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Monday, October 18, 2010

Gear Review: Lensbaby 2.0

I had the opportunity to make a few photo-related purchases for my birthday recently. Something that I've had my eye on for a while is a Lensbaby. Rather than drop $200+ on one of the new ones that I may end up not liking and never using, I opted for a used copy of the last generation of Lensbaby (Lensbaby 2.0). It's basically a Lensbaby Muse with a double glass optic built in, which I figured was a good (and inexpensive) way to get started with the whole Lensbaby thing.

First off, I will say there is a bit of a learning curve. From a technical standpoint, all Lensbabies are manual exposure only, so if you're not comfortable with that you may want to steer clear (the point is to be inspired, not frustrated). Focusing accurately can also be a little tough, and I wound up shooting multiples of most subjects until I got what I was after (image review is helpful for this). From a creative standpoint, there are certain shots and effects that work better than others with this lens, so it takes a bit to get a handle on how to best use it. Of course, there's no *wrong* way to use it (that's kinda the point), but certain looks were more appealing to me than others.

Rather than give a technical review, I'm going to go through a series of shots I took showing the different looks I was able to get from the lens, and you can draw your own conclusions from that. I think that's more meaningful, anyway.

The classic Lensbaby look:

Explosion of Fall

Focus in one part of the frame, everything else is blurring away from it. Because the blur is directional it takes on more of a zoom quality than an out of focus quality. This can be very effective in putting the emphasis on your subject. It also gets pretty old, pretty quickly (in my opinion, anyway), so I started looking for other ways to use the lens.


Tilt-shift Tree

A Lensbaby is a pseudo-tilt/shift lens, but the field curvature of the optics messes with that and gives you a round sweet spot instead of a plane of focus. However, judicious framing and cropping can give you that tilt-shift look at the expense of some pixels. This is something I have to explore more.

Shallow Depth of Field:

Time for Class

Just glancing at this photo, it looks like a standard shallow depth of field image. Closer inspection of what is and isn't in focus reveals that there is indeed some Lensbaberie going on, but it's a different feel from the standard Lensbaby look. This is entirely composition and subject dependent - you need to find the right situation to make this work.


Beebe Bridge Baby

This is the look I see myself using most often - a reasonably sharp center blurring away at the edges. The square crop and vignette complete the illusion, and bingo bango - digital Holga. Seems to work best with mostly flat subjects at far distances.


This lens has some good potential as a portrait lens. It certainly puts the focus on your subject's face, and leads to a nice blur in the rest of the photo. I don't do a lot of portrait shots, but I'll have to play with this more. Maybe I'll do a family portrait series over the holidays with it. (Maybe.)

Overall I'm pretty happy with my purchase. Like any specialty lens, it's not something I'll use every day, but it's small and light enough to have earned a permanent spot in my bag. I think it will be a great cure for the blahs that settle in from time to time, and just might save my sanity this winter when the world gets gray and ugly. It also will be fun to pull out for some "different" shots at things like weddings, or on vacation at those touresty areas. And if nothing else, it's a good talking piece with other photographers.


[title of blog] on flickr


  1. I very much enjoy "Time for Class." Great way to use a lensbaby that doesn't scream "I HAVE A LENSBABY!" B&W conversion is gorgeous too.

  2. @ Matt - Thanks! Been having good success with b/w conversion using Lightroom - good color filter and contrast controls.