video and stills with my Lumix GH3 camera, and I show you changes to the three depth of field properties to demonstrate how bokeh is made.

Watch the video to find out how you can get bokeh from APS C sensors, the lenses that you find on the entry level dSLR cameras, and also mirrorless cameras.

Here are some stills from the video:

Bokeh with the Lumix GH3. Look on the right side


Very shallow DOF with close proximity


More DOF with farther proximity from the subject


About the Author:

With over 20 years as a pro shooting editorial, sports, corporate and industrial photography, Marlene Hielema has become comfortable with the craft of digital output. As a photo and video tinkerer and troubleshooter, Marlene enjoys relaying the practical uses of photo and video hardware and software that you might not find on the manufacturer's or software publisher's websites. Thousands have seen her work on YouTube and her popular site where Marlene teaches photography and photo editing online, in the classroom, and one-to-one. Find out more about what Marlene can help you with here on discovermirrorless, as well as and

5 Comments on "Bokeh with Small Sensor Cameras"

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  1. Kiwimac says:

    Good points.

    There are some oddities though. For example, my 24mm f1.4 Nikkor will produce stunning bokeh if you get very close to the subject and use f1.4. In fact is it one of the finest lenses Nikon have ever made, I would say.

    Sadly no f1.4 glass for M4/3 yet that can compare but here’s hoping! If we cannot (yet!) match the larger sensors for high ISO quality, we need faster glass to compensate.

    As one who grew up shooting film, I have long had a policy of not using lenses that are slower than f2.8 and I continue that policy now with digital even when using Nikon Full Frame DSLRs.

  2. Steven Lynch says:

    Those 24mm f1.4 lenses (including the Canon L) are great.

    I wish we had more f1.4 lenses too! Actually Panasonic just showed the prototype to their new 42.5mm f1.2 lens and 150mm f2.8. I’m sure they won’t be cheap, but I’m hoping they will be awesome. f2.8 at 150mm is fast enough and will give nice bokeh and separation.

    There are also the Voightlander f0.95 lenses (17.5mm and 25mm) but those are manual focus only and not as practical. I shoot a lot of portraits and also carry over that f2.8 rule for the most part. (The Canon 17-40 f4L was one of my favorites though) I’ve also been using the Sigma 30mm f2.8 EX DN for M43 and that has been a joy.

    Have fun shooting!

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