A Plastic Lensbaby Lens on a Canon 5D Mk2 using a ‘Clear’ Picture Style

The Plastic Lensbaby mounted in a Composer did well on a 60D, but as an 80mm equivalent lens it was restrictive for general purpose photography. On a ‘full frame’ 5D it should be a more useful 50mm lens (I really like 50mm lenses!) but a larger sensor should show more ‘Lensbaby softness’.

Canon 5d MK2, Lensbaby Plastic, clear picture style

‘Clear’ picture style, f5.6. There isn’t the soft misty look I’d expected which is odd, probably caused by the picture style which creates highly saturated and contrasty images.

A day’s experimentation is called for….All shot in RAW + JPG (the final picture style is ‘baked into’ the JPG but not the RAW – just in case).

If you’ve never seen or used a Lensbaby a brief explanation is called for. They’re manual focus lenses with a very basic construction, in several designs most with ‘Waterhouse’ removable aperture disks (see below). Their uncorrected optical flaws are there to be exploited and the main reason for using them. Fitting smaller apertures (they’re held in place by magnets) reduces the optical flaws, but even at f16 they’re still there!

The Plastic lens is a 50mm f2 with aperture disks running from f2.8 to f16 (you could make your own if you liked!). Note that the Sweet 35 lens has a conventional internal aperture so no need for the ‘box of apertures’.

Canon 5d MK2, Lensbaby Plastic, clear picture style

The blue ringed plastic lens (not ‘L’ series then!) with the aperture disks to the right (see f16 and f5.6?). The disk holder is on the right, the lid looks suspiciously like a 35mm canister lid, and the end of the ‘stick’ is a magnet to remove the disks from the lens. Simple but ingenious. It is a temptation just to leave one aperture disk in all day!

They’re very small and light, almost transforming the 5D into a lightweight camera (I’m used to the weight of 1 24-105mm lens). As you can see from the next shot, the lens can be pivoted around to move the central sharp part of the image around in the frame, though I must admit I hardly ever do this, preferring to keep the ‘sweet spot’ of sharpness in the middle.

Canon 5d MK2, Lensbaby Plastic, clear picture style

The ‘lens’ as seen here is really a secondary mount called a ‘Composer’ – there are several types. Different lenses (glass, plastic, pinhole etc) are then slotted into this to achieve different results.

To counter the inherent low contrast of these lenses you can either correct in post-processing, or cheat and use Canon’s ‘Clear’ picture style which pushes contrast and saturation to extremes. Installing extra colour profiles on your DSLR  is easy, some are already installed (‘Neutral’,’Standard’ etc) but there are three spare ‘slots’ for extra profiles – look here. Alternatively they can just be applied in Canon’s RAW DPP software – the result is the same but using software is a lot more fuss.

Focussing is best done on the LCD screen as these are low contrast and low sharpness lenses and the ‘Clear’ picture profile is simulated on the screen. It’s quite easy if you’re used to using MF lenses.

Canon 5d MK2, Lensbaby Plastic, clear picture style

The first image with no ‘Clear’ style applied, just an ‘auto levels’ – not quite so dramatic. Still no soft mistiness which was so prominent on the 60D – interesting!

Enough about what it is – how well does it do?

Canon 5d MK2, Lensbaby Plastic, clear picture style

Keep it simple and abstract!

Firstly, the softness at the edge of the frame is stronger on full frame than APS-C – as expected (I didn’t expect quite this much though) so smaller apertures will be required unless you really want to go wild. As on the 60D, simple, bold compositions work best allowing the blur at the edge of the frame to emphasise the main subject.

Canon 5d MK2, Lensbaby Plastic, clear picture style

At f8 – the centre is surprisingly sharp, the edges smearing into some nice blur.

To add to your creative ‘arsenal’ the lens will flare like crazy if sunlight shines over the front element :-

Canon 5d MK2, Lensbaby Plastic, clear picture style

Sun out of frame to the upper left.

This shot was taken moving the camera very slightly to the right. Note that spectacular chromatic aberration on the roof!

Canon 5d MK2, Lensbaby Plastic, clear picture style

Better!

Though oddly it’s not bad if you shoot straight into the sun!

Canon 5d MK2, Lensbaby Plastic, clear picture style

The proper 50mm focal length is much more useful for landscapes, though again, smaller apertures work best.

Canon 5d MK2, Lensbaby Plastic, clear picture style

f5.6 disk – a bit too much blur maybe.

The ‘Clear’picture style really drags some good colour out of a scene on a cold winter’s day – a bit of de-saturation in Photoshop would tone it down nicely though if that’s more your taste.

Canon 5d MK2, Lensbaby Plastic, clear picture style

At closer distances the blur looks more like that of a really fast lens – well, almost but not quite! The soft pastel colours in the stone and leaves look good here I think.

Canon 5d MK2, Lensbaby Plastic, clear picture style

What to make of all this?

On a full frame camera you’ll need to use smaller apertures than on a 60D to tame the Plastic Lensbaby’s extreme edges (assuming you want to of course). Smaller apertures unfortunately seem to remove the soft, dreamy look that the lens produces on APS-C – these look more like the results from the glass lenses. On the other hand a 50mm field of view is more useful for general photography. I’ll test the glass lenses next, but so far I’d say it’s better on a 60D.

Using the ‘Clear’ picture style certainly adds a bit of zip to these low contrast images – it’s invaluable to help focussing and visualising the image before it’s taken, and can be changed in DPP if you prefer a more subtle result.

Lensbabys are a bit pricey new, but have been around long enough to buy cheaply second-hand. Unless it’s been run over by a truck there’s virtually nothing that can go wrong with this kit (no IS, no AF and not very sharp to begin with!) so it’s a pretty safe thing to do.

Hope you find this useful – it quite surprised me – thanks for looking!

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A Few More from the 5DMK2 and a Lensbaby Sweet 35

This is turning out to be a really good combo! The increased ‘lensbabyness’ of the image and the wider angle of view are proving useful!

All these were taken on a pretty uninspiring day in Jersey at Saie Harbour, a mixture of rocky outcrops and sand.

This first one has had a touch of the ‘cross processed film’ filter added to tune the colours a little. There may be a layer added too!

5d Mk2 lensbaby sweet 35

Just a layer for the next one – that tide was coming in very fast, a slow walking pace. For some reason the horizon never looks straight in this no matter how often it’s corrected…..

5d Mk2 lensbaby sweet 35

Finally a last variation on the same theme.The lovely ethereal rendering this lens gives is, to my at least, superb.

5d Mk2 lensbaby sweet 35

Thanks for looking – hope you like them!

The Lensbaby Sweet 35 on a Canon 5d Mk 2

The next lens in line for a mini-test on a Canon 5d Mk2 is the Lensbaby Sweet 35, a 35mm fixed focal length special effects lens used for many years on a 60D. The ‘test area’s for these shots were Kimmeridge Bay and Corfe Castle in Dorset (UK) , both popular with summer visitors. By using the Lensbaby I was hoping to blur away the modern ‘clutter’ and get a more timeless set of images. The Sweet 35 was in a ‘Composer’ mount, and all shots processed in DXO Optics 9 and Filmpack 4.

Canon 5d Mk2 Lensbaby Sweet 35

First shot – Corfe Castle. The Lensbaby at max aperture has done a great job of ‘eliminating’ the tourists swarming around the base.

In use it’s a nice surprise to have something small and light attached to the heavy 5D body rather than a bulky zoom lens.

Canon 5d Mk2 Lensbaby Sweet 35

A second shot from inside the village – this has worked well – the area under the houses was full of cars and pedestrians!

Focussing is easy on the large screen but best of all it’s now a proper 35mm lens rather than a 56mm equivalent on the 60D, giving a moderately wide angle view. After years of wanting a wider view on crop frame sensors using this lens, this is brilliant!

Canon 5d Mk2 Lensbaby Sweet 35

Some distracting telephone wires and TV aerials have been blurred away on this one – certainly easier than the Photoshop clone tool….

On to Kimmeridge for this shot.  The romantic tower on the cliff is Clavell’s Tower – available for holiday lets as long as you’re willing to book several years in advance.

Canon 5d Mk2 Lensbaby Sweet 35

I’d never seen these odd circular out of focus areas (see lower left) on the 60D – looking at them they are at the edge of the frame so the smaller sensor probably didn’t see them. They only occur at max aperture.

Not a bad result at all. Apart from the odd bokeh seen in the last shot, the wider angle of view is very welcome, and on full frame, the blurry edge of the frame is even more effective.

Hope you find this useful, thanks for looking.

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

A Recommendation

Every so often you meet someone who has provided good advice and is willing to spend lots of time ‘helping out’ with a new venture. One such person is John, a Fine Art printer in Shaftesbury, Dorset (UK) who uses the very best materials to produce Giclée prints.

Stormy Pier

The first image (of many hopefully) accepted for John’s online gallery

I’ve been experimenting with print sales in a local gallery, and he recently offered to host a few of my pictures on his online gallery (varying over time) here:-

http://www.sotegallery.biz/index.html

John at Salt of the Earth Printers (http://www.salt-of-the-earth.biz/) is a really nice chap who provides excellent quality prints from his workshop in Shaftesbury.  I usually take twelve images for evaluation and whittle the selection down to just a few, expecting a rather critical ‘hmm’, or something more verbose….

I don’t often offer a recommendation for such things but I’m going to break my rule here – heartily recommended. He does a lot of printing for clients across the globe too.

So – well deserved plug for someone else’s business over and done with – hope you find this useful , thanks for looking!

Olympus Dramatic Tone meets a Lensbaby Plastic Lens

After messing about with the ‘Dramatic Tone’ on the EPL5 using a conventional lens, I resurrected the idea of using a Lensbaby. Rather than using the Sweet 35, the beautifully soft, single element plastic lens was given a chance to show what it could do (remember to hover your mouse pointer over the shots to get a proper level of contrast).

This is something like what I’d hoped for – that fence is surprisingly in focus!

I’d hoped that the interaction between the Dramatic Tone filter and the vague blurriness of the plastic lens would produce something a bit different. All shots taken in RAW using the f4 aperture disk, the lens was mounted in a ‘Composer’, the results post processed in DXO Optics 9 and Filmpack 3.

This is a difficult lens to focus (there’s no autofocus here!), as it never really looks sharp even using focus magnify. The best approach is just not to  worry about it – just get close enough to give some sort of idea what the subject is! If you’re going to have a try at this, take lots of shots and expect lots of failures. When it all works though it’s worth the effort….

The Dramatic Tone seems to automatically extend the contrast of what are very low contrast images, which saves a bit of post-processing.The ‘dark glow’ around the branches and rooftop is very nice.

Simple, bold compositions work best – any complexity just ends up as a mushy mess, so keep it simple.

The only slight niggle I have is that the this is a 50mm lens, making it a 100mm equivalent on the EPL5 – and using a moderate telephoto for every shot isn’t ideal. A 0.42x wide angle converter is available but what would be perfect would be something around the 12mm mark, which would mean a 24mm equivalent.

This looks like it’s been layered – but it hasn’t. The odd texture behind the railing seems to be lots of out of very soft focus highlights crossing each other.

So quite a successful experiment which yields some interesting results. The overall softness of the images interacts nicely with the strange Dramatic Tone effect, producing images which are very different from those of the glass lenses. I’ll use this more often!

All taken for the book cover market – hope you like them and thanks for looking!

Unlikely Combinations

Experimenting with Lensbabys, old MF lenses , layers/PP, infrared etc is one of the best aspects of photography – straightforward clean, sharp images can be a bit dull sometimes. However this experiment plumbs new depths of oddity – infrared with a lensbaby…. I’d discussed this with friends some time ago as a possibility but they just shook their heads!

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The best image of the set – focusing the Lensbaby with an R72 attached is difficult but possible in bright sunlight.

Anyway, here are the initial results – and they’re not too bad, i.e. pleasingly weird. The “Lensbaby effect” is more immediately obvious that the “infrared look” as in order to take these the maximum aperture of the Sweet 35 was required giving the strongest edge blur.

_MG_0453_DxO_DxOFPsAll shots taken on a Canon 60D, Sweet 35 wide open (F2 I think?), Hoya R72 infrared filter, ISO 5000. post processed in DXO Optics 8 (my new favourite new PP program). There were hand held at slow shutter speeds but any camera shake is lost in the general blur anyway. Aggressive noise reduction can be used to get rid of the high ISO noise as – again – there is no real detail to lose!

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Finally the most extreme of the lot. Your eye has to search the image before it realises what’s going on – so I’m pleased with it!

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So not something for everyday use, but an intriguing technique which could produce strong images. If you’ve a Lensbaby and an IR filter give it a go. Next step is trying the plastic lens – wonder how it will handle infra red?

Thanks for looking – hope you like them!

Last Few Weeks

Not many posts over the last few weeks as I’ve been completely absorbed in planning a complex time lapse video project. Some stills have been taken despite recent developments, so here are the best ones, though it’s a pretty random selection!

First – a plastic lensbaby shot of some fresh leaves with the sunlight edging in from behind. The flare, sharpness and chromatic aberration are terrible by conventional standards, but working with a lensbaby is primarily about finding shooting situations where that doesn’t matter.

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Next a Sony RX100 shot of a dumped TV in a pond on the nearby heathland. This is very unusual as most people respect the area, but there are always those who don’t. The contrast between the disposable consumer goods dumped in an ancient landscape provided a striking contrast.

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This time a macro with the venerable 50mm f3.5 OM system lens mounted on extension tubes on a Canon 60D to get a really close focus. The subject is just a crow’s feather found in the garden – always a fascinating subject.

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Finally an off centre shot with the Helios 85mm f2 of a weathered ‘sculpture’ (can’t think of a better word) near a church door.

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All pictures for the book cover market – as always. Hope you like them!