Book Review: Lensbaby: Bending Your Perspective

Lensbaby book cover for picture-soup.com book reviewCorey Hilz has written the definitive volume on Lensbabies, those selective focus lenses that often elicit curious wonder when seen for the first time—and have been known to reenergize their owners’ passion for photography. Lensbaby, Bending Your Perspective, published by Focal Press, an Imprint of Elsevier, ISBN: 978-0-240-81402-5, not only documents the swift growth of the line of lenses created by pro photographer Craig Strong—from the Original Lensbaby, to Lensbaby 2.0, Lensbaby 3G and Lensbaby Composer, Muse and Control Freak—but explains how each is used, with tips and techniques as well as a plethora of photography examples. In addition, the author also discusses use of the variety of accessories for the Lensbaby line. And, unlike a magazine article, which may explain how to use only one particular model, Hilz includes helpful information for each different Lensbaby. And, while the lensbaby.com website offers plenty of helpful tutorials and image galleries to view, I still love to read a book I can hold in my hand, (which is an added plus in this digital age).

Plenty of images are sprinkled throughout the book, from Hilz, a select group of Lensbaby gurus and photographers from the global Lensbaby community who submitted photos for possible inclusion in the book. Lensbaby incorporates both an instructional area and portfolios of work shot with various Lensbabies. And, one of the great things that Hilz has done, is mention which Lensbaby model and optic was used for each photograph, a great help for readers who might want to replicate an image they see in the book. Also nice to see is that the photographers included all work in different genres, so there’s a good variety of images, from weddings, portrait, fine-art, nature and commercial to view within the pages of the book.

For a photographer who has never used a Lensbaby, I think this book is an absolute must. It will give you the tips and tricks that are normally learned through trial and error—allowing you to quickly ramp up to mastering the nuances that come with working with Lensbaby lenses.

For someone like myself, who has used almost every Lensbaby that’s been introduced, the book offers inspiration. I also picked up a few new tricks from the pages of Lensbaby, Bending Your Perpective.

From subtle to strong effects, Hilz has included a little bit of everything there is to know about Lensbabies. Lensbaby, Bending Your Perspective is a great reference, one that I know I’ll turn to again and again. It’s definitely worth the $29.95 price tag.

For more information about the book, go to www.focalpress.com.

For more information about the author, go to www.coreyhilz.com.

For more information about Lensbabies, go to www.lensbaby.com.

— Diane Berkenfeld

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Lensbaby Unveils Lens Compatible with Micro Four Thirds Cameras

Lensbaby Tilt Transformer

By Diane Berkenfeld

Lensbaby today announced the newest addition to its product line-up, the Composer with Tilt Transformer available immediately for the Panasonic Lumix G Micro System and Olympus PEN digital cameras; and for Sony Alpha NEX cameras in Q4.

The Tilt Transformer will allow photographers to mount any Nikon mount lens onto their Micro Four Thirds or Sony NEX camera and tilt up to twice the amount of standard tilt-shift lenses, delivering photos that have a slice of focus through the image, bordered by a soft blur.

The Tilt Transformer also serves as the foundation for the Composer Focus Front. When used together, they become the Composer with Tilt Transformer, for use on Micro Four Thirds or Sony NEX cameras.

The Lensbaby Focus Front (top) combines with the Tilt Transformer (bottom) to form the Composer with Tilt Transformer.

This provides photographers using these cameras with access to the limitless creativity offered by the Lensbaby Optic Swap system.

The Tilt Transformer’s swivel ball is based on the design of the Lensbaby Composer DSLR camera lens. Tilting a Nikon mount lens on the Tilt Transformer will place the slice of focus in different orientations within the image. Vertical, horizontal, and diagonal slices are possible depending on the direction the lens is tilted. Objects in both the foreground and background can be in focus within that slice. For those photographers who have had experience with large format, tilt-shift lenses are similar to the tilt/shift possible when using a view camera.

For example, a photographer can focus on one person close up in the left portion of the frame while also focusing on someone standing much further away from the camera on the right side of the frame. The ability to focus on several items at once (while blurring out the rest of the image) when each item is placed at a different distance from the camera, is typically possible only with traditional tilt-shift lenses or view cameras. The size of the slice of focus is dependent upon the aperture used.

Because the Lensbaby Tilt Transformer lets you tilt the lens at more of an extreme angle, up to twice as far as a standard tilt-shift lens; which will produce a more extreme angled slice of focus than possible with standard tilt-shift lenses.

A built-in mechanism allows Nikon G lenses to function properly at all apertures. Nikon G lenses do not have an aperture ring on the lens itself. This mechanism allows the aperture to open and close by manually rotating the lens.

The Tilt Transformer with a Nikon lens on camera.

The Composer with Tilt Transformer is compatible with the Lensbaby Optic Swap System and ships with a Double Glass Optic installed. Additional optics can be swapped in and out, providing photographers with a range of creative effects including: Single Glass, Plastic, Pinhole/Zone Plate, and Soft Focus.

I asked Jessica Darrican, PR spokesperson for Lensbaby why the company chose to make the Tilt Transformer compatible with Nikon lenses, She explained that there were a number of reasons that made Nikon lenses ideal for use with the Tilt Transformer and these interchangeable lens digitals. In addition to Nikon’s lenses being known for their high quality, there are plenty of Nikon lenses in the Nikon F-mount available on the used equipment market. Also, the backfocus  distance of Nikon lenses is the longest of all the SLR systems, allowing the most amount of tilt in the Tilt Transformer.

For those Canon shooters wondering why Lensbaby isn’t offering a Canon compatible mount Tilt Transformer, one major reason is that Canon, uses an electronic aperture system, eliminating any possibility of controlling the aperture with the Lensbaby system, limiting photographers to only being able to shoot wide open with a Canon lens.

For more information, go to www.lensbaby.com.

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Lensbaby Shooters Get Appy

Creative Aperture Kit Contest Winners Announced

By Diane Berkenfeld

muse, composer, and control freak lensbaby models for picture-soup.com article

(l. to r.) Muse, Composer and Control Freak models of Lensbaby, selective focus lenses.

Lensbaby (www.lensbaby.com) recently posed a challenge to the photographic community— come up with a new shape for their Creative Aperture Kit. The grand prize winner’s image would be showcased on the packaging, while the winning aperture and those of the runners-up would be included in the new Creative Aperture Kit for photographers around the world to use.

For those who don’t know what a Lensbaby is, it’s a selective focus lens. The Lensbaby is the brainchild of pro photographer Craig Strong, who launched the creative effects SLR lens system in 2004. Many photographers credit the Lensbaby for bringing creativity back into their work, myself among them.

The grand prize winner is professional photographer Troy Eiffert. Four runners-up were chosen too; they are Ivan DeWolf, Jerrid Jones, Andrew Kua and Bjørn Rannestad.

Creative Aperture Disks

Lensbaby Creative Aperture Disks are blanks that users can cut custom shapes into, in order to add one-of-a-kind effects to their photos.

The shape of the cutout, like a regular lens aperture—allows specular highlights (in the shape of the aperture) to be seen, out of focus in a photograph. Bright points of light, like street lights or the sunlight on a lake, are examples of specular highlights

It is easy to cut your own shapes into the aperture disk material with an X-acto knife or craft store hole punch.

The Lensbaby Creative Aperture Kit 2 will feature nine disks in total, including the five winners’ designs and the following four which were designed by the Lensbaby staff: heart, star, bird, and sunburst.

The new kit are scheduled to be available by the holidays for $14.95 MSRP. The Lensbaby Creative Aperture Kit Blanks are available for $9.95 MSRP.

The aperture disks are compatible with the Muse, Composer, Control Freak, Lensbaby 2.0 and Lensbaby 3G lenses and with the Double Glass, Single Glass, Plastic and Soft Focus Optics.

And the Winners Are…

Each of the winners are excited that other photographers will soon be able to create their own photographs using apertures they created.

Troy Eiffert

troy eiffert slots winning lensbaby contest image for picture-soup.com article

Troy Eiffert's grand prize winning image which will be reproduced on the packaging for the Creative Aperture Kit, along with his "slots" aperture disk. Photograph © Troy Eiffert.

Troy and Heidi Eiffert (www.studioUphotography.com) are award winning professional photographers. Their Lensbabies of choice are the Original Lensbaby and the Lensbaby Composer. In addition to those lenses, the Eifferts also own the wide-angle and telephoto adapters, app kit and the optics kit.

“I created the slots aperture to achieve a vertical, horizontal or diagonal painterly effect depending on how it was placed in my Lensbaby Composer,” said Eiffert.  “This is by far my favorite and most versatile aperture I have cut from the blank disks.”

“We use it for our personal art and quite a bit at weddings and with seniors,” he says.

“We love learning and sharing, and have recently begun teaching,” he explains. The couple is AfterDark Education (afterdarkedu.com) mentors and will both receive their PP of A Craftsman degrees this year, to add to their Masters degrees from the association.

Jerrid Jones

Soft Focus with Step Up ND filter jerrid jones aperture and image for picture-soup.com article

Runner up Jerrid Jones' image along with his "diamond" aperture disk. Photograph © Jerrid Jones.

Jerrid Jones (http://web.me.com/jonesyjerrid and www.mudbrickmusicvideos.com/) is a semi-pro photographer; and audio/visual engineer. While he specializes in recording musicians he also creates music videos.

He currently owns the Lensbaby Muse and Composer models, and is looking forward to adding the Control Freak to his gearbox.

“I first was introduced to the Lensbaby about nine months ago, and I’m having a hard time taking it off my camera; in fact, the only time I take it off is when I’m switching from Composer to Muse and visa-versa,” says Jones.

“It’s been really exciting having my app chosen; I never thought out of all the photos submitted that I would have been in the top five,” he adds.

Andrew Kua

Runner up Andrew Kua's image and "swirly" aperture disk. Photograph © Andrew Kua.

Andrew Kua (www.ndroo.com) is a photography enthusiast who migrated from digital cameras to toy/plastic/analogue cameras. He first discovered the Original Lensbaby a few years back. “It was a result of my search for something more fun and versatile than the usual lenses in the market,” he says. As the Lensbaby line grew, Kua upgraded—to the Lensbaby 2.0 and then 3G. Now that he’s got the Composer and Muse, together with the optic kit, wide-angle lens and fisheye optic, he’s given the older models to friends.

“It has always been an obsession with things less perfect (in photography) and thus my love for toy/plastic/Lomo cams …  [which] led me to the idea of creating an aperture disc that is less than perfect. The rough curvy design was ‘born’ out of this idea,” Kua explains.

Kua hopes more folks will discover Lensbabies and stop trying to “Photoshop” the ‘effects.’ “Nothing can beat the real fun of using the lens itself,” he adds.

Ivan DeWolf

lensbaby winning image by ivan dewolf for picture-soup.com article

Runner up Ivan DeWolf's image and his "dripsplat" aperture disk. Photograph © Ivan DeWolf.

Ivan DeWolf (www.flickr.com/photos/7349106@N06/) purchased his first DSLR (Canon T2i) about a month ago and soon began researching lenses. He owns the Lensbaby Muse and the app kit.

He says, “I was impressed by what I saw of the Lensbaby, and decided I had to try it. The night I bought the lens, I cut two apertures and took the winning photograph.

“I think the thing I like about the lensbaby is it’s imperfections; you have to struggle with it to get a “normal” clean image. Most lenses are a struggle to get something a bit abstract, without resorting to Photoshop. And I really appreciate the tactile nature of the “Muse”, but I’ll probably get one of the other Lensbaby lenses for shooting video,” he says.

“There is a beauty to urban decay and grime, and I wanted an aperture that would imply this in a humorous way. I also really liked the idea of breaking down a photographic image into a literally painterly bokeh,” DeWolf explains.

I really look forward to seeing great images captured using my aperture, from photographers I’ve never met,” he adds.

Bjørn Rannestad

Runner up Bjørn Rannestad's image and "whirlpool" aperture disk. Photograph © Bjørn Rannestad.

Photographer Bjørn Rannestad (www.fotoaalborg.dk) considers himself more than an enthusiast but not a full-fledged pro. He first discovered Lensbabies with the Lensbaby 3G, then got the Lensbaby 2.0, Muse and Composer to his lens collection. He’s since sold the 3G.

Rannestad says he had a couple of ideas in mind for apertures: “I wanted to make an aperture which made a fuzzy bokeh, but didn’t draw too much attention to the design itself. I also wanted it to be independent of rotation of camera/aperture.” Rannestad is fascinated with astronomy and spiral galaxies, hence the name “whirlpool aperture.”

He says he’s addicted to the Lensbaby. “What I like the most about the Lensbaby is the feel of it. Can’t explain it, but shooting with the Lensbaby becomes a part of you. I like the muse and 2.0 the most. No other technique can compete.”

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Product Review: ExpoImaging's Ray Flash Ring Flash Adapter

By Diane Berkenfeld

The Ray Flash is an adapter that fits over the head of your DSLR’s accessory flash and turns your flash into a ring flash. The Ray Flash uses the power of your flash—redirected through the adapter’s body—onto your subject. The Ray Flash has a center diameter of 4 1/8-inches and can accommodate most professional 35mm interchangeable lenses.

A range of models are available so you’ll want to check the ExpoImaging website for your DSLR/flash combination to see which one will work for you. The reason behind this is that there are differences in the height of different models of flashes sitting on various camera bodies. Originally the Ray Flash was designed to work with Canon Speedlites (580EX and 580EX II) and Nikon Speedlights (SB800 and SB900) but they will work with a range of other camera/flash combinations including cameras/flashes from Olympus and Sony; as well as flashes from Metz and Sigma.

The question is, when so many camera manufacturers and some lighting equipment makers make dedicated ring flashes, why would you go with an adapter instead? Price. The price ranges start at around $225 to $400 or so for dedicated ring flashes from camera makers and companies including Sunpak and Sigma; and upwards of $1,000 to $1,800 for ring flash heads from companies like Lumedyne, DynaLite, Comet, and Elinchrom. The ring flash heads average 3,000 watt seconds (w/s) of power. And if you own a lighting system that isn’t compatible, you’re out of luck—unless you’re willing to go out and spend thousands of dollars more for a full system of lights.

But when you’re looking for portability, a smaller unit is necessary. Street price for the Ray Flash is $199. which is a less than the cost if you were going to go out and buy a dedicated ring flash. And, by design, you’re getting more versatility out of your equipment, since you can most likely use a flash you already own.

Using the Ray Flash

(l. to r.) Installing the Ray Flash on a flash is quick and easy. Just slip it on, and turn the locking mechanism (on the top of the Ray Flash) to secure the adapter to the flash.

(l.) Final image; (r.) Close-up in Adobe Lightroom. Note the distinctive Ring Light highlights in the eyes. Photos © Diane Berkenfeld.

You will lose one stop of light from your flash by using the Ray Flash adapter. Because of the design, you can still use TTL modes with the Ray Flash adapter. Depending upon your shooting situation, though, you may want to use the flash on manual instead of TTL, to compensate for the light loss. A locking mechanism secures the adapter to your flash head, so it won’t slip off. And there is no change in color temperature.

Another example of the soft lighting from the Ray Flash. Photo taken with the Ray Flash on a Sigma EF 530 DG Super flash, Nikon D300s. Photo © Diane Berkenfeld.

The lighting from a ring flash is distinctive—virtually shadowless lighting on the front of the subject with a soft halo of shadow around the edges. The further away your subject is from the background, the harsher the shadow behind the subject will be. With other lighting methods, it is usually the opposite, in that you’ll get softer shadows the further your subject is from the background.

The Ray Flash, or any ring flash for that matter is ideal for Macro photography, however you can use the Ray Flash for wider compositions such as portraits too.

I tested out the Ray Flash (model #RAC 175-2) with a Nikon D300s body, AF-S DX Nikkor 18-200mm F/3.5-5.6 G lens and Sigma EF 530 DG Super flash. I also decided to try it out with the Lensbaby Composer and Fisheye optic on the D300s and the Sigma flash.

Using the Ray Flash adapter is very easy, it just slips over the head of the flash. I had no problems using it, in fact, when using the Nikkor lens, I held the D300s body with my right hand, and zoomed the lens with my left. When I tried taking photographs with the Lensbaby, which was much shorter than the Nikkor, I found it a little more difficult to shoot, but not impossible. Because I was using the Fisheye optic, I could see the back of the Ray Flash adapter in the viewfinder. For the image of Mardi Gras beads (below) that I shot with the Fisheye Lensbaby, I actually liked the circular crop that I ended up with.

(l.) This image was captured with the Lensbaby Composer on a Nikon D300s, using the Fisheye optic. The black ring is the back of the Ray Flash - visible because of the Lensbaby's shallow physical size and Fisheye's wide field of view; (r.) Final cropped image, exposure adjusted slightly, bringing out the blacks. The outline around the circle was created in Photoshop. If you look really closely you can see the reflection of the Ray Flash in the highlights. Photos © Diane Berkenfeld.

If you’re looking for an economical ring flash lighting solution the Ray Flash adapter might be right for you.

For more information, go to the website www.expoimaging.com.

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What is a select focus lens that isn’t always a select focus lens? A Lensbaby with the Fisheye Optic!

By Diane Berkenfeld

Lensbaby Fisheye Optic.

One of the newest optics for the Lensbaby Composer is the Fisheye Optic, which isn’t select focus, but it does let you capture images with 160° field of view. At its ultra-wide 12mm focal length, the Fisheye Optic is an f/4 optic with aperture disks that range from f/5.6 to f/22. To use the aperture disks, you simply unscrew the front element and switch the aperture disk with the Optic Swap Tool; the aperture disk rests just above the bottom element. The lens itself is a six element multi-coated lens. Owners of the Lensbaby Muse can utilize the Fisheye Optic with an optional adapter. The Fisheye Optic is not compatible with the Lensbaby Control Freak lens.

One of the coolest features of the Fisheye Optic is that its minimum focus is only 1.3 centimeters (that’s a half inch) from the front of the optic to infinity. This means your subject can practically lean over and touch the optic. Because your subject is so close to the Fisheye, you really get a lot of great distortion. When you place the subject further away from the camera, you end up with the image inside of a 360° circle. Depending upon how close you are to the subject, part of the circle may be cropped out of view.

I love using this new Lensbaby optic, partly because I can now say I have a Fisheye lens, for much less than the cost of an actual Fisheye lens. Depending upon your aperture, you’ll have more or less depth of field. However by being only centimeters away from your subject, even at a wide aperture you can really see depth in your image—to the point of unreal distortion—but the effect can be way cool.

This image of Gracie, a four month old kitten was taken with the Lensbaby Composer and Fisheye Optic on a Nikon D300s DSLR. You can see that I was almost close enough for the edges of the circle to be cropped out of view (see corners of the image). Photo © Diane Berkenfeld.

A second view of Gracie, also taken with the Fisheye Optic, at f/4, with the Lensbaby Composer on a Nikon D300s. Note the depth in her face almost makes this little housecat look like a baby tiger. Photo © Diane Berkenfeld.

If you were reinvigorated as a creative photographer when you first began shooting with a Lensbaby, give the Fisheye Optic a try—it will give you yet another boost of creative energy to experiment capturing photographs of all manners of subjects in yet another new way.

For more information on the Lensbaby system of lenses and optics, check out the website www.lensbaby.com.

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