This week I tried the Lensbaby Composer Pro with both the Edge 80 and Sweet 35 optics. Are they any good? And should you buy one? Or both?
Firstly, Lensbaby lenses are quirky. The firm have built a reputation on plastic and glass optics with beautiful packaging and interesting effects and have gradually become more ambitious as they have grown more successful. Their lenses come in two parts; the optics, which can be swapped around, are separate from the empty holders (which they call lenses) which fit either
- Canon EF (DSLR)
- Nikon F (DSLR)
- Micro 4/3rds (Mirrorless)
- Sony Alpha A (DSLR)
- Sony Alpha E (Mirrorless)
- Fuji X (Mirrorless)
- Pentax K (DSLR)
- Samsung NX (Mirrorless)
- Olympus 4/3 (DSLR).
I tried the Lensbaby Composer Pro for a day in the University city of Oxford. I put my camera into Manual mode and set off to explore. Could I get some creative effects? Would I be inspired? Here’s my first shot, outside the landmark Radcliffe Camera with the Edge 80 optic on my Nikon D300:
Instantly I knew that this lens is brilliant at telling stories, but that I had to create the story for it to tell. It’s not a street photography lens where you can capture something by chance. It’s a lens for people who have a creative vision and want to express it. I needed: a child and a dropped toy; a dog and a cat; bare feet and abandoned shoes; or a dropped ice cream and a crying child. I needed something not quite so overused. What I had created was a page in a story where there was no plot but only some fill-in description. The Edge 80 is a powerful storytelling tool. I hadn’t told a story with it yet.
I tilted the ball and socket joint and locked it at a different angle and got this:
I love the effect. To have a diagonal plane of focus disappearing into the distance is exceptional. Working with the lens I felt I needed to be in a studio or working with models. I needed a location with a wedding or a portrait to shoot. I needed to be controlling not just my camera but the world in front of it. I needed to control a subject to tell its story.
It was time for a drink and a quick swap of the optic to the Sweet 35; a lens with a sweet spot. Here’s my portrait of Gabriel:
A bit soft? Even around the eyes? The lighting was poor so I opened up the aperture and the depth of field just disappeared before my very eyes. How about this one?
Looking at the regular pattern of the floor tiles with the Sweet 35 shows the extent of the distortion possible:
An isolated piece of street furniture shows the way the sweet spot isolates elements in the frame:
Outside again the fire escape appears to melt away in the distortion of the lens:
The railings outside the Sheldonian Theatre show the distortion possible:
The Composer Pro rotates easily, locks easily and swaps optics easily. The challenge it sets you is: What stories do you want to tell? Can you control your field of vision as well as the camera to create that story?
Next time I’d:
- Take a tripod;
- Always use Live View;
- Take a couple of models;
- Prepare the stories I want to tell beforehand.
Lensbaby lenses change the way you think about photography and demand your creativity. Are you up to the challenge?
The Lensbaby Composer Pro isn’t a creative lens; It demands that you become a creative photographer. That’s something worth having.