Lensbabys - you either love or hate them (or I suppose see them as a pointless gadget). I really like mine – it’s permanently attached to an Olympus EPL3 and it’s great for getting going when inspiration is lacking.
What are they?
Simple lenses in several arrangements available in most DSLR mounts. They produce an area of the frame which is in focus, surrounded by a region which definitely isn’t in focus! I’ve used the single and double glass lenses along with the plastic and pinhole/zoneplate lenses.
The size of the aperture – either ‘built in’ or uniquely, manually fitted at the front – controls the size of the area in focus. Depending on the lens holder chosen, the area of focus can be moved around the frame to produce different effects. I try to avoid the widest aperture settings, as the ‘Lensbaby effect’ is too strong for me - f4 or f5.6 seems to be best for my purposes.
On your Camera
Attaching one of these to a modern DSLR does cause a few minor problems. There is no feedback between the lens and camera so there’s no information recorded for the EXIF data about focal length or aperture. Evaluative metering doesn’t work too well so switch to centre weighted metering if you can.
It’s also best to shoot in raw if you can to correct any minor exposure problems. The colour rendering can also be a bit odd, frequently over saturating the colours, so a neutral colour profile might be best too.
Focussing is best done in live view mode, with the magnify button to help. Optical viewfinder focussing is hit and miss at best. Did I mention there’s no autofocus either?
Coincidentally, all of these exposure and focus limitations apply to any manual focus lens attached to a DSLR so if you get into practice you’ll be able to use those too.
There’s enough technical info on the Lensbaby around the web (I’m not getting into detailed equipment reviews) so let’s look at some results :-
Single glass lens with a wide aperture (2.8), converted to black and white with high contrast. The ‘in focus’ area was pointing up a bit.
Same lens, slight blue tint. In focus area dead centre.
If you use photoshop layering as a post processing technique (I’ll cover this in another post) the out of focus areas show the layering effect very well. This one with the glass lens and Olympus ‘in camera’ blue monochrome filter.
This is an example of the extreme edge distortion that can be generated using a lensbaby – this one is the ‘Sweet 35′ 35mm with built in aperture. Pete’s head has been reduced to an odd shaped squiggle.
This one is with the plastic lens – this produces soft results which can be very good but require quite a bit of post processing. This one has been photoshop layered as well.
This again shows the softness of the plastic lens – taken in a car park in the fog where lost possessions were draped over a tree in the hope that the owner would return and find them. Again, ‘in camera’ blue monochrome processing, tweaked in photoshop.
This was attached to a ‘wish tree’ in East Dorset – a favourite haunt. This is the glass lens, probably f4, with some heavy layering. The out of focus areas look much like those of more expensive fast lenses.
As always, it’s all down to personal taste. If your approach to photography is more ‘experimental’ then maybe one would suit you fine. If you’re a ’100 ISO at f8 on a tripod’ landscape photographer – and there’s nothing wrong with that – probably not….
I’ll cover the use of a lensbaby for portraits/people shots in a later post.