It’s a Lensbaby, Baby

lensbaby, composer, regular single optic, 5.6, HD&LD Porter building in rhyolite
The ghost town of Rhyolite (above) seems particularly suited for Lensbaby use, adding to its out-of-time feeling. This image of the HD & LD Porter building was photographed with the Single Glass optic and a f5.6 aperture disc.

I have to admit it, I love my Lensbaby. I know it is probably not logical to “love” an inanimate object, so I suppose I should qualify my original statement. I love what my Lensbaby can do and how it affects an image and yes, how it inspires me.

After taking several shots of people, diner stools and food with my Lensbaby in the Mojave National Preserve Visitor Center, I took a seat at the Kelso Depot lunch counter. Several seats away, a man was staring intently at my camera on the counter in front of me.

“Excuse me,” he said “what’s that thing on your camera?”

“It’s a Lensbaby,” I said and spent the next half an hour talking about “that thing.” He seemed particularly intrigued as I showed him my photos that I had made that day, and explained how it all worked. (You gotta love digital and instant replay of your pics.)

Shown is a camera with the Soft Focus Optic.

It is so great introducing folks to what looks like toy, but is actually a finely-crafted instrument through which one can see the world in a unique and maybe a slightly skewed way. Fantasy and reality become intertwined when working with the Lensbaby.

So What Is a Lensbaby

The Lensbaby is a Creative Effects SLR lens that creates a Sweet Spot of focus surrounded by a graduated blur. Tilting the lens moves the Sweet Spot around depending on the effect you want.

This image was made with a normal 50mm lens. You can compare this pic with the photos taken with the various Lensbabies.

The aperture is controlled by a set of disks that come with the optics. They are held into place by shielded magnets and can be easily changed.

Just as in a regular SLR lens, the smaller the aperture, the more focused the image. Wider apertures mean more blur and a smaller Sweet Spot — where the photo is sharpest.

Exposure is most easily controlled with shutter speed and ISO adjustments and can also be balanced by swapping out aperture disks. The aperture will not show up on the LCD or in your meta data.

I started out with Version 1 in 2005.

The original Lensbaby has evolved into three different body types with interchangeable optics — the Optic Swap System — which fit into the basic Lensbaby bodies and add to the lens’ flexibility, and to the creativity of the photographer.

One of the first images I made with a Lensbaby was of a family enjoying the late afternoon sun. I think the scene works well with a soft approach.

For this self-assignment, I tried to shoot sample photos at a single location using the different optic parts. As I found out, after a few days of shooting, that approach didn’t work very well. Different situations needed different optics.

This Union Pacific locomotive rests in a display at the Western America Railroad Museum. The Sweet Spot is located over the UP logo and front end of the train.

What might work well for a dreamy portrait, does not necessarily work well for a locomotive. Shooting an engine sitting still with a Lensbaby can add an illusion of movement. (Notice how I snuck “trains” in here?)

Little John

Randall Dancing Elk

With different aperture discs I can control how much of a portrait is in focus. In the portrait of “Little John,” left, I used a much smaller aperture disk to keep as much of his face in focus as possible with a minimum amount of blur around him. I also used some selective Photoshop techniques to enhance the detail in his beard. In the portrait of Randall Dancing Elk, I used a disk with a larger opening to create more blur.

How to Choose Which Lensbaby

Lensbabies come in three flavors: The Composer, the Muse, and the Control Freak.
lensbaby_composerTHE COMPOSER: (right)
The Composer is great for a smooth and precise shooting style. You can bend and focus it with one hand, similar to the way you would focus with a traditional lens. The Composer utilizes a ball and socket that stay in place when you adjust it.THE MUSE: (left)
The Muse is similar to earlier Lensbabies; the photographer compresses the flexible tubing to find focus and tilts the lens to move that focus. The Muse is great for street photography and shooting on the fly.lensbaby_control_freakTHE CONTROL FREAK: (right)
The Control Freak is great for macro and tabletop photography and for photographers who need to shoot in a more concise way. Focus can be locked into place and fine tuned with knobs on the end of focusing rods.

For our purposes, we are going to concentrate on the Composer, the Lensbaby I bought to replace my Version 1. I wanted to be able to control the blur and sweet spot without getting too methodical as with the Control Freak. The Composer gives me more predictable results than the Muse would.

Any new piece of gear has a learning curve and after using the Composer for a few weeks I felt I had made the right decision when I chose to replace my “Baby.”

The Composer with the Optic Swap System.


Currently there are six optic choices for the Lensbaby: the Double Glass, Single Glass, Plastic, Pinhole/Zone Plate, Fisheye and Soft Focus optics.

Double Glass Optic

The Double Glass Optic is a 50mm multi-coated optical glass doublet, providing a tack-sharp Sweet Spot of focus with minimum diffusion at all aperture settings. Photo Fabiola Forns ©

Single Glass Optic

The Single Glass Optic is an update of the Original Lensbaby’s primitive optic, ideal for fine art, portraiture, black and white images and any shot requiring a subtle, soft, dreamy effect. You can see the blur on the left and right side of the photo while the front of the building is where the Sweet Spot of focus is. Compare this image with the Plastic Optic in the following example.

Plastic Optic

The Plastic Optic is the softest optic overall. It creates very ethereal photos with abundant chromatic aberration. Again, I think black & white works well for the situation and the optic.

Soft Focus Optic

Soft Focus Optic Photo © David Morel

The Soft Focus Optic is a 50mm flat field multi-coated doublet that creates images with an overall soft and diffused look without the sweet spot of sharp focus. You can vary the amount of softness by changing and stacking the aperture disks that come with the optic.

Wait you say, what is chromatic aberration?

According to Wikipedia,

“Chromatic aberration manifests itself as ‘fringes’ of color along boundaries that separate dark and bright parts of the image.”

In other words, sort of a slight bluish-purple glow around contrasting parts of a colour photo.

That aberration is one of the things I like about the Single Glass optic in my Lensbaby.

It is easy to see the aberration in in the Zone Plate example #2 below.

Fisheye Optic

The Fisheye Optic is an ultra-wide 12mm focal length with a 160 degree field of view. The Fisheye Optic requires an adapter in order to use it with the Muse or the Control Freak.

Pinhole/Zone Optics

The Zone Plate Example 1
The Zone Plate Example 2

Pinhole Optic

The Pinhole Optic. Photo © Tina Louise

The Pinhole/Zone Plate option (in a single optic that utilizes a sliding switch between pinhole and zone plate) achieves softer focus, producing dreamy images that are equally sharp from edge to edge. The surface area of the zone plate is larger than the pinhole and therefore requires less exposure time. The zone plate will also produce images with a much more glowing and diffused light than the pinhole, which tends to be sharper.

You will not see any Lensbaby blur in the Pinhole/Zone Plate, Soft Focus or Fisheye photos. These optics are extra creative options for Lensbabies. The Lensbaby is centered facing straight ahead when using these optics.

(Note to the Tooth Fairy, Lara would like the Zone Plate/Pinhole optic, please.)

Depending on the optic, a Lensbaby focal length is 50-55mm.

There is a super-wide adapter that changes the focal length to 21mm.

I love the wide-angle perspective and use that accessory quite frequently.

Lensbaby Wide Angle Adapter

The wide-angle adapter increases the horizontal point of view. The lens was pointed straight ahead so the Sweet Spot is in the middle of the frame with the graduated blur to either side.

I can also take off the front element of my wide-angle adapter and turn it into a macro lens — with blur. How cool is that!

If macro is your thing, there is also the Lensbaby Macro Kit which lets you use selective focus on a very small scale.

It features one +4 filter and one +10 filter, allowing you to focus from 2 to 13 inches inches away.

Lensbaby Macro Kit

Rays of a sunflower become yellow abstraction when photographed with the macro part of the wide-angle adapter.

In addition to the normal aperture disks that come with an optic, there is a optional accessory, the Creative Aperture Kit, which lets you custom cut your aperture disks into any shape you want.

Out of focus specular highlights (bright points of light) take on the shape of the hole in your aperture disk.

The Creative Aperture Kit.

For this image, I used the wide-angle adapter and a star shaped creative aperture disc. It looks as if handful of stars was thrown across the image.

Lensbaby lenses are compatible with Canon, Nikon, Sony, Pentax and 4/3’s mount SLR cameras — digital or film. Remember, if your camera has a sensor magnification crop, the focal length will vary from camera to camera.

Lensbabies will not work with point & shoot cameras.

No matter which body you choose, and which optics, adding a Lensbaby to one’s shooting arsenal will open up a range of new visual possibilities.

The Lensbaby may not be for everyone, but as I said in the beginning, I love mine and what it can do.

Product photographs courtesy of Lensbaby, Corp.
Photos © Lara Hartley unless otherwise noted.


11 thoughts on “It’s a Lensbaby, Baby”

  1. hi carol,

    are you shooting RAW with no image manipulations in camera? no contrast, no sharpening etc. the images can be off a little bit but not by much. of course, where you aim the camera can affect the exposure. pointing at something black and not compensating will result in overexposed images. conversely, pointing at something very light without making adjustments will result in under-exposed images.

    here is an article we did on exposure and manual mode.

    to get the best results from your lensbaby, shoot on RAW mode with no in-camera settings other than “realistic” or “normal” or “faithful” so you are getting the most from the image that you can then adjust in your image processing software.

  2. I just bought the muse and I have a Pentax K20. I used manual and aperture and I am having trouble getting a good picture, the images are over exposed or under exposed. I have adjusted settings on contrast, etc., but nothing seems to help. Any advise would be helpful. Thanks. Carol

  3. You should be a teacher. your explanations are very thorough and spoken in a way i can easily understand.

  4. WOWEEEWOW-WOW – this looks like a whole bunch of fun! I’m trying to get back into SLR going to digital and this would be right up my alley – that and my most favorite piece of equipment – a polarizing filter!!! I can wait and I am copying this article for future use!!!

    Thanks for showing this and the many things it can do!

  5. Great photos, I’ve been looking to buy one of these for a while, and now I finally have a reason, thanks for the push your photo’s inspired me to buy. Just more photography stuff to play with. Thanks

  6. Lara – really well laid out and succinctly described great examples – I want one!!


  7. Dee Warenycia

    Thanks Lara! I have always wondered what the Lensbaby was all about and why people would be so excited about a lens that blurs things…now I get it! 🙂

  8. Lara,
    You explained the “lens baby” better than what I have read in the past from so many magazines and sites. From this review, you can actually figure out what one might want to try. Also,the images you showed really help imagine what photographers might want to try out. Thanks again!

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