Review: Lensbaby Composer Initial Impressions

July 14th, 2009 by Martin Bailey

I recently ordered a Lensbaby Composer, and after spending almost a week in the current very crowded Tokyo customs facility, it arrived today. Excited like a little kid, I left the office as early as possible, and then ate dinner itching all the time to open the little package to my right. After clearing the dishes away, I finally got the nod that I could open my new toy. Yes!

Lensbaby Composer with case and aperture rings etc.

Lensbaby Composer with case and aperture rings etc.

The first thing that struck me when I opened the box is that the Lensbaby Composer is big and heavy. I don’t mean heavy like a big L lens, but it’s got a good weight. Then I realized that it has a metal mount, which I should have noticed from the pictures I’ve seen of it, but hadn’t. This was another great surprise. Overall, the build just feels great, right down to the knurling etc on the focus ring, and the second ring used to lock the movable Lensbaby head in place.

Note that the dedicated lens case in the above photo is not included with the Lensbaby Composer. You have to buy this separately, but this too is well made and well worth the $14.95 extra in my opinion.

I have a first generation Lensbaby, and a Lensbaby 2.0 and never really like the way they looked on the camera. I use 5D and 1Ds series cameras, and always have the battery grip on the 5D, and the old Lensbabies looked a little bit too small on the camera, and never felt balanced. This is really not the case with the Composer. It feels very similar in size, weight and overall balance, to having the Canon EF 50mm F1.4 lens attached.

Lensbaby Composer on the 5D Mark II

Lensbaby Composer on the 5D Mark II

The other thing I never liked about the old Lensbabies was the softness of the images. I read on the Lensbaby Web site that the Composer came fitted with the multi-coated Double Glass Optic, from the Optic Swap System, which allows you to change the optics to use the Composer with various lenses. I didn’t buy any other Optics this time. I figured I’d see how much I use the composer first, and also, I wanted to check the build quality (which is now behind me).

I couldn’t wait to try the Composer out to see just how sharp it was, so I grabbed my tripod, and headed out in a thunder storm to give it a try. The following two images were the results of this tiny excursion into the elements.

Roof-tops in a Rainstorm with the Lensbaby Composer @ F2.8

Roof-tops in a Rainstorm with the Lensbaby Composer @ F2.8

Tokyo Rainstorm with Lensbaby Composer @ F4.0

Tokyo Rainstorm with Lensbaby Composer @ F4.0

After really just a handful of shots, I can’t say for sure, but the Lensbaby Composer seems to have nicer bokeh around the edges than the previous Lensbabies, and the sweet spot is reeeeaaaally sweet, and by that I mean sharp! The double glass really does improve the image quality of the Lensbaby. Here are a couple of 100% crops from the above photos. Now, bear in mind that these were shot at 10 and 8 seconds respectively, in a torrential rainstorm. I reckon these are pretty sharp.

100% crop @ f2.8, 10 second exposure

100% crop @ f2.8, 10 second exposure

100% crop @ f4.0, 8 second exposure

100% crop @ f4.0, 8 second exposure

I really like the way you can now focus the Lensbaby with a focus ring, like a traditional lens, and the focus mechanism is totally separate from the adjustment of the sweet spot, though you do have to refocus after you adjust it. I like to shoot on a tripod, and take my time over composition, and fine tune the focus etc. That was not possible with the Lensbaby 1.0 or 2.0. All of that is behind me know, and I feel as though the Lensbaby Composer has now finally made the Lensbaby a serious artistic tool for our photography toolbox.

I haven’t tried any of the apertures smaller than f4.0 yet, and the conditions tonight weren’t great, so I’ll definitely update you again when I’ve had a chance to use the lens under more normal conditions. Right now though, from the build quality, feel and all important image quality, I’m very pleased that I picked up this lens. I can’t wait to shoot with it again!

My only tiny little peeve, though for this price I am already way more than satisfied, is that when you turn the locking ring to lock the front of the lens in place, it sends the focus off. If it held focus when locking it down, it would actually be a little too good. :-) I think my working style will probably involve adding just enough tension to stop the front of the lens from flopping around, but not so much that I can’t move it, and just leave it like that, and not actually lock things in place most of the time. That should give me the best of both worlds.

Another enhancement request, rather than a peeve is that the Composer case that I also bought would be even better if it had a belt loop. It’s great as it is, but with a belt loop I could have quick and easy access to the Lensbaby Composer while walking around town or on location etc.

Anyway, apart from these two tiny things, it’s a big thumbs up all round for the Lensbaby Composer. Go buy one!

By the way, I’m giving a Lensbaby Composer away to one of the winners of the MBP Photography Assignment too!

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