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.)
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.
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.
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.
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?)
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.
THE 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.THE 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 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
Single Glass Optic
Soft Focus Optic
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.
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.)
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
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
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.
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.
FOR MORE INFORMATION