Published on April 10th, 2012 | by Greg0
New Lensbabies! Scout + Fisheye And Edge 80
It's wild the difference an optic can make. Case in point: the two photos attached to this article (unretouched, click to see full size) are taken from the same spot. And neither of them is technically a zoom lens. We've got two of the latest interesting products on hand, from one of our favorite lensmakers- and their products are available for just about any of the major camera system, so you have no excuse. We're stuck on our Nikon (typically using a D7000 for in house photography), but our folks in Hawaii stand by Canon, and some of our folks use Sony DSLRs. They've even started making lenses specifically aimed at cinematographers and filmmakers.
Lensbabies are the magic word for interesting specific-effect special-use lenses. You'll need a mount first- we've tried most all of them, from the original Composer to the Composer Pro, both of which offer their unique tilt function, where you can literally shift the lens in any direction to give portions of an image a blurred effect. Their Control Freak took the idea and allowed you to pinpoint a specific angle for accurate recreation. And the Muse took things in a fast, loose direction, cheaper and faster than the others. Their latest mount is the Lensbaby Scout- which no longer offers any shifting adjustments, and thus is a more limited version of the system. It doesn't work as well with specific optics- for instance, the new optic we mention below wasn't all that interesting to use with the Scout. But throw in a Fisheye optic, and instead of trying to blend two effects (a tilt-shift and a fisheye), you can focus on the expanded frame instead and avoid losing part of the image (which happened often when using one of the other mounts).
One of the secrets behind the Lensbaby system is the interchangeable optics, alluded to above. You can swap them in and out, via a system that is a bit tricky the first time but gets easier. We took the fisheye image using the Scout mount, which is installed by default- but you can easily purchase other optics, like the Sweet 35 that we tried out and loved late last year, and might still be our favorite option. And you can, of course, take the Fisheye optic out of the Scout and use it in other mounts, if you want to upgrade to a different kind at any point. The Scout felt light and well-made, and allowed a very wide range of focal lengths- you can use this pair as an awesome macro system, getting right into a subject only a half-inch away and still keeping it sharp.
Of course, as we've mentioned in the past, these aren't electronic systems- there's no autofocus capability, and you'll have to set your camera to manual focus for them to work. You'll also need to be comfortable adjusting your F-stop and shutter speed on the fly, since using these means that the camera cannot detect and adjust those settings either. And make sure you buy the right type of mount to fit your camera! At $250 for the pair, it felt a little pricey compared to the other mounting options (which run from $150 to over $400, depending on options). But a lot of the value is in the Fisheye optic, which is normally $150 by itself. The Scout is aptly named: light, fast, and quick, and an interesting expansion to the wide range of Lensbabies, now offering something for just about every purpose.
Speaking of which, we did have a bit more trouble finding a perfect use for the Edge 80 optic. We primarily used the Composer Pro, and at first, were a bit confused. Images look fairly flat, where we are used to pretty obvious and strong effects. In our image, you'll note the blurred effect- but that's due to us tilting the mount; by default the Edge 80 is basically a straight lens. Certainly, you'll quickly see a soft focus along the edges, a nice and subtle effect that you can move around a bit.
Also, a big advantage here is the built-in adjustable aperture. Most Lensbaby optics and mounts require the unusual and slightly awkward set of small discs that you can pull out of an optic with a magnet- but we usually just found workarounds and almost never changed the F-stop, since it was a little fussy (and we prefer to leave the little discs at home). Getting the 12-blade adjustable aperture in the small Lensbaby had to be a challenge, and we appreciated the worksmanship. It was one less thing to worry about, but the lens itself didn't lend itself to as many creative possibilities as others. Considering the expense- $300 is quite a bit of dough- we only suggest this one if you're already a Lensbaby lover, and find yourself in situations where changing the aperture on the fly is critical.