Lensbabies are one of the more interesting accessory lenses available. These selective focus optics are relatively inexpensive, versatile and incredibly helpful for presenting new challenges and opportunities for photographers.
The newest and most refined Lensbaby is the Composer model. Unlike earlier Lensbaby models, (which are still around under new names), the Composer is a much more elegant product. With earlier versions, the photographer manipulated the Lensbaby by holding it in the desired position and then tripping the shutter. The Composer on the other hand can be shifted into place and focused and will hold its position even if the photographer pulls his or her hand away from it.
The Composer also comes with a selection of removable aperture rings and a clever device to remove and store the rings. The photographer merely chooses the aperture ring they desire (full stops ranging from f2.8 to f22) and uses the magnetized end of the tool to remove the aperture currently in place. The replacement ring is inserted and the old ring is returned to the storage compartment at the end of the tool. (Which delightfully uses an old 35 mm film canister cap to seal shut.)
Using it (4 out of 5)
Working with the Composer takes some practice. Besides changing the aperture ring, you have to get the hang of shifting the front part of the lens element appropriately. The front part of the element mounts to the rear end via a ball like connection. You can then pivot the front part all through the image frame in order to place the focus point where you want.
Since you’re relying on the aperture ring to control the amount of selective focus you get from the Composer, you have to work on controlling exposure in other ways. Shutter speed and ISO usually provide enough control, but you can also use flash if need be. It’s not possible to mount a filter on the front of the Composer, using neutral density filters isn’t an option. Many cameras (but not all) can use aperture priority automation for auto exposure with the Composer.
Obviously focusing is done manually. This is another area where the photographer needs some practice, since it can be hard to focus precisely with the Composer.
Since the Composer mounts on a camera like any other lens, you have to make sure you buy one designed for your brand of camera. Versions are available in mounts for the Canon EOS system, Nikon F, Sony Alpha, Minolta Maxxum, Pentax K, Samsung GX, Olympus E1 and Panasonic Lumix DMC.
Accessories (5 out of 5)
The Composer is the equivalent to a 50 mm manual focus lens, which focuses from 18 inches to infinity. An array of interesting accessories is available including super wide angle, wide angle and telephoto adapters, a macro kit and a mix of creative and cut your own apertures. There is also an Optic Swap System that lets the user change elements ranging from a very sharp double glass element to a single glass optic, to a plastic lens element to a pinhole style lens. Each optic provides a different effect and mimics a different style of camera type (such as antique, pinhole or toy camera). The Composer can be locked in place via a locking ring that covers the focusing ring.
Price to value (4 out of 5)
The Composer is a well-designed and versatile product that can be a wonderful addition to the creative photographer’s camera bag. At $270, the Composer might be a bit much for the average amateur, but if you’ve already got your basic lens kit assembled and want to try something different, it’s a fun choice.
Lens Baby provided me with a Composer for the David Busch Quick Snap Guide to Photo Gear.