Lensbaby Composer Selective Focus Lens

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Unless you’re really new to the wonderful world of photography, you’re probably already at least vaguely familiar with what a Lensbaby is and what they do. For the uninformed, a Lensbaby is basically a neat lens that replicates effects created by tilt-shift lenses and toy lenses. A Lensbaby creates a selective focus within the plane of focus (not among the planes of focus) creating an artsy, out-of-focus/blurry frame around the subject being photographed. Basically, you pick one part of the frame to focus on, then tweak the blurriness around it by moving the bendable lens barrel around. You can check out a bunch of examples in the Lensbaby Galleries here to get an idea of what I’m talking about. While it’s not a lens you’ll use all the time, it’s a great way to achieve some funky, artsy photographs (without having to mess around in Photoshop - getting it in camera is always better), and I’ve heard a lot of photographers have been able to get out of their “funk” by using a Lensbaby - something about the unanticipated effects of selective focus make the creative juices start to flow.

Over 3.5 years ago I reviewed the Lensbaby 2.0 - the second incarnation of the original Lensbaby that was created almost 6 years ago. The original Lensbaby was a 50mm f/2.8 single-element lens in a flexible “bellow” lens barrel. Lensbaby 2.0 introduced a doublet lens along with magnetic aperture rings, allowing us more control over exposure and depth of field (you can change how much is in focus by changing aperture disks - the wider the aperture, the less that is in focus). The Lensbaby 3G built on the success of the Lensbaby 2.0, addressing a common complaint - they added 3 pins/screws designed to help lock a desired selective focus in place. While it was cumbersome to use, and admittedly a little ugly, it made it easier to replicate the same shot over and over again (which is something that was almost impossible with the original Lensbaby and Lensbaby 2.0).

Earlier this year, Lensbaby, LLC not only released an updated version of the popular dSLR accessory, but brought in a whole new optics system called the “Optic Swap System” (that we’ll discuss below). The Lensbaby Composer leaves the bellow system behind, instead moving to a ball and socket system. The ball and socket mechanics keeps the ease-of-use and flexibility of the original Lensbaby and Lensbaby 2.0, but introduces an easy (and not as dorky-looking) way of keeping the plane of focus in place with a simple twist-to-lock ring.


Lensbaby Composer


The Optic Swap System

Previously, each new Lensbaby had it’s own static lens - the glass singlet for the original, and the glass doublet for the next couple versions. With the introduction of the Lensbaby Composer, Lensbaby also re-released the Lensbaby 2.0 (now called the Lensbaby Muse) and the Lensbaby 3G (now called the Lensbaby Control Freak) with their new “Optic Swap System.” Instead of a fixed lens for each Lensbaby, we’re now able to use one of four swappable optics. The most common of the four is the 50mm multi-coated glass doublet (like in the Lensbaby 2.0), followed by the 50mm glass singlet (like in the original Lensbaby). The other two optics are new additions to the Lensbaby family. The first is a 50mm plastic singlet which simulates photographs taken with old cameras like the Holga and Diana and other “toy cameras.” The other new optic is a pinhole optic with an f/177 pinhole and an f/19 zone plate opening. The pinhole optic lets you simply switch between the two apertures with your finger), which the other 3 optics allow you to use the floating magnetic aperture disk system (that I’ll touch more on below). I should note that the release of the new Optic Swap System also brings with it an aperture of f/2.0 making it a full stop brighter than its ancestors. Also, the Lensbaby macro kit lenses, wide angle and telephoto conversion lenses, and the other filters and accessories that could be purchased for previous Lensbaby’s also work with the new Optic Swap System.


Lensbaby Composer Features


The Lensbaby Composer

The Lensbaby Composer represents a complete redesign from previous models. Instead of the neat-looking, but hard to control bellows of the earlier versions, the Lensbaby Composer features a simple ball and socket style mechanics. In addition to the move away from bellows and the obvious cosmetic differences (love the black plastic mixed with brushed metal), the Lensbaby Composer takes the bending and focusing and separates them. Instead of moving the bellows in and out to focus, the Lensbaby Composer has a simple focus ring. Instead of bending the bellows around, you simply move the front element around in the new ball and socket configuration. Instead of weird-looking, slightly embarrassing screws sticking out of the lens like in the Lensbaby 3G (now known as the Control Freak), the new ball and joint mechanics have a tightening ring to hold the bend in place (though I found that I generally didn’t need to tighten the ball and socket very often, as the lens was both fairly easy to move and usually held it’s position well enough to not have to loosen and tighten it between shots). The focus ring has a unique design in that becomes more sensitive (requiring greater rotation to move the optic in and out) as you approach infinity - this makes it easer to focus on subjects from 10 feet to infinity. All in all, the Lensbaby Composer is far and away my favorite Lensbaby to date: it’s easier to use in every aspect, it’s better looking, and it makes it easier to create consistently better photographs.


Lensbaby Composer Head On


How to Use the Lensbaby Composer

Admittedly, a steep learning curve accompanies each and every Lensbaby. The Lensbaby Composer may be the easiest-to-use Lensbaby to date, but it will still take most photographers a couple of tries, if not an afternoon or two, to get the hang of it. Mechanically, the method of changing the aperture disk hasn’t changed from previous versions - you still have to pick up and drop a magnetically levitating aperture disk into the lens where three little magnets above the optic grab the disks (before they can hit the optic). The magnets that hold the disks in place work surprisingly well - I’ve never had a disk fall out. It’s not really that complicated to do, but it’s a hassle, and those small aperture disks have a tendency to get lost somehow - they’re just a little bigger than a quarter. The disks come in a little case that doubles as a magnetic tool (which makes removing the disks a fairly simple task).

For those that rely heavily on auto focus or auto anything, you should note that there are no electronic contacts on the Lensbaby, so your camera can’t communicate with your lens (though automatic light metering is possible by shooting in aperture priority mode for almost all digital and film SLR camera bodies except certain Nikon bodies including the D40, D50, D60, D70, D70S, D80, D90, D100, N50, N65, N70, N75, N80, Kodak 14N and ProN, & Fuji S1, S2, and S3). Simply set your dSLR to aperture priority and let the camera set the shutter speed for the right exposure.

As far as how you’ll use your Lensbaby Composer, really the sky is the limit. Find something that will make a neat subject, focus on it, then move the front element around in the ball joint to create that perfect “sweet spot.” Fix the focus to match the sweet spot, then take a bunch of photos, adjusting the sweet spot along the way - you’ll be surprised “what works.”


Lensbaby Composer Package


Lensbaby Composer Details

  • Multi-Coated Optical Glass Doublet (included)
  • Focal Length: About 50 mm
  • Focus Type: Manual
  • Aperture Type: Interchangeable, magnetic aperture disks
  • Apertures: f/2, f/2.8, f/4, f/5.6, f/8, f/11, f/16, f/22
  • Minimum Focus: About 18 inches (45cm)
  • Maximum Focus: Infinity
  • Size: 2.25 inches (5.7cm) h x 2.5 inches (6.35cm) w
  • Weight: 3.7 oz (104.9g)
  • No electronic communication between the lens and the camera body
  • Available in mounts for Canon EF (EOS), Nikon F, Sony Alpha A / Minolta Maxxum, Pentax K / Samsung GX, Olympus E1 / Panasonic Lumix DMC
  • Automatic light metering is possible by shooting in aperture priority mode for almost all digital and film SLR camera bodies except certain Nikon bodies including the D40, D50, D60, D70, D70S, D80, D90, D100, N50, N65, N70, N75, N80, Kodak 14N and ProN, and Fuji S1, S2, and S3


Conclusion

I’ve always been a fan of the Lensbaby lenses. They encourage creativity among photographers by stretching us to see new ways to photograph “standard” subjects. It’s a simple concept that, with each continuing evolution, gets better. The Optic Swap System will make it easier to introduce new optics at an affordable price, allowing photographers to continue to stretch their creative limits without breaking the bank on new lenses. The Lensbaby Composer takes all the creativity of the original Lensbaby and puts it in an easier-to-use, better-looking and all-around more appealing package. Whether you’re a professional photographer or an amateur, I’m positive you’ll find that the Lensbaby Composer, while not an every day lens, will make a great addition to your camera bag. You’ll be surprised how often it manages to make itself out of the bag and onto your camera.