Hands-On: Lensbaby Tilt Transformer

Lensbaby's Tilt Transformer brings Nikon-based bending to m4/3 and Sony NEX cameras.


It's cool enough that Lensbaby has released a version of their wildly popular  Composer for micro four thirds cameras from Olympus and Panasonic and Sony's NEX cameras, but they've really gone and done something amazing and completely out of left field with this new Tilt Transformer ball socket base that's half of the cool news from our bendy friends from Oregon.

This Tilt Transformer base not only mounts the Lensbaby Composer Focus Front element (and this will accept all but the Fisheye optic swap Lensbaby lenses), for your classic Lensbaby Composer experience–it also accepts pretty much every Nikon lens out there for shifting and focus-slicing fun.  And get this: the Tilt Transformer allows you to mount virtually any Nikon F-mount lens, and offers full aperture control, whether or not there's a dedicated aperture ring on the lens!

Yes, it does take a minute to absorb all that; so let's run though this one more time: the new Lensbaby ballsocket base plus almost any Nikon lens equal shifting focal plane photography on m4/3 and NEX cameras. Obviously, we're talking manual focus here.

I'm going to now shift my focus, as it were, to the hands-on shooting experience with the Tilt Transformer base and a 24mm wide-angle Nikon mount lens.

>>>For more on the Lensbaby Composer shooting experience click here , and here for more on the Soft-focus and Fisheye optics.<<<

>>>And For even more info on the Tilt Transformer and Composer, check out the official videos over at Lensbaby.<<<


Shooters with previous Lensbaby Composer experience will be comfortable enough right out of the gate with the ball-socket swivel mechanism, with adjustable and lockable dampening via the silver knurled ring on the Tilt Transformer base. The front element, whether it is the Composer Focus Front or any Nikon lens, locks on almost exactly as you'd expect a Nikon lens to mount. But there is a tiny twist to it. There's a "catch" in the mounting mechanism that allows engagement of the aperture blades, even on newer lenses that don't have the physical aperture ring. And this allows you to stop down the lens with a simple twist of the lens while holding the base in place.

I'll be honest with you. It does take some practice to get it right. There are some mistakes the user (me, for example!) may make along the way at first. For instance:

  • It is possible to accidentally change the aperture setting while recomposing the scene and pushing and pulling the focal plane slice on both the ball socket and on the focus ring of the Nikon lens. But once you get the feel for twisting the lens barrel to adjust the aperture blades while peering into the inner elements of the lens, it does, weirdly, all start to make sense.
  • And especially if you're using a lens with a built-in petal-type lens hood, be mindful of the orientation of the lens, which can spin a full 360º on the Tilt Transform base, or you may wind up with your wide-side petals on your shorter dimension and then these can intrude into the image circle.
  • Be mindful of the metering and be prepared to add and subtract exposure compensation. All Tilt-Shift photography techniques mess with in-camera metering, and you'll have to chimp your captured shots with histogram (not the live histogram preview!) frequently to ensure proper exposure. This is just the nature of this style of photography due to the underlying optical physics and it a known issue across the board; but it can be a bit baffling as you first experiment.
  • Up, down, and diagonal focal slices are possible, but you've got to get the hang of it, and get comfortable with maneuvering both the lens tilt, the camera angle, and the overall focal distance to get the effect you want. It can be a clumsy dance at first!

But once you get the hang of it, it's brilliant! I've long been a fan of Lensbaby bending of all flavors, and this new Nikon twist on things is just such a fantastic new and unexpected evolution of this style of photography. I spent few hours yesterday running around tilting at trees, creeks, and even a strip mine with a 24mm Nikon lens attached to an Olympus E-P1, and this is just so much fun. It made me see the scenes in a local park and very non-scenic overlook in a whole new light.

Now I want to stop by my friend Tom Sperduto's to borrow half his arsenal of Nikon glass to play with the Tilt Transformer!


>>>Click here to order the Lensbaby Tilt Transformer and Lensbaby Tilt Transformer plus Composer Focus Front for in the micro four thirds or Sony NEX mount!<<<


Here's a sampling of shots from yesterday's Hands-on session


And for those wondering, I'm going to hazard an educated guess that there's no easy and mechanical way to make a Canon EOS EF lens-accepting version of the Tilt Transformer, since the aperture blades on Canon EF lenses are electronically controlled, and there's no physical lever than can be manipulated.

I think the new Lensbaby Tilt Transformer for the m4/3 and Sony NEX cameras is a brilliant example of thinking outside the box. What about you?


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