Unlocking the Mystery of Swirly Bokeh: From Magic Spells to Photography Perfection.

Have you ever come across the term “swirly bokeh” and wondered what it really means? It may sound like a spell from a fantasy book or a fancy cocktail recipe, but in photography, it’s a fascinating phenomenon that can add a touch of enchantment to your images.

In this article, we’ll delve into the world of swirly bokeh, uncovering its secrets, explaining how to achieve it, and discovering when it’s most impactful in photography. So, grab your camera and let’s embark on a journey to unravel the mystery of this mesmerising effect.

Key Takeaways

  • Achieving swirly bokeh effects in your photography often requires older or vintage lenses that may not have modern innovations.
  • Research and choose lenses carefully to ensure they can produce the desired bokeh effect.
  • Swirly bokeh is typically more pronounced in busier backgrounds with lots going on.
  • The Helios 44 2 58mm lens, compatible with Canon EOS cameras, has a lot of history attached to it and can produce unique photos with patience and experimentation.
  • The Zhongyi Mitakon Speedmaster lens, compatible with Sony E, Canon RF, and Nikon Z-Mounts, has a large aperture range and produces warm and soft colors in bokeh shots.
  • The Samyang F1.4/35mm lens, compatible with multiple camera brands, has good bokeh results with anti-reflection coating, but may be relatively expensive.
  • Carl Zeiss Biotar 58mm f/2 lens is a unique option with smooth manual focus and stunning bokeh, but lacks modern conveniences like autofocus.
  • Lensbaby Twist 60 EF Lens is not the sharpest lens, but its soft tones and responsive focus make it suitable for bokeh photography.
  • MC-Zenitar 50mm lens is a relatively modern option with a soft out-of-focus effect and reasonable price point, but may not be ideal for sharp images.
  • Bokeh refers to the aesthetic quality of the out-of-focus areas in a photograph, and these lenses can produce unique and visually appealing bokeh effects.
  • These lenses require manual settings and may not be suitable for shooting moving subjects or rapidly refocusing on the fly.
  • Shutter speed does affect bokeh, as a faster shutter speed can result in less pronounced bokeh, while a slower shutter speed can create more prominent bokeh.
  • Small aperture, or a larger f-number, can result in a deeper depth of field and less prominent bokeh, while a larger aperture, or a smaller f-number, can create a shallower depth of field and more pronounced bokeh.

What Does Bokeh Mean?

The word bokeh comes from the Japanese word “ボケ”, or “boke”, meaning blurred. A bokeh effect is where the background of an image is soft and out-of-focus. It’s a benchmark for good photography when it comes to portrait shots and other professional contexts.

If you’re looking for a quick-and-easy way to make your images more visually appealing, a strong bokeh is a great way to go.

What’s a Swirly Bokeh?


Technically speaking, a swirly bokeh is often the result of a defect or poor focusing on a particular lens. A swirly bokeh is an out-of-focus background with streaked and, well, swirly lines throughout.

In a world of modern photography that seems obsessed with ultra-sharp focus, this effect can be quite rare and pleasant. For a more dramatic, magical or movement-focused theme for your images, it can be fun to try out this bokeh effect when shooting.

How to Achieve Swirly Bokeh Effects

Not every portrait lens will be able to produce what you’re looking for. As a general rule of thumb, older lenses are the way to go. Vintage lenses can be even better, and more affordable, if you can get your hands on them.

The reason for this, is that the swirled effect is technically an error on the part of a lenses’ optics. Older devices typically don’t have the modern innovations that we’ve come to expect today.

It’s worth doing your research and making sure a particular lens will be able to blur your shots in the way you’d like it to. Bare in mind that with many of these lenses, manual settings may be your only option.

Temper Your Expectations

It’s worth noting at this point that even the most old-school, vintage, gem of a lens won’t just produce a swirly bokeh on everything you capture. You’ll need to choose the right subject and environment to get the effect you’re looking for.

As a general rule, backgrounds that are busier with lots going on lend themselves much better to a swirly effect. Less modern lenses struggle to process these backgrounds accurately and leave an interesting blur as a result.

Best Swirly Bokeh Lens – Our Top Picks

The list below contains our top picks for lenses that can produce interesting bokeh effects. Their strengths aren’t always quite so apparent in other areas but for interesting background blur, they’re some of the best.

1. Helios 44 2 58mm

This soviet-era lens comes with a lot of history attached to it. It’s compatible with Canon’s line of EOS cameras and produces some lovely photo results if you’re willing to play around with it. With a little patience and knowhow, this lens can produce some stunning shots.

The settings ring for aperture is reversed which you’ll need to get used to. Other aspects may be different to what you’re used to as well. If you’re willing to tolerate these quirks, the Helios 44 2 can create some truly unique photos.


  • Compatible with Canon EOS cameras
  • Produces beautiful photos if you’re patient
  • Packed full of history


  • The aperture ring and other settings don’t use modern layouts

2. Zhongyi Mitakon Speedmaster

This old-school lens is compatible with Sony E, Canon RF and Nikon Z-Mounts. It’s capable of some lovely bokeh results and is also remarkably fast for a lens this old. The 11-blade diaphragm for ultra-smooth bokeh effects.

The aperture range of f/0.95 to f/16 on the Speedmaster is comparatively huge; you’ll have more flexibility to work with than you might expect. The images this lens produces usually have fantastic colors that are wonderfully warm and soft.

If you have a compatible camera and are a bokeh fan, this one is well worth considering.


  • Compatible with Sony E, Canon RF and Nikon Z-Mounts
  • Beautiful soft colors
  • Great for bokeh photos

3. Samyang F1.4/35mm

The bokeh results of this Samyang lens aren’t quite as pronounced as other options, but it can produce some stunning shots with the right background and subject. If you’re using a Canon M camera, this lens should fit just fine. It’s also compatible with some Nikon, Pentax, Sony A and Sony E cameras.

Check listings on Amazon, etc, to double check compatibility with your model. The anti-reflection coating on this lens goes a long way in keeping your shots crisp and clear. Some wonderful bokeh work can be achieved with lenses like this.

The removable petal-shaped hood on this model comes in handy surprisingly often. Overall, this is a great option for bokeh lovers.


  • Decent compatibility with multiple brands
  • Anti-reflection coating
  • Great bokeh results


  • Relatively expensive

4. Carl Zeiss Biotar 58mm f 2

This funky option is a little slower than its modern counterparts, but it will reward you with some stunning bokeh if you have the patience. The manual focus is smooth and relatively precise, just don’t expect any autofocus conveniences with this lens.

The background blur results on this Carl Zeiss lens are really something quite special. It’s worth taking the time to get to grips with it if you’re looking for a photo that’s a little more unique.


  • Produces very unique photos
  • Smooth manual focus


  • Fewer modern conveniences like autofocus

5. Lensbay Twist 60 EF Lens

Sharpness is far from this lens’ forte, but that’s actually a good thing in the world of bokeh. The soft, muted tones of this accessory lend themselves very well to this type of photography. As with most of the options on this page, manual settings are your only option.

Don’t worry though, the focus settings work very well and are nice and smooth. You’ll need to use something else if you’re shooting moving subjects or rapidly refocusing on the fly though. Expect the edges of your frame to be quite blurred when using the Lensbay Twist.

This won’t be an issue if your subject is framed bang in the center, but will be disappointing if your photography needs something a bit sharper. Overall, this lens can capture some gorgeous shots if you know what you’re doing; it’s something of a tinkerer’s dream!


  • Stunning results if you have the patience
  • Responsive focus
  • Compatible with Sony E, Nikon F and Canon EF


  • Not one of the sharpest lenses in the world

6. MC-Zenitar 50mm

This one might be last on our list, but don’t let this fool you. The MC-Zenitar can take a phenomenal photo if you have the skills. This is a relatively modern lens, meaning you’ll have some of the contemporary conveniences that modern photographers enjoy.

It’s compatible with Canon EF mountings, so be sure to double-check your own camera before purchase to avoid disappointment. In terms of bokeh and unique effects for your photo, this is a great choice.

The two things that stand out with this lens are the soft, out-of-focus effect and the comparative speed of the unit. Both of these features make good bokeh photography much easier to master. The price point on this accessory is quite reasonable considering the results it can achieve.


  • Relatively modern lens
  • Comparatively speed with a wonderful out-of-focus effect
  • Reasonably priced


  • Not great for sharp images


Final Thoughts

As a photography hobbyist seeking that extra touch of uniqueness in your shots, you may be willing to splurge on a special lens. While vintage options can deliver stunning bokeh, it’s important to consider your expectations from a new lens. If you desire versatility alongside the captivating bokeh effect, a more modern lens from our list may be worth exploring.

With a modern lens, you can achieve the desired out-of-focus result while also enjoying its broader range of applications. Whichever lens you ultimately choose, we hope you have a blast using it to capture your photographic vision.

After all, photography is an art that thrives on creativity, and the swirly bokeh effect is just one tool to unlock your artistic expression. So, go ahead, get inspired, and let your imagination soar!