Published on August 31st, 2010 | by Greg0
Freak Out with Lensbaby’s Control Freak
Last time we checked in with Lensbaby, we were looking at some of their fun optic options. Basically, these are fun add-ons to the Lensbaby ecosystem of lenses that offer some neat photography option at a fraction of the cost of bigger lenses but offering far more flexibility and control than simple filters. Photographic effects like fisheye distortion and soft focus can be achieved in post-production, but the quality is better doing things in-camera, and you can more easily get an idea of what will or won’t work to tweak your image without the need to wait for a computer and the hassles around transferring and modifying your pictures.
Each of the optics (and there are many others as well, including pinhole, plastic, single and double glass effects) requires a Lensbaby lens to use. We’ve had quite a bit of experience using the Composer, which offers a nice balance of flexibility in selective focus, but has some downsides as well. Recently, we’ve upgraded to the latest- the Lensbaby Control Freak.
Packaged in the same basic way as the other models, and including the same double glass optic as the Composer, this is their highest-end model and best suited to folks who have already had some experience with the other versions. First-time users and novice photographers are unlikely to need the extra features offered, but those with other models and occasionally frustrated by the limitations of the Muse or Composer should definitely consider upgrading. The same optics can be used across the systems, and there are enough advantages in the latest and greatest to be worthwhile. The only major downsides are the cost (it’s much pricier than the others), and the annoying interference with the fisheye optic (more on that in a bit).
Let’s start with some of the basics- you’ll need to choose a mount for your Lensbaby, whether it be Nikon, Canon, Sony, Pentax K or even Olympus 4/3s. The system isn’t interchangeable, so once you’ve set on a mount, you’ll be stuck with it (as with pretty much all lenses of course). Setup isn’t too difficult- you can pretty much just toss the Control Freak on your camera and try shooting- but you’ll quickly need to refer to the manual. Also, for those who rely on auto-focus, you’re out of luck here- manual focusing is required.
There are a few tricks, and the first is how to change the aperture. As with the other models, you’ll do this using little magnetic aperture discs (ranging from f/2.8 to f/22). The process isn’t difficult, but it does take some getting used to at first, and requires you to keep both the small pouch of discs and the little tool handy (and safe). A new set of adjustments require figuring out how to use the new metal posts and selective focus and fine-tune tilt controls. At first, the compression and bending is pretty similar, and you can use the Control Freak in just this way, fast and loose, for some interesting free-form effects. But the advantage of this model is the ability to lock in a desired focal sweet spot using a cute (and satisfyingly solid) button, then modify or adjust at will, per the name, using the barrel focusing ring and screwing or unscrewing the metal rods.
Ultimately, this is the best Lensbaby yet, offering some nice new ways to get better results. We’re still not fully satisfied by the limitations on focus and aperture, but understand the technical reasons. One other slight annoyance is that the metal posts are usually visible when using the fisheye optic- thus meaning that the Control Freak really only works well placed around a couple of inches from a subject, for macro shots. They do make this clear on their site, but it’s still a bit disappointing.
For those looking for something unique and extra for their portfolio, whether close-up static table-top work or slightly spacey portraiture, this is a fun and pretty straight forward way to expand your imaging horizons. At around $350 for the system itself though (additional optics range from $35 to $150 extra), we’d recommend carefully considering your needs and the other Lensbaby models.