Monday, April 19, 2010

Lensbaby: A Fun and Affordable DSLR Accessory

By Brendan Keenan, Penn Camera Tysons Corner

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Many Digital SLR users have made the jump to SLR photography for the increased control, and to achieve ever sharper images with their selected lenses. But if this is the only way you use your DSLR, you’re missing out on some huge fun. The creativity offered by the Lensbaby line of selective focus lenses gives any DSLR user at any experience level the ability to get truly creative with their photography, to experiment, and to have more fun shooting photographs. And the best part is, the Lensbaby line offers a lens for every shooting style, all at very affordable prices.

So what do Lensbaby do that your typical lens won’t? The answer is in the design. Lensbaby are designed to allow you to tilt, or shift the lens to create desired effects. With the lenses being shifted and tilted, the sharpest area of focus, or the “sweet spot” can be moved freely around the image area, creating blurring or vignetting effects. Traditional tilt-shift lenses are designed to correct optical distortion, while Lensbabys are the exact opposite. They create selective focus areas, along with areas of increased blur and distortion, and can be used for some amazing effects.

There are three Lensbabys in the current line, each offering different levels of control, and suited for certain styles of photography. The least expensive lens in the line is the Muse. It allows photographers to shoot fast and loose, as control over focus is gained by using one hand to both position and focus the lens. The lens can be positioned by simply bending it, and focusing is achieved by squeezing the lens. This allows for quick changes to focus area and sharpness, great for the photographer who shoots a lot of photographs and wants to experiment.

On the other end of the line is the Control Freak, a lens that instead gives precise control by allowing the photographer to lock the lens into place using three rods around the lens. For close up work, and increased control over focus, this is the Lensbaby that gives the meticulous photographer total control over their images, even allowing for fine tuning after the lens has been locked into place. Last but not least is the lens that offers the best of both worlds, and is at the heart of the current line of Lensbabys, the Composer.

The Composer can be shifted into place to select the “sweet spot”, then after focusing the photographer can remove their hand from the lens, and the Composer will retain it’s position, unlike the Muse. Using the Composer becomes easier the more you get used to its peculiar design. By first shifting the lens into place to compose your image, the photographer then moves the front part of the lens independently to set the focus point, or the “sweet spot”. The composer is packaged with a set of removable aperture rings and a magnetic tool used for changing them. This too requires some practice to master, but offers photographers a great range from f2 to f22. All the Lensbabies have a 50mm equivalent with the close focus on the Composer at 18 inches (and all can be used on full frame as well as APS-C size sensors), so while there is no zoom effect, the creative effects are almost endless. Especially when you begin to explore all the specially designed optics you can use with the three Lensbabies models.

The optics kit allows for interchangeable optics to be switched in and out of the three Lensbaby “housings”. The main optics are the single glass, the double glass, and the plastic optic. The multi-coated double glass optic offers the sharpest images, with better contrast and the “sweet spot” of focus being the sharpest. The single glass optic has more distortion, and is noticeably softer. The plastic lens is obviously the least sharp, creating the most distinct blur and distortion of the three. On top of these choices, Lensbabies offer users special effects optics; everything from standard wide-angle and telephoto adapters, to even more creative sets of optics. There is a pinhole and zone plate combination that offers very different effects. The zone plate gives a very soft, hazy, almost dreamy effect, complete with haloing around highlights. The pinhole on the other hand gives a completely soft image. These looks can create the effect of older, plastic cameras (nostalgia alert!), while still giving photographers all the control of their DSLR. Add the new fisheye optic, and you can only imagine the creative possibilities. The beauty is, the only limit with Lensbabies is your imagination.

So who is the Lensbaby system for? The answer is any photographer who likes to get creative, experiment, and try new things. These lenses offer an inexpensive, and simple way to take your everyday photography to a new creative level. Instead of always aiming for the sharpest, clearest shot of everything, try a different approach. You might be surprised what happens when you take chances in your photography. The Lensbabies offer just that, chances. For the photographer who loves photography, and wants to try new things without spending a small fortune, your prayers have been answered. So go ahead, take a chance, and get creative.