Overview of the Lensbaby System – Is it for you?

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Are you interested in taking your photography to another level? Do you like the bokeh effect, or images that have a painterly look to them? Then perhaps you might want to give the Lensbaby lenses and optics a try.

leannecole-lensbaby-macro-flower-colour

Taken in the garden with using the macro converters, giving this image a very soft, painterly look.

Lensbaby is a system that allows you to insert, and use, different optics to a base lens. The most common one is the Composer Pro which has a rotating ball so you can use different angles when taking photos. You can get interesting effects with them by using selective focus, great bokeh, and you can achieve very painterly style images.

The company, Lensbaby, makes the lenses for cameras with interchangeable lenses, like DSLRs and mirrorless bodies. They have been designed to help you photograph the world in a new way. You can achieve some amazing results and can very quickly become addicted.

How long has Lensbaby been around?

Their story began in 2004 when one of their founders, Craig Strong, “joined an old Speed Graphic lens with a short Shop-Vac hose to shoot images otherwise impossible with an DSLR lens, which inspired the original Lensbaby lens.” From there the company has continued to grow and develop the lens swap system.

What is a Lensbaby?

The idea behind Lensbaby is an optic swap system. You get one of the systems that can use various optics, such as the Composer Pro. This is the part that connects directly to your camera, like a lens. There are two components to it, which are joined via a metal ball, that allows the second part to rotate so you can change your point of focus.

leannecole-lensbaby-lenses-optics

The Lensbaby lenses I have, 1) The Composer Pro, 2) Edge 80 Optic, 3) Double Glass Optic with f/4, 4) Macro Converters, 5) The containers they come in that are also tools, and 6) lens cap.

You put the optics into the Composer Pro. There is a range of options available that allow you to use the lens as a normal lens, a fisheye, a macro lens, etc. Each of the optics give you different effects. For this article the optics used where the Edge 80, Fisheye Optic and the Double Glass optics.

There is also a range of optics available for the iPhone. You can put them on your phone to get similar results.

Lensbaby also has a new lens now, the Velvet series. They look like real lenses, but deliver a soft, glowing effect at larger apertures. They don’t have optics that you swap in and out, however, and are also manually focused.

What do the lenses do and what effects do you get?

With the different optics you can get a lot of different effects. You can create images that have a tilt-shift look, so the subject in the image looks miniature. You can isolate certain areas, or the subject. For example, if you want to photograph a flower that is in amongst many others, you could isolate it so only that one flower is in focus.

One thing it is great for is bokeh. That same flower can have a fantastic blurred background by using a large aperture. The out of focus areas often look like they were painted as well, which, again, depends on the optic and the aperture that you use.

You don’t really get what you expect with normal photography or lenses, meaning really sharp images. You have to take a different approach to using a Lensbaby. If you are the type of photographer who is very technical, where the light and sharp focus is very important, you may not like these. However, if you like to experiment, see what you can achieve, and like dreamy painterly images, then you will love the Lensbaby.

leannecole-lensbaby-old-train-station

The Edge 80 Optic is also good for creating tilt shift images, to make your subject seem miniature.

What do you need to use a Lensbaby?

When compared to normal lenses the price is not too bad. But it does depend on how addicted you become, and how many different ones you want to try. I was given quite a few different optics, but I still went and purchased more.

However when starting with the system, you can begin with something simple, such as the Spark. It comes with one optic, and you can just go out and use it. The Composer Pro can also be purchased with an optic, and is perhaps the easier of the two to use.

To decide which one is for you, take a look at the Lensbaby gallery on their website. See what looks appeal to you, and which products were used to create them. Start there.

leannecole-lensbaby-old-car

Using the Double Glass Optic again, it has given focus to just a small part of the old car.

How easy are they to use?

They take a bit of getting used to, and there is a steep learning curve. You can’t simply put them on your camera and begin. To get the best results you need to do some research and learn how to use them. Once you have a good idea, then it is just a matter of getting out there to try it. You need to experiment a lot, and you will delete many photos, but as you gain experience you will get images that you are proud to show.

The focusing system seems to be the hardest to get used to, at least it was for me. Having to manually focus the lens is a task in itself. For some of the optics it is easy though. Once the focus is sorted at the start, you can just move the composer pro around on the ball, and get it to the point and look that you want.

As with anything new, there is some trial and error. So be prepared to mess up a lot. It isn’t a good idea to take your new Lensbaby somewhere really important the first time you use it, like a wedding. Get to know it first before using it for anything critical.

leannecole-lensbaby-old-shearing-shed

Focusing on just a small part of the shearing shed to emphasis where the viewer should look.

Why are they better than other similar effects?

The results you get with the lenses are quite unique to the system. You can try and emulate the effects in Photoshop, but they don’t quite work the same.

Who would use them?

Anyone who is interested in trying something different, and to test themselves, should give Lensbaby a try. If you are interested in trying new types of photography, then you will love the Lensbaby. The effects are different every time, especially when you use different angles.

Through the lens, you see a whole new world. As you find yourself succeeding at taking photos with them, you will become addicted. The softness of the blur is very different, and being able to concentrate attention exactly where you want in the scene is wonderful.

leannecole-lensbaby-old-windmill

The Double Glass optic has helped to lessen the effect of the distracting foreground so you focus only on the windmill.

Manual focus

All the lenses are manually focused. If you aren’t very good at doing that, then the Lensbaby may not be for you. However, if you don’t have an issue with it, you will have a lot of fun as you experiment.

One problem was the aperture rings. The further you close it down, the darker it gets in the camera viewfinder, and it can be hard to focus. This is especially the case when you are using the Edge 80 optic with the Composer Pro. When the aperture is wide open you can see through your viewfinder quite well. But as you start to close it down to around f/8, the light dims and it is harder to see, and therefore focus.

The farther away the subject is, the easier it is to focus. Anything up close is harder, and requires a lot of practice. If you have trouble focusing and holding the camera still, use a tripod. There is some literature out there that says you can’t use a tripod with a Lensbaby, but that is not true.

Perhaps using the lens straight on will also be of benefit at the beginning. Learn to use them in a basic way first, then you can start to see what is possible as you experiment.

leannecole-lensbaby-macro-flower

A macro flower taken using the Double Glass Optic in the Composer Pro. The camera was on a tripod to ensure sharp focus.

Are they for you?

If you have read this far, then you are probably interested in trying them out. The Lensbaby website has some great resources for helping you to learn about their products. There are also lots of tutorials on YouTube that help you to figure them out.

leannecole-lensbaby-old-silos

The Edge 80 Optic is ideal for doing straight parts of the image. I used it to help highlight the silo in the background.

The Lensbaby lenses and optics are a great addition to any kit bag. The effects that are created from them are unique, and can give your photography a whole new look. They will help the artist in you, achieve the artistic impressionist images that you haven’t been able to get, with regular photography lenses that are available.

Here is a video from Lensbaby to give you a quick overview of some of the options.

Have you tried a Lensbaby before? Please share your thoughts and images in the comments below.

Read more from our Cameras & Equipment category

Leanne Cole is a fine art photographer based in Melbourne, Australia. She loves Melbourne and photographing it, along with other parts of the state. She likes doing architectural and environmental photography. You can find her on her website or on Instagram.

  • I used to have a lensbaby. I bought the Composer Pro when it first came out. Our clients absolutely hated it though and so it sat on a shelf in the back for a couple years before getting sold. I probably should have hung onto it for personal work because I really do love the effect but I already had too many things at the studio that fit into that don’t need category LOL. Someday I’ll probably buy another one.

  • It does seem to appeal to a certain type of person. I have to say I am loving it for macro photography, the effects are great. So maybe you will have try it again for your personal work Randy, see what you can do with it. I love experimenting so it has been fun for that. Thanks for sharing your experience.

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  • Nicci Carrera

    This is a really excellent review. I’ve been strongly drawn to these lenses since you started sharing about them, Leanne. In the hands of a pro the images are gorgeous. I love looking at your images taken with them.

    I see a lot of purchases in my future but for now I’ll try the Lightroom or Photoshop workarounds. Funny I tried using the radial filter in Lightroom yesterday but, it didn’t work out. The techniques shown in the article you linked to are much better, thank you.

    Sponsors are smart to have you review stuff, I end up buying everything!

  • Thank you Nicci, they are great and I’ve really been enjoying using them.
    I can understand the purchases, I might be making more too, sshh don’t tell anyone, especially Dave. Just keep going. I love reviewing stuff, so more than happy to keep playing with new toys. Thanks again.

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    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/096e51886e28c2782a2fa2b8e0e55183f08b95b92ba218e7203abacc8fe77269.jpg I have had the lens baby Spark for sometime now, more of a come and go relationship really sometimes absolutely love using it and get some cracking shots; below is an image from not long after I picked up the lens; other times can be quite fiddly and try your patience and end up no quite as I planned (although these are more problems with the manual interface, i.e ME) really does take some getting used to but definitely worth the effort and patience

  • I agree Iain, it does take a lot to get used to, but so worth it. I love using them. It is great to see what you have used yours for. Thanks for sharing.

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