The New Lensbaby Composer

Lensbaby is an innovative camera lens that allows you to tilt the plane of focus and create interesting blur effects. The composer is the latest version and works well with both digital and film cameras.
The Lensbaby has gone through several iterations. The Composer is the latest.

Lensbaby use and the resulting images are a matter of personal taste. People tend to either love them or hate them. I think it mainly comes down to people’s reaction to blur. Some people, my wife included, become nauseous with too much blur in images (or movies, she can’t cope with rapid camera moves and handheld shots). Others just don’t like blurring in images, preferring everything to be nice and sharp. For still others of us, blur is yet another tool to use in crafting an image into what we want. Indeed there are photographers who so love blur that everything they take is blurred. All the above positions are, of course, valid.

For those of us who like blur, or who would like to at least explore its potential, the Lensbaby has been one possible choice since 2004. The original Lensbaby (and the follow on 2.0 and 3G) used a flexible, plastic tube to provide two functions, focus (by pulling and pushing the lens) and tilting (by pushing it sideways, or using the screws on the 3G). These manipulations allow you to move the central sweet spot around the image and the changeable aperture inserts allowed you to change the size of that sweet spot (as well as the depth of field). This arrangement provides huge flexibility and excellent close focusing capability, but can be awkward for some people. It also allows a double tilt, giving more control over where the sweet spot is placed.

Lensbaby Composer

Lensbaby Composer

The new Composer breaks with the flexible tube approach and instead uses a ball joint to tilt the lens and a normal focus ring to move the lens back and forward to achieve focus. This is a much easier arrangement to use, though there is a price. The price you pay is a drop in close focusing ability and you lose the double tilt capability. There is a locking ring which can vary the resistance of the tilting mechanism.

Lensbaby Composer

Lensbaby Composer

The Composer also gets the new Optic Swap System that allows you to change optics between a plastic lens, single element glass lens, double element glass lens and a pinhole/zone plate ‘lens’. These have very different sizes and sharpness of sweet spot, allowing you great flexibility, if you get the complete optics kit, to chose the look you get. All three real lenses, apart from the pinhole/zone plate lens, will take the aperture disks for exposure, depth of field and sweet spot control. For those who still want the flexible tube approach but with the interchangeable optical system, Lensbaby make The Muse and The Control Freak.
Optic Swap System lenses are color coded:

Plastic Lens Blue
Single Element Glass Lens Yellow
Double Element Glass Lens Green
Pinhole/Zone Lens Pink

In two separate articles I include examples of all the optics, at each available aperture, in both normal visible light and in infrared. You can access these and other content from the Lensbaby page.

Changing lenses requires using some lugs in the top of the case that holds each lens to fit into matching holes on the Lensbaby and then a twist to unlock the lens. You can then remove it and then swap in a new lens. You then need to use the case top again lock the new lens in place.

Lensbaby Composer

Lensbaby Composer

Lensbaby Composer

Changing aperture is also a bit fiddly compared to normal lenses. You must use a magnetic device to snag and remove the aperture. A new aperture can then be inserted. It is held in place magnetically. Apertures go from about f2 with no aperture ring inserted, through f2.8 up to f22 in one stop increments. The real problem with this arrangement is that, unless you are disciplined, it will inhibit you from making many changes of aperture. This is a big shame, not only because of the importance to exposure, but also because it makes a huge difference to the size and quality of the sweetspot. The present system works, but it is not ideal. I’d like to see if Lensbaby could work a proper iris aperture into a future development. It should be possible and I can think of several ways to do this that would also make optic swapping even easier.

Lensbaby Composer

Lensbaby Composer

Lensbaby Composer

I found that, with the camera bodies I tested it on, the best exposures resulted from using Aperture Priority mode.

The Lensbaby Composer is a great development of the line, though it is not perfect. For many people it will be a much better alternative to the flexible tube models and they may not miss the reduced capability. You can still use extension tubes with the Composer to add the close focus ability back (though less flexibly). The Composer is much easier to use, and so may encourage more people to try the Lensbaby approach. You can also then add The Muse or The Control Freak to your kit later if you want to push it further.

A gallery with many more shots taken with the Composer is available to view. I’ll be adding to this gallery frequently.

There are also great resources and galleries of images on the Lensbaby website, www.lensbaby.com

There is also a video review, if you would prefer.

[pro-player width='400' height='400' type='FLV' image='http://www.dimagemaker.com/videos/vid-logo.jpg']http://www.dimagemaker.com/videos/lensbaby-composer.flv[/pro-player]

The Composer is available in the following mounts:

  • Canon EF
  • Nikon F
  • Sony Alpha/Minolta Maxxum
  • Pentax K, Samsung GX, Sigma SD
  • Olympus 4/3

The Composer
Priced at US$270
Ships with the Double Glass optic installed (a multi-coated optical glass doublet)
Features the Lensbaby Optic Swap system
Focal Length: 50mm
Focus Type: Manual
Features a unique barrel focusing ring that becomes more sensitive (requiring greater rotation to move the optic in and out) as you approach infinity, making it easier to focus on subjects from 10 feet to infinity.
Aperture Type: Interchangeable levitating aperture disks
Apertures: f/2, f/2.8, f/4
, f/5.6, f/8, f/11, f/16, f/22
Minimum Focus: about 18″ (46cm) / Maximum Focus: Infinity
Size/Weight: 2.5″ (6.35cm) high x 2.5″ (6.35cm)  wide  / 5.5 oz (155.9g)
The Single Glass, Plastic, and Pinhole/Zone plate optics will be sold individually as well as in an Optic Boxed Set to retail for $95.00.

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