Lensbaby lenses are to photography what Tesla motors is to the car industry. They make tools that make you stop and reconsider the relationship between creativity and your photography. And they’ve done it again with their latest lens, the Edge 35.
Let me say this up front: The Edge 35 is incredibly sharp, it’s extremely high quality, it’s a blast to use and I highly recommend it. Now I’ll tell you why.
What’s an Edge lens?
Lensbaby’s Edge series are tilt lenses that work with its Composer Pro lens bodies and the newest is the much-anticipated 35mm. There’s already an 80mm and a 50mm, and this new wide-angle addition is very welcome. You can buy the optic only or get it coupled with a lens body. You just buy the body that fits the camera brand you use. Isn’t that a cool way to make a lens system?
The key thing about Edge lenses is that they alter the plane of focus you see through the lens. Typically, the plane of focus in the lens is parallel to the camera’s sensor. If you’ve ever dropped your camera with a heavy lens attached, you may have noticed that now only a portion of your photos are in focus — only one of two people standing side by side is in focus. That’s because when you dropped the camera you bent the lens mount and now the focus plane isn’t parallel to the sensor. You’re not alone — I did this last summer and my camera had to be repaired.
Why would you change the focal plane?
The ability to change the plane of focus on purpose is not new. Large format view cameras (the kind with the bellows and the hood that goes over your head) have always had this ability and tilt-shift lenses are available from your camera manufacturer. In these two cases, the tilt function is largely used to correct the foreshortening caused by tilting your camera. If you tilt your camera up to capture the entirety of a building, then it looks like the walls taper inward and become narrower at the top. In reality, the top of the building is the same width as the bottom and tilting the lens while keeping the camera body straight can let you correct for that distortion. Tilt-shift lenses may cost a couple of thousand dollars; you could also just shoot a little wider and use distortion correction tools in your software to fix it.
That’s the technical reason to use a tilting lens. But used creatively, it opens a whole new world of possibilities.
Edge 35 makes you instantly creative
To use the Edge 35, just loosen the Composer Pro body and swivel the lens around. As you look through the viewfinder you’ll see a slice of the world in focus. You can focus across the viewfinder, not just front to back like a normal lens. On a normal lens, if your subject stands next to a tree, both her face and the tree will be in focus. With Edge, you can tilt the focus so it includes her face, but excludes the tree. If you need a wider slice of focus, just dial the aperture ring to a smaller aperture, which gives you more depth of field.
Plus, when you shoot with it wide-open you get a gentle glow over the whole picture. It’s still in focus, but it’s glowy. It’s cool.
You can see depth of field
When you change the aperture with Edge 35 tilted you’ll see the slice of focus become thicker. This is the depth of field you normally deal with in your camera. With a normal lens, if you want a person’s eyes in focus but not her ears, you can utilize a shallow depth of field. With the lens tilted, you can actually visualize exactly how much depth of field your lens and aperture are making.
You can focus with depth
Normal lenses focus at one specific distance from the camera. Edge 35 lets you focus and direct attention to more than one subject at once by focusing at all distances. You can have one person or object near the camera on the right in focus and another subject far from the camera in the left in focus. This is utilizing the Scheimpflug principle, and you can see more about that in this other article. You can also utilize this to focus down the length of a long subject.
When you see focus you see creatively
You’ll be amazed at the compositions your mind starts finding when you use an Edge lens. It’s really indescribable. Edge 35 gives a little wider view of the world than its telephoto siblings and I can wholeheartedly recommend buying it. Lensbaby often has a table at various photo events and conferences and they’ll let you try it out. You can also rent one.
Edge 35 is incredibly sharp. Its all-metal body houses extremely high-quality glass. I’ve been to the plant in Oregon where these lenses are made and they have tight quality controls. It’s also cool that this lens is made in the USA. Oh, and don’t pay any attention to the erroneous rumor that Lensbaby’s are plastic toy lenses: I’d put this up against any Japanese-made lens for quality of build and image quality.
Why is it so inexpensive?
The real question is, “Why are other tilt lenses so costly?” As far as I know, all tilt lenses are manual focus only, and so is Edge 35. I don’t know why it only costs $449, or only $249 if you already have a Composer Pro body. Once you have a Composer Pro body you can use all the different optics in it. Check out the specs.
- Focal length: 35mm. Comfortably wide on a full-frame camera, it’s a little telephoto on my micro four-thirds cameras.
- Aperture range: f/3.5-f/22
- Diaphragm blades: 8. That means there are 8 blades that form the aperture hole. It’s rare to get this many blades at this price — they help make sun flares natural-looking and the bokeh bubbles nice and round.
- Elements/groups: 9 elements in 6 groups. This is how many pieces of glass are in the lens.
- Close focus distance: 7.” That makes it a pretty good close-up lens.
- Dimensions: 2.5″ (6.35cm) x 2.5″ (6.35cm) x 3.1″ (7.8cm)
- Weight: 10oz, plus the Composer Pro body: 6oz, Total: 16oz.
- MSRP: $249.95
Remember the key
The key to Edge 35 is using it. It takes some getting used to. Put it on your camera and hit the street and go make pictures. Better yet, go on a little trip and only take this lens (that’s what I did). You’ve got to unlearn the strict rules normal lenses have forced on your mind and the only way to do it is by using the lens extensively — which is the same thing you did when you got any new lens.
If you’re shooting for yourself, you’re going to love this new word. If you shoot for clients, they will be amazed to see something completely different. Don’t do the entire shoot with it, but use it as a delicious spice to add variety and interest to your photos. You’re going to love it. Check out the full lineup at Lensbaby.com.
Lensbaby sent me this lens to review. They did not pay me to write this. I love their lenses and love to share them. They did, however, pay me to make a video series about using their lenses and you can view them for free at Lensbaby University. I don’t get royalties on that either — I just love these things and I think you will love them, too. Check out my courses on Urban Photography and Nature Photography.