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Lensbaby has always been a niche company, offering lenses that help photographers put a creative, untraditional spin on their images. This year, the Portland, Oregon based company released the Lensbaby Sol 45. At $200, this is their least expensive lens yet, making it an attractive way for photographers to enter the creative effects world of Lensbaby. We got to test out this new lens and found it to be great for unlocking new creative angles. Read on for more thoughts on the lens and our ultimate recommendation.
Announced on August 7, the Lensbaby Sol 45 is a fixed 45mm f/3.5 lens with an unusual lens design. Relatively compact at just 5 ounces, this lens looks normal until you twist the front to unlock it. When in the unlocked position, this lens can bend in just about every direction. It does this via its “bokeh blades” that rest on the lens hinges. When unlocked, these blades can be moved around to alter the quality of bokeh or image blur. The result is an image with textured bokeh and custom edge blurs that can’t be achieved with “normal” lenses. It’s a very specific creative look that may or may not appeal to you.
Despite being one of Lensbaby’s cheapest lens, Sol 45 feels very well built. The exterior is mostly metal and has a solid feel in your hands. Perhaps the only thing to note is that the lens’ moving parts could potentially get stuck or broken, so it’s important to keep the lens in a locked position.
The Lensbaby Sol 45 is a full-frame lens, but it can also work on crop-sensor cameras. Currently, the lens is available for Canon EF, Nikon F, Sony A and Sony E, Pentax K, and Fujifilm X mounts. For Micro Four Thirds cameras, the Sol 22 is available with an equivalent focal length of 45mm. For this article, Sol 45 was used with the full-frame Sony A7rIII.
Besides its unusual design, Lensbaby Sol 45 is also a manual focus lens (as are all other Lensbaby products). This means that in addition to manually altering the bokeh blades, you also have to manually set your focus point. Depending on your subject, getting a tack sharp image can be challenging. If your camera has manual focus peaking, this can greatly help with correctly setting your focus, so take advantage of it!
The lens has a minimum focusing distance of about 1.1 feet. This means you can get pretty close to a photo subject and isolate it with a nice bokeh background. Even though most photographers likely use this lens for still photos, it also made for creative video shots.
I used the Lensbaby Sol 45 on a Sony A7rIII. As someone who rarely uses manual focus, shooting with this lens took some getting used to. For one, it’s a process just to set the bokeh blades since you have a wide range of positions to lock them in. After setting the bokeh, you then have to tinker with the front element of the lens to set your focus point. With focus peaking enabled, it was a breeze to shoot with this lens. But if I didn’t have focus peaking, I could see this shooting experience getting frustrating very quickly. In general, this lens isn’t the best choice if you’re shooting a moving subject or need to capture your shot quickly.
The Lensbaby effect is a specific, very unique look that won’t suit every taste. It also shouldn’t necessarily be applied to every photo, so it’s very much a specialty lens. But what’s great about having a unique look is that it may appeal to you in surprising ways. Although it took a while to get used to handling the lens, I eventually found it to be a delight for viewing the world from a very different perspective. It became a novelty that unlocked a creative side of my brain that I hadn’t used before. Sometimes, this is what creatives need if they’re stuck in a rut or simply need a new form of inspiration.
If you’ve been curious about Lensbaby products, Sol 45 is a great lens to get started with. It has a low price point, and the lens itself is very compact and easy to travel with. While untraditional in many ways, this lens is great for offering you a new perspective on photo subjects if that’s something you’re seeking.
Have you used the Lansbay Sol 45? If so we’d love to hear your thoughts and see you images in the comments below.