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Gear Review: Lensbaby Composer

Today we’re going to take a peek at a Lensbaby Composer! On our Tilt/Shift post Nikki left a comment asking what we thought of the Composer. Since we hadn’t tried one yet we thought we would get ahold of one and see what it was all about!

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A Lensbaby is a specialty lens similar to a tilt/shift lens in that you’re able to manipulate the plane of focus. Check out the photos below to see what I mean!

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Notice how the effect is similar to a tilt/shit lens in that you’re able to more precisely control the plane of focus by tilting the lens. The difference (as you can see in above photos) is that with the Lensbaby it’s not so much a plane of focus, but more a point or circle of focus. As you can imagine the creative and experimental possibilites of such a lens are vast!

Instead of trying to describe how this lens works in words, and probably just confusing everyone, I recorded a video. I find actually seeing how a lens like this moves can help better understand the effect it creates.

So as I mentioned in the video, Lensbaby makes a few different types of lenses and the one shown (and used to create the photos in this post) is the Composer. They make both Canon and Nikon mounts (and their website actually mentions compatibility with certain Sony, Pentax and Olympus cameras!).

Time for more photos! 

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I shot most of my test photos with the f/8 aperture ring. I found f/8 to be a pretty good walk around aperture in terms of sharpness. The above photo gives you an idea of what I meant by point or circle of focus and how it can create dreamy, out-of -focus areas around the edges. In the photo below I tilted the lens at the most extreme angle. Notice how, compared to the photo above, the out of focus area is even more blurred and almost looks like motion blur. Those are some fast daisies!

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Tip: When composing your image with the Lensbaby, point the lens in the direction you want in focus. That may sound obvious but it’s a bit counterintuitive when you’re dealing with lenses that can tilt! Normally we point our camera at what we want in focus, not bend our lens.

lensbaby-0001.jpg

The cool thing about Lensbabies and tilt/shifts is their ability manipulate planes of focus. (e.g. The sign is in relatively sharp focus and the wooden poles far behind it are in relatively sharp focus). So much creative possibility!

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Thoughts

As you can tell from this review we’ve compared the Lensbaby to a tilt/shift lens quite a bit. Their effect is similar, but not the same, so they can’t be considered equivalents. Keep that in mind.

One of the things that I really dig about the Lensbaby is it’s ease of use. That makes it fun to throw on the front of your camera, and thus more likely that you’ll use it! Obviously it takes some practice but figuring out how to use it is pretty straight forward (compared with the numerous dials on the tilt/shift).

The other thing that I like about the Lensbaby is it’s lo-fi aesthetic. Sometimes I felt that the edges were a bit too blurred, or that the circle of focus wasn’t sharp enough.

These are qualities that you might at first consider flaws (as I did) but upon review of the images I’m sure you’ll be pleased with the unique and interesting results. I believe that like Holgas or camera phones it’s the unique and sometimes unpredictable results that make this lens so fun to work with.

If you’re considering using this for professional portraiture I would recommend slipping in a smaller aperture disk (f/8 or higher) in order to ensure you have some reasonably sharp photos – then again maybe you dig the softer dreamier photos! I would likely continue to work with a tilt/shift for portraiture (quick aperture changing) and instead reserve for the Lensbaby for personal or fine art work. It would be nice to have the luxury to choose between the two at a moments notice, unfortunately we’re not all made of money!

That’s where the Lensbaby’s strongest feature is thrown into light: it’s price. The Lensbaby is about $1000 cheaper than most
tilt/shifts! That makes the cost of experimenting with a cool lens much more down to earth!

Pros

  • Extremely affordable
  • Easy to use
  • Build quality (for the price!)
  • Unique effect

Cons

  • A bit more unpredictable than a tilt/shift
  • Need to manually change aperture disks

Visit Lensbaby.com or Lensbaby.ca to learn more about Lensbaby. Check out their other two lenses The Control Freak and The Muse. You can also view the variety of cool accessories they offer like wide angle and macro adapters, creative aperture disks (creates different shaped bokeh/out-of-focus areas), and a variety of different lens options to create different looks (softer, plastic lens, pinhole, even fisheye!). You can also use their website to find a camera store that sells Lensbabies in your area.

Rob Lim

Hi there, I’m Rob! I’m a photographer and head ninja here at Photography Concentrate. I love all things photography: shooting, teaching and always learning more! If I’m not reading up on the latest photography news, or studying a technique, I’m probably reading a book or planning our next adventure!

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Discussion

5 Comments // Leave a comment

  1. The hubs and I have been wanting to try out a lens baby for some time now! I love them!! And you're right … it may not be the most clean, 'perfect' image … but it's so artistic, and that's what i love about it! Not gonna lie though, the 2nd photo of the daisies made me motion sick, ha.

  2. I got a lensbaby 3G a few years back and used it a bit… but only a bit. I think if it was the composer out at the time I would have had more use out of it – since you don't have to "Lock" and unlock it like you do the 3G (no relation to iPhone BTW).

    The need to manually change aperture discs came to a head where, I, or my son (probably me), lost the disc carrier. So I'm stuck at f/4 or something until I order the replacement discs… which I may, or may not, be too lazy to order.

    So it's cool, and definitely fun, and if it fits your style than I think it's a great choice for people like that. But if you're into sharp, wide lines, or less ethereal imagery it's not like a lensbaby will all of a sudden make you a different kind of artist.

  3. Great comment Justin! Thanks for sharing your experience!

  4. Bwaahhh! I'm super excited for the giveaway tomorrow! Clearly I haven't won any of the other giveaways because I was holding out for tomorrows!: )

    Thanks for doing the review. I have been on the fence about buying one for a while because let's face it those tilt shifts are a bit on the spendy side. I dig the photos you posted and think it could be totally fun to mess around with! Thanks!

  5. Looks like it was not meant to be after all! Alas I am a Nikon user. Looks like I just have to buy one!: )

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