If there’s one thing photographers can’t get enough of, it’s gear and gadgets. So, needless to say, I was thrilled to find a Lensbaby Creative Effects Kit under the tree this year from Santa. Odd considering that most of the work I do demands critical sharpness and minimal distortion and a Lensbaby is kind of the opposite.

For the uninitiated, a Lensbaby consists of a lens “body” which mounts to your camera body but allows the front plane to tilt in all directions with a ball like mechanism. Into this body are inserted any one of a variety of optics for different effects ranging from relatively conventional ones like the Edge 80 to the more bizarre like the pinhole and plastic optics.

The general idea is that, with the body set straight ahead, the optic behaves much as a conventional lens of the same focal length. When you tilt it, however, the plane of focus shifts and allows you to achieve some very interesting selective focus effects by moving the centre of focus sweet spot around the frame. The size of the sweet spot can be adjusted by changing the aperture. Yes, I hear you – we’ve been able to add creative blurring for ages in Photoshop including tilt/shift effects so why use a Lensbaby. It’s not the same! The result you get with the Lensbaby seems more “organic” – more natural looking and also allows you to get some of the flare and sunburst effect that is currently in vogue.

Back to my baby. The Creative Effects Kit comes with:

  • The Lensbaby Composer Pro which is their newest version of the base body
  • The Double Glass optic which has a very sharp sweet spot and progressive blurring
  • The Single Glass optic which has a slightly softer sweet spot and progressive blur
  • The Pinhole optic which I can’t really imagine using much
  • The Plastic optic for “Holga” like effects and progressive blur
  • Wideangle and telephoto adapters that fit onto most optics
  • A set of macro lenses that fit onto most optics
  • A set of aperture disks for optics that don’t have an internal diaphram
  • A set of creative template disks so you can play around with turning your out of focus highlights into interesting effects
  • A nice case to pack it all in to

My first impressions are quite good. The composer is about the size of a 50mm lens and feels solidly constructed. There’s a friction ring to adjust how easily it tilts and a focussing ring to basically move the optic forwards and backwards in the body. Simple enough although I almost immediately wished there was a way to lock it into the straight ahead position. The various optics come in their own plastic cases and swapping them is easy since the caps from the cases all have the necessary three prongs used to lock and unlock them into the composer.

OK, let’s shoot something! I decided to try it out on a Valentine’s Day card idea I had in mind. I wanted some romantic elements in the shot like roses, pearls and hearts with the overall theme being “Love is in the air”. I’ll leave the details of the shoot for perhaps another article but, once I arranged the elements to my liking, I adjusted the Lensbaby with Double Glass optic so that the centre of the foreground rose was sharp and used the tilt to progressively blur the second rose and string of pearls. The floating hearts I got with the heart shaped template and some strategically placed highlights in the background (let’s just say I used a softbox, some black seamless, gaffer tape and a pencil to punch some holes) and finally, Photoshop for the text. This is the final result.

Bottom line. I won’t be using it every day but I know I’ll definitely be reaching for it for some of the work I’ve been doing with book covers and for creative portraits – especially outdoors. It’s a quality product, system really, that opens up a whole range of creative possibilities that would be really challenging to do otherwise, if not impossible.