Ever since photographers used expensive perspective control lenses to create what is now called “the miniature effect,” enthusiasts have been trying to come up with a way of making the tilt shift effect occur on the cheap. For under a grand, LensBaby has a more budget option.
What is it?
While a traditional lens arrives fully built, the LensBaby Composer is more of a “craft your own lens” system, allowing you to replace the main optics section with a different piece of glass as time moves on.
Our review unit is actually made of two specific products: the LensBaby Composer Pro and the LensBaby Edge 80 Optic.
The LensBaby Composer Pro is a short lens with ball movement joint, allowing the lens to change angles. This essentially make your lens point in different directions and blurs specific sides, an effect that can change how objects in a scene are perceived, allowing some things to appear smaller than others.
The Composer Pro normally comes with a small 50mm removable piece of glass with no aperture ring – the Double Glass optic – although the apertures can be faked with drop-in magnetic rings with cut aperture sizes.
LensBaby allows you to replace this piece of glass with better optical pieces, like the Edge 80, a drop in lens that weighs as much as a coffee mug and features an aperture ring ranging from f/2.8 to f/22. The lens can also be switched from macro to regular mode by pulling the outside ring out.
Put together, the LensBaby Composer Pro and Edge 80 create an imitation high-end persepctive control lens for a rough price of $700, compared to the minimum $2000 price tag that normally applies to professional perspective control lenses.
Typical perspective control lenses rely on lens segments controlled by knobs, with small movements that make a big effect, blurring the sides and making the sharp parts of the image appear smaller than everything else.
On the LensBaby Composer, you’ll find the same can be acheived by shifting the ball of the lens, pushing the field of view left, right, up, and down while you focus.
This can be controlled with aperture settings, making the image sharper throughout the various f-stops.
On the Double Glass optic that comes with the Composer Pro, this is done through dropping in the magnetic aperture rings, simple rings that stop down the light. Once you want to change rings, you either have to pull them out using your fingers and smudging the lens, or by giving the lens and camera a good shake to remove it from the bottom of the lens.
Pictures with the Double Glass are often fairly soft, though, which is why LensBaby offers replaceable lenses, like the Edge 80 Optic.
With the Edge 80, your aperture control becomes just like that of a lens, rotating a ring and changing the f-stop accordingly. Combined with this optic, the Composer Pro works a treat, generally offering an experience similar to that of a perspective control lens, albeit in a smaller form and less expensive form.
We say “similar” because unlike in the modern PC lenses, there is no electronic connection, meaning that everything you do is performed in a manual mode.
That means you need to switch the camera into manual and handle shutter speed and ISO on your camera body, while alternating the aperture on the lens. Very little help is offered, and unless you have a fantastic understanding of how light is interpreted by your camera, you will spend most of your time guessing and playing with the settings.
That’s not to say the experience is bad, it’s just not the easiest experience you’ll ever have.
In fact, as more cameras begin to offer the “tilt shift” or “miniature” effects as part of in-camera processing, you may well find it easier to shoot the image without a special lens and process it this way.
You could even take the image from the camera and add the effect in post-processing applications such as Adobe Photoshop CS6.
LensBaby’s budget tilt shift offering is certainly an interesting one, resulting in a customisable lens that’s certainly priced well against a true perspective control lens.
Still, the quality and ease of use aren’t the only things stopping us from recommending it: it’s not that the image is blurry or that the lens is more complicated to use than we had hoped, but that it’s so much easier to make this effect happen in post.