Lately there seems to be a trend of trying to create that sweet bokeh you get from expensive lenses using Photoshop add-in filters. This article will compare two add-ins from two top notch companies - onOne Software and Alien Skin Software as well as Photoshop CS4's own Lens Blur filter.
onOne Software Focal Point 1.02
onOne's way of trying to simulate the sweet bokeh created by great lenses like the Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM or Nikon AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.4G is to apply a radial blur to the entire image and then let you tweak the settings in its UI as shown below using its unique "spider" control:
This control works great if you have a fairly simple oval or planar region that you want apply your blur towards, but it has holes in real world applications such as the the situation below where we want to make my lovely expectant wife the focal point and ignore my daughter and the noise in the background. In addition, using its strongest blur, still results in a blur that isn't super strong as shown in this image:
FocalPoint is easy to use and offers a fantastic UI, but its spider control doesn't yield the best results for a shot like this.
However, there is an added benefit to FocalPoint in that it offers some interesting presets for nice vignettes and the spider is great for offering control over the effect for a really slick border to your photo.
UPDATE: Click here to see my new review for 2.0.
Alien Skin Software 22.214.171.124
Alien Skin Software is known for great quality software, and pretty basic (i.e., no-frills) user-interfaces. They offer a wide variety of simulations of great lenses like the Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM, and the bokeh is absolutely beautiful. Here's a view of its crude user-interface:
However, a big challenge (although some would call it a benefit) of Bokeh is that you must apply your selection of the area you wish to protect (i.e., not apply the blur to) prior to running the Bokeh filter (unless you use the focus region options). The results can be great if your selection is good, but if your selections are off (as mine was in this example which was done with a fast quick mask selection) then you'll have nasty holes without a nice feather like FocalPoint offers (at least using the preset options):
The result is that you end up with something that can be great if you take the time up front to make sure your selection is spot on. This of course, makes it not much different than applying a lens blur in Photshop itself which makes you wonder what it is you are really paying for? The answer it seems, is the magic settings that simulate some famous lenses known for fantastic bokeh.
When I wrote this article I made a huge mistake because I hadn’t noticed the focus region section of the Bokeh UI which allows you to use a tool similar to what Focal Point offers. While I still like Focal Point’s “spider” better, this gives this product a lot more functionality than I had originally given it credit for.
Alien Skin has decided to discontinue its discount, but you can support this blog by purchasing through this link. Your support is GREATLY appreciated!
Photoshop CS4 Lens Blur
Since Bokeh isn't much better (but it is MUCH faster) than the Lens Blur filter in terms of flexibility, I thought I'd do a quick comparison to see how it did. The settings I used were hexagon shape, a radius of 79 (a total guess) blade curvature of 14 (previously used setting) and the rest of the values were the defaults (including the Uniform distribution instead of Gaussian - which didn't have a obvious difference). Here's the result of the Photoshop version overlaid on the Bokeh version:
The net result is that it is similar, but you might not be able to crank CS4 up high enough to get the same results as Bokeh. In fact, the results look closer to what I got in FocalPoint.
Canon 50mm f/1.2L at f/1.2
Unfortunately I didn't have time to do a comparison of a single image using the real lens against the fake versions (by shooting a shot with the lens at a more narrow aperture like f/11), but just for kicks I thought I'd include a picture so you could see the bokeh of this lens. My apologies for the ugly model, but I returned this lens and purchased the more affordable Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM so this was the first pic I could find that I took with the 1.2 @ 1.2:
As you can see the bokeh is pretty sweet, but perhaps not as smooth and exaggerated as the one created by Bokeh.
When I analyze the two products together (move your mouse in and out on the image below), you quickly notice that Bokeh is using the stronger blur that really does a decent simulation of the great bokeh you'd get from a high end lens:
With that in mind, is it worth paying for the effect? Well, if you consider the cost of a typical f/1.2 lens costing over $1000 and the fact that Bokeh offers a decent simulation of several of them, it could be argued it as a good value. Then again, it is really easy to get results that aren't believable as its is more than just a good selection, but also knowing how to apply the appropriate gradient to feather the blur in the transition areas. These details can only be done by understanding what these lenses do in real life, so that leaves the user with a gap in knowledge to do an accurate job if they've never actually owned the lens.
Overall, I'd say that there's not much advantage to FocalPoint over Photoshop's Lens Blur filter, but Bokeh does offer a noticeable advantage in a much less user-friendly user-interface. Short of having the real thing, Alien Software's Bokeh seems to be the product of choice for simulating what some of the great lenses do, but if your goal is to simply use blur as an mechanism for guiding the users eye to your focal point, then Photoshop's Lens Blur filter should be sufficient for your needs at no additional cost.
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