Although difficult to quantify, some lenses enhance overall image quality by producing more subjectively pleasing out-of-focus areas. Good bokeh is especially important for large-aperture lenses, macro lenses, and long telephoto lenses because they are typically used with a shallow depth of field. Bokeh is also important for medium telephoto "portrait lenses" (typically 85–150 mm on 35 mm format) because in portraiture photography, the photographer typically seeks to obtain a shallow depth of field to achieve an out-of-focus background and make the subject stand out.
Bokeh characteristics may be quantified by examining the image's circle of confusion. In out-of-focus areas, each point of light becomes an image of the aperture, generally a more or less round disc. Depending how a lens is corrected for spherical aberration, the disc may be uniformly illuminated, brighter near the edge, or brighter near the center. Lenses that are poorly corrected for spherical aberration will show one kind of disc for out-of-focus points in front of the plane of focus, and a different kind for points behind. This may actually be desirable, as blur circles that are dimmer near the edges produce less-defined shapes which blend smoothly with the surrounding image. Lens manufacturers including Nikon, Minolta, and Sony make lenses designed with specific controls to change the rendering of the out-of-focus areas.

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