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My Best Bokeh Lens Cost Me Only $5.00!

My Best Bokeh Lens Only Cost $5.00!

My Best Bokeh Lens Only Cost $5.00!

Take a look at that bokeh… creamy smooth, like butter! Normally, frugal photographers like me can only dream of bokeh like this. Only photographers with deep pockets can afford the fast lenses with big glass that produce the sort of creamy backgrounds that make portraits and isolated subjects look so special. Well, every now and then cheapskate photographers like me discover a treasure chest of bokeh in a very modestly priced lens…

When I shot the photo shown above, I was standing about 6 feet from the subject. The blurred background consists of cars and people standing about four to six feet behind the hood ornament of this classic roadster at a car show. What sort of lens did this? Did it really cost me only five bucks? Yes it did!

Enough suspense! This lens is a RMC Tokina 35-105mm F:4-4.5 lens. This lens is about 35 years old, manual focus, and was purchased on eBay for $5.00. Nothing special, right?

More bokeh with my $5.00 lens

When I purchased this lens I was looking for a cheap but decent walk-around lens that would also allow me to do some occasional close-up flower photography. This vintage Tokina lens has a macro feature. Plus, I was impressed with old Tokina manual lenses I have purchased in the past. I own a Tokina AF 19-35mm F:3.5-4.5 (plastic fantastic) purchased used for $60.00 and a Tokina SD 28-70mm F:3.5-4.5 lens that was a great buy at $10.00. Most of the photos seen on this website have been shot with these two lenses. But let’s get back to my $5.00 Tokina 35-105mm bokeh champion…

My Tokina RMC 35-105mm lens

When I first tested my used  Tokina 35-105mm I was rather disappointed. All of my photos shot with it had a hazy glow, as if oil was smeared on the lens. Cleaning the external lens surfaces did not solve the problem, and I was ready to throw the lens away. I decided as a last resort to open the lens and clean the rear surface of the front element. I discovered that what I thought was a single lens element was actually three, so I cleaned each one and then reattached the lens elements. That cleared up my haze problem beautifully. But I created another problem in the process…

On the side of the lens barrel, in front of the focusing ring, are three tiny screws spaced evenly around the barrel. I should not have removed those screws. They control the infinity focus setting of the lens and are set at the factory. Because of that mistake, I no longer have infinity focus (it’s blurry) and I also somehow ruined the macro focus in the process of removing those screws as well. As I tested the lens, trying futilely to recapture infinity focus, I discovered something quite interesting in the process…

I Found Cheap Bokeh!

I could not repair the infinity focus. However, the lens was now capable, somehow, of producing amazing bokeh on subjects within the range of three to eight feet or so. It was no longer much good for anything else. However, when shooting a subject three to eight feet away, I now had buttery smooth background blur even when stopped down to F:5.6. I have created a monster… a $5.00 bokeh monster!

My cheap bokeh lens

All of the photos on this page were shot with my ‘Frankenstein’ Tokina RMC 35-105mm lens at a car show. I am going to keep it just for shooting items within its narrow focusing range. I don’t know how it happened, and I don’t care. I am too delighted with my newly acquired poor man’s $5.00 bokeh lens!

Will this work for you? I don’t know. I have no idea what changes were made in my old Tokina lens to cause this. I take my bokeh and ask no questions. All of the photos on this page were shot with a Pentax K-x (12.4 megapixel DSLR) at 400 ISO and at F:5.6 aperture. Granted, this lens is not as sharp as high-end pro glass, but I’m quite happy with what it can do! It produces beautiful color, has little chromatic aberration, and above all, it gives me silky smooth $5.00 bokeh!