I returned the Lensbaby today and as promised here is a review of my experience with it. I rented the lens, a Lensbaby Composer Pro with the Sweet 35mm optic, from LensRentals.com. This is not going to be a review of LensRentals but I want to make clear that my comments are not influenced by either Lensbaby or Lens Rentals. Neither knew I planned to write a blog post about it nor was I given any consideration by either. I used the lens on my Canon 7D. I have already posted a couple of images in the prior two posts.
The Lensbaby is a fully manual lens. It is unique in that it has a ball mechanism between the body mount and the optic allowing you to tilt it up, down or at any angle. It focuses sharply in the center but blurs progressively away from the "sweet spot". As you stop down the blurring effect is decreased. The only auto feature on your camera that will work with it is the TTL light meter. You have to focus manually and adjust the aperture manually.When you change the f/stop you may have to change the shutter speed manually to get correct exposure. Using it in Av (aperture value) mode I found that the camera usually, but not always, compensated correctly for f/stop changes. You also have to position of the "sweet Spot" manually, the area of sharp focus. That's where I ran into problems. I could see that there was a sharper area when looking through the view finder but I found it difficult to position it precisely where I wanted because the blurring around the sweet spot did not appear (to me) as pronounced in the viewfinder as it did in the final image. Unfortunately the focus indicators on the 7D did not flash when focus was achieved. That would have helped both with getting correct focus and in determining exactly where the center of the sweet spot was. Sometimes I nailed it but others I missed as in the case of the image below of Robert who works in the local Arts Council gallery.
I wanted the center of the sweet spot in the area of his right eye and nose but instead it is centered on his right temple. I did better with Suzy (below)...
and even got good focus on her eyes. I shot several of Beka (the Arts Council director, below) but had trouble getting good focus on her eyes. They look pretty good in this small image but if you look at the full sized file her eyes aren't as sharp as I'd like.The plane of focus is about a half inch to an inch back of where it should have been and like in the photo of Robert the sweet spot is centered too far to the left (her right).
I'm sure the problems are mine not the lens. For starters my eyes aren't what they once were (oh, to be 20 again). I have floaters and other minor impairments which aren't a serious visual problem but may be contributing to my difficulty getting precise manual focus. At least that's my excuse. Where the sweet spot is properly placed and focused the lens is very sharp in that central area. I just had difficulty controlling it. Probably with practice I could improve my 'good' frames ratio but in the short time I had the lens I probably got less than 1 in 5 frames on average where it was in focus on the spot I wanted. Stopping down improved the focus (blurred areas were blurred less and the sweet spot was relatively larger) but it was also harder to place because it was less distinct.
I shot a few macros in the studio and noticed an interesting phenomenon in the highlights, a haloing effect on the pin heads as the image became more blurred at the edges. It only happened on this shot of a novelty pin sculpture thing.
So does the 'thumbs up' mean I'm going to rush out and buy a Lensbaby? No. It's an interesting lens and I might buy (or rent again) one at some point in the future but it doesn't fit well into my usual landscape photography. I could use one for flower photos (see the 2 prior posts). I shoot quite a lot of those. It is interesting for portraits which I plan to start doing more but there are other lenses I'd like more so acquiring one of these will be somewhere down the list. If you are younger than I with excellent vision and you like the effect this can be a really fun lens though. It does get a thumbs up from me but with the caution that if you aren't practiced shooting in manual mode with manual focus or your vision makes manual focus a problem, you will have a learning curve with this lens. Even if you are the tilt feature will take some getting used to.
Please to not repost these photos or any portion of this review without my permission.