Lensbaby Composer and Optic System

Lensbaby Composer

In the beginning there was the original Lensbaby lens, a simple bellows system with push-pull focus and left/right and up/down sweet spot selection. Then c2ame the Lensbaby 3G that allowed you to fine tune the sweet spot after locking it down so that you can easily repeat the same shot and settings.

Now, the Lensbaby Composer promises a lens that is easier to use, better control over focusing, and a selection of different optic inserts to give you a variety of different effects.

Lensbaby 3G and Composer

Lensbaby 3G and Composer

Comparison to other Lensbaby Lenses

Looking at the difference between a Lensbaby 3G and a Composer, the older models have a flexible bellows that adjusts the focus by pushing it out or pulling it in, the Composer has a focus ring that moves the optic insert in and out. To adjust the sweet spot on an older model you move the lens around on the bellows, on the Composer the optics are held by a ball and socket that has an adjustment ring to adjust the amount of friction so you can have it move easily or even lock it in place and just about anything in between. The older models have a removable aperture disk, the larger the aperture (the smaller the f/stop number) the more dramatic the effect.

Optic System

The new Composer comes with double glass optics that can provide a very sharp image.  Also available are three other optic inserts that can be swapped out for the double glass optic. These other optics include:

  • Single glass optic
    This is an update to the original Lensbabies lenses, with the single glass optic you get a subtle, soft, dreamy effect.
  • Plastic lens optic
    With the plastic lens this optic has a very soft effect that creates very ethereal photos with abundant chromatic aberration.
  • Pinhole/Zone Plate Optic
    In pinhole or zone plate mode, this optic insert achieves softer focus, dreamy images that are equally sharp from edge to edge.

You can see an interactive example of the different optics with different apertures by using Lenbabies’ Optic Comparison guide.

Using the Lensbaby Composer

Composer on Canon 30D

The Composer attaches to your camera like any other lens but there are no electronics in the lens so there is no Auto-Focus and no aperture control from the camera. The Composer is a completely manual lens and the aperture is controlled with different discs that are placed into the bottom of the optics.

Using the older Lensbaby 3G or the original Lensbaby 1.0/2.0 was an exercise in frustration for many people as just adjusting the lens, holding it in place, and holding the camera almost required three hands.  With the Composer, the easiest way to use it is to adjust the friction ring so the lens will move easily but is not too lose and simply shoot away, adjusting up/down/left/right as you see fit and adjusting for focus. If you are using a tripod and want to make sure the lens does not move at all between shots then you can lock the lens on place by tightening up the friction ring.  While this sounds like a lot of work, it is significantly easier than than trying to use two fingers from each hand to wrap around your camera body, look through the viewfinder, compose your images, and press the shutter at the same time.

The Lensbaby lenses are not lenses you will put on your camera and be firing shots off like a machine gun, you need to slow down, get your composure right, get your exposure dialed in, adjust the sweet spot, and make the image versus taking a snapshot. You have to think and work a little more, but the result is an image you made in-camera and got it right.

The Lensbaby Effect

What the lens does is to shift the focus into a “sweet spot” and the blur effect will radiate out from the sweet spot and increase in effect as it moves away from the spot.  In some images the effect can be rather subtle so I purposely chose an image that will show the effect quite well.

Here you can see the front of the car is where I set the sweet spot and the blurring effect increases as it goes away from the sweet spot. This is a very difficult look to do with software although some plugins are getting very close these days.

This differs from a true tilt-shift lens in that the Lensbaby lenses can’t correct perspective like a tilt-shift lens. The Lensbaby is more of a special effects lens which can create some very interesting images. While the car shot demonstrates what the Composer can do, that isn’t what you are typically going to do with it. Many still life shots are shot with Lensbaby lenses and I suspect we will even see some cool video from cameras like the new Canon 5D MkII.

The Lensbaby Composer is roughly a 50mm focal length so when it is used on an APS-C sized sensor it will become around an 85mm focal length, that’s something to keep in mind if you are trying to set a scene up for use with the lens.

The following are two images of the same scene, one with a standard lens and the other shot with a Lensbaby Composer.

Standard Lens

Standard Lens

Lensbaby Composer

Lensbaby Composer

Sample Images

Here are a few shots I have taken recently with the Lensbaby Composer:

img_5787

Walking Down The Alley

img_5791

Soft Kiss

El Cortez Sign

El Cortez Sign

Sassy Sally w/Plastic Lens

Sassy Sally w/Plastic Lens

Picket Fence w/Super Wide Lens

Picket Fence w/Super Wide Lens

Learning to Use The Lensbaby Composer

The Lensbaby Composer is not the most intuitive or user-friendly piece of glass you will have in your arsenal. It is most likely the only manual focus lens you will own, the aperture is set by physically changing rings in the lens instead of from the camera controls, and it takes practice to get really good shots out of it consistently. That being said, the Composer is FAR easier to use than previous Lensbaby lenses so it will take much less practice than before.

What I really like about the Composer is that I really feel that “I” am making an image. I have to slow down my thought process and get things right in-camera. If your composition is off, you can’t just crop it and get a better image since the effect will usually not allow for much latitude when it comes to post processing. If you feel you are stuck in a photographic slump, pull out your Lensbaby lens and start making some fresh new images, it will inspire you to think differently and try new things.

At the recent PMA 2009 show, Sam from Lensbaby walked us through the Composer and all of the available accessories.

Should I Get A Lensbaby Composer Now?

macrolens

.6 Wide Angle / Macro Lens

Only if you like getting things for free!

With your purchase of a Lensbaby Composer we have arranged for you to get a Wide Angle/Macro Conversion lens with your order. It adds even more possibility to your images.

The Lensbaby 0.6X Wide Angle Macro Conversion lens converts your Lensbaby’s 50mm focal length to 30mm, while keeping the Sweet Spot the same size as a Lensbaby photo taken without a wide angle conversion lens. Other wide angle conversion lenses shrink the sweet spot. You can unscrew the rear lens element for use as a macro lens that focuses as close as 2″ to 3″ from your subjects.

The Lensbaby 0.6X Wide Angle/Macro Conversion Lens is fully compatible with all Lensbaby SLR lenses. L:earn more about this special offer (link).

The Bottom Line

The Composer is certainly a speciality lens that not everyone is going to find a use for. However, if you want to be able to add a dramatic effect to your images and do it all in-camera then a Lensbaby composer is a must-have for your gear bag and at only $269.95 it is probably going to be the least expensive lens you own.

I have been using the Lensbaby lenses for several years and the Composer is my favorite of them all with its easier to use design and now with all the accessories, it is a very versatile lens that adds to my creative process.

Website: http://lensbaby.com

Amazon Links

Lensbaby The Composer for Canon EF mount Digital SLR Cameras
Lensbaby The Composer for Nikon F mount Digital SLR Cameras
Lensbaby Optic Boxed Set
Lensbaby Creative Aperture Kit
Lensbaby Macro Kit (AMACK)

KerryG

Kerry Garrison is a wedding, portrait, and product photographer living in southern California. With 10 years of experience shooting products and 3 years of experience in the wedding industry, Kerry brings a good deal of technical know-how and can explain topics in easy-to-understand terms. Kerry's work can be found at http://kerrygarrison.com and on Facebook at http://facebook.com/KerryGarrison

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