Lensbaby Sweet 50

The clock tower at Portsoy, Lensbaby sweet 50 optic
The clock tower at Portsoy, seen from Little Loch Soy. Taken with the Lensbaby sweet 50 optic

In 2015 I took the next leap, and bought the Sweet 50 optic. I was not sure if my older Composer Pro would prove compatible, so I got the entire thing. So now I have 2 Composer Pro bodies! As Sony were pensioning off the NEX series of camera bodies I got an extra body – so now I would have 2 Lensbabies permanently ready for the shoot!
Note: if you haven’t covered the basics of working with a Lensbaby, then the previous 2 articles would be worth looking at. Meet the Lensbaby and Double Glass

The Sweet 50 optic.
The Sweet 50 optic. Yes – with an F-stop ring!

The Sweet 50 optic was a step beyond the double-glass optic as it has a built-in aperture ring. It is a 50mm lens with a range from F2.8 to F22. And I keep a 46mm UV(c) filter in place to protect the optic. I confess – it is my favourite Lensbaby optic. I use it for outdoor shooting, landscape, seascape, trees …. anything and everything! For the first time I could take a Lensbaby out and about, and be confident that I would bring home some good shots. For me that was such an important step. I had struggled with focusing the double-glass optic for outdoor use, so this was a real liberation, and a whole new world of Lensbaby experience.

Macro converters for the Lensbaby Sweet 50 and Edge 80 optics
Macro converters for the Lensbaby Sweet 50 and Edge 80 optics

And indoors?
Now you can get a set of 2 macro converters – 8mm and 16mm which you slot into the Composer Pro before the optic. You can use them both together to get a massive 24mm (not tried that one yet!)

So why do I love it so very much? Because it can get such amazing results with fly-away bokeh and soft blur, and I find it so easy to use! OK I had been using the double-glass optic for 2 years, and I was familiar with the NEX-6 camera body, both of these made it easier for me. But it quickly blew me away with the images it could create.

Early sun on the Japanese plum tree.
Early sun on the Japanese plum tree. Lensbaby Sweet 50

One of the first ever shots with the Sweet 50 optic – the early morning sun on the ornamental plum tree by the gate. I just couldn’t get effects like that using Photoshop on an ordinary shot.This shot is SOOC, just as it appeared – November 16th 2015.

Since then I have taken it all over with me. With the light NEX-6 body it is very portable. And it can usually surprise me with the shots it produces. I’ve collected all my Lensbaby Sweet 50 that I’ve posted to Flickr over the years here: Sweet 50 album (and I’ve taken soooo many more!)
The key, as with every Lensbaby is to find the ‘sweet spot’ where the focus is sharp. Then the optic together with the Composer Pro rotating body will do the rest. I think of it as a middle distance lens. The best results seem to come when your focal point is a few yards away.

Sitting on the bench. Leith Hall. Sweet 50 optic
Sitting on the bench. Leith Hall. Sweet 50 optic

Here there’s the combination of blur and fly-away (or here it is more of a ‘fly-in’) that takes the attention to where Mike is looking, at his camera. The ‘sweet spot’ draws the eye in.

When I am out shooting I really need to be able to focus and shoot quickly. Scenery will obligingly stay still, but animals, birds, clouds and the sea won’t. Here a beautiful cat followed us through the gardens at Leith Hall, and I wanted to get as many shots as I could. I only had my Sweet 50 to hand, so I took the chance and followed her progress as she led the way. The path was in and out of bright sunshine …. and here’s one shot I took.

The grey and white cat looking.
The grey and white cat looking. Sweet 50 shot.

The shot has bleached-out bright light on one side, and deep shade on the other. So, could I capture the essence of a Lensbaby image while cropping and editing it on the computer? By careful cropping I eliminated the bleached-out light on the left of the shot – keeping just enough to indicate the brightness that lay beyond. And I could crop the foliage to the right, keeping the cat centre stage. A little brightening of the foliage – and a trim of the bottom edge, and it is quite a savage crop of the original. But is there still enough of the Lensbaby magic to enliven the resulting image?

The grey and white cat looking. Close up.
The grey and white cat looking. Close up of Sweet 50 shot.

Another fast moving subject is the sea. There are lots of rocks along the coast here in NE Scotland, and watching the incoming tide breaking against them is something I like to shoot. I’m always trying for the burst of spray as the wave hits… no time to consider composition, just try to catch the spray!

Capturing speed - waves breaking against a rock.
Capturing speed – waves breaking against a rock. Sweet 50 optic

Here there is the ‘zoom-in’ effect, a little like the ICM zoom. It rushes us towards the breaking spray (which is thankfully in good focus). But it is just a tiny part of the overall shot. Again, can it be cropped to make the rock the centre of attention? Lensbaby optics don’t have the kind of zoom that we are used to these days! So judicious computer work is again called for. And again it is not to mess with the effects that the Lensbaby optic has produced, but rather to remove the elements that don’t really matter,and focus on the ‘sweet spot’ and the drama of the optical effects.

Capturing speed - waves breaking against a rock - detail
Capturing speed – waves breaking against a rock – detail. Sweet 50 optic

Here I even removed the sky, as well as a lot of the side blur. There is still the sense of rushing in towards the rock and spray.

And a shot that just caught my eye as I walked past … sunshine shining through the pine needles of a tree.

Looking through a screen of branches into the garden
Looking through a screen of branches into the garden. Sweet 50 optic

And again there’s some post-processing cropping to do. To remove the uprights on either side, and focus on the pine needles, and the lovely Lensbaby fly-away effect to the right.

Sunlight through branches - detail
Sunlight through branches – close-up detail. Lensbaby Sweet 50 optic

And to wrap up my brief introduction to the Sweet 50 optic – there is even more magic. I discovered that by standing still and simply changing the focus I could make a wonderful combination. OK I need to combine the shots afterwards … but what do you think?

Leith Hall walk - magical swirl
Leith Hall walk – magical swirl effect with the Sweet 50

The first shot is where I want to catch the complete circular spin that the Lensbaby can achieve. There’s not much sharp focus here. But that comes next!

Leith Hall walk. Lensbaby Sweet 50 lens
Leith Hall walk seen through the Lensbaby Sweet 50 lens with changed focus

In this second shot I stood quite still and simply rotated the optic and got a shot – with the ‘sweet spot’ of sharp focus along the path.

Leith Hall walk Lensbaby Swirl effect
Leith Hall walk seen through the Lensbaby Sweet 50 lens with swirl effect

Then later, I could combine the 2 shots in Photoshop, and… ” Walk through the magic portal into my world”

Next we look at the third optic I have begun to use – the Edge 80

Flickr holds Elisa’s online Photo Gallery
© 2019 Elisa Liddell