The best lenses for Brenizer / Bokehpanoramas

Introduction

bokeh panorama bokehpanorama brenizer bokehrama mechanical vignetting guide review
Sony A7s | Canon EF 135mm 2.0L | 55m f/0.81 equivalent

Brenizer or Bokehpanorama is a panorama technique to get a wide angle shot with the much better bokeh of a longer tele lens. In this article I will show you what it is all about and which lenses work best.

What is a Brenizer/Bokehpanorama?

bokeh panorama bokehpanorama brenizer bokehrama mechanical vignetting guide review
4×9 single shots before stitching in Microsoft Image Composite Editor

By using longer lenses and taking a panorama you can simulate the look of fictional, wider, very fast lenses that are not even technically possible to build.


With a 200mm 2.0 and taking a multirow panorama of 6×6 frames with 50% overlap you can create the look of a fictional 50mm f/0.5 lens. If that is not enough you will vastly increase the image quality compared to a single shot.

The name “Brenizer” is related to NYC based wedding photographer Ryan Brenizer, who was one of the first to use and promote this technique. For the calculations of what fictional lenses my panoramas are equivalent to I was using this brenizer calculator.

What lenses work best?

bokeh panorama bokehpanorama brenizer bokehrama mechanical vignetting guide review
Nikon D800 | Nikon AF-S 200mm 2.0 VRI | 78mm f/0.78 equivalent

The quotient of focal length divided by maximum aperture is generally the best indicator for the blur potential and how useful a lens is for brenizer work.If you have two lenses with the same quotient, for example a 200mm f/2.0 (“100”) and a 400mm f/4.0 (“100”) the look these lenses are giving is somewhat interchangeable:
You can imitate the look of the 400mm f/4.0 by adding a 2x teleconverter to the 200mm f/2.0 (or by simply cropping) and you can also imitate the look of the 200mm f/2.0 by taking a panorama with the 400mm f/4.0.

To keep the panorama work to a reasonable degree you should try to stay away from super long tele lenses (300 to 800mm) though. As, for example, to get the look of a 100mm f/1.0 lens you would need 3×3=9 images when using a 200mm f/2.0 lens. You could also use a 400mm f/4.0 lens, but you will need 6×6 images, so it would be 4 times the work (50% overlap in both cases).

A list of noteworthy lenses, the higher the number the better:

  • 600mm 4.0 / 300mm 2.0 = “150”
  • 800mm 5.6 / 400mm 2.8 = “143”
  • 500mm 4.0 / 250mm 2.0 = “125”
  • 200mm 1.8 = “111”
  • 300mm 2.8 = “107”
  • 400mm 4.0 / 200mm 2.0 = “100”
  • 180mm 2.0 = “90”
  • 135mm 1.8 / 105mm 1.4 = “75”
  • 200mm 2.8 / 85mm 1.2 = “71”
  • 135mm 2.0 = “68”
  • 85mm 1.4 = “61”
  • 50mm 0.95 = “53”

The ones marked in grey I would not consider, as they are too long, heavy, rare, expensive or several of those things at the same time.

This is not everything though: with lenses that feature strong mechanical vignetting (which – amongst other things – leads to the truncation of light circles in the background) you may end up having a hard time to stitch the single frames.
Even if you manage to properly stitch the panorama you will have cat’s eyes everywhere in the frame, not just towards the borders, as can be seen in this example:

olympus om zuiko auto-t 180mm 2.0 flare review sony digital modern camera high res resolution
Sony A7rII | Olympus OM 180mm 2.0 Zuiko | f/2.0 | panorama from 5 shots

It is very hard finding decent information on mechanical vignetting, so over the past months I had a look at a bunch of fast long lenses and tried to find out which one works best for brenizers.

Each of the following brenizers has been taken as a 4×9 shots multi row panorama, so the distance to the subject has been changed. Neither did I own all of the lenses at the same time nor would I have been able to take the panoramas with all these lenses under the same lighting conditions, so there are obvious differences visible.

Sony FE 85mm 1.4 GM

bokeh panorama bokehpanorama brenizer bokehrama mechanical vignetting guide review
Sony A7s | Sony FE 85mm 1.4 GM | 30mm f/0.50 equivalent

Sony FE 85mm 1.4 GM gmaster portrait bokeh sharpness a7rII a7rm3 a7riii 42mp review

This is the only native and also the most modern lens in this comparison. At closer distances it shows almost no mechanical vignetting which is quite amazing, but you will still be able to spot cat’s eyes when you focus on something further away.
85mm is a little short for such a big brenizer, this will lead to some unfavourable perspective distortion. So I think in this case a smaller brenizer (2×5) gives the better result:

bokeh panorama bokehpanorama brenizer bokehrama mechanical vignetting guide review
Sony A7s | Sony FE 85mm 1.4 GM | 44mm f/0.73 equivalent

825g | $1799 | full review

buy from amazon.com | amazon.de | ebay.com | ebay.de | B&H (affiliate links)

Carl Zeiss Jena Visionar 109mm 1.6

bokeh panorama bokehpanorama brenizer bokehrama mechanical vignetting guide review
Sony A7s | Visionar 109mm 1.6 | 35mm f/0.52 equivalent

bokeh panorama bokehpanorama brenizer bokehrama mechanical vignetting guide review

This lens is the cheapest in this comparison and the result is anything but bad, I actually prefer it to the much more expensive Canon 135mm 2.0. Unfortunately you really have to watch out for any stray light hitting the front element.

910g | $250 (including adapters) | full Review

buy from ebay.com | ebay.de
adapters: Ø62,5mm to M65 adapter | M65 helicoid (17-31 or 25-55) | M65 to E-mount adapter (affiliate links)

Canon EF 135mm 2.0 L USM

bokeh panorama bokehpanorama brenizer bokehrama mechanical vignetting guide review
Sony A7s | Canon EF 135mm 2.0L | 40mm f/0.6 equivalent

I sold the lens before I took a mechanical vignetting series. Still, this lens would have probably been worst in that regard featured in this comparison. Stitching did also need several attempts and there are still some errors visible in the background.

708g + adapter | $999 (new) / $700 (used) | full Review

buy from amazon.com | Amazon.deebay.com | ebay.de | B&H (affiliate links)

Carl Zeiss Jena Visionar 168mm 1.9

bokeh panorama bokehpanorama brenizer bokehrama mechanical vignetting guide review
Sony A7s | Visionar 168mm 1.9 | 51mm f/0.58 equivalent

bokeh panorama bokehpanorama brenizer bokehrama mechanical vignetting guide review

In direct comparison I like the results from this lens a little more than from its bigger 183mm brother as the transition zone is smoother and shows less outlining.

2525g | $300 (including adapters) | full Review coming soon

buy from ebay.com | ebay.de
adapters: Ø80mm to M65 adapter | M65 helicoid 25-55mm | M65 to E-mount adapter (affiliate links)

Olympus OM Zuiko 180mm 2.0

bokeh panorama bokehpanorama brenizer bokehrama mechanical vignetting guide review
Sony A7s | Olympus OM 180mm 2.0 | 54mm f/0.6 equivalent

carl zeiss jena visionar 183mm 1.9 projector lens cinema sony a7rii a7rm2 review sharpness bokeh supertele fast cheap

The Olympus shows noticeable mechanical vignetting, no wonder as it is very compact for what it is. Despite this I really like the rendering and so I find it hard to justify carrying one of the much heavier lenses in this comparison instead.
Unfortunately this lens is very rare and expensive.

1700g + adapter | $2500+ (used) | full Review

buy from ebay.com (affiliate link)

Carl Zeiss Jena Visionar 183mm 1.9

bokeh panorama bokehpanorama brenizer bokehrama mechanical vignetting guide review
Sony A7s | Visionar 183mm 1.9 | 54mm f/0.56 equivalent

carl zeiss jena visionar 183mm 1.9 projector lens cinema sony a7rii a7rm2 review sharpness bokeh supertele fast cheap

This old projector lens is able to render beautifully smooth background bokeh, only the transition zone is a little bit harsher compared to the Canon and the Olympus due to some outlining.
Still, if you are after big aperture for small money you should consider this lens.

2965g | $300 (including adapters) | full Review coming soon

buy from ebay.com | ebay.de
adapters: Ø80mm to M65 adapter | M65 helicoid 25-55mm | M65 to E-mount adapter (affiliate links)

Canon EF 200mm 1.8 L USM

bokeh panorama bokehpanorama brenizer bokehrama mechanical vignetting guide review
Sony A7s | Canon EF 200mm 1.8L | 59mm f/0.53 equivalent

carl zeiss jena visionar 183mm 1.9 projector lens cinema sony a7rii a7rm2 review sharpness bokeh supertele fast cheap

The blur is the smoothest in this comparison which was to be expected. Mechanical vignetting is also visible with this lens, but if you don’t mind weight and price the “Eye of Sauron” is undoubtedly still the king when it comes to smooth bokeh. It is also one of the best corrected lenses in this comparison.

3020g + 315g (hood) + adapter | $3000 (used) | full Review

buy from ebay.com | ebay.de (affiliate links)

Conclusion

By using the bokehpanorama technique you can create very visually striking images with a look you cannot get from a single lens. Of course it is not a technique to use for every shot you take, but I found it to be a nice addition to do just one or two in an outdoor potrait session.

I tried to give you an overview of what lenses work well for this application. Most of these long yet fast tele lenses are very expensie, but as you have seen in the previous chapters those longer projector lenses are very interesting for brenizer work: they cost about a tenth of modern lenses with comparable focal length/maximum aperture combination and some of them feature amazingly low mechanical vignetting when used on a full frame camera.
This is not to say they are prefect: these lenses are very heavy and somewhat ill suited for normal photography, as they don’t feature an aperture diaphragm and therefore cannot be stopped down. The limited resolution and higher CA are nothing to worry about for brenizer work, but you have to look out for lens flares.

Nevertheless, these projector lenses can give you the look of a 3000$ lens for a fraction of that cost!

Sample Images

Sony A7rIII | Carl Zeiss Apo Sonnar T* 135mm 2.0L | 25mm f/0.4 equivalent
bokeh panorama bokehpanorama brenizer bokehrama mechanical vignetting guide review
Sony A7s | Olympus OM 180mm 2.0 | 106mm f/1.2 equivalent
bokeh panorama bokehpanorama brenizer bokehrama mechanical vignetting guide review
Sony A7rII | MS-Optics Aporis 135mm 2.4 | 106mm f/1.9 equivalent
bokeh panorama bokehpanorama brenizer bokehrama mechanical vignetting guide review
Sony A7s | Canon EF 200mm 1.8L | 62mm f/0.56 equivalent
Sony FE 85mm 1.4 GM gmaster portrait bokeh sharpness a7rII a7rm3 a7riii 42mp review flare gegenlicht contralight backlit backlight sunstar sunstars starburst blendenstern blendensterne
Sony A7rII | Sony FE 85mm 1.4 GM | 60mm f/1.0 equivalent

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My name is Bastian and for many years I have been mostly shooting Nikon DSLRs. As of today I have made my transition from Nikon to Sony and I am mainly using small but capable manual lenses. My passion is landscape photography but I also like to delve into other subjects from time to time.

25 thoughts on “The best lenses for Brenizer / Bokehpanoramas”

  1. Nice overview and very nice examples, in particular the indoor portrait from David Braddon-Mitchell!

    I recently started to develop some interest in the method as well, as I like methods that bring back this ancient film feeling when you’d only see in the darkroom whether your idea for a shot worked out. However, my two longer primes (90 and 135) are only 2.8, so I am missing out on a bit of blur potential: https://flic.kr/p/2568AnC

    May swap the 90mm 2.8 with the 85 1.8 for that reason.

    Best, Felix

  2. Nice Article, can you add more on the mechanics of how to stitch them all together?

    Also is the effect of the technique significantly limited with the use of a not so fast tele lens?

    The only lens I have access to on your list is a canon 200mm f2.8, Is it worth me trying the technique with that lens?

    1. For stitching I usually use Microsoft Image Composite Editor, which is free to download.
      I try to take pictures with 50% overlap (horizontal and vertical), but if it is only 30 in a few shots it is not a big deal.

      You can use your 200mm 2.8, with only 9 frames you can get the look of 100mm f/1.4 which sould already be interesting.
      If you take a bigger one with 36 frames you can get the look of a 50mm /0.7 with very good bokeh.
      So yes, I think it is worth trying 🙂

  3. another follow-up question, using the spreadsheet you linked to, how are you determining how many photos will give you a specific effective focal length / aperature.

    If I use the right side of the calculator and put in 200mm F2.8 and then spec out 100mm I get the F1.4 effect but it doesn’t reference out how many photos to get the desired effect.

    I tried the left side of the calculator and started making up numbers with the same 200mm F2.8 and said 1000pixels for width and height of single frame and 4000 pixles for width and height of starting frame and it comes up with 48mm F.68

    I guess my brain isn’t comprehending the pixels to # of pics calculation.

    Can you help with the understanding? thanks in advance

    1. That I figured out using a self made excel sheet, but you can indeed use that calculator for that:

      You need double the amout of pixels in both directions (I was using a 24mp sensor as example as it is easy to calculate), that means 2 shots with zero overlap or 3 shots with 50% overlap.

  4. Very interesting article! thank you very much for it. I read it with a lot of pleasure 🙂

    A couple of questions regarding the people photos.

    Do you make a shot of the model and them you shot arround? or you make it also ensambling photos even over the model?

    I understand you used a tripod? Did you try making handheld shots? I mean the photo of the lady in the trafic jump.

    Regards and thanks in advance

    1. Thank you 🙂
      Usually taking one shot of the model and after that the shots around is what I would try to do.
      If your model is good at holding still you can “split” it over several frames, too.
      Both shots with the girls have been taken without tripod.
      It takes some practice, I try to use the grid lines for orientation.

      1. Hello Bastian,

        thank you for your answer. I was making Brenizers yesterday in the lights of the Saturday night. All handheld.

        Some questions about the technique.

        About the model. After you make the central photo of the model, I start to make photos around. Do you ask the model to disappear from the scene? Or you keep her there until you finish to shoot around.

        When making the photos around the “central” one where the model stays. In the initial photo of the model do you keep some lateral space to be able to assemble with the other ones? Or do you include some contour of the model to simplify assembling?

        Regards and thanks in advance

        1. Dear Jorge,
          I let the model stay in place as moving her may lead to shadows changing.
          I try to take one shot where the whole model is in but the surrounding pictures will still contain parts of the model to simplify stitching.

    1. Hey Roger, slow the roll with the slander, please. On my very first public post about this, I noted that with a photographic community this size and math being universal, there was no way I could have been the first to stumble upon this, but no one I showed it to had seen it before (it’s hard to find this post since Amazon deprecated the blog but it’s out there on very much un-editable Internet archives) . Given that, in the month or so before I explained it I tried to work out all sort of stuff about it: how to do it with candids, various sort of lighting, etc. It’s the way inventing works quite a bit: the conditions line up and then things start popping up all over. Joel Grimes also invented this independently, a bit later but I believe him when he says he hadn’t seen my work (or Dan’s). Someone pointed this picture out to me later, but sure as heck didn’t see it when I was working through all this stuff. I’ve never been on Fred Miranda other than occasional Buy and Sale forums … there is a long enough digital record of all the forums I have frequented to show this as well. And yeah, I called it first “Ryan’s strange lenses” when I was figuring it out and basically doing a good-faith prior art search for this very issue, and then “bokeh panorama”: others started calling it The Brenizer Method and then they formed a Flickr group that I figured I should probably join and help people out, and that was that. But I definitely didn’t do anything duplicitous, and happy to note Daniel’s discovery as well. I’ve always been excited by the free flow of information about photography and I just don’t want anyone (especially Daniel, wherever he is!) to think that I meant to act with disrespect or to cheat off anyone’s test, so to speak.

    2. This pretty much tells my long and storied history with the Fred Miranda forums, haha: http://www.fredmiranda.com/forum/viewprofile.php?Action=viewprofile&username=ryan+brenizer

      But seriously, the Internet will always be a weird place but I hope Daniel hasn’t been thinking I ripped him off for a decade. I just had a theory that worked out well and then tried to help others do interesting things with it. Have a good day, this was a really interesting and well-done post!

    3. Whew, finally found the language I used in my very first post.

      “Now, I’m sure out of the tens of millions of people out there, some people have done this before, but I’ve never seen it.”

      I knew there was nothing new under the sun, but that’s the plain truth. But the really funny thing was that I found this from basically the same debate in another forum … nine years ago. Of course it’s also an example of the common but more outlandish fallacy that I claimed to invent the panorama.*
      https://www.flickr.com/groups/1121852@N21/discuss/72157622202507627/

      *My mother was a fifteen year old French prostitute named Chloe with webbed feet. My father would womanize, he would drink. He would make outrageous claims like he invented the question mark. Sometimes he would accuse chestnuts of being lazy.

  5. I had to try the technique and just completed a sample shot of my kids cereal box sitting on our island countertop. I took 36 shots and stitched them together with the tool that Bastian recommended. It was easy to do and provided a rather interesting photo.

    I have tomorrow off and will be visiting the Bridge of Flowers and plan on putting this technique to work.

    Thanks for a great post !!!!!!!

  6. Interesting results! I really appreciated this post. Especially the calculations behind quantifying the total bokeh effect.

    A little note about the originality of this technique. The technique itself is not exactly new, as stated before. Although it seems to be rarely used to pronounce (and put “numbers” on) the bokeh effect – like this post is about. But I’ve seen many examples of image stitching techniques being used to obtain other characteristics. The panorama is of course one common and simple example that is more effect-oriented. A slightly more complex variant is moving the camera in parallel with the subject (rather than just turning it), which results in an image that mimics orthographic projection. Like aerial photos stitched together, or an overview of a complete 2D Super Mario level from a video game strategy guide.
    I’ve also seen a related methodology be used in studio photography in the late 1990’s, where two or more pictures of a model were taken in a similar manner as above. It gives the impression on the final image as if a longer lens was used, as well as increases the resolution. The latter being quite important when early digital photography of limited resolution was used for large and high quality print.

  7. Inspired by this post, I put together a quick visual aid to compare depth of field, aperture, rough cost, and equivalence using bokeh panoramas. The costs aren’t researched carefully, just my impressions. This plot is less about obtaining “impossible” f/0.5 or f/0.25 lens effects (which is already explained well in the post), and more about how one might use an inexpensive lens to achieve the same depth of field as a more expensive lens.

    I bet someone with a large catalog of lens costs versus lens speed could put together a much more accurate version!

    https://www.flickr.com/photos/bwtownsend/41916371505/in/dateposted-public/

  8. BastianK thank you for sharing this!
    I wonder why you prefer to use Microsoft Image Composite Editor rather than to use Photoshop?
    What are the differences between the two?

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