Lens Baby 3G

lensbaby

It Stays Bent!

by Jeff Dorgay

If you’ve ever seen one of those really cool selective focus shots that wasn’t done in Photoshop and wondered how to pull it off, chances are really good it was shot with a Lensbaby. I can’t think of another photo accessory that’s taken the market so by storm in the last 10 years! No matter what you like to shoot, the Lensbaby will add another dimension to your photography. Much like the front element of a large format camera, the Lensbaby 3G is a multicoated two-element lens that can bend around on a small bellows. This allows you to vary the area of selective focus at will.

The Lensbaby 3G is available in all popular SLR and DSLR mounts and costs $270. They even offer a larger version for Pentax and Mamiya 645 users for $390, so if you are a medium format shooter, you can also take advantage of the 3G. It is a fully manual lens and has no electronic connections at all.

A Short History

For those of you not familiar with the Lensbaby, surf on over to www.lensbabies.com and check these out. The Lensbabies are built here in the Pacific Northwest (Portland) by commercial photographer Craig Strong. A great photographer with an eye for industrial design, Strong loved playing with his Holga camera but did not like relying on that camera’s poor mechanical construction. Some hard work and experimentation later and the original Lensbaby was born. Fast-forward the clock a few years and Lensbabies have become so successful, he doesn’t have that much time to shoot any more!

The original Lensbaby had a maximum aperture of 2.8, with magnetic aperture discs that would let you stop down to F8. The Lensbaby 2.0 upped the ante with a maximum aperture of 2.0, giving you a bit more flexibility in low light and more blur effect. Having used both of these products for some time, they are a killer tool to add mood to a shot and, unlike a Holga film camera, you can see right what you are getting on your DSLR, so if you need to reshoot, you can instantly!

However, the only minor shortcoming of the Lensbaby has been the repeatability factor. Because you have to hold the camera and bend the Lensbaby around, it is sometimes tough to concentrate on exactly what you are trying to achieve and it is pretty much impossible to repeat the same shot twice should the viewfinder not give you the desired results. For me, that randomness was always a big part of the cool factor of the Lensbaby, wondering if you were going to get that “magic” shot. Hey, it was still way better than putting goo on the UV filter in front of your lens.

Both the original and 2.0 versions of the Lensbaby are still available but for those of you that want the ultimate Lensbaby, the 3G is the way to go. New to the 3G are the three pegs that allow you to set the amount of bend exactly to your liking.

Let’s take some pictures, shall we?

The 3G needs a couple more steps for operation than the original Lensbabies, but you will be rewarded with more controllable results. I found it easiest to use following the concise instructions that came in the box (also on the Web site) and set the initial focus by moving the lens in and out to achieve focus, just like you would any other Lensbaby. Then, use the locking collar to hold it in place and you can move the optimum focus point by rotating any of those metal rods. Once you have the sweet spot where you want it, touch up the focus with the fine focusing ring.

This is very easy to control and a breeze if you have your camera on a tripod. Because the 3G will stop all the way down to F22, viewing will get a bit dim with the smaller apertures, so try and get that focus spot where you want it! This is definitely one of those times where it’s great to have a DSLR. I used the test 3G with a Canon EOS 5D and had no problems using them in aperture priority mode. On the Nikon side, I could not use aperture priority on my D100, but was able to get accurate readings using the light meter, adjusting the shutter accordingly. Once you really get the hang of the Lensbaby and spend enough time with it, you willhave a good ballpark in your head where to start your exposures if you have to use it in manual mode.

Flexibility is the Key

As much as I love all of the Lensbabies, the flexibility of the 3G, as well as the precise adjustability, is what really transforms it from a fun accessory to a serious professional tool. This thing can’t be beat in the studio!

I also found that in addition to all that bending, the Lensbaby was also a very useful lens to achieve a different look without bending it. The doublet lens has a focal length of about 50mm, which on a DSLR with an APS sized sensor becomes a 75mm lens, or if you have an Olympus camera with the 4/3 sensor a 100mm lens. The 3G now becomes an awesome portrait lens, where you can use the aberrations to your advantage, giving your images somewhat of a “vintage camera” look. It’s even pretty cool with other types of imagery and doesn’t look overdone.

When you compare the images that you have blurred in Photoshop with layers compared to what you have captured with the 3G, you can see what a nice effect this is to have at your disposal.

A Must Have

Now that I’ve become very comfortable with using the Lensbaby 3G it has become an essential part of my photographic process. It is a ton of fun to use and will definitely add a new dimension to your creativity. I can’t think of an accessory I’ve enjoyed more. Highly recommended.

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3 Responses to “Lens Baby 3G”

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