Lensbaby Composer Pro with Sweet 50 Optic

Discussion in 'Adapted Lenses' started by WendyK, Jun 7, 2016.

  1. WendyK

    WendyK Super Moderator

    Feb 28, 2014
    Northern Virginia
    I have seen very little or no discussion of this lens combination on this forum, but it does come in a micro 4/3 mount, so I will take the plunge and talk about my experience with it. I debated whether this should go in the native lens section or the Adapted lens section, but the Adapted Lens section seems most appropriate. The Composer Pro into which the optic is installed has a micro 4/3 mount, but it is essentially a type of adapter or lens housing rather than a lens. The optic itself can be used with many types of cameras/mounts.

    I borrowed this lens from a friend because I’d been wondering about it after seeing some shots taken with it that really captivated me. I wasn’t sure if the micro 4/3 version would give the same blur as it would on a FF camera, given the smaller sensor and DOF differences, and there are definitely differences. I have been putting it through its paces for the past few months, and ultimately decided that this lens suits my shooting style and subject matter, so I ended up buying it.

    The Lensbaby series of lenses and optics are odd ducks. The combination I tried and later purchased (Lensbaby Composer Pro with Sweet 50 Optic) is not especially expensive as far as lenses go ($300 USD new for both Composer Pro and the Optic, $120 for the optic by itself). The Composer Pro component into which the lens/optic is installed feels pretty cheap, like (for example) the plastic Oly 40-150mm kit lens, but the optic itself is more substantial. It is manual focus only, and aperture is controlled on the optic with an aperture ring. There is most definitely a learning curve, and it is not going to appeal to everyone. [UPDATE: Since I first posted my review, Lensbaby has released a Composer Pro II which is metal, rather than plastic]

    The Lensbaby is a special effect lens, and it may seem at first like a one trick pony. it has a sweet spot of focus which you can move around the frame by tilting the composer Pro on its ball joint in any direction. You can tighten the Composer Pro to lock it in a specific position or loosen it so the ball rotates more freely. Everything outside the sweet spot of focus gets intentionally stretched and distorted, creating an interesting radial blur. It does very interesting things with lines and with bokeh. The more you move the sweet spot off center, the greater the distortion, though if you go too far you may get nothing at all in focus. The mostly plastic Composer Pro is the part that gets mounted to your camera (it comes in micro 4/3 mount - and 4/3 mount, so make sure you get the right one if you buy!) and then you can use any of the compatible Lensbaby Optics with it. The one I have been using is the sweet 50 optic which falls in my favored short telephoto range. With micro 4/3, you get the most noticeable Lensbaby effect when using it wide open, whereas on full frame, very little would be in focus wide open at 2.5. It’s somewhat less versatile on micro 4/3 since you definitely don’t get as much blur vs. FF at wide apertures BUT on the positive side it is much easier (though still not easy) to nail the focus on m 4/3 due to the greater DOF, and it’s easier to use at wide apertures. Here are some wide open example shots, most from a bit of a distance:

    Burst of Spring Color


    Final Snow?

    Standing Tall

    It is up close that this lens gets really interesting, in my opinion, and where the effect becomes much more difficult to replicate with something like a radial blur filter. The minimum focus distance is relatively close (15”), and you start to see some dreamy, ethereal effects near minimum focus distance. The out of focus areas often take on a painterly quality. Lines and curves toward the edges of the frame get stretched, smudged, and/or blurred and can sometimes convey a sense of movement. For example, these were taken wide open near minimum focus distance:

    Dance of the Alliums


    Blue Spires

    Spiraea Cloud

    Hidden Bud

    Tulip Swirl

    The dreamy effects get more interesting when you get even closer. I added a Raynox 150 macro adaptor which I already owned, attached to the front of the Sweet 50 optic with a 46-43mm step down ring. This is a much better solution than Lensbaby’s own macro kit, which requires removing the optic. You also could use extension tubes. At this close distance you really get some interesting blur and bokeh, and the subjects often acquire a certain glow. I still like to use the lens wide open or close to wide open (f/2.5 to f/4) even though I would not do that with the Oly 60 macro at such close range, and the results can be really interesting and abstract. FYI I used only natural light on all the examples below.

    Fading Away

    First Columbine

    Frost on Pulsatilla


    Not Forgotten

    Pulsatilla Glows

    Grand Opening

    Peony Abstract

    It takes practice to be able to predict what the Lensbaby will do with the lines in an image, and what type of blur and bokeh will result based on what is in the background, how close background elements are to the sweet spot, and how much you have tilted the Composer Pro. I still get surprised a lot when I see the results in Lightroom, often pleasantly surprised. I miss focus more with the Lensbaby/Raynox combination than with the Oly 60 for macro work, however, in no small part due to the manual focus and the fact that shooting wide open or close to it increases the chance of missed focus. I work with flowers and plants, and for that subject matter, the Lensbaby creates intriguing effects with branches, stems, petals and other flower parts. I have seen some really interesting portraits created with it, too, but I’ve not tried that yet. Whereas in “normal” shooting I try to isolate a subject from its background using distance or an angle that provides a more simplified backdrop, with the Lensbaby what would normally be distracting ‘busy” bokeh often turns into something more interesting. It doesn’t always work, but when it does, it’s something special.

    Who might like this lens?
    • Weird bokeh addicts
    • Those who like a painterly look
    • Those who really like how a radial blur effect isolates a subject
    • Those who like to look at subjects in a different way
    • Those who like to take time to experiment

    Who probably will not like it?
    • Those who don’t like manual focus lenses
    • Those who have poor vision or shaky hands (which make it harder to nail the focus)
    • Those who get frustrated by lenses with a learning curve
    • Those who don't like cheap feeling lenses
    • Those who prefer technically perfect lenses
    • Those who want sharpness throughout the frame
    • Pixel peepers

    Some links:

    Lensbaby Composer Pro with Sweet 50 Optic: Composer Pro with Sweet 50 Optic | Creative Effect Camera Lenses | Lensbaby
    [UPDATE: There is now a Composer Pro II, which is metal rather than plastic:
    Composer Pro II with Sweet 50 Optic | Lens | Lensbaby]

    Lensbaby photo pools on Flickr:
    Flickr Lensbaby Group
    NOTE: These Lensbaby photo pools include shots taken with other Lensbaby optics, some of which have very different characteristics, as well as shots taken with full frame cameras that can achieve more significant blur than you will get on m 4/3

    Well, that’s my review! Let me know if you have any questions.
    Last edited: Jan 31, 2017
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  2. rmcnelly

    rmcnelly Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Aug 21, 2015
    Portsmouth, VA
    Wendy thank you for posting this review. I have admired the stunning work you have done with this lens! I love the dreamy effects and hope to get one of these based on your work with it.

    I've spent too much $$$ on lenses this year and will have to hold off until next year.
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  3. gnarlydog australia

    gnarlydog australia Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Feb 23, 2015
    Brisbane, Australia
    Damiano Visocnik
    Thank you for taking the time to write such a comprehensive review and your personal experience and tips. You images are stunning and obviously it shows that you take great care and time to create them and edit them.
    Is there a chance to see the lens mounted on the camera and the Raynox attached up front?
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  4. bjurasz

    bjurasz Mu-43 Veteran

    Dec 10, 2014
    Cedar Park
    Lovely work and that is a really great "gimmick" lens. Used to have one in my Canon days and never used it near often enough!
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  5. WendyK

    WendyK Super Moderator

    Feb 28, 2014
    Northern Virginia
    Sure, I'll try to do that tomorrow.
  6. bjurasz

    bjurasz Mu-43 Veteran

    Dec 10, 2014
    Cedar Park
    Do you think a tripod would help or hinder using this lens?
  7. WendyK

    WendyK Super Moderator

    Feb 28, 2014
    Northern Virginia
    I think it would likely help, I just don't have the patience for tripods in the garden so can't speak from personal experience!
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  8. WendyK

    WendyK Super Moderator

    Feb 28, 2014
    Northern Virginia
    Here are a couple of quick shots of the camera/ComposerPro/Sweet50/step down ring/Raynox combo - not great shots but I was just trying to get it done. Note that although this combo sticks out pretty far, it is still quite light weight since the Composer Pro is plastic.

    P6080207.jpg P6080203.jpg
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  9. rloewy

    rloewy Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    May 5, 2014
    I have the Composer Pro with the earlier version of this optic - The double-glass optic, it is basically the same thing but without easy aperture control (you drop aperture rings into the optic when you want to change it). It is a lot of fun.

    The Sweet 50 is much easier to live with, I assume, simply because of how easy it is to change aperture, but the old double-glass can be used with the creative aperture kit - which I plan on getting soon.

    Creative Aperture Kit 2
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  10. Wisertime

    Wisertime Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Aug 6, 2013
    Nice review Wendy. I generally don't like these things (and despise the name), but I like some of your flower close up's a lot. You obviously have figured it out well.
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  11. rloewy

    rloewy Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    May 5, 2014
    BTW - I personally really like to play with artistic effects on images coming out of these lens. They are a lot of fun.
    P5202332 (3).png
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  12. WendyK

    WendyK Super Moderator

    Feb 28, 2014
    Northern Virginia
    Are you talking about art filters in camera or post processing? I often forget I have art filters on my OM-D. That sounds like a fun idea to try.
  13. rloewy

    rloewy Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    May 5, 2014
    Both. The "Cross Proccessing" art filter seems to work fine with these lens, imho. The sample above however was post-processed.
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  14. gnarlydog australia

    gnarlydog australia Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Feb 23, 2015
    Brisbane, Australia
    Damiano Visocnik
    oh Wendy, you just gave me a great idea!
    Once I saw you image of the LensBaby, which honestly I have seen before but not so well depicted as yours, I thought: how is that thing put together?
    It is in my blood and I can't help myself to deconstruct every thing I see :hmmm:

    A little evilBay search revealed this: Tilt M42 Lens to Micro 4/3 M4/3 adapter E-P1 E-PL2 E-PM1 DMC + FREE TRACKING NO.

    Now, I have a few M42 vintage lenses, some fuzzy, some a bit sharper... I think I can get similar results without buying yet another lens and the knock-off tilt adapter seems adequate (?). It would be fun to see how it all works with some Ruski lenses (Helios 44-2 comes to mind) or even more interesting with a tripled designed lens (you know: bubble bokeh :rolleyes-38:)

    Has anybody done something like this already?
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  15. Gary5

    Gary5 Mu-43 Veteran Subscribing Member

    Jan 15, 2014
    I ordered this one yesterday: M42 screw mount lens to Olympus Panasonic Micro 4/3 Tilt Adapter G3 GF3 E-P3 PL3

    I'm pretty slow to do anything, so it might be a while after it shows up before I'll get around to trying it.
  16. WendyK

    WendyK Super Moderator

    Feb 28, 2014
    Northern Virginia
    I look forward to seeing your experiments! (and @Gary5@Gary5 's too)
  17. Ramsey

    Ramsey Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Jan 9, 2013
    Zagreb, Croatia
    Thank you for the review. Images are outstanding. I've been eyeing this combo for some time now, but did hold off due to my fears of this being a one trick pony, as you said.

    What are your thoughts on achieving these effects via PP? Can you replicate the effect with some playing around in PS or would it be too much hassle? $300 may not seem as much, but it can get you some good native AF lenses and if the effect are easily achievable in post, why not try it...
  18. QualityBuiltIn

    QualityBuiltIn Mu-43 Veteran

    Jan 1, 2011
    Edinburgh, Scotland
    Super article. I've never seen these lenses used to such effect. Often enough I've seen them used for Toy / diorama type images, as you say a one trick pony and I thought that was all they could do. Your second image (park bench & path) is beautiful.

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  19. gnarlydog australia

    gnarlydog australia Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Feb 23, 2015
    Brisbane, Australia
    Damiano Visocnik
    I am not PS expert but my attempts to replicate a certain look in post that some of my vintage lenses give me has been, how to say it... dismal.
    Anything can be achieved in post production, and I really mean it: anything. I have seen images that I would have sworn were taken with a camera but later was revealed there were created from scratch, blank electronic canvas. A believe it took a few weeks of work :)
    But despite one having the best skills and all the time and patience in the world to do something in Photoshop, does one have the vision to create it?
    I don't.
    While I could see somebody's else image and try to imitate it with PS and come up with a very mediocre result, the fact is that I am just trying to be a copycat without really making something new.
    A lens like Wendy has is a tool for creativity while in the field, not just futzing behind a the desk with a mouse.
    Of course to the novice any in-camera filter or editing effect that creates punchy images is mesmerizing, for about a week.
    A tilt adapter (or lens) if used consciously and not just with liberal abandon can be indeed very creative. In my eyes Wendy's images are proof that vision and skills in production trump over post production.
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  20. eteless

    eteless Mu-43 All-Pro

    Jun 20, 2014
    They're a lot of fun to play with and closer to home than some might think...

    ...Olympus was the one who designed and owns the patent on the original lensbaby :)
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