A Plastic Lens Lensbaby and a Sony A7R

This unlikely post is about the unholy match of two pieces of photographic kit from opposite ends of the image quality spectrum – the superb 36MP Sony A7R and the odd (some might say weird) Plastic Lensbaby lens which is designed to produce soft ethereal images. Why? Well it’s an experiment which sounded like fun, and trying to coax any decent results out of the Lensbaby is always an enjoyable challenge.

Sony A7R, Lensbaby Composer Plastic Lens

F8, lens bent towards the right, DXO Filmpack Agfa Vista profile. Not bad.

I’ve tested this lens on an Oly EPL5 , a Canon 60D and a 5d Mk2 and came to the conclusion that the Oly produced the best results as it uses just the centre of the image circle. I have a feeling after this test the conclusion might be the same – but here goes.

Sony A7R, Lensbaby Composer Plastic Lens

The whole setup. The aperture disks lower right, the disk holder and magnetic disk remover top right. The lens itself is mounted inside a ‘Composer’ body (several bodies are available allowing different amounts of ‘lens bending’ control.

Even for someone using light Zuikos this 50mm lens is light – 125g or 4 1/2 oz. Mounted on an inexpensive Fotga adaptor for Canon EF to NEX mount, the focus ring is alarmingly sloppy, the apertures are waterstone stops held in by magnets at the front, and the relatively sharp centre of the frame can be moved around the frame by undoing a friction clutch and moving the lens about like some sort of mad sci-fi monster’s eye.

Sony A7R, Lensbaby Composer Plastic Lens

The F8 aperture disk held in place by magnets – not a conventional arrangement….

As the images will be soft you can forget about shutter shock, chromatic aberration (it’s terrible!), changing aperture (it’s a pain so I tend not to) and camera shake. Put the camera on auto-ISO, focus and shoot – all very liberating and not your normal photographic experience. Crucially, the focus peaking works very well on the A7R, ably illustrating focus curvature (to explain :- imagine focussing on a brick wall parallel to the sensor – the centre will be in focus, the edge won’t be, but de-focus the centre and the edges come into focus). In reality it’s so far from normal photography it’s fantastic!

Rather than a resolution test (don’t be silly!) here are a few shots shot at different apertures so you can judge the effect of different aperture disks, F2 to f22.

Sony A7R, Lensbaby Composer Plastic Lens

No aperture disk (F2). Very ethereal but I’m pushed to think of a use for something this extreme.

Sony A7R, Lensbaby Composer Plastic Lens

F4

Sony A7R, Lensbaby Composer Plastic Lens

F8

Sony A7R, Lensbaby Composer Plastic Lens

F16

Sony A7R, Lensbaby Composer Plastic Lens

f22. The best in terms of sharpness, but it just looks like a very bad conventional lens. Maybe useful for simulating a cheap old camera from the 1960s?

Personally my favourite is f8 – just about the right amount of ‘Lensbaby-ness’.

All Lensbaby images need lots of post processing – the following have been pushed through (a slightly baffled!) DXO Optics 9 and then DXO Filmpack.

First some mono conversions :-

Sony A7R, Lensbaby Composer Plastic Lens

The lens tilted all the way to the right and a PAN F profile – I like this!

Sony A7R, Lensbaby Composer Plastic Lens

F5.6 and some more blurriness.

Sony A7R, Lensbaby Composer Plastic Lens

F5.6 again

And some with colour film conversions using different DXO Filmpack profiles :-

Sony A7R, Lensbaby Composer Plastic Lens

No aperture disk for this one – but pushing the very low contrast and using a colourful film profile has sort of worked?

Sony A7R, Lensbaby Composer Plastic Lens

F8, lens bent towards the top of the frame and the Ultracolour profile – I’m pleased with this. This is Kingston Lacy in Dorset in case you were wondering.

 

Sony A7R, Lensbaby Composer Plastic Lens

F8 and the ‘1960s’ profile – looks like some old family album shot (my Dad had a terrible camera!).

Sony A7R, Lensbaby Composer Plastic Lens

F8 and Ultracolour again.

Sony A7R, Lensbaby Composer Plastic Lens

F8 close up, Ultracolour again.

This is a real ‘marmite’ (UK expression – you’ll either ‘love or loath it’) lens. With some serious PP it does open some interesting possibilities if you don’t mind the odd look from passers-by while you change the aperture disks. Mono works well, but the colour ones work better for me, and the stronger the colours the better – don’t be half-hearted in the conversion!

It’s use on an A7R is genuinely better than on DSLR’s with optical viewfinders because you can make sure things are in focus – well, as much as they’re ever going to be in focus! The Sony’s exposure metering was also very good – something my DSLR’s struggled with using this lens. The Oly EPL5 produced images which looked more ‘misty’ than these – not a better result but just different as each could have their use.

Maybe it’s best thought of in the same way as the Olympus ‘dramatic tone’ filter – good in small doses to produce something different but make sure you don’t use it all the time. I’d recommend using one just for the sheer challenge and fun of using them – you though may (sensibly) prefer not to!

Commercially the images can sell (two or three have over the years) but they’re a bit ‘niche’ even for the book cover market.

Thanks for looking, hope you find this useful.

If you’re interested in using other more sensible MF lenses have a look at the other reviews on the film, camera and lens review index tab.

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The Zuiko 135 f3.5 and a Sony A7R

Recent posts have reviewed some fairly expensive Zuikos (expensive for old MF lenses anyway). This post is about the very humble 135 f3.5 – available for around £30 in the UK for a clean copy. Surely even I can’t expect such a basic lens to produce results anywhere near the 36Mp A7R’s sensors potential?

Zuiko 135mm f3.5, Sony A7R

Nice colour (with a quick auto levels), default DXO sharpening and little else – looks good.

135mm is at the long end of my usual working focal lengths so assembling enough shots for this test was good fun. All shot in RAW and converted using DXO Optics.

The lens is small and light as you would expect for a slow Zuiko (325g/11.4 oz in weight and around 7 1/2 cm or 3 inches long). The adaptor adds some length to the combination but it’s strikingly small on the A7R for a telephoto lens and balances well on the small body.

Zuiko 135mm f3.5, Sony A7R

There isn’t enough telephoto ‘oomph’ to really isolate features in a landscape but taking a wider angle approach produces pleasing results – well to me anyway!

The angle of view is 18 degrees, minimum focus is a disappointing 1.5 m/4 feet, it accepts 49mm filters and the apertures run from f3.5 to f22. There is a built-in lens hood, and 5 elements in four groups make up the optical formula. The aperture is made up of eight blades giving a more or less circular aperture.

Zuiko 135mm f3.5, Sony A7R

With the lens hood extended this looks like a larger’ lens than it is. In reality it’s pretty small and easy to carry.

Trying to squeeze the most resolution out of a lens means using it at f5.6 to f11, so the slow maximum aperture isn’t that much of a problem and cuts down the weight. It’s not terribly easy to focus at these apertures, so for the first time I resorted to focussing at f3.5 then stopping down when I couldn’t see things in critical focus. Using the focus magnify feature of the A7R is quite difficult as the image jumps around much more than shorter focal lengths.  As always, the depth of field scale is optimistic – so don’t trust it!

At 135mm there’s some moderate telephoto compression, evident in the landscape shot below.

Zuiko 135mm f3.5, Sony A7R

The lens hood does a good job or preventing flare and I saw no vignetting at any aperture. I have noticed a blueish cast to some shots though that’s correctable with a white balance tweak – auto white balance isn’t a strength of the A7R. As always the A7R’s exposures (with the help of the zebra over exposure warning) were spot on.

Zuiko 135mm f3.5, Sony A7R

The minimum focus distance of 1.5m/4 feet isn’t going to win any macro awards, but it can still get moderately close and produce some pleasant if slightly busy bokeh. f5.6.

Wide open at close focussing distances  at f3.5 the bokeh becomes better.

Zuiko 135mm f3.5, Sony A7R

Not bad for f3.5

To avoid camera shake use shutter priority of 1/250th or 1/500th of a second and auto ISO but keep an eye out for under exposure at smaller apertures as you hit your max ISO limit – mine is set at ISO 1600 – and all will be fine.

F3.5 isn’t ever going to produce blurred away backgrounds at moderate to longer focussing distances. The shot below is an example of this – perfectly sharp, in focus and pretty detailed, just not much subject isolation. Having said that f3.5 is around what you’ll achieve on a consumer grade 70-300mm lens at 135mm and this is probably sharper!

Zuiko 135mm f3.5, Sony A7R

A 2/3 crop and not bad at f3.5

The ‘scientific’ test then at the mill. The subject fills the frame here in stark contrast to the last time I took test shots with the 18mm f3.5!

Zuiko 135mm f3.5, Sony A7R

The full test frame

f3.5 centre

Zuiko 135mm f3.5, Sony A7R

f3.5 edge

Zuiko 135mm f3.5, Sony A7R

f8 centre

Zuiko 135mm f3.5, Sony A7R

f8 edge

Zuiko 135mm f3.5, Sony A7R

f16 centre

Zuiko 135mm f3.5, Sony A7R

f16 edge

Zuiko 135mm f3.5, Sony A7R

At f3.5 there’s some chromatic aberration and the edges are a bit vague – no surprises there then. What is a surprise is how good things are at f8 (and f5.6) – sharp to the edge of the frame, softening slightly by f16. The slight (4-5 pixels) of chromatic aberration at f3.5 disappears by f5.6.

In conclusion then this is a solid and sensible (if unspectacular) lens on the A7R at mid apertures. It’s a huge bargain, especially given it’s cost, light weigh and portability. Just don’t expect miracles when it comes to bokeh, contrast or subject isolation using it’s maximum aperture. It’s earned the small place in the camera bag it takes up for when I next need it. It’s not resolving 36Mp – maybe 20? – but it’s good enough for my occasional use of this focal length. If your needs are different it may be best to look elsewhere – and spend a lot more!

Thanks for looking – hope you find this useful.

If you’re interested in using other MF lenses have a look at the other reviews on the film, camera and lens review index tab.