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 of the lensball is the best? There are three here, an 80, a 120 and a 60mm ball.
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?
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.
This position to rest the ball is only possible with a small lensball.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A larger size ball will both fill the frame more easily and cover up the background when it’s close to the camera.
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.
This particular way of holding the crystal ball is one of the classics. It’s not so natural looking with a smaller sized ball.
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.
Having a small crystal ball with me enabled me to fit it in the gap of this fence.
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.
is a specialist in creative photography techniques and is well known for his work with a crystal ball. His work has featured magazines including National Geographic Traveler. With over 8 years of experience in lensball photography, Simon is an expert in this field. Get some great tips by downloading his free e-book!
Do you want to learn about crystal ball photography? He has a course just for you! Get 20% off: DPS20.
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