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First Impressions: Lensbaby Composer Pro for Micro Four Thirds with Sweet 35 Optic

by Felix Esser on 09/27/2012

I’ve had the Lensbaby Composer Pro for Micro Four Thirds together with the Sweet 35 optical module for a couple weeks now. However, never having used a Lensbaby product before, I am still not 100% comfortable with it. It is a specialty product, that’s for sure; and one that you have to get used to. A Lensbaby is something that you need to actively explore, that you need to learn how to use. Even after several weeks of regularly using the Composer Pro + Sweet 35, I feel like I still only scratched the surface of what this combo is capable of, and what this system’s intended purpose is. In order to let you partake and observe my learning process with the Lensbaby, I decided to publish these first impression, with a proper review following at a later point.

Specs

Composer Pro lens body

  • Refined metal ball design delivers ultra-smooth focus and tilt control
  • Ships with either the Sweet 35 Optic or Double Glass Optic installed
  • Compatible with the Lensbaby Optic Swap System
  • Focus Type: Manual
  • Size/Weight: 2.25” (5.71cm) high x 2.5” (6.35cm) wide / 4 oz (113.4g)
  • Tilts from zero to 17.5 degrees

Sweet 35 optic module

  • Focal Length: 35mm
  • 12-blade adjustable aperture
  • Aperture range: f/2.5 – f/22
  • Selective focus optic
  • Focuses from approximately 7.5” to infinity from the front of the optic when used with Composer, 6.5” with Scout, and 3” with Muse and Control Freak
  • Compatible with Macro Converters for even closer focus
  • Compatible with Lensbaby Composer, Scout, Muse, and Control Freak lens bodies
  • 4 multi-coated glass elements, in three groups
  • 46mm front threads (will only work with the Lensbaby Macro Converters and not the 37mm Lensbaby Accessories)
  • Macro Converters are required to use Sweet 35 with Composer with Tilt Transformer (for mirrorless cameras)
  • Ships with clear plastic storage case and removal tool

(Grabbed from Lensbaby’s website.)

Hands-on Video

First Impressions

That was all very theoretical and while that’s all nice and good and important, the really fun stuff begins when you start using the lens … or should I say, body+lens-combo, since you can use the Composer Pro with all of Lensbaby’s optical modules in the Optic Swap System, and the Sweet 35 with all the lens bodies in the system. So, what exactly is the effect that makes the Sweet 35 special? It’s its sharp center sweet spot that is surrounded by strong blur.

Below are six pictures taken at aperture settings ranging from f/2.5 to f/11. Observe how at f/2.5 the whole frame looks dreamy and unreal. By about f/4 things start to sharpen up considerably — you can notice that in the more defined texture of the apple. At f/11, the center sweet spot has become considerably larger, while background blur has become less due to the smaller aperture. Note also how the shape of the ‘bokeh’ remains almost perfectly circular throughout the aperture range thanks to the Sweet 35’s twelve aperture blades (cf. also the title picture, where the lens is set to f/4.)

(Click each picture to open a 1500px wide version)

f/2.5

f/2.8

f/4

f/5.6

f/8

f/11

As I mentioned in the first paragraph, the Composer Pro + Sweet 35 is not your usual walkaround lens. It’s a very special optical tool that needs a while for you to learn its strengths and weeknesses. It certainly isn’t for everybody and not for every type of photographic situation. With its sharp sweet spot and strong blur towards the edges, the Sweet 35 is best suited at taking pictures of subjects that lend themselves at being emphasized by the sharp center and blurred corners of the image. Portraiture immediately pops into mind, but also still-life photography or anything that has a main point-of-interest that can or needs to be emphasized.

With their (mostly) round shape, flowers are ideal subjects for the Sweet 35 optic.

An ideal subject for the Sweet 35. At f/4, the sweet spot is large enough to cover the whole lavender flower PLUS butterfly, while the background is beautifully blurred into an unobtrusive, dreamy-creamy lake of colors. To see how sharp the lens gets at f/4, click the image to open a 1500px wide version.

When used with the Composer Pro, the Sweet 35’s sweet spot can actually be moved inside the frame. However, since you’re not only moving the point of focus but also the plane of focus, the farther away from the center you move the sweet spot, the more difficult it gets to get things in focus. Also, due to the smaller size of the Micro Four Thirds sensor, it’s easy to actually move the sweet spot outside of the frame.

My kid on the playground. Here, I slightly tilted the lens upward to move the sweet spot to his face.

What makes the Sweet 35 optic so interesting is that, other than regular lenses that are designed to be optically perfect, the Sweet 35 is actually designed to emphasize its imperfections. This makes it the ideal tool for someone who wants to be creative and use his lens in a more artistic way. The next two images show how the Sweet 35’s optical imperfections bend the light into a unique interpretation of reality. If I experiment with it more, I am sure I will uncover more of its potential in time.

In this shot of a fountain, it looks like the waterdrops, which are frozen in the air by a fast shutter speed, are being warped to wards the edges of the frame.

The sun was just outside the frame when I took this picture. It looks as though the sunrays come rushing into the frame like a waterfall.

When I first got the Composer Pro and Sweet 35, I was uncertain what to make of it. I had no idea what they could be used for, so I tried the combo on a number of everyday items. While the effect of the Sweet 35 certainly is interesting, the real fun begins when you start to discover more of the ways how the lens’ optical design shapes light depending on its intensity, where it hits from, the aperture size and the way the lens body is tilted. Theoretically, there is an infinite number of possibilites how light can hit your sensor through this lens and of the effect that can be achieved with it. For this reason, I stated initially that I feel like I have only scratched the surface of this lens, and that it made more sense to wait with my final review until I have found out more about what I can do with it.

One of the first pictures I took with the Composer Pro + Sweet 35. While it sure looks interesting, it’s nowhere from beging spectacular. The Sweet 35 only then gets spectacular when you start to make explicit use of its optical imperfections.

So that shall be it for now. Before I can give you a proper review of this lens — one that does it justice –, I’ll have to use it more and do more creative stuff with it. Until then, below are a couple more pictures for you to enjoy. And if I’ve made you curious about this lens already, you can buy it online via Lensbaby’s online shop or from B&H Photo.

Additional Images

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