Why Bokeh is Overrated

I currently think the LEICA 35mm f/2.4 ASPH (silver) is the best designed (in terms of proportions, build quality, sharpness, compactness, weight, and red lettering on silver) lens out there.

I. Don’t buy f/1.4 lenses

Leica 50mm f/2 APO Lens
Leica 50mm f/2 APO Lens (8000 USD)

The biggest sucker mistake a lot of photographers who get into LEICA is that they buy expensive SUMMILIX (f/1.4) lenses. They think that they want to shoot everything wide open at f/1.4 — and they end up hating their lives, because the lenses are fucking heavy, and shooting wide-open gets old after a while.

Even when you are shooting portraits, you want to shoot at least f/2 to get enough of the face, eyes, or eye lashes sharp. Especially in street portraits.

Leica M9, 35mm, f/16, flash at night, SF 20.


If you’re rich, get the LEICA 50mm f/2 APO lens (8000 USD) instead of a Summilux or a Noctilux (.95 50mm). I used it on my friend’s camera, and it is smaller, lighter, sharper, and more badass.

Leica M9, 21mm, f/8

I think bokeh is overrated. Shooting with bokeh or wide-open is a lazy way to try to make more interesting photos (by blurring out everything in the background). Truly great photographers like Henri Cartier-Bresson and Josef Koudelka shot mostly between f/3.5 and f/8. They only shot ‘wide open’ when there wasn’t enough light for their film.

Film Leica MP, Kodak Portra 400, f/8

I genuinely believe if most photographers today shot at f/8, we would make better photos. We would focus more on deep depth, compositional layers, and emotional depth of soul.

II. Why pancake lenses are delicious for a photographer’s breakfast

I grew up loving pancakes– specifically blueberry pancakes from my mom.

Pancakes are the best lenses for photographers, because any lens that is thinner is better. Just like how thinner iPhones are better– every new version of an iPhone strives to get thinner. Also kind of like how if we want to look more physically attractive and strong, we want to thin our stomach.

The ‘new’ retro Leica 28mm f/5.6 Summaron lens¬†is pretty fucking badass. They went ‘back to the future’ and took the older classic design, and breathed new life into it. Innovation means to ‘breathe into’ — so I see innovation as taking something old, and breathing new life into it.

Honestly if you shoot street photography or most forms of everyday photography, you don’t need more than f/5.6. ¬†Personally on my film Leica MP and 35mm f/2 Leica ASPH lens, I always shoot at f/8 or f/16 (more notes in LEICA MANUAL).

Beautiful craftsmanship: huge shout-out to Leica for having the balls to make such a badass lens– and whoever led the design process (you are a badass).


Going to the prior point, the reason why LEICA is the most innovative company in photography is they are the ultimate ZEN minimalists– they are seeking to remove the superfluous. Every new iteration and generation isn’t about adding new shit we don’t need — but steady improvements via subtraction.

Take for example the new LEICA 28mm f/2.8 lens. I don’t know how they did it– but they made it even thinner:

And this lens hood looks badass:

IV. What is the best 35mm M-mount lens?

My buddy Bellamy Hunt from Japan Camera Hunter taught me that the Leica 35mm f/2 ASPH lens is the sharpest 35mm lens from Leica.

Personally, it is the only lens I own. It is permanently married to the film Leica MP.

Portrait by Benjamin Thompson / Melbourne, 2014

The reason I love the lens is that the ergonomics are perfect for me. I love the feeling of the focusing tab, the sharpness of the lens, and the way it renders colors on Kodak Portra 400. For learn more, read FILM STREET PHOTOGRAPHY MANUAL.

However the downside of the lens: it is pretty heavy. Once again, if I got a new Leica lens, it would be the Leica 35mm f/2.4 ASPH — because I want less weight — and I want it thinner. I don’t need f/2.

V. How to innovate

Once again going to lenses, design, cameras — innovation is truly by subtraction.

Ricoh GR II // Hanoi, 2017 in P mode

I’ve innovated in my photography by stripping the superfluous. Currently I’m only shooting with the Ricoh GR II camera, and the limitations is what set me free. I also have an integrated flash on the camera, shoot in P mode at ISO 1600, and only high contrast black and white with free ERIC KIM film simulation presets in Lightroom.

I still prefer the RICOH GR II because it fits in my front pocket. I still haven’t found a camera on the market that has an APS-C sensor (same as entry-level DSLR cameras), with an integrated flash, that fits in my front pocket.

But LEICA CAMERA is the best innovative company. They have roots in simplicity, minimalism, and the Dieter Rams concept:

Less, but better.

VI. How to make better photos

Sorry friend I got a bit distracted. Essentially if you want to make better photos, you do not need bokeh, nor do you need to shoot wide open.

Film Leica M6, Kodak Portra 400, f/16

Rather, shoot everything in P mode, or between f/8-f/16.

Canon 5D, 35mm, f/8


Look for foreground, mid-ground, and background.

Ricoh GR II in P mode, ISO 800

When you’re making photos, photograph with more of your emotion and soul. Photograph photos where people are making eye contact with you. Make photos that tug at your heart-strings.

Ricoh GR II, Macro, 28mm, ISO 800, P mode

Make self-portraits which are personal to you. Make photos of your loved ones, because photography is just a meditation on life and death.

Me and my mom

And remember ultimately photography ain’t about making photos, it is about making personal meaning in life.

Top photo: My mom at the plot of land of her old childhood home in Busan (no longer exists). Below photo, revisited a few years later with Cindy.

PHOTOGRAPHY IS PHILOSOPHY (with a camera as your philosophical tool).

Be strong,

My grandma. Ricoh GR II, flash, ISO 1600, P mode

Take your photography to the next level:

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