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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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!

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.

Some more from the Kod-pus…

Not a weird novel title, but some shots from the unlikely combination of a Kodak Folding Autographic rollfilm camera (1919 ish), and an Olympus EPL5. I did wonder about calling this contraption the ‘Olydac’ but it sounds a bit too much like a Sci-fi character. Come to think of it, that’s not completely inappropriate. If anyone has any alternative names I’d welcome suggestions.

Kodak Autographic Olympus EPL5

This isn’t bad at all – but it needed some help with ‘auto levels’ as the original image contrast is very low (this is a 100-year-old un-coated lens remember). The soft bokeh is exceptional, and the colours vivid.

The details of the setup are here (from a previous post ). For these shots though there’s been some decent light, and the focussing mechanism has been loosened up to make it easier to use. With some further practice (I really should have better things to do!) some interesting results are cropping up.

Kodak Autographic Olympus EPL5

Here is is for those who haven’t seen it in the last post. Just one look should give you some idea how it all works (note the aperture priority mode).

These shots aren’t bad but there are lots of failures – focus is hit and miss at best and exposure is a bit wayward too so these are a small percentage of those taken. When it works though it’s really good – just like a Lensbaby – but the Kodak only cost £5!  These are the best ones so far:-

Kodak Autographic Olympus EPL5

A nice dreamy image – just what I’d been hoping for. The softness in the trees is especially good.

Kodak Autographic Olympus EPL5

The best yet! Not much obviously in focus but who cares with a result as good as this? The glow around the out of focus areas is lovely.

Kodak Autographic Olympus EPL5

‘Macro’ isn’t too bad either – the Kodak bellows go quite a long way out. This was taken at about 60 cm/two feet. The odd colours just popped up when ‘auto levels’ was applied.

Maybe this is more useful than I originally thought – this all started as a bit of an experiment earlier in the year and initial results weren’t good at all.

It’s not for that ‘once in a lifetime’ photo shoot, but for a gentle wander around messing about its great – as long as you don’t mind some odd looks and the occasional comment! It does show that almost any lens is capable of delivering images with some care, and all that AF/multiple focus points /zoom palaver isn’t essential (it does make life easy though).

I’ll submit some of these to the agency and see what they think – you never know!

Thanks for looking, hope you like them.

 

Kodak No 2 Folding Autographic Gets a Digital Back!

Well, almost. You could think of this as a Kodak Brownie (£5) with a tiny digital back, or an Olympus Pen with a cheap Lensbaby. Either way, shooting with a 100-year-old lens on a modern digital body was always going to be a bit of fun on a wet Sunday afternoon….

Quite a promising start in flat overcast light.The low contrast has been boosted just a little in these shots as they really were flat. This experiment is really pushing a cheap mass-produced lens – the Micro Four thirds sensor is tiny by comparison with the area of medium format film so we’re in effect ‘pixel peeping’ this lenses abilities.

The Kodak was a real success at the beginning of the last century – 1/2 million made. A real ‘camera for the masses’, most prints were probably small contact prints from the medium format rollfilm.

Here’s the lens and shutter. We’re not going to worry about the shutter – just put it in ‘T’ mode (one click opens the shutter, the other closes it when you’re finished several hours later). The aperture has been left wide open – I’ve got enough difficulties focussing this thing already thanks.

If you’d like to know what all these interesting looking controls are look here.

The focus mechanism is a rack type arrangement with bellows between the film and the lens. It’s very hard to move smoothly, even after oiling, but just about useable.

_DSC1700_DxOs

Here’s the sophisticated mounting system – the back comes off the Kodak to load film, leaving a hole just about the size of an EPL5. The writing on the Kodak body is notification of all of their patents in Great Britain, Canada and Australia – 1909 to 1919. This was taken with the much more sensible RX100.

There’s no point in worrying about lens alignment – the lens is already ‘out of true’ on the bellows, and I’m not even sure the EPL5’s sensor is in the middle of the image cast by the lens anyway. The focal length? My guess is around a 4/3 100mm equivalent and the effective aperture is going to be tiny. Just like using a Lensbaby, aperture priority with centre weighted metering is best (‘best’ here is a relative term!).

Bulbs overwintering in a tray – no harsh areas of lighting so quite good all things considered. ‘Quite good’ in this context means we can see what this is…

The soft ethereal light is partly the drizzle, but mainly the tendency of this very old lens to flare at the slightest opportunity. I really like this effect. The colours are surprisingly good – this camera predates colour film (the Kodak, not the Oly obviously)!

Focus not nailed here (at least I don’t think so!), but what a good rendering of the out of focus windows.

A nicely misty/flared shot of mistletoe on a bare tree. This could be useful with some post processing…

In the interest of true experimentation, a ‘Dramatic Tone’ just for good luck. I’m sure this is a world first with this combination!

What to make of all this?

Is it useful? Er, not really, but it’s a cheap alternative to a Lensbaby if you don’t mind the baffling degree of messing about with the focussing rack. It does show that you can create an image – albeit a rather fuzzy one – using some very old kit indeed.

It was however the most photographic fun I’ve had for a while, and just like the early days of using film, I’m just pleased to get any result at all. I’d really like to have another crack at this on a brighter day…. I’ll post the results when I get round to it.

Hope you like them, thanks for looking!

 

 

Extreme Combinations…

Combining various obscure photographic techniques is irresistible – at least to me. So apologies in advance.

What happens if you shoot infrared hand-held with an IR R72  filter through a Lensbaby Sweet 35 using Olys ‘Dramatic Tone’ filter? I had no idea until today.. The 35mm focal length is a fixed 70mm equivalent on micro four thirds, so a bit restrictive, but let’s see what we can do. The Lensbaby has a problem resolving detail at the edge of the frame – how bad is it ‘in the field’ on small micro four thirds sensor? There are loads of ‘fields’ near where I live, so lets give it a go – walking into ‘a field’ as I do so. MTF charts are unavailable due to a technical fault.

Here’s the kit – an EPL5,  a micro 4/3 mount converter, a Sweet 35 Lensbaby, a 49mm to 58mm thread converter and a Hoya 58mm R72 filter. I’d hoped to fit in some macro extension tubes but time didn’t allow. To add a little colour, DXO filmpack was used to tone the monochrome images (we’re a long way from photo realism already)….

EPL5, Lensbaby, lens converter, micro four thirds, infra red

This isn’t the easiest combo to focus – ISO needs to be around 8000 to hand hold a shot in spring sunshine (the R72 filter is pretty much opaque), so the focus magnify button is essential to find something like a sharp image. To add to the excitement (why do I do this?) the ‘wide open’ sharpness of the Lensbaby makes sharpness a relative term. The Lensbaby people must do something about this…

Onto the results…

EPL5EPL5, Lensbaby, lens converter, micro four thirds, infra red

A bit too grainy possibly – ISO 8000 should be free of noise in a modern camera surely. I well remember using Kodak IR 8000 film ten years ago and it was nowhere as grainy as this. Digital is obviously rubbish. The IR effect is showing, but the ‘Dramatic Tone’ element isn’t too visible. That black dot is a bird by the way rather than ‘dust on the sensor’. Why don’t Lensbaby make a zoom pinhole attachment by the way?

 

EPL5, Lensbaby, lens converter, micro four thirds, infra red

This is better – even something in focus. The blurred areas are – well – very blurred and rather good. The grass on the right is bright (as it should be), and the new foliage on the willow tree is nicely bright too. Why is this less grainy – I have no idea!

EPL5, Lensbaby, lens converter, micro four thirds, infra red

More grain again – but this time it seems to suit the subject. Well maybe….

Finally the Mill, used in the past as a test target for previous lens tests. The lovely Lensbaby out of focus areas have produced an abstract, almost ‘painted’ blurry result. Assuming most painters like blur of course, which is an unproven hypothesis in my experience.

EPL5, Lensbaby, lens converter, micro four thirds, infra red

Hmm.

Thanks for looking, enjoy Spring (in the Northern Hemisphere)  and have a good April 1st!

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!