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