Copyright Ara Roselani

Guest Post by  Ara Roselani - Follow Ara on Twitter

The Lensbaby Composer is a selective-focus lens available for Canon, Nikon, Pentax, Sony and Olympus. It features an Optic Swap System, allowing you to change to options such as a pinhole, a Lomo/Holga-like plastic effect, single- or double-glass, wide-angle and telephoto without buying a new lens–you just pop the center of the lens out and switch. The Composer is small and portable–about the size of the average 50mm prime. Lensbaby’s latest additions to their optic system are the Fisheye and Soft-Focus.

For this review, I recruited four other photographers to test and give me their perspectives.

Fisheye Optic
The 12mm, 160-degree view of the Fisheye is sharp and really, really wide. While most Fisheye lenses will run you at least $700, this small and portable optic is only $150. It doesn’t offer the same tilt-shift qualities as the other Lensbaby optics–moving the outer ring of the Composer only moves the fisheye bubble and causes it to cut off if not dead-center. Shooting on a full frame camera gives you a full circle, and a crop sensor will cut it off. You can focus on an object centimeters from the front of the lens.

Whether shooting landscapes or cat’s noses, it’s important to check all corners of your image before taking the picture–it’s so wide that I find feet, tripod legs, camera bags and other undesirable objects in my frame. Because the optic needs to be centered to not cut off the fisheye bubble, I ratchet down the outer ring of the Lensbaby so I’m not tempted to move it like I normally would. The middle of the image is sharp and solid, while the edges bubble out quite a bit.

This is a fun optic with endless creative options, and resonates well with landscape and cityscape photographers as a fun and affordable addition to their arsenal. For me, it’s the ultimate fun wide angle, where I can really capture an entire scene and see it as a circle instead of a square.

Image copyright 2010 – Crisse Milner

Soft Focus Optic
For a hint of magic, a touch of mystery, and a sense of wonder, the Soft Focus optic is a fantastic creative tool. Light becomes warm and diffused. I love it for portraiture, where smoothing out edges gives an entirely different feel than a standard lens. It’s a beautiful way to shoot boudoir portraits. For landscapes, it can make a scene dreamy and fantasy-like.

The Soft Focus optic comes with several aperture rings, some with a snowflake pattern for extra softness. I initially tried shooting with the snowflake rings and got frustrated–most of my pictures were just way too soft. I ran into Craig Strong, the president of Lensbaby, at Imaging USA in January, and he advocated using the solid f/4 ring for portraits–it works like a charm. Thanks Craig!

Lensbaby products don’t have autofocus, and focus takes extra time (as one might expect) with this optic. One of the photographers who helped me test said her initial subjects needed to be patient as she worked with the focus. Because the view is very soft, it takes extra time to find a focal point and can be challenging in low light.

The optic is $90 and has a 50mm focal length.

To view some of the shots by the Portland-based photographers Crisse Milner, Miles Morgan, Squid Vicious and Matt Abinante who helped me with testing, check here.

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This post sponsored by the Digital SLR Store