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Bob Martin takes a look at the Lensbaby Composer and optic kit for making your pictures a little more interesting.
Lensbaby Composer: Features
The original Lensbaby caused quite a stir when it was released six years ago now and the continued development hasn’t stopped the hype either. The line-up has been renamed and revamped to appear much cooler to a wider audience than just old photo geeks and the Composer has been added to the line-up as well. With a price tag of under £200 it offers plenty of creative options without leaving a huge hole in your bank balance.
The Composer is unlike the other two Lensbaby products, which both rely on bellows-based technology, and utilizes the familiar ball and socket idea in a new and novel way. It allows you to be more precise than the ‘Muse’ and faster than the ‘Control Freak’ giving the photographer best of both worlds. A focus ring has also be added, making the whole process of focus much more precise and a great deal easier at the same time.
Lensbaby Composer: Handling
The Composer is designed around a ball and socket joint and has a decent level of resistance which allows you to quickly set the angle you want and it will stay there without you having to either hold it (Lensbaby Muse) or fix all the locks in place (Lensbaby Control Freak). Rather than feature a traditional aperture like normal lenses, the Composer uses a selection of aperture inserts, like the archaic Waterhouse stops.
It's incredibly fiddly to change the aperture but it also means that you have to do everything manually with the Composer. No autofocus, no program mode, although you can use shutter speed priority to good effect in most circumstances. The good news is that once you done a bit of experimenting you are likely to find an aperture that suits your style and end up just changing your shutter speed and sensitivity to achieve the correct exposure. You will really need a viewfinder magnifier to help you achieve focus although you may find that the magnifier in live view comes in handy too.
Lensbaby Composer: Performance
Double Glass Optic (supplied)
As you would expect from the accessory that comes supplied with the Composer, it’s the best all-rounder of the line-up and fits a wider range of subjects than any of the others. It produces cleaner and sharper images than the single glass optic, which is ideal if you still like to retain a high degree of clarity in the sweet spot with only a minimum of distortion to the rest of the frame. As you add smaller apertures, the overall sharpness goes up and the distortion goes down so you need to find the right balance for your style. The optic is rated at f/2 as standard so you need to be incredibly precise with your focusing unless you want to stop down.
Double optic glass
Lensbaby Composer soft focus.
Soft focus £71.99
As soon as someone says soft focus, most photographers will probably be reminded of the 1980’s all over again but there are actually some great results to be had using this underrated effect. To get the best results you need a fair amount of contrast in your scene as it’s your highlights that really zing up to great effect is perfect for shooting moody ruins and for making the best of an otherwise messy scene. You can alter the amount of softness by using the smaller apertures discs which are designed specifically for this lens.
Single Glass Optic £27.99
The single glass optic produces a similar result to that from the original lens baby with a more antique quality and with more diffusion than the double glass optic supplied with the Composer. This is the effect that made the Lensbaby name famous among photographers.
You can move the sweet spot around the frame but the adavantage of using it with the Composer is that you can hold the sweet spot and focus properly compared to the original Lensbaby or renamed Muse.
The Muse could save you a fair deal of money but the ball and socket action of the Composer make it more practical and easy to work with so the extra cash is worth it in the long run.
Plastic lens £27.99
If you like the results produced by Holga or Lomo cameras then you will immediately be smitten by the Plastic lens and the soft results laden with chromatic aberration it produces. The images are no too dissimilar from the Soft Focus lens but the overall quality is reduced to give you that authentic toy camera feel.
It’s perfect for giving scenes that could otherwise be described as boring, an ethereal quality which make the viewer sit up and take notice. The pictures seem to work best when you use unorthodox composition. As with some of the other Lensbaby attachments, you really need a decent level of contrast in the light to shoot to bring out the best of the optic.
Lensbaby Composer plastic optic.
Pinhole/Zone Plate £27.99
Lensbaby Composer pinhole
While the Zone Plate is rated at f/19 it’s still too small to really be able to see anything through the viewfinder, although if you use live view and increase the brightness to maximum you can get a noisy image on the screen for a preview. As the overall sharpness is low you’ll get the best results from scenes with high contrast and perhaps even backlighting too.
The biggest and most expensive attachment for the system, the Fisheye offers a 12mm focal length and a 160 degree field of view. This gives you a circular image in your frame so you will be best off using the Composer dead centre without any tilting. As with any fisheye, you get the most distortion when you get right up to your subject and with the minimum focus distance of 1.27cm you really can get up close and personal.
In order to change the aperture, you need to unscrew the optic out of its housing and drop the special fisheye aperture discs into holder and then screw the optic back in. As the field of view is so wide the front element is exposed and susceptible to fingerprints, dust and possibly scratching too so you will need to find a decent cover for it to help prevent this. Assuming you already have the Composer, this lens offers a cheap alternative to buying a regular fisheye lens and can save you plenty of money.
Using the fisheye on a person.
Using the fisheye on a building.
Lensbaby Composer: Verdict
The Composer itself offers exceptional value for money but once you start to factor in adding the additional lenses, then the price mounts substantially, especially as many of the attachments are best used straight-on with no tilting.
It’s one of the most fiddly accessories you can possibly imagine and having to change anything in the field is next to impossible unless you have a suitable work surface or at least two pairs of hands. However, once you get the right lens and aperture, manage to focus manually and set a manual exposure, you can get some incredible results that make all the work seem worthwhile.
Lensbaby Composer: Pros
Produces excellent results without wasting hours in Photoshop
There is a wide range of accessories available to expand your photography.
Just investing in the fisheye optic will save you hundreds of pounds over buying a standard fishye lens.
Lensbaby Composer: Cons
Manual focus, manual exposure and fiddly aperture changes could put some users off.
Changing optics is incredibly difficult unless you have more hands or a suitable work surface.
The Lensbaby Composer range is available from Warehouse Express here:
Lensbaby Composer - Canon
Lensbaby Composer - Nikon
Lensbaby Composer - Sony/Minolta
Lensbaby Composer - Pentax/Samsung
Lensbaby Composer - Four Thirds fit
Lensbaby Double Glass Optic
Lensbaby Single Glass Optic
Lensbaby Plastic Optic
Lensbaby Pinhole/Zone Plate
Lensbaby Fisheye Optic