Lensbaby Edge 80 Optic: Tranche de Vie(w)

There are three main elements in depth of field—focal length, aperture, and distance to subject—and depth of field is a very important part of a 2D photograph. It’s how we judge scale (or are fooled by it), how we note the importance of certain subjects within the frame, and how we define content and context in the scene. With these three controls, and using various points of view, it seems we have infinite variations to choose from, and that’s part of the creative play of photography. Now you can add a fourth element to the mix—tilts that range from mild to extreme and that create “slices” of sharpness within the frame. The tool that helps us create that effect is the latest optic from Lensbaby, which they dub the Edge 80.

Top: The Edge 80 has a 12-bladed diaphragm and variable apertures from f/2.8 to f/22. Above: Shown here mounted in a Composer Pro, the Edge 80 is a flat-field lens that offers tilts for the usual Lensbaby fun, plus focus “slices” that go through the frame.

Above Photos courtesy of Lensbaby

The 80 in the name gives away the focal length of the optic just as did their naming of their last optic, the Sweet 35 (see our review in the August, 2011, issue of Shutterbug or type “Sweet 35” into the Search engine on our website, www.shutterbug.com). And just like the Sweet 35, the Edge 80 is part of the Optic Swap System and drops into the company’s Composer, Composer Pro, Muse, Scout, and Control Freak, the linkage between optic and lens mount on the camera. Being an 80mm, that’s what you get on a “full-frame” D-SLR, as I did when testing with my Canon full-framer, but you gain even more effective focal length when using an APS-C sensor camera, as much as 120mm (Nikon) and 128mm (Canon).

To give a sense of what a slice looks like I shot this at ISO 100 at f/8 at 1/500 sec. By rotating the Edge 80 in the Composer I was able to define a slice going from the lower left to the upper center of the frame. Just for fun, and to enhance the effect, I processed the image by first converting to black and white and then using Photoshop’s Threshold Layer and dropping the opacity to 25 percent. This shot was made on the APS-C sensor camera so the effective focal length is 128mm.
All Photos © George Schaub

Yes, the focal length really makes for some new takes on the classic Lensbaby effects, but what really differentiates this new Lensbaby optic is the “slice” or plane of focus you can achieve that seems to defy optical sense. The slice is a result of this being a “flat-field” lens and is quite odd, in that areas in the foreground and background can both be in focus while areas in the middle ground can be out (see illustrations). This is an optic, like the Sweet 35, with a variable aperture control built in, and you use those apertures to both control light and define the “width” of the slice—it’s wider at f/22 and narrower at f/2.8. Adding to the soft effect is a 12-blade diaphragm, a construction deemed to enhance bokeh.

These are two more classic Lensbaby looks, where shift is used to create unique blur effects in camera, taken inside the Blaine Kern Mardi Gras World in New Orleans.

You can also recreate the classic “toy” or “miniaturization” effects with the Edge 80 and not worry about resorting to processing for the effect. This is a “miniature” image made in the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans where the Brad Pitt houses are helping to bring folks back into the neighborhood. By the way, if you need a great place to visit on vacation, visit New Orleans, they would sure appreciate it.

Here are various “focus slice” effect images. Note how the focus seems to cut a swath through the image regardless of the distance from the camera and how it works on planes in the 2D space different than conventional depth of field. Odd for sure, but certainly a fascinating optical tool. In the Bourbon Street shot it keeps the sidewalk under the porch sharp down the line but makes the street soft; in the photo of the back of the church the grill work on the upper left side maintains sharpness in a swath down to the center of the image through the American flag while other areas go soft. It’s all in the aperture and how you tilt the lens around the mount.

Tip: A flat-field lens is one that is highly corrected for astigmatism and curvature and is designed to yield a “flat” image; that is, one that matches the sensor (in this case) surface to the focal plane. Think copy, enlarger, and projection lenses.

If you haven’t worked with a Lensbaby, they offer tilt effects by first having you place an adapter on the camera mount (Lensbaby has adapters for nearly all camera mounts; however, the Edge 80 is not compatible with the Composer with Tilt Transformer for Micro Four Thirds and Sony NEX cameras) and then placing various optics into those adapters and playing with tilts around and side to side with the highly mobile ball head-like mount.

As mentioned, the Edge 80 has a variable aperture control built in from f/2.8 to f/22. While the temptation (for me, at least) is to work mostly with the wider apertures for the wildest effects (the widest I can use given lighting conditions, that is), the narrower apertures also serve a function beyond light control and allow for use of tilt to gain even wider slices of focus in the frame. And as a kind of bonus, the Edge 80 has a built-in extension tube, a pull-out section on the front of the optic that allows you to focus as close as 17” (when fully tilted), opening up even more visual options.

Perhaps the oddest effect I obtained was at the Piazza d’Italia in New Orleans, where I got a plane of focus that kept part of the foreground structure, the water coming from the lion’s head, a part of the rectangular column behind the arch, and the base of the Greek column in the background sharp, with all else in a blur. This one was shot at f/2.8 at 1/8000 sec at ISO 100. I have no idea how the tilt action was used, but it must have been pretty twisted.

To give the Edge 80 a test I used a “full frame” and APS-C sensor size D-SLR in various lighting conditions and locales. My aim was to investigate both the tilt and focus slice effects at various apertures and, using both camera bodies, at the 80mm and effective 128mm focal length with the smaller sensor. I did some exposure and contrast processing after download but nothing with sharpening or blur (except of course contrast controls, which can enhance or diminish the sense of sharpness). See the images and accompanying notes for comments.

In the end, the Edge 80 offers another example of how innovative approaches to optical effects, and making those effects available on-camera and not after, can be a fascinating way to work. There’s no question that the Edge 80 had me seeing and shooting way out of my comfort zone, and creatively that is always a good thing.

Even at close distance you can play with the effect, but here I wanted to see if I had to change lenses to get a “straight” shot. You can focus as close as 17”, which isn’t bad for a 128mm lens (effective, with APS-C sensor, as used here). This shot was not cropped and it’s sharp throughout, especially to the edges. Exposure at ISO 800 was f/22 at 1/125 sec.

The MSRP of the Edge 80 is $300. For more information, contact Lensbaby at: www.lensbaby.com.

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