Depth of field control and *cool effects* on a budget: The Lensbaby Composer Pro II / Edge50 optic

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posted Wednesday, October 21, 2015 at 6:47 PM EDT

 
 

Have you ever wished you had a tilt-shift lens for depth of field control or just cool effects, but didn't have the serious budget they demand? Lensbaby has you covered!

Lensbaby is possibly the most innovative lens company around, dedicated to expanding photographers' creative limits for years now. (I don't remember just when they first appeared; the first product of theirs we covered was the first version of the Lensbaby Composer, way back in 2008, which itself was a redesign/rethinking of their original bellows-based special-effects lens that was already a well-established product at that point.) Now, they've just announced the latest version of the design, the new Composer Pro II with Edge 50 optic.

For those not familiar with the Composer Pro, it's certainly one of the more unusual lenses you'll see: A custom lens mount is attached via ball-and-socket joint to a flange matching your camera's mount. The ball-and-socket arrangement lets you twist and tilt the lens however you want, with the expected effect on the plane of focus.

 

 
Here's the Lensbaby Composer Pro II with the bundled Edge50 optic attached. I don't know how many degrees it is off-axis, but this shows the lens tilted upward to the limit of its travel. (Believe me, you really don't need any more tilt than is shown here; it's really a pretty dramatic effect, in terms of the width of the in-focus zone.)

I've included a couple of sample shots below, showing how the Composer Pro II can be used to control depth of field for subjects receding at an angle from the camera. Just like the "tilt" part of a conventional tilt-shift lens, you can either increase or decrease the range of in-focus distances by varying the angle of the lens and camera body, relative to the plane of the subject. This is referred to as the Scheimflug Principle, explaining half of the capabilities of view cameras and tilt-shift lenses. (See that link to the Wikipedia article for the math behind the Scheimflug Principle; the other half of view cameras and tilt-shift lenses is the ability to shift the lens up/down/left/right, to accommodate off-center subjects without causing perspective distortion.)

 

 
Controls for the Composer Pro II/Edge50 optic are pretty simple. It's all-manual, of course, with a manual aperture on the lens, a focus ring on the Composer Pro II itself (the ribbed band on the Composer that's closest to the lens), and a tension-adjust ring that lets you lock the lens at a particular angle (the second ribbed ring out from the camera body). The combination doesn't normally focus terribly close, but tugging on the front of the lens pops it out into its macro setting, seen in the illustration above.

Like all their optics, the Lensbaby Composer Pro II/Edge 50 combination isn't intended for people shooting center spreads for Architectural Digest; the emphasis is on creative effects rather than ultimate sharpness or low distortion, aberration, etc. If you need maximally crisp details and no aberration, you need to spend the $1,200-1,800 for a conventional tilt-shift lens from the likes of Canon or Nikon. On the other hand, if you're looking for fun and a range of creative effects difficult to reproduce in Photoshop, the Composer Pro II/Edge50 combo is a strong bet. And at ~$425 for the pair, it ranks pretty high on the fun-per-dollar scale :-)

OK, I guess it's time for some specs; here they are:

  • 50mm
  • f/3.2 - f/22
  • 9-blade internal diaphragm
  • Flat-field optic (a single plane of focus, angled however you've set it)
  • Minimum focusing distance of 8" front the front of the lens (at its macro setting)
  • Manual focus
  • Tilt: Up to 15 degrees (ah, there's that number...)
  • Compatible with Lensbaby Optic Swap system (a range of 5 other lenses)
  • 8 multi-coated elements in 6 groups
  • 46mm filter threads
  • 3.5" (8.25cm) high, 2.5" (6.35cm) wide, 10 oz (283.5g)
  • LOTS of mounts: Canon EF, Fuji X, Micro Four Thirds, Nikon F, Pentax K, Samsung NX, Sony Alpha A and Sony Alpha E

 

 
Here's an example of some flowers, fairly close-up (at about the non-macro-mode limit), with the Composer Pro II angled to produce the maximum depth of field, along the plane of the subject, bringing the more distant flowers and leaves into focus as well as the foreground. Note, though, that the DOF was actually still very shallow, for anything projecting from the plane of focus, as was the case with the flower in the right foreground. (This was shot at the maximum aperture of f/3.2)

 

 
Here's the same shot, from the same position, a few seconds later, but with the Composer Pro II tilted in the opposite direction. The result is a razor-thin depth of field. Notably, this effect isn't just restricted to close-up subjects like this, or ones where there's such a significant difference in subject distance. The Lensbaby site shows a number of examples where a thin in-focus slice is used to call attention to the subject.
 
 
Here's another shot, this time at f/5.6, and once again with the Composer Pro II angled to align the plane of focus with that of the subject.
 
 
And here's the same shot, from exactly the same position, with the Composer Pro II tilted all the way in the other direction. One thing that's particularly worth noting is the almost complete absence of longitudinal chromatic aberration: The out-of-focus parts of the subject show almost no color tinges or fringing. A lot of mainstream lenses wish they could do as well! :-)

So that's the Lensbaby Composer Pro II / Edge50 optic in a nutshell: An incredible amount of creative flexibility and control, for a very affordable price :-)

Speaking of affordable, here are some purchase links for the Composer Pro II / Edge50 optic:
Using these links helps support our site, at no cost to you!

Amazon: Canon, Nikon, Sony E-mount
Adorama:
B&H:

 

(I'm curious - what do you think about optics like these, intended for creative effect vs optical excellence? I used to be a little dismissive of them myself, once upon a time, but these days, find myself liking the idea a lot. What do you think? Let us know in the discussion thread below!)