Saturday, November 26, 2011

Me and My (Lens)Baby—Maybe

Since I took up photography, it has become a tradition in our family for me to choose a combo birthday, anniversary, Christmas gift near the end of the year. Moreover, I always manage somehow to get the present well before December 25th. This year the package came before Thanksgiving Day.

I finally took the plunge and asked for a LensBaby—Composer Pro w/Sweet 35, to be precise. I have had it for a couple days and I am as intrigued as I am frustrated by the lens. My struggles have me wondering if I am cut out to use this gear. I admitted long ago that my eyes aren't great—and there is even more than age at issue here. Nearsightedness. Astigmatism. Then, add the age on, for good measure. It's a challenge. Since I have had time for only a couple of brief sessions, I am withholding judgement; but, I am obviously not a natural with this. So far, this is as close as I have come to getting anything that I am willing to publish here.

I love the look and want this to work, but the manual focusing and that seemingly infinitesimal sweet spot is elusive so far.

Obviously, I have to set aside some time to give this a fair shot. I want to feel confident in my decision before I commit to keeping the lens or returning it. Defeat certainly wouldn't taste good. However, neither would stubborn denial.

(Click on the image for the larger version)

Update three sessions later: Since I like this photo better than the one above, I am feeling a bit more optimistic. Limited as I am by my eyes, this could never be my #1 lens. Still I am leaning more to staying with this. Maybe I will eventually get the hang of it.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


  1. I really like the soft almost dream like quality if imparts to the roses.

  2. Steve—Thanks for the encouragement. Finally, I am more inclined to think that I will discover the right way for me to use this lens. Like you, I am drawn to the dreamlike quality it offers. That look really appeals to me—after all, my world is often out of focus! ;-) When this next art show is done, I can spend some time with the lens.

  3. It's probably going to require some perseverance for you to feel comfortable with the lens, to be able to use it without having to think "now how do I use it" and to realise what subject matter both you and it together feel most comfortable with. You have done such a good job at mastering your textured images (if that's the right term) and they couldn't have been easy in the beginning. I'm sure that learning how use this lens won't be too much of a different process.

  4. First, I am in awe of your husband working out this combo gift idea. I'd appreciate any info he has on how he "sold you" on this gift, three occasions! :-)

    I've been tempted by the LensBaby's but have never taken the plunge. I do especially like the photo of Galen here. Maybe, you'll be the one to "push me" over the edge to try one.

  5. I can understand your frustration with the Lens Baby. I have seen some pretty bad photos taken with them but also some great ones too. Like anything else, it will take some practice and getting used to before you feel comfortable with it, but the results are worth the effort. I really like the photo of Galen, you nailed the sweet spot perfectly.

  6. Can you use your Lensbaby without the Sweet 35 optic? If so, do that for the first while so you can get used to the lens before adding in the optic adaptation. Once you are comfortable and happy with your results using the lens, you'll be that much more comfortable with the nuances of the optics.

    Or just keep practicing. The shot of Galen is good. I would probably like the roses too, but probably would have processed differently to get a more pronounced blur between the foreground rose and background ones.

    In any event, I hope you'll persevere. I have one camera that almost always has a Lensbaby on it.

  7. I have never tried any of the Lens Babies myself, but have always liked the result. It's probably quite a challenge for most who start out playing with them. I think you have managed well. I like both the close up of the roses and the portrait of the dog. Both uses the special quality of the Lens Baby to its best. And don't be discouraged by the struggle. It wouldn't be any fun if it was only a piece of cake to do. Now you have to put more of yourself into the process - which is only good.

  8. Colin—You are quite right , of course. I knew going into this that there was a rather distinct learning curve for this lens. I just have to continue plugging away at it. Thank you for your helpful comments.

  9. Earl—My husband got a terrific kick out of your comment. The secret to this arrangement is that I became so obsessive about photography I couldn't think about many things other women might considerate appropriate gifts for those occasions. Each year, I always seem to want another lens, or camera, or computer. After stating that as my choice, I haven't the nerve to ask for anything else!

    No, the truth is that he has magical powers. He said he would loan you his book of recipes, but he too often has to refer to the text himself. The volume never leaves his side.

    In case you do take the plunge, I can vouch for the fact that there is a wealth of information on the web that is making a big difference for me. I would be delighted to know someone else embarking on the journey.

  10. Ken—Without the advantages of digital and that simple delete button, I probably would have given up on about day three. Finally, I am learning to find that sweet spot thanks to some tips I have discovered.

    Thanks a million for the encouragement. It gives me a extra push.

  11. Roberta—“Can you use your Lensbaby without the Sweet 35 optic?” I haven,t yet learned the answer to that. It and never occurred to me. Thanks for the question.

    I appreciate all your input, not only about these early efforts, but especially mentioning that you usually have a camera with a Lensbaby mounted. Yesterday I was ill and spent what energy I had experimenting. I am very much encouraged, finally.

    Which optic do you favor? The double glass sounds appealing, but I was persuaded to go with the newer optic because I don't have to fumble with the aperture rings.

  12. Munchow—Thank you for adding your thoughts. You are right. It will mean even more because I will have struggled past the obstacle and not ducked a challenge. There is a great deal to learn about this system and I do love learning. I think that this lens will ultimately fit nicely into my way of presenting what I see.

  13. Anita,

    I've been using a Lensbaby 2.0 off and on for a few years now and sometimes I love it, sometimes, not so much. As a matter of fact, my next post (later this week...I just posted tonight) is going to feature a lensbaby shot.

    Maybe you need to shoot with a smaller aperture, say f/8 or so. That gives you a larger sweet spot than a larger aperture. At any rate, I wouldn't give up on it yet. They can be a lot of fun if you know the limitations you're dealing with.

    Good luck!

  14. John—Thanks for the valicdation. I just learned about the advantages of the larger sweet spot on Sunday and now I have your experience to vouch for the accuracy of that theory. In my few experiments, I certainly found that to be an improvement. It also is interesting to hear that sometimes you love and sometimes you don't. Are you using the double glass optic? I am determined now to find the best use for this lens in my tool box.

  15. Your "experimentation" stage with the LensBaby has produced some nice results! I had a hard time for many days after getting mine, trying to figure out how to really use it properly. Steep learning curve it was! Once I did get the hang of it, I did have a lot of fun. I tend to not use it much now, and prefer the shallow focus and the creamy bokeh of the Nikkor 50/1.2 manual focus that I've had for the past 12 years or more. The fiddly "focus/shift/tilt" of the Original LensBaby is still pretty hard to use [for me]!

  16. Anil—If I had tried with one of the earlier lens, I suspect I would have thrown up my hands in surrender almost immediately. This new one seems as though it should be easier and it is still a challenge for me.

    Thanks for letting me know that you didn't breeze through that learning curve. Misery does love company. I can vouch for the fact that you make beautiful photographs with the 50/1.2 and don't imagine the LensBaby becoming my no. 1 lens either. In spite of my frustrations, I already have a sense of how much fun it
    will be. Thanks for your comment.

  17. Anita,

    Yes - it's the double-glass optic. I've been thinking about upgrading to the new system and using the Sweet 35 but I'm just not sure I love it enough to spend any more on the system. Instead, I keep eyeing the true tilt-shift lenses from Nikon, which are, for the next year or so, completely out of reach for me. (Maybe as a rental...).

  18. John—I was torn when I placed my order. Ultimately, my hesitation about dealing with the aperature rings tipped the scales. Personally, I think the Sweet 35 is a good way to begin.

    For your style, I think you are wise to save pennies for that tilt-shift lens. The rental tryout period sounds ideal. Of course, then, you might feel compelled to buy the lens. Proceed with caution.

  19. It's a tricky lens, and you definitely benefit from a large and bright viewfinder as I'm spoiled with.

    I believe you got good advise here, to go with f/8 until you get a grip.

    If you dont get that grip, get the soft focus optic. With that, it really doesn't matter if you nail the focus. :-)

    (Regarding Robertas comment, I would believe you have the best chances getting the focus right with the sweet 35, compared to the double glass and the other optics that are available (since these are 50 mm and have a shorter dof).

  20. Ove—Thank you for some interesting observations and welcome validation. It is good to know that the 35 was likely the better choice for me. I have found the sweet spot at f/5.6 a number of times and may end up mostly there. But, in a pinch, I probably would opt for the safer bet of f/8.

    How did you know that I had already found myself wondering about the soft focus optic? We shall see.

  21. I need to add your email address to my address. I went to email a reply but don't have your address. Oh well...

    When you got your lens did you get some extra bits with it? Like the aperture disks you would use without the optic kit? And did you get a little plastic do-dad that holds the little optic? It would be 2" across with a black base - on the bottom of which says "optic swap tool"?

    If so you can take out the optic lens and use the Composer as usual. I'd suggest starting with a f5.whatever or f8.0 disk to start with.

    I haven't really tried all the different optics. I have two lenses. One is just the regular Composer. The other is the Composer with the pinhole optic. I bought two because I use them that much and it was such a hassle to swap optics in the field.

  22. Roberta—I will send you my email address right away.

    Meanwhile, about my optic: The Sweet 35 has an aperture adjustment ring built in, so I don't have the aperture rings. My system consists of only two pieces: the Composer Pro and the Sweet 35 optic. And, you are so right about the best starting point. In the very beginning, I was struggling with 2.8 and even 2.5. Not a good plan.

    I am quite encouraged to know that you use the LenBaby frequently. I have a feeling that, eventually, it will suit me well.

  23. Just be thankful that you don't have the original version that you had to bend and stretch with one hand all the while trying to get the super elusive sweet spot. :) It takes lots of practice and patience. Hang in there; I'm sure that you'll make that baby sing ... eventually. LOL

  24. Paul—I knew, way back then, that there was no way I would tackle that early version. Gives me a headache just to think about it. Notice that I waited until they got both the lens and the optic simplified for the...well, dummy crowd. I probably stand a chance now.

  25. I have had several versions of the Lensbaby and think you bought in at the right moment in the evolution. I still have a hard time figuring out which subjects work best with it. I think it takes more practice than I have put into it.

  26. Mark—I am fairly certain that had I gotten in earlier I would have become completely discouraged. For example, it is a tremendous advantage to be able to change aperture in a split second. No tools, no fumbles with rings.

    I know that I am not a fast study and I suspect that this is not an easy lens for most people to feel completely at home with. It is a strange combo—me and this lens. Can't say exactly why I thought I should dive in, but now I am committed.
    I certainly don't have a handle on what type of subjects I will use it for and I know I will have to dig in and practice after this show.

    Thank you for your comment. I hope to get out and catch up next week.


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