Category Archives: Gear

Lensbaby Composer Review

This review originally appeared on The Online Photographer on 3/10/2009. Re-posting here in case you missed it.

Lensbaby Composer

Lensbaby Choices: Paintbrush and Palette
I’ve been shooting with various Lensbabies for the last five years, and previously reviewed the Lensbaby 3G on the Online Photographer. The current Lensbaby product line features three different lens bodies and four choices of optics: the Muse replaces the 2.0 as the simple bellows option; the 3G is now called the Control Freak; and the Lensbaby Composer is the latest design evolution.

All three lenses are compatible with the Optic Swap System, which allows you to select from plastic, single-element glass, or double-element glass lenses, or a pinhole/zone plate. The lens is your brush, the optic choice your palette. The ability to quickly change the look of your Lensbaby by switching optics opens up a lot of creative possibilities.

The Lensbaby website has a great optic comparison page that compares all of the lens choices. All three lenses are available with the sharp double glass optic, and the Muse is also available with the plastic optic. You can buy additional lenses individually, or get the plastic, single glass, and pinhole/zone plate optics as a package. Each optic is color coded for easy identification in your camera bag.

Extra optics are stored in a small protective case that includes a mini lens cloth. The lid of the case is also the key to the Optic Swap System—insert the lid into the front of the Composer to unlock and remove the current optic. Drop another optic into place, and use the lid to lock it in place. Locking and unlocking the optic takes about a 1/8th turn, and the process is easy once you’ve done it a few times. Changing optics in the field can lead to a dirty sensor—make sure to turn off your camera, and point the lens and camera  down to minimize exposure to dust.

Alcatraz Guard -- Lensbaby Composer with Zone Plate Optic on Canon 5D, ƒ/19, 4 seconds, ISO 200

Alcatraz Guard — Lensbaby Composer with Zone Plate Optic on Canon 5D, ƒ/19, 4 seconds, ISO 200

Getting Twisted with the Composer
Weighing in at under 6 oz., the Composer is a small, well-built addition to the Lensbaby family. The manual focusing ring works smoothly and has nice ergonomics. I’m getting more shots focused right the first time with the Composer as compared to the multiple tries that were sometimes necessary with the bellows focusing on older models.

The Composer is built on a ball and socket platform that allows you to easily tilt the sweet spot of focus in any direction. The resistance of the ballhead-like design has a nice feel. The lens stays in place when tilted, and the resistance is adjustable.

As with previous models, the aperture is adjusted using interchangeable magnetic discs. The Composer has a maximum aperture of ƒ/2 with no disc installed, and ships with discs in whole stops from ƒ/2.8 to ƒ/22.

The Composer is great for street photography because you can preset your focus—just bring the camera to your eye and shoot. Having a focus ring and shiftable sweet spot that stay in place are also a boon for tripod-based macro, HDR, or long exposure shooting. The Composer may also prove to be an interesting tool for time lapse work, or for shooting video on new hybrid cameras like the Nikon D90 and Canon 5D Mark II.

What are you lookin' at? (Cabazon dinosaur) -- Lensbaby Composer with Zone Plate Optic on Canon 5D, ƒ/19, 1/100, ISO 320

What are you lookin’ at? (Cabazon dinosaur) — Lensbaby Composer with Zone Plate Optic on Canon 5D, ƒ/19, 1/100, ISO 320

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Eye Cones, Canon 5D Mark II and Lexar rebates

Eye Cones -- by Joe Reifer

Eye Cones — by Joe Reifer

As of this morning, the Canon 5D Mark II is in stock at B&H Photo. Canon also has a $200 rebate on a camera/lens/flash combo that expires in a few days:  Buy a current model camera body (including the 5D Mark II), AND one of four L lenses (24-70/2.8L, 24-105/4L IS, 85/1.2L II, or 70-200/2.8L IS) AND a 580EX II Speedlight.

Yeah, a camera, lens and flash is a lot of stuff to buy in today’s economy, but if you’re switching Digital SLR teams in order to use the Canon 5D Mark II,  this offer will save you 200 bucks. I”ll be writing an article on using the Canon 5D Mark II for night photography next month. The camera is a big improvement over the original 5D in a few important areas of concern to night photographers — most significantly the greatly improved battery life, and clearner long exposures without noise reduction.

With 25 MB RAW files from the 21 megapixel sensor, two other very important pieces of gear to consider are a fast, higher capacity compact flash card, and a fast UDMA card reader. The following items have a rebate until March 1st:

And if all of this stuff seems way over the top, maybe a Commando Camoflauge Holga is within your budget at $36.99.

A Dozen Holiday Gift Ideas for Photographers

I can hardly contain myself -- by Joe Reifer

I can hardly contain myself — by Joe Reifer

All the product links on this list will take you to B&H Photo (except the flashlight, which is available on Amazon). B&H is an honest, reliable place to buy photo gear at excellent prices. I hope some of these ideas are useful!

  1. Hands on Guide to Creative Lighting DVD – Even though this video uses Nikon flashes, Bob Krist and Joe McNally offer a wealth of lighting techniques and strategies that are useful for anyone who’s interested in shooting portraits on location. — $39.95
  2. Canon TC-80N3 Timer Remote — A must for night photographers. I used a standard remote and a kitchen timer for a long time. Once I got a TC-80N3 I kicked myself for not doing it sooner. — $136.95, or Nikon MC-36 Remote — $129.95
  3. Streamlight Stinger Flashlight — well made, very bright, beautiful warm light, rechargeable. Expensive but so worth it. — $82.23
  4. Zeiss Lens Cleaning Kit — Forget ROR or whatever brand of cleaning liquid you’re using. The Zeiss fluid is the best I’ve tried. No streaks, no residue. — $23.00
  5. Wacom Bamboo Fun Tablet — If you do a lot of retouching or selective adjustments using masks in Photoshop, this graphics tablet has a great feature set, size, and value. — $199.95
  6. Domke F-3X Ballistic Shoulder Bag — I’m a recovering camera bag-o-holic. The black ballistic nylon Domke F-3 (super compact) is still my favorite shoulder bag. The perfect size for many different shooting applications and camera combinations when traveling light. — $109.95
  7. Lightroom 2 Software — Why not get organized in 2009. — $299.95, or upgrade to version 2, it’s a big improvement — $99.95
  8. Eye-One Display 2 or Spyder 3 monitor calibration tools — is your monitor profiled? Do your prints match your monitor? If not, start here. Those with more budget may want to investigate Color Eyes Software. — $150-325.
  9. Lexar UDMA Dual Slot USB 2.0 Card Reader — sporting slots for Compactflash and SD memory cards, this speedy card reader saves you time, and is only 20 bucks — $39.95 ($19.95 after rebate)
  10. Lexar 8GB UDMA 300x Compact Flash Memory Card – For sports and action photography, a fast memory card is a must. — $111.95 ($71.95 after $40 rebate)
  11. Western Digital 250GB Portable USB 2 Harddrive — I always carry a portable backup drive when traveling, and either keep it in my bag or in the car. Cheap insurance against computer failure or theft. — $86.95
  12. Giottos Rocket Blower — An extremely useful and cool looking cleaning accessory. — $13.95
  13. Lucky Idea #13 is another Holga: perhaps a Holga 135PC 35mm pinhole camera, or the super cool Holga 120 wide angle pinhole camera, or my personal fave, the Holga 120N Commando.

Diana+: Return of the Diana camera

The classic 120 format Diana camera is back, but with a twist — you can unscrew the lens to convert the Diana+ into a superwide pinhole camera. The camera shoots 12x 5.2cm square exposures per roll, 16x 4.2cm square exposures per roll, or in “endless panorama” format with minimal frame spacing in the 4.2cm format.

Long exposure shooters take note, the new Diana has a bulb exposure mode, shutter lock, and a tripod thread. The Lomographic Society has the specs, a history of the Diana, and photos of the amazing Dietrich Collection. You can purchase the camera directly from, or it’s also currently in stock at B&H Photo – looks like $50 well spent. Anyone know what the pinhole size is?

Photography News: Townsley, Holga, Monroe, Yahoo, Leica

There's no place like home -- by Joe Reifer

There’s no place like home — by Joe Reifer

  • Battery Townsley, a World War II fort in the Marin Headlands, has been restored. You can take a tour on the 2nd Sunday of the month between 2-4pm.
  • I got a Holgamods 35mm camera recently and it works great. The camera is permanently modified to shoot 35mm film, and the modification allows you to rewind the film inside the camera. No more bringing a changing bag into the field to rewind the film. Because the Holga is 120 format the film is exposed all the way to the edges across the sprocket holes.
  • The fight over the rights to photos of Marilyn Monroe has been going on for a long time. NPR covers the dead celebrities photography bill that Schwarzenegger just signed into law.
  • This Wall Street Journal article about a work of public art outside Yahoo headquarters cracked me up. Man vs. nature + artist vs. corporation = don’t miss this one!
  • A few months back I told the story of trying to get Leica to do a CLA on a lens. Just wanted to report that I sent the lens to John Van Stelten at Focal Point in Colorado, and he did a great job on the CLA.