The Lensbaby is a system of optics that you can screw on to your DSLR camera body in the same way as you add or remove any lens. And that, more or less, is where the similarity ends! Stepping into the world of the Lensbaby is rather like stepping inside a kaleidoscope. The optics can create the most wonderful effects inside the camera. It is a whole new ‘take’ on what you see normally through your own eyes, and through the view-finder of your camera. Prepare to be enchanted. The Lensbaby system has been around since 2004. To quote their own words: “In 2004, Lensbaby was born out of a photographer’s frustration with flat, sterile, digital images. Since then, we’ve been helping photographers gain creative control and inject emotion into their images.”Lensbaby.com And that is indeed what I get from my Lensbaby optics, a way to transform ordinary shots into something special, something that I have created rather than just recorded, and sometimes I create something that takes me quite by surprise!
The pages that I’ve made here roughly follow my own journey into Lensbaby land, from my very first bundle in 2013 through to today.
Meet the Lensbaby I start with a little about the ‘base unit’ called the Composer Pro, and how you drop in the ‘optics’
The Sweet 50 optic In 2015 I bought my next optic, the Sweet 50. This added a new range of effects, and a simpler focusing system.
The Edge 80 In 2017 I added a third optic to my range, this time with landscape especially in mind. This optic has range of subtle effects, and a sharpness of focus that is quite remarkable.
As I suggested, the results that you can get straight out of the camera can be truly artistic – and I like to think my Lensbabys are for ‘Art Photography’. I really love that I don’t have to manipulate imaged on my computer in Photoshop.
Lensbaby Art 2 Some of the ways in which the Lensbaby can take me by surprise.
I seem to work in 2 year cycles, as in 2019 I have just added a Twist 60 to my Lensbaby range. I haven’t used it enough yet to add it to this section. I’ve got more Lensbaby shots on Flickr. I’ve divided them into the 3 lenses I use On Flickr you can find my Album of Sweet 50 photos On Flickr you can find my Album of Double Glass photos On Flickr you can find my Album of Edge 80 photos
Note: the range of camera bases that Lensbaby support, Taken from their website July 2019: “We make creative effects lenses, tools, and accessories that fit the following DSLR and mirrorless camera bodies: Canon EF, Nikon F, Sony E, Fuji X, Micro 4/3”.
When I was writing this I thought of it as “Chasing the late light at F2.8” or “3 cameras and 1 flower”. But both of these titles were a bit unwieldy as URLs, so I simplified it. But there are three lenses in this playful tale, and all are indeed set at F2.8. So, to begin…
The way my house is laid out, the front gets the sunlight in the morning, often until the early afternoon. A big south-facing bay window makes it the best place to shoot. Then it gets tricky … by late afternoon the sun has moved round to the side of the house; then there is a small window of time, and a small physical side window where I can sometimes catch the light. There are trees in the way – so, especially if it’s windy, there is a constant flickering of light and shadow. Then the sun moves round to the back of the house, and sometimes there is the late light shining through a willow hedge right into the kitchen and onto a dark blue Formica top of the breakfast bar. This the story of chasing the late afternoon light with a lovely salmon pink gladiolus stem, trying to get some photos using just the natural light! And as two of the cameras were already set on F2.8 I shot the third on F2.8 too. Note: I always shoot on full Manual, especially indoors – I’m so used to it I never even think about it. And the White Balance remained constant on ‘cloudy’ or ‘daylight’ on all 3 cameras for this shoot.
The cameras to hand were:
1) Lensbaby Composer Pro with 50mm double glass optic with a +4 macro filter (essentially a fixed focal length)
2) A NEX-6 with my favourite Helios Russian lens (frozen at F2.8 so it is a fixed focus)
3) The Sony A77ii with the tele-macro 100mm lens (a heavy combination, but so versatile in the results it can achieve)
I moved a small round wooden table beside the side window with the swaying trees casting strong light then deep shadow. I laid the gladiolus on the wood and waited to catch the sunshine. The tele-macro allowed me to zoom out and take in both the flowers lying on the table.
I could catch the sunlight and strong shadow it cast; the graceful curved shape of the stem; and a sense of the wooden surface, with a slight reflection too. And using F2.8 meant that the background was nice and dark due to the shallow DoF.
Next I took the Helios lens. It makes a lovely and soft image, but F2.8 is the only option – which gives me a closer composition but with no flexibility to move in closer, or further away.
The light is softer, and there is a background bokeh and definite reflections on the table.
So – could the Lensbaby offer me anything different at F2.8 (the aperture ring was in place from a previous shoot)
The light was much harder to control, and focusing took more time as the tree branches gave a strobe effect the table! But I did manage to get the Lensbaby swirl of bokeh around the petals, and the internal glow! Here I used a high shutter speed. I try to keep the ISO as low as possible – I find that my Sony cameras are best with low ISO, and get noticeable ‘noise’ at higher settings.
By now the sun was moving round the house and lower in the sky .. so to complete the process I waited until I could catch the light as it fell across the breakfast bar. I went back to the big tele-macro lens, as it can get closer in to catch the water droplets better than the the other two.
Against the dark surface, and with light slanting through the open door I took the final shots. This time the white of the freezer in the background stopped me achieving a matt black background. But there are nice reflections on the work surface, and it looks like liquid – a lens effect I hadn’t expected. And I can get in closer with the tele-macro than I could with either of the other two lenses.
A new 6-part series on the Lensbaby optical system for DSLR camera. It’s a personal journey through 6 years of shooting with the Lensbaby. It covers the basics of what the Lensbaby is and how it works – then the 3 optics I have used, from the original Double Glass, to the Sweet 50, and then the Edge 80. Finally there are two gallery pages, one looking at composing shots with the Lensbaby, and one of the delightful surprises that the optics can give. The shot above was taken last November, when the autumn colours were almost gone. Using the Double Glass optic at F2.8. I caught the slight signature circular swirl in the middle, and the distinctive zoom-like bokeh fading to a gentle blur towards the edges of the frame. Meet the Lensbaby On Flickr you can find my Album of Double Glass photos
In my first selection of Lensbaby “art” shots I wanted to concentrate on how the Lensbaby can creatively enhance a composition – even transform it. Now I want to add some more flamboyant images! As I said … what I set out to do and what I end up with can be miles apart. Every shoot is a journey into the unexpected! The magic comes when the camera takes you by surprise! So I have compiled a small gallery of shots that have done just that – taken me completely by surprise!
A very early shot from 2013, when I first bought a Lensbaby.
I took a bright colourful boa scarf and placed a scarf ring on top to help me find the sweet spot, and learn focussing. The result really blew me away! The colours, the bokeh, the swirling and zoom-type movement … wow! OK, I missed on the focus, it landed on the fuzzy wool to the left of the target ring – but what a result. I admit, I was hooked ;o)
Since then I have learned more about the powers and potential of the various optics, and how to control and use them. But they can still take my breath away. One subject that the Lensbaby is especially wonderful with is trees, and foliage.
Simple sunshine through the trees at Leith Hall gardens, with the bokeh movement of the leaves. And next, looking up on a dull day, as the sunshine caught the tops of the fir trees.
And a magical composition, combining two shots that I have described at the bottom of the page about the Sweet 50 optic here:
It seems that handling light is one of the many superb qualities of the Lensbaby range of optics.
Here the way the optic handles bright sunshine makes for a softly melting watercolour effect. The petals become almost translucent. And the effect is achieved in camera, and not by post-processing. Another shot where bright sunlight was handled so well by the Lensbaby
I was hiding among the branches, and trying to shoot the stone lion gate-post at Leith Hall. I thought the extremes of light and shadow would defeat the camera … but a rather haunting semi-abstract emerged.
Here the sudden sunlight falling on the tree trunk, and the delicate shadow cast by the weed across the stump, caught my eye. Again, it was the contrast of light and shadow – and again the Lensbaby surprised me. No post processing was needed – just a small crop.
In all three of these shots I expected I was asking too much of the camera and lens, that the extremes of bright light and deep shadows would mean failure – but I was taken by surprise at what the Lensbaby could do!
And finally, one of my personal favourites – something the Lensbaby can do as no other lens I have, and no post-processing skills I have can simulate.
A flowering rambler atop a wall, sunshine and a crystal sphere – and the Lensbaby. Unexpected magic ;o)
I hope that you have enjoyed this personal journey through 5+ years of my “living with the Lensbaby”. I have enjoyed looking back, and now look forward to see what new surprises and delights it can offer me ;o)
The magic that Lensbaby have woven with their Composer Pro and optics is to bring art and photography together in a unique way. The “glass” of the optics and the eye of the artist can combine to produce something new, something unexpected, and something beautiful. There is the same feeling you get when painting – that you are striving to express what you see and feel about the subject – but somehow the painting has a life of its own, and you don’t really have a clue what it will look like when you finally put the brush down. Then, when you look at the image a few days later, you think “Ah! So that is what I wanted to say!”
What I set out to do and what I end up with … they can be miles apart. Every shoot is a journey into the unexpected! OK, sometimes it all falls flat – sometimes it is just what you expected it would look like; but the magic comes when the camera takes you by surprise!
In writing this series of articles, one of the biggest surprises for me personally has been to revisit the basic double-glass optic that I started out with in 2013. I love it, and am using it all the time now. So that has been an unexpected bonus for me! The other BIG bonus is that writing things down helps me to collect and organise my own responses to the images I have collected over the years. And that will hopefully feed into my future Lensbaby work. I’ve split this survey of images into two sections: the first is all about the composition; the second is some of the more wild effects that happen along the way.
How Lensbaby can create an artistic composition that is uniquely ‘Lensbaby’.
The shots I’ve selected are using either the double-glass optic or the Sweet 50. And this is no accident, as both of these optics work by creating a ‘sweet spot’ where the focus is really sharp and clear, and then creating an optical blurring effect around that point of focus. The combination can create an immediate drawing of the eye into the heart of the composition.
One of my very early shots, with the double-glass optic and the +4 macro filter. Here I set up the shot with winter berries from the garden to enhance the holly and mistletoe decoration on the cup. But looking at it I found that the berries I had added were just too big and bright, distracting the eye from the actual cup. But by using the Lensbaby optic, and placing the sweet spot of focus on the cup and holly berries, I could move the eye to look first at the cup, while the gentle blurring of the berries took on the supporting role I had originally intended. And then I could see other elements of the composition more clearly too. I know – it seems odd to see the composition more clearly by blurring much of the image!! But look at the pleasing diagonal that runs from the top right to the bottom left of the image – balancing the handle of the cup with the larger cluster of berries. And complementing that diagonal there is another diagonal running from top centre left (the berries on the actual cup) to the bottom centre right where a smaller cluster of berries lies. Honestly? I hadn’t consciously seen either of these compositional elements when I set my little still life up … it was the Lensbaby optic that brought it all to life.
With the wind blowing the barley, and the early morning sunshine, I wanted to shoot something before the combine came to harvest the crop. The golden field was so lovely, but there was nothing to focus on – there was just so much barley there! I could kneel down and catch the light nicely, but it was still a whole field of waving stems. So I chose the Lensbaby, and took some shots letting it decide how the composition might emerge. And I thought it did the job really well for me here! There’s a silvery focus on the dry stalks, and plenty of movement and bokeh glints. It gives the structure of the barley while being impressionistic too. I felt it captured the experience of being there in a way that I couldn’t plan consciously.
I know that Lensbaby optics are good with flower photography, the gentle blur can merge petals or leaves into the background very nicely. Here I knew where I wanted the focus to be – quite high and to the right, to centre the sweet spot to cover both flower and a portion of the leaf. I was aware that I would need to crop out the metal tweezers that were holding the flower and leaf stems upright for the shot … so the higher the sweet spot of focus, the better for the crop! Only when I saw the image on the computer monitor I just couldn’t believe what had happened to my metal mechanical ‘arm’. It didn’t detract from the composition, but was an interesting and integral part of it. So once again the Lensbaby made the final image possible in a way I hadn’t expected.
The summer of 2018 I rediscovered the double-glass optic, and took it out on many trips up the Aberdeenshire coast. One particular morning I took 3 experimental cameras with me – my main interest being an Infrared Nikon and the Lensbaby Edge 80. I packed the double-glass optic too, just to play with, not expecting anything much, as I hadn’t used it for landscape work before. I used all 3 for some shots from this vantage point above Banff Bay. I just focused on the far headland and houses, and took a couple of shots.
When I got home and looked at this on the big monitor I was really surprised. A dull day and a fixed lens was tranformed into a lovely composition. I had regretted leaving the RX10 with its powerful zoom at home, and expected nothing much from the double-glass. But the sense of movement, the foreground wild flowers and the balance of colours all worked together to make another Lensbaby surprise!
Further up the coast, and on the same day, we stopped at Portsoy where I continued to shoot with the double-glass optic.
The light was still poor, but this ivy-covered wall caught my eye, and it was worth a shot! Again, the Lensbaby shaped the composition, with the sweet spot of focus, and the fall-off of focus. And within the blurring the balance of colours between the green of leaves and grass on the one hand, and the light ochres of the wall made such a pleasing symmetry. This one I did crop to a more square shape, to enhance the balance.
And the final shot I’ve included is of Cullen old village. Taken last year, and yet another occasion when I was shooting experimentally, using the Sweet 50 this time, but again wondering if the optic could handle larger landscape challenges.
Again I just concentrated on getting the sweet spot focus as sharp as I could, and trusted the Lensbaby to handle the rest! Here I did crop the bottom of the photo to bring the figures closer, and give even more of a wide-angle feel to the image. But the lovely gentle blurring of the sides and rich greens of the park, and most of all the echoes of Lowry in the man and his dog … just wonderful Lensbaby gifts ;o)