Lensbaby – Creativity Beyond Kit Lenses and Traditional Zooms

Are you still shooting with your kit lens and traditional zooms? Were you attracted to DSLR cameras because you wanted to experience more creative photography? If you are feeling that it is time to break out and expand your horizons then it is time for you to meet the Lensbaby.

It would be nice if I could say that owning a Lensbaby will make you the most creative photographer on your block, but that wouldn’t be true. What is true is that using the Lensbaby system opens up a door on a whole new way to shoot the world around you. The system is non-technical and easy to use, yet the results can be creative, breathtaking and extremely unique.

At the heart of the Lensbaby system are three lens bodies each designed to accept a range of interchangeable optics and accessories. When used together the components of the system create photo effects in-camera. Additional effects can be added to the images later, but the Lensbaby system is all about visualizing and creating an effect when the image is captured.

The first step into the Lensbaby creative system is to choose a lens. All Lensbaby lenses from Porters come with the Double Glass Optic standard:

The Muse is a free-form lens body. Stretch and compress the lens for focus; bend in any direction to move the focus sweet spot. Move and hold the lens to create the image, take your fingers off of it and it springs back to center.

The Composer relies on a ball and socket for its movement and adds a standard focus ring. Once positioned The Composer will remain as set until it is repositioned; there is no need to hold it in place which makes it ideal for shooting hands free on a tripod.

The Control Freak takes the free-form body of The Muse and adds lockable controls. Three threaded rods allow The Control Freak to be positioned and locked down, a simple pinch of a release unlocks the lens again for free movement.

Operation of the camera with a Lensbaby mounted is simple; just use the Av (Aperture Priority) auto-exposure mode. All Lensbaby lenses are 50mm focal length. The aperture of most Lensbaby optics is controlled by magnetic drop-in aperture rings. The wider the aperture chosen the more pronounced the effect will be. A Lensbaby lens is simple, straightforward, and very easy to learn.

I have mentioned that Lensbaby is a creative effects system, but just what is the effect? There are two basic photo effects that come from Lensbaby use: Selective Focus effects and Creative Focus effects. All three of the Lensbaby models mentioned are capable of these photo effects and everything else in the system builds on these two functions.

Selective focus is where Lensbaby started. The idea is illustrated nicely in the image a to the left. We see a sharply focused area in the image surrounded by another area that gets progressively more out of focus. For years photographers have been able to approximate a similar effect using a center-focus filter but the edge between sharp and not sharp was obvious and almost always centered.

Now if we look at this next image below we see that the area of sharp focus has been moved well off center. This is possible because the Lensbaby lens can be moved left, right, up or down. The Composer moves using a ball and socket joint while the Muse and Control Freak have their lens optics mounted in a slinky-like lens tube. With a Lensbaby, the point of selective focus can be moved to almost any part of the image.

Creative Focus is the other Lensbaby specialty. Using optics such as Fisheye, Soft Focus or the Pinhole / Zone Plate a Lensbaby lens can offer yet another kind of creative flexibility. Optics in this group don’t benefit much from the effects of selective focus, the optics themselves are the effect.

Selective Focus and Creative Focus define the two major types of effect that can be created with Lensbaby. The effects are easy to create by simply mounting the lens to the camera and composing in the viewfinder. The image will be captured just as it is seen. However what make the Lensbaby system such a nice tool to own is that the options don’t stop with these two effects.

Recall that the lens bodies are designed to hold interchangeable optics; we’ve mentioned three of them above in describing Creative Focus. Off the shelf, the Lensbaby lenses come with sharp, Double Glass Optics. The Double Glass is fully coated and offers a good first step into learning to use a Lensbaby. But with a simple twist the Double Glass Optic can be removed from the lens body and another optic inserted.

In addition to using selective focus the Optics Swap system allows the photographer to insert other optic sets that treat the scene in very different ways. Where the Double Glass Optic is quite sharp the Plastic Optic is far from it. The Plastic Optic captures images that remind us of plastic toy cameras such as the popular Holga or the Diana cameras.

With the Plastic Optic focus is softer, colors can tend to blend or even smear. The optic is uncoated and has significant chromatic aberration. The out of focus area of the image will look more painterly or even surreal. There is also a Single Glass Optic which brings to mind images captured by antique cameras. The Single Glass works well for portraiture, landscape and still life in color or Black and White.

Lensbaby offers other lens bodies and other optics designed for more specific purposes and they do offer The Muse with the less expensive Plastic Optic included. However the three lenses and six optics listed above are the core components that will start the majority of photographers off on the right foot.

The Lensbaby system is very open-ended; an almost endless variety of configurations can be created using lenses, Swap Optics, and accessories. The initial buy-in to the system is a Lensbaby lens, additional Swap Optics start as low as $40.00 with creative accessories beginning at $20.00.

So with one lens photographers can create their own unique style using Selective Focus, Creative Focus and interchangeable Swap Optics. In addition there are many accessories that compliment the effects: macro adapters for close-up work, tele / wide adapters for changing perspective, creative apertures that add shape to out of focus highlights.

Additional posts on the Lensbaby system:
About The Most Fun You Can Have With Your Lens On
Three Digital Camera Lenses Not In Your Bag – But Should Be!

Porter's Gallery For Lensbaby Shooters – Currently loaded with Lensbaby's own images, send us your shots!:
Porter's Lensbaby Gallery

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.