The two newest members of the Lensbaby Optic swap tribe bring new elements to the Lensbaby experience and are a cool way for photographers to experiment with new techniques in a relatively economical way.
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I've been a huge fan of the Lensbaby line of bendy, sweet-spotted lenses since they first launched way back when a few years ago and I've finally found a few minutes to take the two newest members of the ever-expanding Optic Swap tribe out for some experimenting.
The Fisheye Optic has a field of view of about 160º and records a circular image with deliberate light bleed-out on full-frame lenses. On APS-H and APS-C SLRs the Fisheye still takes in approximately 160º,and there is some edge of frame vignetting, again with that cool light bleed when there's really hot elements in the frame. But it's not a full circular image.
(Our sample shots with the Fisheye Optic were captured with the Pentax K-7, many with in-camera HDR mode to deal with the very wide range of light in the 160º coverage. We'll update the gallery with some more shots the next time we've got a full-frame camera in for a field test.)
As this is a Lensbaby, the aperture is changed manually, but it is important to note the the Fisheye apertures are a slightly smaller size than the magnetic aperture rings, and to change the ap size on the Fisheye, you've got to remove the front lens element and drop them in. As you may have guessed, the Fisheye optic is sharpest at the center, and gets more distorted the nearer to the edges of the image circle. It can be a bit of a challenge to get the optic swap tool to pop the Fisheye out of the Composer, and it can also take some doing to remove the front element to swap apertures when the Fisheye/Composer combo is mounted on an SLR.
The Soft focus Optic swap lens, is, somewhat ironically, perhaps the sharpest lens in the Optic Swap line-up–from an edge-to-edge perspective, at least. Like the Pinhole/Zone Plate Optic, the Soft Focus lens is a flat-field lens–meaning it is equally sharp edge-to-edge and doesn't have a curved field like the Double and Single Glass, Plastic, and Fisheye Optics.
This new Optic is designed to give a diffused, yet crisp-edged feel to images. This breed of lenses is very flattering for portraiture, and has a different dreamy effect than many of the other Optic Swap pieces of glass (or plastic) in the lineup.
The Soft Focus lens ships with three special soft-focus drop-in apertures (as pictured) for different levels of the soft-focus feel, along with some basic single-holed aperture disks to stop down. But it my first experiments, the special soft-focus apertures are also cool for throwing lots of circles and patterns from specular highlights on the original curved-field Lensbaby Optics such as the Double Glass or Single Glass.
And conversely, the Soft Focus optic can be used with any pre-cut or custom creative apertures for throwing the specular highlights into different shapes, such as snowflakes, hearts, or whatever small design you can carve or punch into the magnetic rubbery discs.
All in all, these are two cool additions to the line of interchangeable optics available for the Lensbaby Optic Swap lenses that manage to complement the existing Optics without being redundant. Lensbaby deserves points for making a positive effect out of the negative space typical of circular fisheye images, and for existing Lensbaby owners, gaining the dreamy crisp-yet-diffused Soft Focus lens effect for well under $100 is a steal.
The Lensbaby vibe isn't for every photographer, but for those who dig it, there's a lot more to like with these two new optics.