SWEET 35 GETS A SIBLING
Lensbaby Edge 80
Slices Focus, Adds Macro
By MIKE PASINI
The Imaging Resource Digital Photography Newsletter
Review Date: February 2012
While the new Lensbaby Edge 80 resembles the recently released Sweet 35, it's a completely different optical experience. And we're not just talking about the focal length, which happens to be ideal for portraiture.
Edge 80 Simulator
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First, the Edge 80 is a flat field optic. Second, it includes macro focusing as close as 17 inches.
But like the Sweet 35, it features an internal 12-blade adjustable aperture. No discs.
Focal Length: 80mm
Construction: 12-blade internal aperture, controlled by a dial on the front of the optic
Aperture: f2.8 through f22
Focus: Flat field of focus optic (when tilted, creates a slice of sharp focus, bordered by blur)
Compatibility: Compatible with Lensbaby Composer Pro, Composer, Muse, Scout and Control Freak lens bodies but not compatible with the Composer with Tilt Transformer for Micro 4/3rds and Sony NEX cameras.
Minimum focusing distance: approximately 17” when the optic is extended forward in macro mode and fully tilted.
Maximum focusing distance: Infinity
Construction: 5 multi-coated glass elements, in four groups
Threads: 46mm front threads (not compatible with current 37mm Lensbaby accessories)
The Edge 80 is compatible with the Lensbaby Composer Pro, Composer, Muse and Control Freak, transforming any of these lens bodies into a tilt lens that delivers a slice of sharp focus through an image that falls off to a soft blur.
It will also mount in the Scout lens body but because the Scout does not pivot, the Edge 80 provides a flat-field 80mm optic only.
It is not compatible with the Composer with Tilt Transformer Micro Four-Thirds and NEX housings. Nor is it compatible with Lensbaby's current 37mm Lensbaby accessories.
Mounting the Edge 80 optic in a Composer body is pretty straightforward. Start by setting the aperture to f2.8. Then align the solid white dot on the aperture ring (right below the white line indicating the aperture) to the hollow dot (indicating "Open") on the Composer. Then turn the optic clockwise toward the solid dot (indicating "Locked") on the Composer.
Removable is even simpler. You simply align the hollow dot on the optic's aperture ring with the solid dot on the Composer, press in holding the aperture ring and slide the optic counter clockwise toward the hollow dot on the Composer.
You only need to remove the optic from the housing if you want to use a different Lensbaby optic. If you simply want to swap lenses, you remove the Composer Pro just like any other lens on your particular system.
So what does the aperture control? Just as the aperture on a normal lens controls depth of field, increasing what's in focus as you stop the lens down, the Edge 80 increases its band of focus as you stop down. The wider open the aperture, the narrower the band of focus, the more dramatic the effect.
For example, f2.8 creates a narrow slice of focus while f22 creates a very wide slice of focus. When you tilt the lens severely and use a very wide open aperture like f2.8, the slice of focus is even thinner than when shooting at f2.8 with minimal tilt.
Like the Sweet 35, the Edge 80 allows you to quickly change the 12-blade aperture from f2.8 through f22, simply by rotating the dial on the front of the optic.
Mounted in any housing but the Scout, the Edge 80's focus band can be moved around the scene by tilting the housing. Different effects are achieved moving the optic up, down and diagonally.
We shot with the Edge 80 mounted on a Nikon dSLR using the supplied Composer Pro housing and on a Canon dSLR using a Composer housing. The Pro housing provided better focus control, which is important with a tricky optic like the Edge 80.
Focus can be hard to judge on a dSLR, especially at wide apertures, which is where the Edge 80 gives the most dramatic effect. As we explained in Using Fast Primes With Live View in the Aug. 27, 2010 Newsletter:
"The big problem, though, is that it's just impossible to judge focus wide open with a fast lens. Why? Because the focusing screen wasn't designed for lenses that fast. Our widest apertures, we noticed, are all about the same brightness. When f1.8 is as bright as f4, you aren't seeing what's in focus at f1.8. The focusing screen's microlenses show more depth of field than the lens sees."
So the captured scene can be a bit different than the scene you compose in the viewfinder. On three dSLRs we use, we can't see a difference in brightness at f4 and wider through the viewfinder.
The solution to this is either to carefully review your capture (enlarging to 100 percent to confirm focus) or use Live View to compose.
In fact, Live View is a really fun way to use the Edge 80. Not only can you accurately set focus with the Composer, but you can see just what effect changing apertures has, especially at the wide end.
The rule of thumb here is that if you don't notice a brightness change with an aperture change when looking through the optical viewfinder, you aren't seeing focus at the wider apertures. As the Newsletter story observed, we found f4 to be about as bright as f2.5. Brightness did change between f4 and f5.6, though.
We shot with the Edge 80 on both a Canon and Nikon dSLR, both tripod mounted and freehand, indoors and out. We switched easily between normal and macro modes and used a variety of tilts, both extreme and moderate. Macro, which requires only extending the front element, let us focus as close as 17 inches tilted and 19 straight on.
Frankly, it was a bit difficult to see the focus slice both through the viewfinders and with Live View. But straight-on flat-field shooting was easy to focus. And macros shot that way were also a pleasure to compose and focus.
The beauty of the internal aperture controlled by an external ring (rather than the magnetic discs most other optics rely on) wasn't lost on us. As with the Sweet 35, we very much appreciate the flexibility it gave us in composing the shot.
If Sweet 35 is the new normal (for subframe cameras), the Edge 80 is a mild telephoto ideal for portraits. We haven't had occasion to shoot portraits with it yet.
The "baby" part of the name Lensbaby gets overlooked. But with each new baby, there's an excitement that's hard to contain. The possibilites -- as with any baby -- are unimaginable. You simply have to live with it to find out what your photography will become.
The Edge 80 adds another internal aperture lens to the Lensbaby family of optics, one with a mild telephoto range ideal for portraiture but also designed for closeups.
It's one more bundle of joy from Lensbaby.