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Review: Lensbaby Scout with Fisheye Optic for Sony Alpha/Minolta Maxxum

by Julius Motal on 04/19/2013

Lensbaby Scout

It’s been a busy month since I gave my first impression of the Lensbaby Scout with Fisheye Optic, but I’ve managed to get some quality with it to offer up a full review. As stated in the initial post, the Scout is Lensbaby’s sole fixed lens, but it retains the ability to change optics (as it is part of the Optic Swap system) as well as the suite of aperture disks. The fisheye field of view is a niche one, but it makes for some fun photography in and around New York City. Here is the review.

Pros and Cons

Pros

-cool fisheye field of view
-large focusing ring
-affordable price

Cons

-aperture disks
-purple fringing

Gear Used

For this review, I used the Lensbaby Scout on my Sony a580.

Tech Specs

Courtesy of Adorama:

  • Focal Length: 12mm
  • 160 degree angle of view
  • Focuses from 1/2 inch to infinity
  • Creative flare effect fills border around image circle with colors from brightlight sources in the photo
  • Six multi-coated glass elements
  • Maximum aperture of f/4, aperture disks that range from f/5.6 to f/22
  • Removable disk aperture system

Ergonomics

Lensbaby Scout

I’ll try to not be too repetitive with regards to the first impressions post. The Scout is solidly built with a metal body and large rubberized focusing ring that moves smoothly from end to end. One thing worth noting again is that there is not any electronic communication between the camera and the lens. For Sony users, set your camera to “Release w/o lens”. For other camera systems, consult the small insert in the product box. To wit, the Scout, as with every other Lensbaby lens, can only focus manually.

The aperture disks

The aperture disks

One other aspect that factors into the ergonomics of this unit is the collection of aperture disks that come with the lens. Given the interchangeable nature of the Optic Swap System and the way the lens is constructed, aperture is controlled externally. The Scout, like the Muse (reviewed previously), comes with a suite of magnetic aperture disks that are housed in a small case with a magnetic tip for removing them from the lens. The Scout, unlike the Muse, has five: f5.6, f8, f11, f16, and f22.

Magnets!

Magnets!

In the spirit of full disclosure, they are a hindrance. The Scout has a maximum aperture of f4, and I chose to forgo using the disks in favor of setting my camera to work with that one aperture. As I walked through the city, I found it far easier to work around f4, than fiddle with small disks that can easily be lost with improper handling. In my review of the Muse, I lost one of the disks on a particularly cold and windy day. Lensbaby’s glass require a certain degree of care, and the aperture disks are not conducive to shooting on the fly. Rather, they’re better suited to a studio shoot where you have the time to set up each shot. When shooting on the street, the image is gone by the time you’ve adjusted the aperture. So, all images featured in the Image Quality section below were shot at f4 with various shutter speeds and ISOs.

Onward.

Build Quality

The Scout’s body is made of metal with a nicely-sized focusing ring. It does, however, require a certain degree of care as the actual fisheye optic is removable. The Scout is part of Lensbaby’s Optic Swap System which means the Scout is a frame that can house a variety of optics: Soft Focus, Double Glass, and Pinhole/Zone Plate among others. All lenses require great care, but not all lenses can have their glass removed and replaced. Try not to knock this guy around too much.

Focusing

Like all of Lensbaby’s glass, the Scout is strictly manual focus. Whether you prefer using your viewfinder our Live View, you will be responsible for focusing the lens. The Scout is far easier to focus than the Muse, as the Muse requires the user to compress the body to focus whereas the Scout has a conventional focusing ring. When looking through my a580’s OVF, it was a bit tough to focus in low light, so I switched to Live View and adjusted the ISO and shutter speed accordingly which helped me to better see the image I desired.

Ease of Use

The lens comes bare bones. Set your camera to “Release without lens”, screw the Scout on, start shooting, and experience the world like a fish.

Julius Motal The Phoblographer Lensbaby Scout sample image 1

Image Quality

As stated in the first impressions post, the Scout can produce some great images at a fraction of the cost of other fisheye lenses. The colors can be a bit muted on occasion, but that can be easily fixed in Lightroom or whatever program you use. The images provided here were tweaked ever so slightly for contrast and saturation, or not at all in the case of the image above.

Bokeh

Julius Motal The Phoblographer Lensbaby Scout sample image 2

The Scout doesn’t render bokeh in the way other lens do. Given that the focusing point is in the center, everything squeezes around that point and blurs at the edges. It’s a nice effect, especially when you want to accentuate your subject. A portrait with a fisheye is a hard sell, though.

Sharpness

Julius Motal The Phoblographer Lensbaby Scout sample image 3

This lens is hella sharp. With a good eye and nice light, you’ll get some nice images.

Color Fringing

Julius Motal The Phoblographer Lensbaby Scout sample image 4

Unfortunately, purple fringing is a thing with this lens. The lower right area of this self-portrait is a minor example of that, and if you’ve got the time and fortitude, you can work with that in post. I chose not to, so as to illustrate this drawback. It’s not unmanageable, but it is unfavorable.

Other Image Samples

Julius Motal The Phoblographer Lensbaby Scout sample image 5

Julius Motal The Phoblographer Lensbaby Scout sample image 6

Julius Motal The Phoblographer Lensbaby Scout sample image 7

Julius Motal The Phoblographer Lensbaby Scout sample image 8

Julius Motal The Phoblographer Lensbaby Scout sample image 9

Conclusion

If you’re in the market for a fisheye lens, the Lensbaby Scout is a great option for a fraction of the price at $249. Save for the purple fringing, this piece of glass can render nice images when you want that fisheye effect. The aperture disks are my biggest point of contention, but that be circumvented by adjusting the cameras settings around the Scout’s default aperture of f4. Leave the disks at home if you want to shoot on the street.

This is a niche field of view, and I find that I don’t often use the Scout simply because I don’t want all of my images to be fisheye images. Yet, when I find that I want something a bit different, I take the Scout out for a spin. I recommend this lens if you want to give your a photography a new perspective.

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