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The Lensbaby kit

Introduction

I shoot a lot with my Lensbaby kit. You can see some shots done with these lenses here:

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A Lensbaby is a set of lenses and accessories that give a special look to your photos. With them, you’re able to selectively focus on any part of the image, while leaving the rest more or less blurred.
While this is the basic idea that the Lensbaby was created for, they have added a lot of other creative options to their set.

The center of the Lensbaby kit is the Muse or the Composer (the “normal” one or the new, improved ComposerPro).
I don’t have the Muse. I have a Composer, but both have the same reason of being: you can bend them in any direction to selectively focus on any part of the image.

The Muse is like an accordion that you can bend and press. By bending, you move the sweet point (the point in focus), and by pressing it towards the cam, you can focus the image.

The Composer works a little bit differently: you can bend the lens, and the focus is achieved with a focus ring like the one most lenses have. I find this more convenient.


A Composer with a 0,6X adapter

A bent Composer

You have to purchase the Composer (or the Muse) for your camera. Lensbaby offers them for Nikon, Canon, Pentax and Olympus mounts, so you won’t have problems with this.
All the other accessories and lenses are attached directly to the Composer, so you won’t have to buy anything else special for your camera.

One more thing: Everything in Lensbaby Lenses is manual. No auto-focus, no aperture, no nothing. You’ll have to shoot in manual mode, or in aperture-priority mode (that is, setting the aperture in the camera manually, and let it choose the speed for you).

Lenses and glasses

The Muse and the Composer themselves are just “tubes”. There are no glasses. You have to attach one of the glasses that the Lensbaby guys have made. All of them are mechanically similar. The difference is the glass.


Soft focus, pinhole, plastic, single glass & double glass. Left to right.
  • Double glass optic: This is the “best” glass, since it has the best optical performance. It’s crisp even at f/2.8 and f/2.0 apertures.
  • Single glass optic: This lens has a more basic glass than the Double Glass optic. It suffers/offers some color fringing, and when used wide open (f/4, f/2.8, f/2) you can clearly see an halo around light objects.
    This is, by far, my favorite. It gives a Polaroid look to the shots you take with it.
  • Plastic optic: This is the more basic glass. The color/fringing and the halos are visible even at high f-numbers (at f/5.6 they are very visible).
  • Pinhole/Zone plate optic: This lens does not offer any glass. It features two “holes” that the user can select. One has an f/177 aperture and it’s just a hole. With it, you get a pinhole camera.
    The other one is a f/19 hole with a zone-plate pattern.
    I’ve used these ones in very few special cases. It is close to impossible to see what you’re shooting when using the pinhole. I switch to zone-plate, then I compose the image, then I switch to pinhole and I shoot.
    With the pinhole, focusing is not an issue, since at f/177 everything is pretty much in focus.
  • Soft focus optic: This is also a special lens that renders an halo around everything in the image. Shots done with the soft focus are NOT out-of-focus. They are soft-focused.
    The lens come with some special aperture disks (see below) that allow you to control the amount and shape of the halos.
  • Fish eye optic: This is a special lens that gives you a 12mm fish-eye optics. Everything is in focus, I mean: there is no sweet spot. It’s pretty cheap compared to traditional fish eye, and starts at f/4.
    Fish-eye may be or may be not your thing, but there it is.

    I recommend you not bending the Composer with the Fish-eye on. Actually, Lensbaby sells the Scout, which is a Lens that cannot be bent, to be used with the Fish-Eye. With the Scout, the sweet spot is always centered.

    The 12mm fish-eye optic
  • Sweet-35 optic: A recent addition to the Lensbaby set is this optic. The Sweet-35 is a lens that has a 35mm focal-length and that allow you to change the aperture with an aperture ring that opens or closes the blades inside the lens.
    My guess -looking at the test shots in Lensbaby’s website- is that’s a double glass optic.
  • Edge 80: This one is the newest of all the lenses Lensbaby offers. Is a 80mm, f/2.8 lens. The point here is that is a tilt lens, i.e., it doesn’t have spherical aberration like all the other lenses.
    By bending it, you tilt the focus-plane, and you can get that diorama-like images.
    I haven’t tried it, and my guess is that I won’t. At 280 I find it quite expensive, and I also find it too long for my taste.

Accessories

All these lenses -except the fish-eye, the Sweet-35 and the Edge80- have a focal length of 50mm. Lensbaby has a set of accessories to change this. All these accessories are screwed directly in front of the lens. There are:

  • A kit of a 0,6X and a 1,6X adapters (30mm and 80mm respectively): My favorites. Actually, I nearly always shot with the Double Glass or the Single Glass with the 0,6X adapter on, which gives me a perfect walk-around 30mm lens.
    There’s a catch, though. You have to be careful when you bend the Composer since you may hit the limit of the lens, and a black strip and a hard distortion could appear.
    This happens only with the 0,6X adapter.

    0,6X and 1,6X adapters
  • A wide angle 0,42 adapter (21mm): I have a love/hate affair with this one. I tend to like wide-angle lenses, but this one introduces a very visible color fringing. You have to make this play in your favor, but sometimes is quite difficult.
    Another side-effect of the wide-angle is that you can focus really close to the lens.

    The 0,42X adapter
  • A set of 2 macro lenses: This is a set of 2 stackable lenses (+4 and +10) which allow you to focus very closely to the lens, so you effectively get a macro lens. They are funny, but as always with macro, very difficult to focus right due to a very tight depth of field.
    I’ve seen in their website that they’ve added a new set of Macro accessories.

Setting the aperture

Except for the Sweet-35 optic, all the Lensbaby lenses use the same system to set the aperture: a disk you put in the front of the glass. There are kits of disks, each one with a different aperture, from f/2.8 to f/22.

Without a disk in place, the lenses are f/2.


The aperture disks

Apart from the amount of light the hits the sensor, and the Depth of Field, the aperture in the Lensbaby kit has another effect: the size of the sweet spot.
The bigger the f-number, the bigger the sweet spot. With f/2.8 you have a tiny sweet spot. A big part of the image is blurred. With f/8, the sweet spot takes nearly all the frame.

I usually shot at f/2.8 or f/4. I barely go upper than f/5.6.

Besides the usual, round-shaped disks, Lensbaby offers a set of disks you can cut yourself (or you can buy a set of already cut disks from Lensbaby) to get interesting out-of-focus shapes.
These are called Creative Aperture Sets, and all disks are more or less f/4.

Shot with a star-shaped aperture disk. Notice the out-of-focus highlights. A Christmas tree shot with a star-shaped aperture disk. Notice the out-of-focus highlights.

You will find all the information and some nice shots done with the Lensbaby in http://www.lensbaby.com.


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