Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Lensbaby First Impression

For a long time, I have been determined that my Nikon lenses are the ONLY lenses for me.   I’ve heard some bad things about other lenses made by Sigma and Tamron.  This led me to believe that only the camera’s brand lens is the best quality.

Recently, I have had the chance to try out some Lensbaby lenses.  I won’t have pictures to post yet because these are just my first impressions.  So far I am very impressed with the product.  It allows me to take shots of otherwise uninteresting subjects, and create a cool and unique image.  The main product that I have been using is the “composer” which is the basis for the system. 

The “Composer” is roughly the same size as my Nikon 50mm F/1.8.  This is great because it doesn’t take up hardly any space in my bag.  It’s black and silver and looks professional on my camera.  I would definitely be willing to use it for a professional shoot.  The system is also very lightweight.  The idea behind the lens is “selective focus”.  It’s an affordable tilt/shift effect.  You turn a dial near the rear element, and then can tilt the lens in any direction.  Wherever you tilt it will become your focus point.  This way, you can choose which part of the image will be sharp.  Then you have to manually focus which would seem to be the only way to make a lens like this work.  Since you are changing your focus point, auto focus would almost be impossible for Lensbaby to make effective.  It’s fun to have to manual focus.

The system is also fully manual for aperture selection.  Using a small magnetic wand that contains your other aperture disks, you remove the disk currently in the lens.  The wand works very well and is a quick and easy way to change your aperture.   From there you choose a different size disk (all are labeled with their correct aperture) and lower it into the lens, with magnets holding it in place.  It is included in the other optics kits as well with different disks for the soft-focus and fish-eye units.  For fellow artistic gearhead’s like myself, it’s fun to use a system that’s more manual and allows so much creativity.  I just have to make sure I never misplace the wand since it is such a small part!

Learning the system has been a bit difficult at first.  The camera will be able to meter the image if you  shoot in Aperture Priority mode unless you are using certain cameras.  A light meter is definitely helpful in getting the right setting if you have one, but not necessary.  I generally shoot a few shots until the settings look right on my LCD and histogram, or will navigate to my menu and set the aperture in my Non-CPU lens data option.

With my kit I have the soft focus and fisheye optics.  I like the idea of the fisheye, which gives you a 12mm field of view!  It has all the distortion you could want and let’s you be even more creative with your images by allowing a minimum focusing distance of just 1"!  However, I don’t like that you can see the inside of the lens barrel with it on.  I prefer a fully clean edge-to-edge image without the tube look.  The soft focus is a very interesting optic that creates a clean sharp image, yet has a soft over layer.  This is accomplished by a slightly curved lens field.  It will work with your standard double-glass aperture disc, but is more exaggerated by the included aperture disks that have extra holes around the main aperture cutout.  Very creative!  I like the look and could definitely see using it for soft, flattering portraits.

To change between the standard double-optic (the one that is included in the composer) to fisheye or soft-focus involves using the lid from the optics container to unlock the element currently in the lens.  You use a small twist, then pull the element out, drop the one you want to use in, and use the cap to lock it in place.  It’s easy to learn, but I would definitely prefer to swap it out without using a tool. 

My other modifiers are the tele/wide angle kit.  These change the 50mm lens to either 30mm (wide) or 80mm (tele).  They are very simple to install and can be used with some of the other different optics including soft focus.  You simply thread them onto the front element, and that’s it.  Simple!  They come with their own lens cap, but I would prefer it to be the same size and style as the composer’s lens cap.  These will probably be some of my most used additions to the composer. 

The adapters for the system are fairly easy to change, though I already know that I will have to set my aperture and lens choice before I’m in the backcountry shooting skiing.  It would be too complicated and I may lose parts in the neck deep powder.  For everything but extreme elements, the system seems simple enough to make adjustments too.

After even a small bit of testing, the lens already feels natural in my hands, and I’m excited to begin shooting skiing with it.  Even a skier coming down a groomer should look great with a wide-open aperture that is selectively-focused!  I see it being a practical, if not NECESSARY choice for wedding photographers.  The soft focus lens will create a romantic moody look, and the standard composer if set to focus on the brides face will make the dress and atmosphere look dreamy.   This could be the edge some wedding photographer’s are looking for.

I plan on using my Lensbaby for stock photography as well.  It will allow me to create shots that no other photographers are submitting on the market, while still retaining necessary sharpness for the main focal point of the image.  

Overall, I am very excited with the Lensbaby products, and can’t wait for some more hands-on time with the system.    As of right now, I am very pleased with the system and see it being a useful tool for many professional and artistic shoots.  I will post a full in-depth review in coming weeks.

View the whole LensBaby product line at www.lensbaby.com


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