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on March 2, 2010
I took the time to use the Lensbaby Composer on my Panasonic G bodies, my Canon 40D and my Canon 5D Mk II for a total of about 200 purposeful images before writing this review. I didn't want to approach the Lensbaby with any bias or preset expectations, nor did I want to prematurely fire off a trivial review after taking a few casual images. I hope you find this review helpful.

I consider the Lensbaby prices rather steep for what you get, so I held off buying one for quite some time. The Composer looked to me to be the first viable implementation of the Lensbaby, not being attracted to the hand and finger gyrations required to work the other versions such as the Original, 2.0, and Muse. I also wanted to be able to lock in specific shots.

Mechanically, I was disappointed with the operation of the manual focus ring. It is not smooth and consistent during its entire rotation. At the closest focusing distance, the ring rotation is jerky. After a quarter of a turn or so, it smooths out and becomes consistent. Unfortunately, many of my shots are taken at or near the minimum focus distance. For a manual focus lens only, the Composer needs to provide an optimal focus experience. It misses the mark. I can live with it, yes, but it's annoying and shouldn't be happening on a lens in this price range. The mount, however, is machined nicely and fits snugly. The locking ring works well, allowing a good degree of how much friction you want applied to the lens movements. The lens cap is of questionable build quality, and the lettering on the front of it arrived partially rubbed off, or never painted on. Not very attractice for a brand new lens.

Optically, the Composer comes with the Double Glass Optic, consisting of only two glass optical elements, each multicoated. Being a primitive optical formula with erratic (if any?) quality control, you can rest assured of chromatic aberration, vignetting, decentering, flare, veiling, distortion, and any number of optical gremlins that normally leave photographers in painful grimace. Once you start twisting and turning the Composer to move its "sweet spot", what Lensbabians call "bending", those gremlins multiply and intensify. If the Lensbaby teaches you nothing else, it will be an appreciation for the efforts of optical engineers to tackle those nasty gremlins so that we may produce images of technical quality with our regular lenses. However, as strange as this may sound, you're either going to embrace these gremlins and enlist them as agents of creativity, as I chose to do, or you're going to be sending the Lensbaby back to take advantage of their 30-day money-back guarantee, which I was tempted to do.

The Composer includes aperture disks that control the size of the area that is in focus. The Composer has an approximate focal length of 50mm and, sans any aperture disks, it's rated at f/2. But wait, there is quite the rub with that focal length. It's 50mm, true, but only on a full frame sensor body. On cameras with "cropped" sensors, and that covers the majority of cameras being used at this time, the effective focal length changes. On a Canon 7/10/20/30/40/50D and all Rebel digital cameras, that 50mm becomes an 80mm lens. Ugh. Not exactly a versatile focal length. To remedy that, well, be prepared to spend more money. There are two wide angle adapters available: a .42 and a .6. Both of them introduce even more chromatic aberration, and with the .42, hideously so. There are aperture disks for f/2.8, f/4, f/5.6, f/8, f/11, f/16 and f/22. Changing these disks can be an awkward exercise, especially if you're shooting from a tripod and don't want to disturb your setup.

There is a clever optical swap system the Lensbaby employs to switch to a variety of optical setups. I also purchased the single optic system, which is even more primitive than the double glass optic. It's just one glass uncoated element, less sharp than the double optic, and hosting a variant breed of the optical gremlins mentioned above.

The Composer, as it ships, does not have a very close focus distance. If you're going to hang onto your Lensbaby, an investment in the macro kit is a no-brainer. It includes +10 and +4 closeup filters that simply screw into the front of the optic. They are also stackable, but if you do stack, place the +10 closest to the lens, and screw the +4 on top of it. With either of both macro filters, you'll gain the ability to close focus. It is in the macro mode that I find myself making some of my favorite Lensbaby images.

Likely, you'll find the Lensbaby to have a steep learning curve. You'll have to become familiar with how your camera body works in its non-automatic modes (Program, Aperture Priority or Manual), as the Lensbaby has no automation to it whatever. It does not automatically change lens aperture settings, nor will it automatically focus. The camera body does still compute exposure automatically, but bending the lens may throw the auto exposure off, as light is now bouncing around at crazy angles. You'll need to monitor your histogram and know how to dial in exposure compensation. If your body has it, LiveView is a godsend, enabling you to zoom in on areas you want to manually focus. Also, if you change to aperture disks smaller than f/4, it becomes increasingly difficult to focus with accuracy as your viewfinder grows dimmer and dimmer. LiveView uses video gain to brighten your LCD. Invaluable. As for how to move the sweet spot to the desired location, practice makes the closest thing to perfect you're going to find with the Lensbaby. In summary, you'll need to learn to master your camera in its more manual modes and learn the trickiness of the Lensbaby lens movements to achieve successful images.

If you go to the user forums at the Lensbaby web site, you'll be able to view many images taken by its members, for better or for worse. I often find Lensbaby images to fall into the "trick shot" category, akin to those made by fisheye lenses. Overall, I view them as gimmicky. Sometimes you'll find an image that really works for you, but much of the time, they're muddy blurry mis-takes that make you wonder why anyone would want to degrade, even brutalize, the sophisticated sensors embedded in your expensive dSLR.

Be forewarned: you may not enjoy using the Lensbaby, and you may find the resulting images to quickly wear out their welcome. I consider the current Amazon rating to be higher than it deserves to be. There is comfort to be found in the 30-day money-back guarantee -- you'll only be out the return shipping costs and your time.
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on March 20, 2009
You know those times when every picture you take seems a little flat? Maybe nothing seems worth shooting. Everything's been shot before. How can you possibly put your stamp on the scene around you?

Well, I'm not going to say that the Composer is the magic bullet. But it does help. It makes you see things in a new way, and that's not something you get with every new lens. Household objects, flowers in your garden, the house next door . . . the Lensbaby makes them worth photographing again.

However . . . this is not really a walk-around, shoot everything lens. It is manual focus only. I've had mine for about a month, and the manual focus was easier than I thought it would be to get used to, but forget photographing babies or animals with this lens unless they are sleeping. You'll take 100 photos and one will be in focus. Also, it gets a lot harder to tell when you've achieved focus when you move the sweet spot out of the center of the frame.

In addition, the Composer doesn't deal with photos that have a large dynamic range very well. It's easy to blow out your highlights if you're not looking at your LCD screen after each shot. However, this wasn't a problem I encountered that much, usually only during the middle of the day.

And buy the creative aperture kit! It makes night photography so much more fun when all your out of focus lights turn into hearts or stars or snowflakes. Definitely worth the extra ten dollars.

So, to sum up. This should be your second 50mm lens, not your first. But if you have all the regular lenses you need (we'll call those your dinner lenses), don't skip dessert. The Lensbaby Composer is worth it.
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on May 18, 2011
While I love to shoot, I felt like I was stuck in a rut photographically. I ended up shooting similar things over and over and, while images of flowers and birds and trees are nice, after your one millionth shot of a rose, somehow the spark of excitement had gone completely out of it. So what to do? I tried browsing several of my photography books, but that didn't really seem to help. I needed something more radical to shake things up. After reading a zillion reviews, I decided that the Lensbaby (LB) might be just the thing, so last week I bought one.

A minor peeve: As an Amazon Prime member, I ordered the thing with two day shipping, but it arrived a day late. Not a huge deal and no reason to downgrade the product, but it's a surprising lapse on Amazon's part.

Anyway, back to the story. I'm all excited about the LB's arrival. It's almost like Christmas Eve. When it came, I immediately took it out for a spin. Many of the reviews warn of the difficulty in focusing the LB. Apparently, LB paid some attention since mine came pre-loaded with the f/4 aperture washer. In shooting with it initially, I didn't have much trouble focusing when the subject of the shot was in the center. I loved the blur effect and indeed found myself looking at shots I would have ordinarily passed up in a new light. Suddenly, twisty roads with a tree canopy became one of the most interesting things to shoot ever. So out of the box, focusing was not that big a deal...

Until you want to move the subject out of the center of the image. When I wanted to put the subject on the left side of the image, I pushed the LB all the way in that direction. This was easy enough with the Composer. (I keep the tilt tightener moderately tight so I can move it with effort but it won't move itself. Have not found the need to turn the tilt lock on and off.) The problem is that with the lens tilted all the way in any direction, the sweet spot is nearly impossible to find. I took tons of out of focus shots. Sometimes the shot seemed to be in focus but afterward turned out not to be. This was frustrating. Eventually, I hit upon the solution: only tilt the lens slightly in the direction you want to place the subject. I found that taking the lens only about halfway along its travel path in a direction produced good results.

Then I got brave and pulled out the f/2.8 washer to open things up more. This proved to be a disaster. Shooting this wide open make focusing close to impossible. It also produces kind of ridiculous looking images. While the LB blur is distinctive and interesting, shooting with it wide open produces vertigo inducing shots with extremely mannered motion type blur.

After playing with the LB for a week, I now shoot in f/5.6 or f/8. This creates a nice understated blur, makes focusing not a chore, and produces wonderful images. I feel like I'm out of my rut, which is a tremendous plus for the lens.

So should you buy this lens? I think the answer depends on your attitude towards the importance of making the shot in the camera versus post-processing as well as your willingness to fuss with a lens. It is true that the LB effect can be approximated in Photoshop. My preference, however is to aim for shots that look great straight out of the camera. I'd rather spend more time shooting and less time in post-processing. Second, I kind of like the retro feel of the lens. I enjoy learning how new things operate and have shot lots of times using manual focus/manual everything in the past. If, however, you are a "green zone" person, someone who sets the camera on auto and lets the lens figure out the focus point, then the LB is a terrible choice.

For me, the lens has opened up new photographic possibilities. It has already produced some compelling images and, most important, has gotten me to think differently about what to shoot and how to shoot it. Any produce that sparks creativity is worth its weight in gold. Big thumbs up for the lensbaby.
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on February 22, 2010
I'd had my eye on one of these for a while, and finally made the plunge. For the most part, I'm very pleased with it. It definitely helps get the creative juices flowing, helping you to see things in a new way. My only disappointment (and I'd known this was coming) is that I've got a cropped- frame camera (Nikon D80) so what would normally be about 50mm comes to somewhere around 75mm. In other words, the focal range is painfully limited, making their wide-angle adapter lens almost an inevitable purchase. (however, I've heard their wide-angle isn't that wide and that the Chromatic Aberration on Lens Baby's ultra-wide angle is terrible. Hmmmmm, so do I want to bother?) Also, the Aperture rings that you have to be some-what-constantly switching are kind of of a nuisance, especially if you're into night photography. (Easily dropped and/or lost.) Ultimately, it would be great if Lens Baby eventually makes a version with f-stops built in, like a regular lens.
However, this isn't a top-of-the-line lens, and they don't claim it to be, so they're able to keep the price reasonable. (it's basically the poor-man's tilt/shift.)
Long-story-short: this is a fun and creative tool to have in your lens arsenal, as long as you're aware of, and willing to put up with it's limitations. All complaints aside, I'm glad I bought it.
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on February 17, 2012
Lensbaby, UNBOXED. Lensbaby Composer is a selective focus wide aperture tilt lens designed to simulate a toy camera look with a tilt feature. It is much easier to use than other lensbaby models. But let's see what happens when lined up with a standard Canon 50mm f1.8 lens.

If the choice is between lensbaby and the holga, I would concede that this review may be a bit unfair. But to me, the real choice is between different styles to achieve dramatic selective focus, to wit, lensbaby vs. wide open shots with a fast lens. Watch on!
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on December 27, 2009
Hard to say more about this than others have already said but I will try. This is a really fun lens but also a powerful tool. That said, in many ways it is like Photoshop - the gap between cool fun shot and works of art has a mountain sized learning curve.

The double glass optic is a great choice for a starter lens. It has the largest and easiest to find area that is in focus. Finding and identifying that is key to getting predicable results. When you first start using this, I recommend finding a subject you know well that is also far enough away that you can focus on infinity. Then start shooting with no aperture ring installed at all and the lens fixed to straight ahead. This will give you maximum blur on the edges and the best chance of finding the center focus spot. I made the mistake of trying to shoot stuff close up at first and every time I moved even a tiny bit I lost the focus point. Once you get the hang of focusing, unlock the lens and start moving it around. I started with a subject that had a lot of clearly defined lines so I could move the focus and track it. Once you are comfortable doing that, moving to the aperture rings should be a piece of cake. I have posted some images but they dont really do the product justice. i recommend searching for "Lensbaby" on flickr.

One issue I have with my Lensbaby is that the aperture ring tool does not have a magnet strong enough to lift the rings. I have resorted to using a magnetic tool from my tool kit. I think I got a bad tool because it wont even pick up a ring that isnt in the lens. I need to contact Lensbaby about a replacement.

I cant speak for other brands but on my Pentax K200D I can use Aperture Priority mode and get accurate metering. I cant imagine getting decent results without it so if your brand does not support it, you might want to borrow one before taking the plunge. I assumed I would have to use all manual for the first day and frustration did not begin to describe my feelings.

Once you get past the pure joy of bending focus you will find that the Lensbaby is an excellent lens for portraits and flowers. For portraits you can put the focus on your subjects face and by adjusting the aperture determine how much else is in focus and even how quickly it transitions to blur. Same for flowers . And you can shoot using the rule of thirds in a way the really gives depth to the picture. Traditional lens makers have spent millions preventing focus drop-off at the edges forcing photographers to spend hundreds on Photoshop to blur those same edges! Now you can not only get the blur, you can get as much or as little as you want.

I highly recommend adding the Lensbaby Optic Kit as soon as possible. The difficulty progression is Double Glass, Single Glass, Plastic, Zone Plate and Pinhole but the rewards are worth it. If you can only add one lens, add the plastic. It adds an element of predictable but uncontrollable distortion that is just a ton of fun to explore.

Lensbaby is not for everyone. If your photography consists of happy snaps, documenting life or spending hours on getting tack sharp pictures, dont get one. Maybe some photographers can capture candids of people or moments with a Lensbaby but for me, every picture is a 30 second or more affair. You have to be willing to spend time both taking the pictures and learning how to take the pictures. In my opinion, the rewards justify both but you will have to decide for yourself.
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VINE VOICEon February 17, 2009
Love it. Love it. Love it. This isn't something you'd want to shoot with every time you go out. But for creative portraits, some neat landscapes and closeups, it adds a bit of fun and creativity back into shooting.

Construction is sound. It's easy to use. Quality product and sharp as a tack as far as I can tell.
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on December 25, 2008
The Lensbaby composer is a great lens! it has the same cool Lensbaby effect as the other Lensbaby lenses, but it's much easier to focus as it has a standard focusing ring and the sweet spot doesn't move from where you've placed it. The composer is a portraitist's, party photographer's, and street photographer's dream!
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on January 10, 2009
I received the Lensbaby Composer as a Christmas gift. This composer has the normal glass lens and comes with all the aperture discs for changing the aperture depending on what you're shooting. The lens is very fun to shoot with, takes a while to figure it out and the sweet spot changes depending on which way you tilt the lens. I'm still playing with it. I like to have a lot of Bokeh in my images so I have been using the F4.0 aperture disc mostly but depending on how much DOF you want the disc are easily changed using the magnetic disc changer. Very slick device! Overall the lensbaby is very well made but pricey. If you want sharp pictures then you could buy a 50mm 1.4 for almost the same price as the LB however you would be missing the effects it offers. The LB is a lens that I wouldn't use a lot (kind of like a fisheye lens)but to have the LB in your bag gives you another alternative to a normal image.

The negatives to this lens is 1. It doesn't really hook up to your electronics of your camera but it does correctly exposure correct on the Aperture setting of your camera and 2. you have to focus manually. and 3. It could come with a lens hood to protect against flare.

Check out the lensbaby.com site for very lots more information.
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on May 8, 2011
I purchased this about 5 months ago, along with the zippered case and the macro filters. One thing I can say for sure, is that I do really enjoy this lens. I played with a borrowed Lensbaby 3G (now known as the Control Freak) before I purchased this lens. I bought the composer instead because it seemed a little more straight forward in use and a little more convenient for shooting on the fly. I'm pleased to say, that's definitely the case. For people who have time to really mess around and are (as the new product name asserts) Control Freaks, that option is awesome. For me, shooting weddings and portraits, I much prefer this option. Plus, from a client's perspective, it's definitely a lot less strange looking.

A couple of random comments:

*This thing is fun.
*It's surprising how sharp you can get the in-focus area if you try.
*Play with the different aperture sizes to adjust the size of the focus "sweet spot"
*For the first little while, you're going to want to use this thing all the time (at least if you're anything like me).
*After a while, you'll find that this is largely a one-trick pony. Great to have as part of a versitile kit when you feel like gettin' funky, but the images definitely have a very specific look and feel.

I bought the macro kit and zippered case when I bought the composer. I can honestly say that both are awesome additions. In my mind, the case should come with the lens (even if they had to increase the cost to do it). For some reason, I wouldn't like the thought of this thing floating around in my bag without it's case. The macro kit is just tons of fun. Don't expect it to be a replacement to a real macro lens, but I got some AWESOME abstracts out of it.

Overall, I would say this is a really fun piece of gear, and a great addition to most kits, for both serious amateurs and pros alike. That said, I definitely don't use it as much as I used to when I first bought it.
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