If photography is your pastime, you can afford to indulge in toys. If it is
your occupation you tend to be more selective about what you spend your money
on; toys are an extravagance--you couldn't afford 'em when
you were struggling, and you don't need 'em now that you have a
client base which likes your style.
But what if a toy is also a tool? Isn't it important to keep ourselves
young, our vision fresh, always on the lookout for something new to invigorate
our work and to keep it from becoming stale? The Lensbaby 3G (#1) fits this
description, that rare combination of toy that can be an effective tool in a
What first interested me in trying a Lensbaby was a request by the editor
of a weekly food magazine in Salem, Oregon, D'Lish. I had been photographing
feature food spreads for D'Lish for several months when the editor yawned
and said she was bored with the straight work, could I do something more edgy?
Something fun. Something like you see in Bon Appétit magazine--you
know, the magazine that pays the big bucks.
The style of photography she was referring to is selective focus with limited
depth of field, a very old style which is easy to do with a large format camera.
All you have to do is focus on the central point (sweet spot) with the back
standard then swing and tilt the front standard to obtain the overall focus
effect. Choosing the appropriate aperture for sharpness within the desired depth
of field finishes it off.
Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, this is the age of digital, especially
when it comes to commercial work. The magazine wants digital files. So, rather
than photographing on 4x5 film, sending it out for development and scanning
the results, I decided to try the Lensbaby, which promised to provide similar
The image of food, seen in #2, was made using the Lensbaby handheld on a Minolta
7D 6-megapixel camera with a 17-35mm lens. Although I used the Lensbaby handheld
in this image, more accurate and repeatable results will be found on a tripod.
For this I highly recommend either the Manfrotto 3444, which allows the camera
to be used offset from the tripod legs, or any Gitzo with a lateral arm attachment.
Either of these will allow you to move in and around the subject and create
the highest quality, repeatable images using the Lensbaby.
Oyster Rockefeller Soup photographed using the Lensbaby 3G with
an f/5.6 aperture.
All Photos © 2007, Steve Anchell, All Rights Reserved
The Lensbaby comes with a pocket-size tool kit which includes a set of seven
metal apertures and a Magnetic Aperture Removal Tool (MART) with which to change
them. In the old days, before you or I were born (if you're older than
that you don't have to admit it), removable metal apertures made of brass
were known as Waterhouse Stops. In any event, the metal apertures come in sizes
from f/2.8 to f/22. If no aperture ring is used the default f/stop is 2. Lensbaby
recommends starting with f/4 or f/5.6. This makes it easier to focus the Lensbaby
during the learning curve yet limits the depth of field so the effect of selective
focus limited depth of field can be easily achieved.
The apertures can be quickly swapped out by using the MART to remove the existing
aperture and dropping the new aperture in place. The aperture is held in perfect
alignment by three magnetic pins. The design is unique and clever and, more
importantly, it works.
Not all cameras will meter through the Lensbaby. These cameras need to be set
on manual and exposure determined with a handheld meter or the ol' trial
and error test exposure method (which is a good argument for using a tripod--in
case the image is perfect but the exposure is off). Other cameras, including
the Nikon F-series film camera and the D200, D1X, and D2X, will meter through
the aperture in Aperture Priority (Av) mode. The Canon EOS series, on the other
hand, will meter through the aperture in either Manual or Av mode. Instructions
are included for metering with other cameras, including the Minolta 7D camera,
which I use.
In addition to the seven standard apertures Lensbaby offers an accessory Creative
Aperture Kit. This kit comes with two special apertures, one in the shape of
a heart and the other in the shape of a star. Using one of these two will cause
specular highlights to appear as either heart or star shapes. Cool. Also cool
are the five blank disks that you can use to create your own shapes using an
X-acto knife or a punch, which can be purchased in craft stores.
In neutral position the Lensbaby will focus at about 18". To focus on
other distances you need to position your fingers around the lens then squeeze
the front element closer to the film/sensor plane or push it away, see #3. Squeezing
the lens closer focuses the Lensbaby farther away (think of focusing on infinity--the
focusing element is as close to the film/sensor as it can get). Pushing it away
focuses the Lensbaby closer. So, the technique is to move the lens in and out
until the area of the subject, say the eyes, that you want to be in focus are...in
focus. Once you have found the "sweet spot" you bend the lens right,
left, up, down, or any combination, moving it around until the background focus
is the way you want it. The rule of thumb (forefinger in this case) is to move
the Lensbaby toward the area you want in focus. Once the subject appears the
way you want it, you lock the lens by pressing an easy to access button with
your right index finger. Finally, the Lensbaby 3G has a focusing ring that allows
you to fine focus before taking the final image.
#3 This is
the recommended technique for holding and focusing the Lensbaby
3G. Photo courtesy of Lensbaby.
All of the above is easy to do once you get used to it. The hard part is to
keep the handheld camera from moving in and out once everything is set, which
is why I recommend a tripod, especially when you are first learning to use the