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Beginning photography with the Lensbaby system

Lensbaby Composer

I am often asked “What new lens should I buy?” and more often than not I recommend a nifty fifty, an f/1.8 or better. There is another I forget about, a fun and creative lens system that changes the way you see. I am speaking of the Lensbaby system, for beginners I highly recommend the Composer Pro with the Sweet 35 Optic and if the R4200 price is a bit steep, the Composer with the Double Glass Optic is cheaper at about R2300 but a bit harder to use with it’s aperture disks.

Lensbaby Fisheye Optic (f/4)
Lensbaby Fisheye Optic (Canon EOS 5D Mark III)

Why would I recommend a lens system that I dubbed “the purposeful degradation of photographs system”? Simply put it is 100% manual and fits all major camera manufacturers and there is more than one optic – “lens“ – that will fit the “housing”, it is also light and versatile from 12mm Fisheye to 80mm the is something for everyone. Additionally, the Double Glass optic is capable of f/2 and is as sharp as any entry-level 50mm lens when not bent – in fact I find it puzzling that Lensbaby does not supply the Scout with a Double Glass or a Sweet 35 as an option rather than the Composer or Composer Pro which would make it ideal for beginners.

Peaches – Double Glass Optic
Peaches – Lensbaby Double Glass Optic (Canon EOS 7D)

The advantage of the Lensbaby is that it forces you to think about the choices you make and shows you through the lens the outcome of your choices. The aperture disk system will show you the depth of field immediately through the viewfinder showing you exactly how aperture works. Through time, the appropriate speed for the given light and aperture will come to you without thought making you a better photographer. It also creates an environment where experimentation is not an option but rather essential.

Nuts – Single Glass Optics
Nuts – Lensbaby Single Glass Optics (Canon EOS 7D)

What the basic Lensbaby kit does is improve vision through mistakes and the same mistakes will improve your photographic vision through a fun process. I certainly found it beneficial to my photography as I learned how a lens works from the inside out.

Lensbaby Sweet 35 with 8 & 16mm Macro Convertor
Lensbaby Sweet 35 with 8 & 16mm Macro Convertor (Canon EOS 5D Mark III)

The system also has a few other tricks up it sleeves, there is a very efficient macro convertor kit, these are basically extension tubes, once you have the basic kit and extra R700 and the macro world is yours.

One of my favorite is the Sweet 35 Optic simply because there is not need for those pesky aperture disks and the effects are great.

Lensbaby Soft Focus Optic
Lensbaby Soft Focus (Canon EOS 5D Mark III)

The possibilities are endless and the system is growing every year, the Edge 80 being one of the more recent additions allows for pronounced tilt-shift effects and has a macro mode to boot.

The Lensbaby system is a good addition to any photographer’s bag.

Recommended prices (South Africa):

More of my Lensbaby photos here

Lensbaby on television and in the cinema here.
Lensbaby Edge 80 Optic & Macro Converters where kindly supplied by MPhoto.

Sony invests in mirrorless cameras with new lenses

SONY Aplpha NEX-5
SONY Aplpha NEX-5

On the back of my article entitled “My switch from a bulky dSLR to a sleek mirrorless camera”, one of the major complaints I heard with the mirrorless cameras is the lack of lenses and options around them.

Sony has made some effort in this department over the past few years, making the NEX series more desirable.

There are no less than 11 prime and zoom e-mount lenses, two lens convertors and two extenders available from Sony.

I expect the E-mount lens availability to increase from third party manufacturer as well.

Currently on sale in South Africa are 5 NEX cameras, the Sony NEX -F3/3N/5R/6/7, ranging from R 5500 – R 15000 with a kit lens either 16-50mm or the older 18-55.

These prices are well within the entry to enthusiast DSLR from other manufacturers.

As for specifications there is enough to cover most photographers needs from 16.1 to 24 mega-pixels and ISO100 to up to 25600 depending on model. Add to the mix a variety of features that are usually only available in either point-and-shots or DSLRs but rarely both.

As for the lens choice, this has also grown over the past few years to include a range that now covers from 10 to 210mm or a 35mm focal length equivalent (APS-C) of 15 to 315mm in zooms and starting from f/1.8 aperture in the prime lens range. Also available are a variety of 3rd party lenses from manufactures such as Zeiss, Sigma, Tamron and Rokinon.

Not to mention a various range for adaptors for Sony/Minolta, Canon, Nikon, Voigtlander and many other mounts making the NEX’s echo system more viable every day. Metabone for example is adding value with their adaptor that can add a stop to Canon lenses, even Lensbaby with the Tilt Transformer has something.

Another manufacturer that has seen the rise of mirrorless is ThinkTank Photo with their new range of bags, the Mirrorless Mover series.

The Sony Alpha NEX-5 and NEX-7 impressed me in the past, the additions of higher ISO capabilities on both the NEX-5R and NEX-6 up to 25600 and built in Wi-Fi, entry to mid range DSLRs may just make far less sense than a couple of years ago, given the size and weight convenience of mirrorless as well as a very reasonable 1.5 crop factor allowing for better depth-of-field and creative freedom.

The NEX-5R also adds a useful touch screen; something I thought would have been a gimmick – but this is a discussion for another day.

The next evolution for the NEX would be a full-frame sensor – and it’s not as far-fetched as you may think.

Here are some of the lenses on this platform:
– Sony 10-18 mm f/4 ZOOM
– Sony 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 ZOOM
– Sony 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 ZOOM
– Sony 18-200mm Powerzoom f/3.5-6.3 ZOOM
– Sony 55-210mm f/ 4.5-6.3 ZOOM
– Sony 16mm f/2.8 Prime
– Sony 20mm f/2.8 Prime
– Sony 35mm f/1.8 Prime
– Sony 30mm f/3.5 Macro Prime
– Sony 50mm f/1.8 Prime
– Sony Carl Zeiss 24mm f/1.8 prime
– CARL ZEISS Touit 12mm f/2.8
– CARL ZEISS Touit 32mm f/1.8

Sony is fast becoming a strong contender in the still camera space with the NEX mirrorless, in fact I see it compete with the bulkier DSLR format too for good reasons.

Originally published at on 6 of June 2012.