Which Size Lensball is Best for Crystal Ball Photography?

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The world is in your hands, well it can certainly seem that way when you do crystal ball photography. The crystal ball allows you to take refraction photos, which reveal the background scene within the ball. It’s a great technique, with which many people are having a lot of fun.

The photographic technique has now become so popular that photographers have re-branded the crystal ball as a lensball! So the question that’s often asked is which lensball size is the correct one to buy? Let’s take a look at the various options available when buying a crystal ball, and decide which is the best for you.

Which Size Lensball is Best for Crystal Ball Photography? - 3 sizes

Which size of the lensball is the best? There are three here, an 80, a 120 and a 60mm ball.

Small Lensball

The small size lensball is anything less than 60mm, so all the way down to a marble. These balls are the easiest to pack and are considerably lighter than the other balls. So what are the strengths and weaknesses of this particular size?

Strengths

  • Weight – These add almost no weight to your bag at all, and this also makes them easier to use for handheld photos.
  • Size – Again owing to their small size they’ll be easier to pack, giving you more space for other items. The smaller size also allows you to place the ball in gaps where the larger balls won’t fit.
  • Handheld – This size makes it easier to hold the ball between your finger and thumb, which becomes more difficult at larger sizes.
Which Size Lensball is Best for Crystal Ball Photography?

This position to rest the ball is only possible with a small lensball.

Weaknesses

  • Weight – This is also a weakness. Once a heavy ball is in place it usually stays there. The problem comes on a windy day, where the wind can move a lighter ball much more easily.
  • Focus and distortion – This lensball size will have a smaller sweet spot for focus, and a greater proportion of the ball will be distorted. Using a smaller aperture can help, as more of the ball will be focused.
  • Lens required – You will need a macro lens when using a small lensball if you wish to fill the frame with the ball.
Which Size Lensball is Best for Crystal Ball Photography?

The small size is perfect to hold between your index finger and thumb.

Medium Lensball size

This refers to balls at 80mm in diameter. Many photographers see this as the ideal size for their refraction photography. There are a lot of good reasons why you should also use this size of lensball. Let’s break it down, as this is the crystal ball you’ll likely be using.

Strengths

  • Weight – This is a little heavier, but still not noticeable. So it’s a nice thing to carry in your camera bag to add a bit more creativity to your work.
  • Size – This is a decent size, though you might not fit this ball into a small space. The ball will fill a nice portion of your frame with a standard lens, using a macro is optional at this size.
  • Focus and distortion – By this size, the sweet spot area of focus within the ball dominates the scene inside the ball, and distortions at the edge are much less noticeable.

Weaknesses

  • Size – There are very few weaknesses in this size of a lensball. However, if you wish to take a photo where you frame just the edge of the ball this is more difficult. Likewise using the ball to eclipse a background object is also more difficult, as the ball is that much smaller.
Which Size Lensball is Best for Crystal Ball Photography?

The lensball is ideal for many kinds of creative takes on typical scenes. Here it’s used to capture a road lined with cherry blossom trees.

Large Lensball

The large size refers to those balls that are 100mm or over in diameter. This size is not common amongst most photographers, though this is the size I cut my teeth on for crystal ball photography.

Even with the extra weight, this is often the preferred size for me personally, it just gives better quality images in my opinion. Whether this is the size for you will come down to if you want to carry the extra weight or not.

Strengths

  • Optics – This size offers the best in optics, a larger proportion of the ball will be in sharp focus.
  • Handheld – This is a much more natural size to fit in the palm of your hand or someone else’s palm. One classic crystal ball composition is that of a hand cupping the ball.
  • Size – This makes it far easier to fill the frame with your ball, and even hide some background elements behind the ball.
Which Size Lensball is Best for Crystal Ball Photography?

A larger size ball will both fill the frame more easily and cover up the background when it’s close to the camera.

Weaknesses

  • Weight – The obvious weakness here is weight. Those not used to carrying a heavy camera bag should avoid this crystal ball size. The weight is equivalent to an extra lens in your camera bag. It comes down to whether you want an extra lens or the larger crystal ball in your bag.
  • Size – While optics are better when photographing this size, the larger size is not so good for storage. This will take up a large space in your bag.
Which Size Lensball is Best for Crystal Ball Photography?

This particular way of holding the crystal ball is one of the classics. It’s not so natural looking with a smaller sized ball.

Safety

The crystal ball is a really great photographic tool to play with, though there are some safety issues you need to be aware of. You will also find that staff in the airport may consider the crystal ball a lethal weapon! This means you will have to put it in your checked luggage, hand luggage is not an option.

So what are these safety concerns then?

  • Fire hazard – Keep the crystal ball stored somewhere out of the sun. The glass will act in the same way a magnifying glass does, and while this will usually only result in smoke it can lead to a fire as well. Oh not to mention, it can burn your hand when you are holding it as well!
  • Gravity – Due to its spherical nature the ball is liable to roll. If it rolls off the edge of a tall building it can cause damage to whatever it hits. Take care with the ball in such situations.
Which Size Lensball is Best for Crystal Ball Photography?

Having a small crystal ball with me enabled me to fit it in the gap of this fence.

Conclusion

Asking which size if crystal ball you should buy is a little like asking which is the best tripod. Everyone knows the sturdiest tripod is best, but that it’s impractical to carry around for the whole day.

The same is true of the crystal ball, the 80mm medium sized ball then is probably the best choice. There is certainly a case for the smaller or larger size of balls though, so if you decide to get a second ball how about a different size?

Using more than one ball at a time can also be fun!

As mentioned in this article, the 80mm is both not too heavy, yet doesn’t sacrifice the image within the ball making this a good size.

Have you bought a crystal ball, or are you thinking of doing so? We’d love to see your comments, and images – please share below.

Read more from our Cameras & Equipment category

Simon Bond is a specialist in creative photography techniques and is well known for his work with a crystal ball. His work has featured in national newspapers and magazines including National Geographic Traveler. With over 8 years of experience in crystal ball photography Simon is the leading figure in this field, get some great tips by downloading his free e-book! Do you want to learn more about crystal ball photography? He has a video course just for you! Use this code to get 20% off: DPS20.

  • Dan Merkel

    Looks like this would be fun to try but where can you find these lensballs and approximately how much would you spend for one?

  • Simon Bond

    Hi Dan. There are quite a few suppliers you could use. I’d recommend http://www.refractique.com for their fast delivery. You might find cheaper prices through e-bay or amazon, but factor in the delivery costs and the price is then not so different… refractique also offers much nicer packaging, aimed more at photographers.

  • Craig Siefkas

    This was taken with a 110mm ball at the Trona Pinnacles. I’ve made, but not yet used, a tripod mount for it using a pvc end cap mounted on an Arca-Swiss plate. The ball can start a fire, but not as simple as it might seem. Actually tried at the Pinnacles on a bright day. Have gotten smoke at other locations. The ball is too heavy for casual use, but wonderful for planned shots. After seeing some of your shots with smaller balls, that might be worth investing in. One other thing I do, I never touch the ball itself, instead I have a micro-fiber rag that is large enough to wrap the ball completely, I fold the corners up, then pick it up with the rag and place in or remove from the bag I’m using that day. Fingerprints and dirt are a hassle.

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/16a0d07046a3f0c0a922e21c3b0506f33771dc4ec8ba206f6af52617630611e2.jpg

  • AlWy
  • Brent Nielsen

    I had trouble getting my glass ball to sit still on flat or smooth surfaces, so I added a black rubber o-ring to my bag. It’s about 3/4″ diameter and like a gasket you’d use for a garden hose. My ball (2.5″ I think) sits on top and cradles in the circle nicely, keeping it still. The black ring is unobtrusive enough to generally go unnoticed.

  • Simon Bond

    Hi Brent, thanks for sharing. Yes finding a way to prevent the ball rolling is a key consideration. I think equally important is that what you use looks nice in the picture, or isn’t visible. Thanks for sharing your crystal ball hack! It’s always great to hear other peoples solutions to the problems I often face.

  • Simon Bond

    Too true about finger prints, if you’re in a humid country condensation on the ball can also be a problem. Oh and those fire/burn risks, yep discovered that long ago. Nice landscape location, well captured in your sphere. Thanks for sharing.

  • Andhaka

    Nice idea!! Thanks!

    Cheers

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