Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Lensbaby Composer Pro with Sweet 35

Everybody is raving about the lensbaby. I was kinda curious about it after reading all the reviews about it online. What it is actually is a selective focus lens. Selective focus meaning that you can select your sweet spot (focus) and basically blur out the rest of the photo without post processing. You can do all of this in camera. There are a lot of people who like it and a lot of people who dislike it too. I suppose it's a love it or hate it lens. I honestly think that it's not bad. I managed to borrow one to try it out myself and here's what I think about it.

I tried out the lensbaby composer pro with sweet 35, meaning it's the lensbaby composer with a 35mm lens included. It's a lensbaby that has the aperture control built in to the lens. Some lensbabies have aperture disks that you put in to change your aperture...this one has the control in the lens itself, so all you have to do is rotate the aperture ring to change the aperture...just like those older film lenses back then.

The in lens aperture control at the tip of the lens, just like older film lenses.

The lens feels plasticky, though pretty heavy for its size. Most of the external barrel is plastic. I'm not sure if the ball itself is metal...the aperture ring is metal as well as the lens mount. The lens has 2 rings on the barrel. One is the focus ring and the other one acts like a friction knob as well as a lock knob for the tilt. On the composer pro with the sweet 35 lensbaby, the aperture ring is on the tip of the lens. You turn this to change aperture, as opposed to changing it in the camera as most modern lenses do. The viewfinder darkens as you narrow your aperture...this is how it was with film and older lenses. With digital and a modern lens, you can have a similar effect by pressing your depth of field preview button on your camera.

The top ring is for the manual focus, bottom ring is the friction ring and lock for the ball.

Snapping it it the camera, it felt like a usual canon lens. The metal lens mount provides the lens with a secure mount without wobbles or unnecessary movement as what you sometimes get with plastic mount lens such as the 50mm 1.8 and the 55-250 lenses. For the price I'd expect it to be with a metal mount anyway.

The Lensbaby composer pro attached to a 5d mk2 body.

Using the composer pro for the first time feels awkward. The learning curve for using this lens is somewhat between medium to difficult. I suggest using this with your camera on a tripod first just to get the hang of it. The way it works is that you tilt your lens to pinpoint your focus on the frame, then you use the focus ring to tweak the focus then you set your aperture with the aperture ring. The composer pro’s metal swivel ball design provided smooth repositioning of the focus, after you set where your focus it, you turn the knob closest to the lens mount to lock the ball in place. This prevents you from accidentally moving the tilt to another position. So the steps involved are setting the aperture, setting the tilt, then setting your focus.

The lens has no electronic contact with your camera. It does not report the aperture value in the image info. No contact also means that the focus is all manual. So anybody who uses autofocus all the time has to get used to focusing manually with this lens. It is also the reason why the aperture has to be controlled in the lens not in the camera body.

I went in the studio to try this baby out. From what I found, the lens has decent image quality. It's a special purpose lens so don't expect it to be your walk around lens. The focus point usually has decent sharpness as what you'd get from a consumer lens. The thing that I'm not really crazy about is the blur on the non focused parts of the image. It is somewhat different from what you get with a regular lens blur. The blur looked really cheap, similar if you use motion blur in photoshop. I guess that's what really it's supposed to be. I've seen some good photos shot with this lens, though I still prefer the natural lens blur from an ordinary lens. I'm not saying it's bad, but as what I have said, this is a special use lens for special effects.

My verdict...this is one of those lenses that you just don't buy unless you know what you're using it for, like a 400mm lens, you just don't get one for the heck of it. Takes a while to get used to the tilt action for composing shots. There are tutorials on how to use it at the Lensbaby website. Once you get used to the tilt/composing thing I don't see why this lens would limit your imagination. As I have said, I have seen shots that look like crap on numerous websites using this lens...although there are shots that wowed me when I realized that the same lens was used on them, it all depends on how you use it. Just remember, if ever you get one use it wisely.

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