A little about Lensbaby

When I get tired of taking the same photos over and over, I put a Lensbaby on the front of my camera. It’s the ultimate “fun” lens:

The baby has arrived!

The Baby has arrived!
Mountain View, California

Nikon D70, Lensbaby 2.0, Tokina .45x macro
1/50 sec @ f/2.0, iso 800, 50mm (75mm)

A lot of people stop and ask me what that funky thing is on my camera. Now that I have a Nikon D200, I let them have a go at it. They “get it” pretty quickly on the D200, though I wouldn’t risk it with a Nikon D70.

I love my baby!

[Find out more (with photos) after the jump.]

What is a Lensbaby?

A lensbaby is a “selective focus camera lens.” Basically Craig Strong took the cheapest camera optic you can make for an SLR camera—50mm, and removed the metering, distance, and even the built-in aperture control. $100 for two pieces of glass—what gives?

Where it shines is that “selective focus” part. Basically you squeeze the accordian tube to set the focus point at any single location you want in the frame at any distance you want. Showing someone the first time when it is on the camera usually takes about ten seconds. Explaining it is next to impossible.

The important artistic side-effect here is that because you’ve done an extreme and uncontrolled tilt-shift action on a tiny SLR frame, you end up with the rest of the frame thrown out of focus, and very wildly so.

Gibson baby

Gibson baby
Riverstone Townhomes, Mountain View, California

Nikon D70, Lensbaby 2.0
1/50 sec @ f/2, iso 800, 50mm (75mm)

As their motto says: “Focus is overrated.”

How I got a lensbaby

Ever wonder why traffic slows down to watch the aftermath of a car accident? So do I.

Now, if there was a photographer at the scene and he had his camera bag unpacked, Well I’d totally understand. I’m sure some of you know what I mean.

One day I was reading Thom Hogan’s infinitely interesting peek inside his current traveling kit and came across a strange reference: “9. Lens Baby, batteries”

“WTF is this Lens Baby?”

A couple net searches later, I came across the corporate website. Nice, but I’m not going to pull the trigger on that. Especially when it won’t meter with my Nikon D70.

The thing that sold me was stumbling upon Russ Morris’s lensbaby photos on Flickr. I don’t know how many Pentax dSLRs and Lensbabies these photos have sold, but you can chalk me up in the latter column.

Getting your first baby?

There are actually three model Lensbabies:

  1. The Original Lensbaby ($96). You change the aperture by dropping a interchangeable disk.
  2. Lensbaby 2.0 ($150): This is the one I have. It has better glass which allows it to go one stop brighter to f/2.0. With their .6x wide angle /macro adapter, this allows you to get a similar depth-of-field and frame to a 35mm film camera with the original. The design also uses magnets to hold the aperture discs in place; the original uses a rubber washer. I actually recommend the original because at f/2.0, the focus area in the Lensbaby is so tiny that it is very hard to control. I almost always have at least the f/2.8 disc in there unless lighting is a problem.
  3. Lensbaby 3G ($270): This was introduced at Photokina just a couple months ago. It adds some screws that allow you to lock the lensbaby into a position. There were more than a few times I could have used this. Regular shots on a tripod for still-lifes and macro photography, just to name two.

I should mention that because metering is handled in the lens for in the Nikon D40, D50, D70(s), D80, and D100, you have to “guess” the exposure in full manual mode. This isn’t true for the D200. Nor is it true if you own a Canon or Pentax dSLR. You lucky devils!

Then again sometimes the misexposure can be “creative”:

unknown tree flower

unknown tree flower
Mountain View, California

Nikon D70, Lensbaby 2.0, Tokina .45 macro
f/2 at 1/2500 second, iso 200, 50mm (75mm)

Am I committing Nikon sacrilege by saying “exposure is overrated?”

One last tip. Almost everything taken with the lensbaby will benefit by exaggerating the saturation and darkening the corners to get the classic “Lomography” look to your photo:

2006-07 OSCON  722Dr. Evil likes fish

Dr. Evil likes fish
Red Rooster, Portland, OR

Nikon D200, Lensbaby 2.0
1/20 sec @ f/2.8, iso 800, 50mm (75mm)

The second image has been “Lomo’d” in Photoshop.

As I like to joke when I bought my Lensbaby 2.0: “I just spent $150 to turn my $1800 camera into a $15 one.”

If you want to see some great photos taken with these $15 Lomo cameras, check out Maury McCown’s blog.

What sort of other tricks can you do?

Another thing I carry is a Tokina .45x wide angle adapter made for video cameras. You can unscrew half of it and use it as a macro adapter.

So you have two more lenses in a nice cheap package. A wide angle one:

Photographing the family near sunset, Pacific Beach pier

Photographing the family near sunset
Pacific Beach, San Diego, California

Nikon D70, Lensbaby 2.0, Tokina .45x
1/250 sec @ f/2.8, iso 200, 22mm (34mm)

and a macro lens:

yellow flower backlit

Yellow flower backlit
Point Lobos, California

Nikon D70, Lensbaby 2.0, Tokina .45x macro
1/800sec @ f/5.4, iso 200, 50mm (75mm)

Lensbaby makes their own adapters based on user feedback:

  • Lensbaby Wide Angle/Telephoto Kit ($89), A .6x wide angle conversion and 1.6x telephoto conversion lens. They were selling this at the time. I think event photographers might use these. Personally if I ever felt the need to go tele, I’d put my TC-20E II teleconverter: 100mm baby!
  • Lensbaby Macro Kit ($33): A +4 and +10 diopter that are stackable for macro photography. Don’t worry that that these things are not achromatic. That’s the great thing about having a lensbaby that focusing errors and abberations are a good thing. A great purchase!
  • Lensbaby 0.6x wide angle / Macro Conversion Lens ($59): Basically a replacement to the Tokina .45x that I use. The difference is, that the optics are adjusted so it doesn’t affect the size of focused area. As I notied above, with this adapter, your Lensbaby also more closely matches a “normal” 35mm lens. They still sell mine for $79 if you want that and warn you that the “sweet spot” is “severely diminished.”

Another baby

Lensbabies have achieved a cult status. So I amused the other day when I saw this photo on Flickr titled “The Real LensBaby 2.0”:

In case you don’t get it, the lens in the photo is the Nikon AF-S VR Nikkor 200mm f/2G IF-ED. It is the best indoor sport photography lens ever created (as well as having other uses). At a “street price” of $3700 you can understand why it is SirCharlie’s LensBaby 2.0. 😀

Who should get a lensbaby

Get a lensbaby if you don’t mind out taking 30 pictures for “that one” that turned out right.

Get a lensbaby if you’re a wedding photographer and have a second body to take those shots that your competitors don’t have. (It’s really good with black and white.)

Get a lensbaby to see the world differently. Get a lensbaby if you see the world differently and you know the “camera does lie.”

Get a lensbaby if you’re bored and have $100-$300 to burn. A lensbaby is like jello—there is always room in your kit for a lensbaby!

8 thoughts on “A little about Lensbaby

  1. @Sam: Thanks for the compliment. And thank you and your entire company for making such a fun lens with a cult following.

    I hope some people get one after reading this—but not that many more: I got to keep up my creds as an “artist” :-).

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