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Quick look: Lensbaby Composer and Optic Swap

updated 04:55 pm EDT, Fri April 10, 2009

Lensbaby Composer Look

Lensbaby, makers of unusual optics add-ons for DSLRs, continues to evolve the product, as seen with the recently introduced Composer. We've taken a quick look at the system to see how it works as well as to provide some anecdotes from our experience using it in practice. We've also taken a look at the Optic Swap System that lets you tailor the visual effects of the Composer.

A descendant of the original Lensbaby, now renamed "the Muse," the Composer is a ball and socket-based optic that allows for more precise control. The result is repeatability between shots. After the photographer has focused in the neutral position, they can then move the focal point, or "sweet spot" anywhere within the frame that they wish, with a corresponding fall-off of focus everywhere around that point. After correct focus has been achieved, a locking ring can be engaged to keep things sharp.

The Composer is a native 50mm focal length, which, when mounted on a typical APS-sized DSLR such as a Nikon D90 with 1.5X focal factor, results in a 75mm "perfect portrait" lens. Typically used by wedding and portrait shooters, the Lensbaby lends a new way of seeing to just about any other type of photography that exists. Constructed of polycarbonate with a metal lens mount, the Composer is set off with a nice aluminum-look front ring with rubber focusing grip. It features a unique focusing ring that, like a speed-sensitive steering wheel in a sports car, becomes more sensitive as it reaches infinity on the end of the focusing scale. A problem exists when using it on the aforementioned D90: Since the aperture index ring is no longer used on certain Nikon models such as this one, exposure is only able to be controlled in manual mode. At that, it becomes a trial and error proposition where correct exposure can be determined by consulting the LCD screen at the back of the camera. Switch to using the Lensbaby on the D300, D700, D3X and D3, as well as the other pro-cameras in Nikon's stable, and exposure can be accessed by manual, shutter- and aperture-priority modes.

Included with the Composer is a microfiber lens pouch that doubles as a lens cleaning material. Also along for the ride is a set of interchangeable levitating aperture disks, a disc case and a magnetic tool to replace the discs in front of the lens. The discs allow for varying degrees of depth of field.

Optic Swap System

The Lensbaby Optic Kit features three of the most desired special effect lenses to be used with the Lensbaby Composer lens. The kit includes the Plastic, Single Glass, and Pinhole or Zone Plate optics, which interchange with the optic that ships with the Composer lens. The result with the Plastic lens is similar to that found with the classic Holga "hobby" camera. A soft-focus optic, its style is a favorite among art photographers for the dream-like images it produces.

The Single Lens member of the Optic Swap System mimics the effects of an antique or vintage camera lens before high-tech multi-coatings were de rigueur in lens construction. The result is a little less flare control and a lot more charm.

The Pinhole/Zone Plate optic imitates the effect of the old oatmeal pinhole cameras that gave uniform softness across the image. The lens can be switched between the pinhole aperture of f:177 or the f:19 aperture of the Zone Plate effect by using the aperture tool supplied with the Composer to toggle back and forth. A long exposure will be a result of the tiny aperture of the pinhole setting, so don't forget your tripod.

Lensbaby sells the Composer for $270 and offers it in versions Canon EF and Nikon F mounts as well as certain Olympus/Panasonic and Pentax/Samsung mounts. The individual lenses for the Optic Swap System cost $35 each or in a three-lens bundle for $95.

Photo samples

by MacNN Staff



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