It's the poor quality of the lensbaby that make it so irresistible, finds Jamie Harrison

lensbabyPrice: £70

*Type:Interchangeable SLR lens
*Focal length:Approx 50mm
*Focus:Very manual
*Mounts:Canon, Nikon, Olympus, Minolta, Pentax

Normally when judging a modern lens, we expect to see a high resolution model with a fast AF and wide maximum aperture offering the pinnacle of optical excellence. The lensbaby has none of this. Well okay it has an f/2.8 maximum aperture. But the AF system is rubbish, the lens mediocre with not an aspherical element or Extra Low Dispersion glass in sight. What?s more, it?s hard to get a sharp image from a Lensbaby and easy to get weird blurring and streaks. Which is why it?s so cool. This is the opposite of high tech; the Lensbaby is essentially an element in a springy barrel, the idea of which is to allow you to focus on a specifi c area of a picture and blur the rest to achieve a cross between a Monet and a view camera?s tilt and shift effect. When I speak of auto focus, there isn?t really any. Focus is done by squeezing the barrel with your forefingers towards the camera body until the subject is in focus. Conversely for close up, you need to extend the barrel. Once you have found focus, the lens can be squashed around, pushed to left, run off the sensors parallel axis and generally move the main focus point around the frame, while causing all sorts of blurs and
streaks around the picture. It?s a fascinating and endlessly unusual effect that probably can?t be achieved easily in Photoshop but can add drama or romance or just plain weirdness to your photography. In fact, in America, the Lensbaby has
become popular with portrait, wedding and landscape photographers. I?m told there?s even a sports photographer who uses one to shoot basketball games. To help in matching the 50mm lens to different applications, there is a variety of wide angle and telephoto add-on lenses available from the website. The lens isn?t strictly a digital lens, it suits fifi lm use too; but digital is a preferable alternative. The camera needs to be set to either manual or shutter priority as the lens has no aperture ring or electronic connections. Apertures come in the form of small leather washers which are manually removed and replaced on to the front element with a plastic scooper. A tight rubber washer then holds them in place. Apertures range from to f/2.8 to f/8, in full stop increments. Because the element is so basic, the lens is less able to record a full tonal range. Consequently the histograms tend to bunch up around the shadow and mid tones. Some adjustments can be made using bracketing or exposure compensation, but I found it easier to shoot 16-bit Raw files and make adjustments in the Adobe Raw Converter.

Technical image ?quality? is rubbish, but the effects that can be achieved (as well as the fun to be had) means the aesthetic quality of the images is fantastic. Rejuvenate your creativity and your photography and buy a Lensbaby now.


PROS:Fun, inexpensive, different
CONS:Poor quality optics, images need a bit of work, takes practice to use

Features 16
Performance 19
Image quality 15
Design 18
Value 20