A couple of years ago, I got my hands on an AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.4G and noted that this new lens features an aperture with nine rounded blades, unlike its predecessor in my camera bag, the AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8D, which has seven straight aperture blades. The reason this matters to me is that I like to use sunstars in some of my imagery to create the impression of brightness in light sources.
Sunstars are the rays of light emanating from bright points of light in our images.
To test the sunstar capabilities of the 50mm f/1.4, I grabbed some Christmas lights as I was setting up the Christmas tree.
With my camera on a tripod, so everything would be the same except the lens, I shot some test images, all at f/16 (the smallest aperture for these lenses) at about 1 second and made a direct comparison between the new f/1.4 and the older f/1.8.
Readers might recall the formula for sunstars: even numbered aperture blades make sunstars points of that number, while odd-numbered aperture blades make sunstar points equal to twice the number of aperture blades. A six-bladed aperture makes six-pointed sunstars, for example, while a nine-bladed aperture makes 18-pointed sunstars. To me, seven-bladed straight apertures usually make the nicest sunstars, but results vary from one lens to the next.
I was quite pleased with the result of my experiment.
In recent years, rounded aperture blades have become increasingly common in an effort to give lenses the ability to create more pleasing out-of-focus areas, but this often sacrifices the crisp sunstar effect I love. But I found that while the effect using the 50mm f/1.4 wasn’t quite as dazzling as it was with the f/1.8, it still expressed the feeling of brightness.
While I had everything set up for sunstars, I thought I would experiment with a funny little do-it-yourself trick that can sometimes be useful: shaping your out-of-focus areas. It’s easy to do, but it’s also easy to mess up. In its simplest iteration, you cut a small shape into an opaque object and fit it to the front of your lens.
I used aluminum foil for my experiment, but it made the bokeh a bit too edgy. There are kits available, but part of the fun for me is doing it with household items.
Experimenting with tools in your photographic toolbox is a great way to learn and grow creatively.