Take your macro photography to an entirely new level—and apply Lensbaby's unique look to really, really small subjects.
When talking about macro photography, the word that I keep coming back to in order to describe macro is “transformative.” Macro photography transforms commonplace objects into extraordinary images. If this holds true for “straight” macro, then it is even more appropriate when describing the the effect that the Lensbaby Macro Converter, introduced earlier this year and available at the Adorama Lensbaby Store, has on macro photography. I recently spent some quality time with a Lensbaby Macro Converter in tandem with a Lensbaby Composer, to create some transformative magic with my Canon 7D for this exclusive Adorama Learning Center article.
The Lensbaby Macro Converter is part of Lensbaby's unique Optic Swap system of modular optics, available at the Adorama Lensbaby Store, and joins a growing line of lenses that produce a dreamy selective-focus look that has been widely adapted from everyone from portrait photographers to photojournalists who want their photography to stand out from the crowd. In a few short years, Lensbaby has come out of nowhere to become a real crowd-pleaser among professional photographers and enthusiasts alike; new lenses are showing growing sophistication as the optic swap system offers increasingly specialized capabilities.
A Lensbaby Primer
What, exactly, is a Lensbaby? The basic idea is a lens that can tilt and shift its optical axis, relative to the film plane. It is similar in principle to a view camera, bringing that kind of selective focus flexibility to DSLRs (and, recently, MILCs). Apertures consist of discs that can be removed and interchanged. Because each aperture is a perfect circle (rather than consisting of lens blades) Bokeh is more pleasing and spectral highlights are somewhat more natural-looking.
I say somewhat because Lensbaby lenses are not optically perfect—and that's intentional. Focus is sharp in the central “sweet spot” but as you tilt the lens's optical axis the sweet spot moves, and gets softer, while weird and interesting things happen to the spectral highlights as you move away from the sweet spot. Larger apertures create smaller sweet spots, smaller aperture increases the sharp area of the image. This creates unique images in general. Now add in the variable of super-thin depth of field the results from shooting macro, and you've got a lot of interesting photographic potential.
How to set up your Lensbaby Macro Converter
In order to use the Lensbaby Macro Converter, you need to have a basic Lensbaby Composer, Lensbaby Muse, or Lensbaby Control Freak, and an optic, all of which can be purchased at Adorama. I used the Double Glass Optic, which is optically the best of the options.The Lensbaby Macro Converter consists of a couple of extension tubes that are inserted behind your standard Lensbaby optic element and the film plane. With both extension tubes in place you can achieve true 1:1 macro.
First, you remove your optic, then line up the 8mm macro converter, turn clockwise, add the 16mm converter, then installing the optic over that. That'll give you 1:1 magnification. If you don't need to get so close, you can use either the 8mm or 16mm converter separately rather than stacking the two, and you'll get 1:3 or 1:2 magnification, respectively. Want to get closer? +4 and +10 Macro lenses are available from Adorama separately that are inserted via the magnetic aperture disc holder.
The field test
It was a bright spring morning and light was streaming through my kitchen window, and I decided to photograph some food with the Lensbaby Macro, stacking the 8mm and 16mm macro converters to get 1:1 magnification. First up? A tomato.
I shot this at a little less than 1:1 magnification, and because I wanted to get used to the finicky focus, I kept the Lensbaby Composer body at the straight-ahead position. Note the ethereal quality of the out-of-focus area as you move away from the center "sweet spot." I needed several tries to get focus right, but once I did, I was thrilled with the result.
Kiwi karma: I tilted the lens axis slightly to get a dreamier look while still trying to keep things in focus. Still sharp, but there's a bit of fuzziness that is a Lensbaby trademark.
Waffle irony: I tilted the lens downward to exaggerate the selective focus fall-off of my wife's waffle, which she'd just made for breakfast. Then she got hungry. On to the next subject...
What is it? Why, it's the eyes of a red-skinned potato that I should have dumped a week ago. Here you can really see the dreamy quality of the Lensbaby with the Macro adapter, which was aided and abetted by the strong backlighting. Dig those funky spectral highlights, towards the top center of the shot!
Fine grain: I poured a handful of brown rice onto a plate and got up close and personal as the light took on a dramatic quality. This was lots of fun to shoot. You can really see the unique-to-Lensbaby quality of sharpness and rapid focus fall-off. I shot several dozen images and was transfixed by what was happening in my viewfinder!
A few caveats and tips:
- When shooting with a Lensbaby, you need to shoot in shutter priority, as aperture is changed manually.
- Focus can be very finicky. Take your time to fine-tune focus.
- Use a tripod. If you're hand-holding, even the slightest micro-movement will shift your image out of focus and even if it looks like it's in focus, that can change at the moment of exposure.
- Chimp: Check your focus and results in the viewfinder. Zoom in while in preview mode to make sure that once-in-a-lifetime shot is in perfect focus.
- Experiment! Tilt the lens axis, shoot lots of variations. Prepare to be pleasantly surprised by your results.
Conclusion and Recommendation
The Lensbaby Macro Converter offers unique challenges and a bit of a learning curve, but once you've mastered this optic, it'll bring your macro photography into an entirely new dimension. And if you're already invested in the Lensbaby Optic Swap system, all of which can be purchased from Adorama, this is a must-have addition.