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Review: Lensbaby Spark

by G Servo on 01/07/2013

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It’s called the Lensbaby Spark and it is a fascinating little lens. Weird, yet cool lenses have been popping up a lot in the past few years. The Spark, a lens referred to as a gateway drug to Lensbaby gear, is one of those lenses. It is affordable, fascinatingly built, and so much fun to play with. After my first impressions with it, I put it through its paces, and there’s much more to it than meets the eye. Lenses like these can be brilliant if you put some time and effort into them. Let’s see what the Lensbaby spark is all about.

 

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Pros and Cons

Pros

- The Lensbaby Spark provides an amusing change to one’s normal photography.

- It provides opportunities for  unique image creation.

- Fixed f5.6 aperture helps to keep lens light.

- The Lensbaby spark is durable and very easy to carry in any bag.

- Most current Lensbaby optics will fit the Spark.

- The Lensbaby Spark will work in almost any style of photography.

Cons

- The Lens baby Spark does not work too well with slow shutter speeds.

- Have to be as still as a meditating Buddhist monk to get still video.

- Extended use is a finger work out. You will get used to it in time though.

- If you just pick up your camera and hit the shutter, you get a blurry image. You must remember you have this lens on.

- If you always desire sharp photos 100% of the time, the Lensbaby spark is not for you.

Gear Used

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To test this lens I used my Nikon D700 and Nikon D90. On the D90 the Spark was about 75mm due to the crop factor. I also used my copter for the video and the ergonomic images. When I did my flash test I used my Nikon SB600 with a Rogue Flashbenders and diffuser. I Lensbaby traveled with my gear in my Tamrac Evolution 8 as well as my Lowepro Event messenger 150.

Tech Specs

From Lensbaby

  • Focal Length: 50mm
  • Aperture: fixed f/5.6
  • Optic: multi-coated glass doublet
  • Focus type: manual
  • Sweet spot, selective focus lens (creates a sweet spot of focus surrounded by gradually increasing blur)
  • Available for Canon and Nikon mount DSLRs
  • Focusing range: approximately 13” (33 cm) to infinity
  • Compatible with Lensbaby Optic Swap System* and all Lensbaby 37mm threaded accessory lenses.
  • No electronic communication between the lens and the camera body.
  • U.S. Patent Numbers 7,800,680 and 8,289,436

*All current Lensbaby optics  will fit the Spark, but it is not recommended for use with the Lensbaby Sweet 35 Optic, Fisheye and Edge 80 optics as these optics are heavy and it is difficult to hold the lens steady and focus.

Ergonomics

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Physically, this lens is not big at all especially on my Nikon D700. The lens will not stretch out your fingers too much. It does, however, look out of the ordinary .

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The Lens cap is surprisingly strong, and not too small.

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The front of the lens gives you enough space for your fingers to comfortably focus image with out ever having to touch the optic.

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The rear of the lens is made of a durable plastic. The Lensbaby has a clear red spot letting you know where to put on the lens. The lens fits a standard rear lens cap which is interchangeable with Nikon rear lens caps.

Build Quality

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The build quality of the lens is interesting. First off, the Lensbaby Spark is very light. To carry it around in your bag ‘just because’ is no big deal. The plastic is a very good quality and does not feel like it will fall apart after a year or two. The lens cap is very strong and has this metal plate on the inside for reinforcement. The coil or whatever is used to help control the focusing has great resistance without being too tough. The best thing about this lens is the actual simplicity. It does not seem like there is too much to break.

Focusing

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This is a manually focused lens. Unlike most lenses, however, you squeeze to focus. On my Nikon D700 and D90 the rangefinder portion of the camera did work with this lens helping me focus. The best focus point, to me, was the center. That is where the best sweet spot is created. It was almost like focusing with an old film camera when composing the shot. Using the other focus points available to me did not provide the best results.

Metering

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When using the Lensbaby Spark, the Sunny 16 rule is very important. You cannot really trust your camera to meter correctly with this lens. Once you get the hang of shooting with it. Your judgment will improve with this lens. ISO is also important with this lens. Do not shoot with it on Auto ISO. It tends to jump up to the highest ISO setting quickly. You have to build up a personal judgement with this lens. With experience choosing your exposure settings gets easier.

 Ease of Use

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The instructions say just squeeze to shoot. There is not much more to it. Nonetheless, you do have to play at first. The more you use the Lensbaby Spark, the more you have an understanding of what it can do. The learning curve on this lens is rather low. You do really have to think about how you want to use the lens before you shoot though. Overall, using this lens is easy. You just have to remember to not to pick it up and hit the shutter without putting it into focus.

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Video

Lensababy Spark Video test from G Servo on Vimeo.

I had to try making a video. I kept wondering how it would come out with this lens. I created a sample video with the Diana lenses and they were ethereal. With the Lensbaby Spark you get a slightly ethereal feel also. Even if you keep your camera on a tripod, however, it is somewhat difficult to keep a constant focus. If you have super strong Kung Fu fingers of doom and/or your subject is stationary it gets a little easier. When your subject moves out of the sweet spot you have to move yourself and refocus as fast as possible. I believe it could be done with a lot of practice.

With a Flash

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Because I ran into situations where I had to be indoors a lot, I tried this lens with a flash. Just forget about TTL all together with the Lensbaby Spark. You have to control your flash manually. I find with the Spark you want light to be soft. If used with a light modifier like the Rogue Flash bender with a diffusion panel, subtle effect will be seen. It will take some work though. I am still working on perfecting this to add a new dimension to my coffee photography.

Portraits

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The Lensbaby Spark can be used to make interesting portraits. If you are doing a shoot and want to do something beyond just using a standard portrait lens like an 85mm you can throw this the Spark on for a few extra shots . The Spark can add a bit of change  to the normal shoot. If you are just having fun with friends, it’s great also. The camera gets interesting skin tones  and a retro effect.

Image Quality

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The image quality is a rather interesting thing. In the ‘sweet spot’, depending on your distance away from the subject, you do get a bit of sharpness. Outside of the sweet spot the image is soft and otherworldly.  Depending on your technique, you can change how this looks with every image. No matter how hard you try, you are never going to get the exact same image twice. The colors are nice and they depend on how you light your subject whether it is naturally of with artificial light.

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Conclusions

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The Lensbaby Spark is genuinely extraordinary. It is perfect for artistic types. It will give you a lot of room to create an image that is distinct and a little retro. The Lensbaby Spark is also for people and/or hipsters who want to do things a little differently. It is not for everyone however. Those who like to control their aperture or need everything to be tact sharp not all the time will not appreciate the Spark. We did a Useful Photography Tip on how to boost you creativity by using different lenses. The Lensbaby Spark fits right in with the line of thinking. When using the Lensbaby Spark you have to change the way you shoot.  It is about slowing down and trying to see things in a different way. This can lead to a nice change of pace.


 

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