{gear} the lensbaby Composer

I've been a fan of the Lensbaby system of selective focus lenses for a couple of years. I love the distinctively unique blur that you get from the lenses. It's a look that, at least so far, can't be duplicated with Photoshop or other image-editing programs.

Until now, success with the Lensbaby has always been notoriously hit-or-miss, especially for subjects on the move. That's because the focus point is set manually through the use of a bellows. You looked through the viewfinder, squiggled the bellows around, and tried to find the part of the frame you wanted in focus. The bellows moved up and down and in and out, so it was tricky. And once you found your sweet spot, then you had to keep your fingers steady on the bellows while you simultaneously pressed the shutter.

Until recently, I had been using the Lensbaby second-generation product, which looks like this:
As you can see, there's no way to lock in the focus point; you just had to keep your fingers as steady as possible and hope that the shot would still be there when you fired the shutter. When it worked, it worked wonderfully. But my hard drives are filled with loads of photos that are just not quite there.

The Lensbaby 3G went a long way to rectifying the problem by letting the user to lock the position of the bellows. It was better, but the lens itself became a lot more ungainly, and adjusting the focusing rods was difficult in the field. The system worked well for studio shots when you have the luxury of time, but again, out in the field it was a lot to manage. Plus, the thing looked more like a surgical device than a lens.

Now comes the Composer. It's a radical redesign, and the lens is exponentially better. I completely love it. The bellows now is more of a rotation device, and when you remove your fingers, it stays in place automatically. Then you can fine tune the focus with a focusing wheel. It's serious genius.
Just as before, the lens works in aperture priority only on your DSLR. (I do wish it worked in manual, because I often find myself wanting to override the exposure more than the -2 to +2 range that aperture priority allows.) You can change the size of the sweet spot by changing aperture rings that slip in and out of the lens. (There is improvement here, as well; the rings used to be far more difficult to change. Now they pop in and out easily.)
The optics are improved, as well. There are two elements instead of one, so the parts of the frame that are in focus are sharper than before. And there's more: accessories now include an Optic Swap System, which gives you a choice of effects. You can make your pictures look like they came from a plastic camera or a zone plate, or you can get a soft and diffused look by using a single glass optic. I haven't tried these goodies yet, but I am looking forward to them eventually.
Overall, this is a quantum leap ahead for the Lensbaby lineup. I've always loved the look the lens provided, but now it's light years easier to produce. The price is $269, and there's a special going on now that lets you get wide-angle and macro adapters for free.


  1. Thanks for the insight on the latest Lensbaby incarnation, I'm even more excited to ad the Composer to my collection, seems like they've made some really good improvements.

  2. seriously, the composer is over the top. I have them all and this is the one that truly knocks my socks off.

  3. Reading this makes me feel better about all of the photos that "didn't" work. Thanks!

  4. And just when I thought I didn't need to up grade!