Lensbaby experiments (and a quick review)

I picked up a used Lensbaby the other day. I’ve been wanting to play around with one for a while and when I saw a used one on Craigslist for a good price, I snatched it up. This morning, I did some experiments with it so I could get a feel for how well it would perform.

The model I have is the 3G with the optional macro kit. This is the same as the newly rebranded Control Freak. It has double glass optics and a handful of aperture discs.

Just like I read in every other Lensbaby review, it is difficult to focus and get used to, but with some patience, you can get a good feel for it. As you use smaller aperture discs, it becomes more difficult to see and focus, which means that working with a lot of ambient light is essential. I found that shooting with at least the 5.6 disc, and preferably the 11, I was able to get a respectable depth of field. Anything wider and the depth of field was so tiny that it became nearly impossible to find a focus point.

When I first heard about Lensbaby lenses, I was under the impression that they were an inexpensive option for tilt/shift. Unfortunately, that is not true. While they do allow you to tilt the focus plane, the design of the lens is such that there is a central circular focus sweat spot with the sharpness of the optics falling drastically towards the edges. What this amounts to is a fun and unique tool for playing with focus and depth of field, but not a tool for architectural photography.

I have some hopes of using this for my wedding photography, most likely it will be relegated to ring and flower shots, but probably not too much for portraits. It’s fun to play around with, but I’ll need to use it for a while before I feel comfortable enough to pull it out during a fast-paced wedding when time is short.

Would I recommend a Lensbaby? It depends on how you want to use it. With the macro attachments, shooting closeups is fun and rewarding (and more cost-effective than an expensive macro lens). As a portrait lens, it will never be a primary lens, but if you allow yourself the time to become proficient with it, you should be able to get some fun and creative shots with it. In the end, it falls in the same category as Holga cameras for me. It’s fun to use and gives you a non-traditional image, but is not going to be a primary lens in any camera bag.