It’s The Lens, Baby!

Selective focus is a hot trend in photography. The soft, dreamy look is ideal for portraits, close-ups and scenics, directing attention by blurring your subject’s surroundings. When you want the creative effects of selective focus in-camera, you can’t beat the simplicity of Lensbaby lenses and optics.

A big part of the appeal of Lensbaby lenses is the painterly, handcrafted feel of the images they produce. To get an idea of what’s possible, we asked several pros who use Lensbaby about some of their best images, which they captured using the system.

Shooting Tips

Though Lensbaby makes it relatively easy and affordable to shoot selective-focus images in-camera, getting great results will take practice. Shooting with a Lensbaby is a more manual experience than you may be used to with today’s high-tech lenses, so be ready to experiment—and open yourself up to lucky mistakes.

When you first use Lensbaby, you’ll notice that you don’t control the aperture with your camera’s controls. Instead, aperture rings are supplied with your lens. You drop the ring for your selected aperture into the lens, then set your camera to manual and select a shutter speed to set your exposure.

For flash photography with Lensbaby, you need to know your camera’s flash sync shutter speed. Set your camera at this shutter speed (or slower). If the image is overexposed, try switching to a smaller aperture ring or decreasing your flash output.

Lisa Smith

“This image was shot with a Lensbaby 2.0 in Pasadena, Calif. There’s a part of town where the light is sweet and bounces around between buildings. I guess it was the light that day which inspired me, along with a cool location and a great model with a cool, quiet vibe. Everything just lined up perfectly that day: light, subject, location, vibe and tool. The Lensbaby 2.0—I love how fluid that lens is. I work fast and it responds in kind, becoming an extension of my hand and my eye and my brain all in the same instant. With a Lensbaby, I can shoot a variety of normally distracting surroundings near a model and turn them into softer compositional elements. It continually shows me how to see in a new way. I like this flexibility.”

Richard Murai

“I’ve been using Lensbaby lenses since their inception. After some experimentation, I decided on the plastic lens—without any aperture disc—and the 0.6x Wide Angle adapter for all of my work in Laos and Bhutan. Although perhaps excessive for some, on a full-frame Canon EOS 5D Mark II, this combination offered the maximum smearing and melding of the tonal scale with a beautiful luminescent glow. Another advantage of the large aperture is the ability to work in extremely low-light environments: alleys, interiors and nighttime.”

A.J. Schroetlin

“Shooting flowers with a Lensbaby is more like painting than photography, especially when using a large aperture. For this image, I used the Lensbaby 2.0 with no aperture disc, giving me an aperture of ƒ/2. This allowed me to paint the background with colors and shapes, while also providing a clear focal point.”

Axel Heimken

“This picture was taken with a Canon EOS-1D Mark III and a Lensbaby 2.0 during a competition of athletes in Portugal. The athletes like the style of the Lensbaby because it shows them in a way they see themselves, a little bit rough and edgy. I use the Lensbaby in sports photography because it creates a more live atmosphere. It ‘paints’ the typical scenes at a start or before a race; that’s the reason I used it in this picture. The imperfect technical aspect of a Lensbaby—a picture wide away from glossy high-tech pics—characterizes athletes and sports perfectly, in my opinion."

The Gear

The Lensbaby system is essentially two components—the lens itself and the swappable optics. Three different lens models are available to accommodate different shooting styles.

Composer, Control Freak, Muse

Our favorite is the ball-and-socket-design Composer, which offers a solid balance between simplicity and control. Tilt the lens to position the “sweet spot” and tension keeps it in place.

For even more precision, the Control Freak lets you lock the lens tilt, then fine-tune it by adjusting three screw posts, making this lens a great option if you plan to do a lot of macro setups.

If you’d rather shoot fast and flexible, the Muse, an evolution of the popular Lensbaby 2.0, doesn’t lock down, allowing you to quickly change your sweet spot for sports and action subjects fast (though you have to manually hold the lens to keep its angle).

Once you’ve selected the right lens design for you, you can start thinking about which optics you’ll want to use. The Lensbaby Optic Swap System currently includes three optics for selective focus and three additional optics for other cool effects. There are also accessories for macro and wide-angle photography.

The Lensbaby website has a cool optical comparison tool that previews the effects of the different optics at a variety of apertures. Go to www.lensbaby.com/optic-comparison.php.

1. Double Glass Optic

The sharpest Lensbaby optic, with minimal diffusion.

2. Single Glass Optic

Lensbaby describes this optic as similar to what you’d find in an antique camera, with a soft effect.

3. Plastic Optic

Holga and toy camera aficionados will love this optic, the softest in the system, for really dreamy images.

4. Pinhole/Zone Plate Optic

This switchable optic lets you experiment with pinhole and zone plate effects.

5. Soft Focus Optic

Unlike the other optics in this system, which have a “sweet spot” of relative sharpness, Soft Focus produces even softness throughout the image.

6. Fisheye Optic

Get an expansive 160-degree field of view. Designed for the Composer lens, it can be used with the Muse and the Control Freak with an optional adapter.

7. Macro Kit

This kit includes two filters for +4 or +10 magnification. Focus from 2 to 13 inches.

8. Wide Angle/Telephoto Kit

Two converter lenses—a 0.6x Wide Angle and a 1.6x Telephoto—expand the creative possibilities of the Lensbaby’s standard 50mm focal length to 30mm (wide) or 80mm (tele).

Super Wide Angle (not shown)

Want to go even wider? This 0.42x converter lens gives you a 21mm equivalent.

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