Review: Lensbaby Burnside 35mm F2.8 (Sony FE)

The Lensbaby Burnside 35mm F2.8 has vignetting control. And that’s really cool!

To say the Lensbaby Burnside 35mm F2.8 lens is an unusual lens would be an understatement. In an age where many photographers focus heavily on the speed at which the latest cameras and lenses can track and maintain focus on a subject, and whether or not the images produced are tack sharp from corner to corner, it’s nice to be reminded of the joys and challenges that come with photographing with manual equipment. This has always been what made Lensbaby lenses so interesting to use. While some photographers may find shooting with manual lenses challenging, it has never been easier to photograph using manual glass when it is paired with the latest camera bodies with advanced image stabilization capabilities built in.

When tasked with reviewing this lens, my first considerations were determining the situations under which this lens would best be suited. As someone who primarily photographs people, some scenarios that came to mind where the Lensbaby Burnside 35mm F2.8 would particularly come in handy included environmental portraiture and street photography, and specifically situations where you would want to isolate your subject from their surroundings. Part of a new series of manual lenses from Lensbaby, the Burnside 35mm F2.8 features a unique dual aperture design, with one of the apertures dedicated to what Lensbaby calls “Vignette Control,” allowing you to “dial in” the quality of bokeh and amount of vignette you can achieve in your final image straight within your camera. This is particularly useful for minimalist photographers who do little to no post production on their images.

Pros & Cons

Pros

  • Solid aluminum construction means the lens can withstand considerable abuse during field use
  • Buttery smooth focus ring
  • Dreamy bokeh quality
  • Vignette Control is an interesting way to dial in your vignette and bokeh quality in camera

Cons

  • Lack of weather sealing
  • The front lens cap is of the pressure fit design, so forgetful or accident prone photographers should take care to put it away in a secure location while shooting with this lens
  • Clicked aperture ring means this lens may not be suitable for video shooters

Gear Used

The Lensbaby Burnside 35mm f/2.8 was tested with the Sony A7RII and A7RIII.

Tech Specs

Burnside 35 Product Specs taken from the press release

  • Focal Length: 35mm
  • Aperture Range: f/2.8-16
  • 6 blade interna
  • Minimum Focus Distance: 6 inches
  • Maximum Focus Distance: Infinity
  • 62mm filter threads
  • Focus type: Manual
  • Size/ Weight: 13.2 oz (374.21g)
  • 6 multi-coated glass elements, in 4 groups

Ergonomics

At roughly half the height of a bottle of water, the Lensbaby Burnside 35mm F2.8 should fit easily inside most photographers’ kits. The Burnside features a convex front element that is recessed into the front barrel, with a front filter thread of 62mm, allowing you to make use of most standard threaded lens filters available on the market today. Due to the Burnside’s unique design, this lens actually contains two sets of apertures: a six bladed standard aperture, and a secondary eight bladed aperture dedicated to Vignette Control.

A robust focusing ring, over 1 ¼” in height, surrounds the front barrel of the Burnside. While the focusing ring is buttery smooth, it still provides a good amount of resistance when turning, allowing photographers to make adjustments with minimal effort when manually focusing.

Directly behind the focus ring is the Vignette Control slider: the defining characteristic of the Burnside series. Controlled using a golden toggle button, the Vignette Control slider clicks faintly when being adjusted. Using this slider, you’ll be able to control the amount of vignette, as well as the quality of the bokeh in your image. Finally, the aperture ring is situated behind the Vignette Controls slider, and can be adjusted between F2.8 to F16. Video shooters interested in this should take note, however, as the Burnside features a clicked aperture ring.

Build Quality

Like many of the other lenses from Lensbaby, the Lensbaby Burnside 35mm F2.8 feels very sturdy thanks to its aluminum construction (excluding the plastic body cap). When not in use, the front element of the Burnside can be protected with the included front body cap, also made of aluminum. Due to its pressure fit design, you’ll want to exercise some caution when taking the lens in and out of your kit to prevent potentially losing the front cap.

Thanks to its relatively compact size, the Burnside can easily be operated by photographers with small to medium sized hands. Those with larger hands or wearing gloves may find the Vignette Control slider and aperture ring to be a bit too close to one another. The majority of the tests of the Lensbaby Burnside 35mm F2.8 were conducted outdoors in a particularly frigid New York winter, and I definitely found the lens to be easier to operate sans gloves. It’s important to note – the Burnside does not feature any weather sealing, so photographers should take care when using it during inclement weather.

Ease of Use

As someone who shoots with manual and vintage glass quite often, the Lensbaby Burnside 35mm F2.8 definitely felt great in my hands. While it’s not the lightest lens out there (thanks to its aluminum body), its compactness doesn’t throw off the balance of the camera at all, and I was shooting single handedly without any hand fatigue. Focusing was a breeze thanks to the large focus ring, and the aperture ring and Vignette Control slider both stayed put throughout testing.

Focusing

Considering this is a Lensbaby optic, the focusing needs to be done manually. There is a focusing scale for sure on the lens, but you’re better off using it with something like focus magnification on a Sony camera or using the LCD screen with Live View.

Image Quality

Like the rest of the lenses from Lensbaby’s stable, the Lensbaby Burnside 35mm F2.8’s biggest selling point is its unique image quality. This is definitely not a lens for amateurs, but photographers who are comfortable shooting with manual glass and have the patience dialing in the focus for each shot will be rewarded with some truly gorgeous images. While the Lensbaby Burnside 35mm F2.8 isn’t super wide, you may notice slight distortions towards the edges of your image when photographing architecture or subjects of a geometric nature. But this can easily be corrected in post should the need arise.

Bokeh

The bokeh from the Lensbaby Burnside 35mm F2.8 has a dreamlike, Petzvalesque quality, especially apparent if you’re shooting wide open. Using the Vignette Control slider, not only will you be able to adjust the amount of vignetting in your image, but you’ll also be able to fine tune the amount of bokeh that appears. Note that this will also affect the shape of the bokeh you’ll get in your final image: the resulting bokeh will have a more octagonal appearance should you crank the Vignette Control slider up all the way.

Chromatic Aberration

In my tests, I was unable to detect any significant chromatic aberration or purple fringing when using the Lensbaby Burnside 35mm F2.8. Unless you’re shooting directly into a light source, you have nothing to worry about.

Color Rendition

Color rendition from the Lensbaby Burnside 35mm F2.8 was fairly accurate and neutral, and far from flat. Colors were consistent throughout both ends of the Vignette Control spectrum. If you are partial to the super vibrant and saturated look, you can always apply minor adjustments in Capture One or Lightroom during post processing.

Sharpness

For the patient photographer, the Lensbaby Burnside 35mm F2.8 is capable of rendering images with razor sharpness towards the center. Sharpness begins to reduce significantly as you approach the edges of the frame, but it’s important to remember that this is a characteristic of the lens. You can certainly stop the lens down if you’d like to increase the amount of sharpness in the overall image, but that’s really not the intended use for this lens, not to mention you may need to introduce artificial light sources or increase your shutter speed to create a properly exposed frame. If you’re looking to create images that are tack sharp from corner to corner, you’re probably not the intended audience for this lens.

Extra Image Samples

Vignetting Control Demonstration

What we also found is that when fully vignetted, it seems like the Lensbaby Burnside 35mm F2.8 cut out around a stop of light on the lens.

Vignette

No vignette

Vignette

No Vignette

Vignette

No vignette

Vignette

No vignette

Conclusions

Likes

  • Image quality
  • Solid build quality
  • Dreamlike, Petzvalesque bokeh
  • Vignette Control provides interesting creative control over your images without the need for post processing

Dislikes

  • Image stabilization is almost a must when shooting handheld
  • Manual focus only (if you’re only familiar with shooting with autofocus lenses)

The Lensbaby Burnside 35mm F2.8 lens is a great addition for any photographer who has an interest in environmental portraitures, food, street, or black & white photography. It produces excellent image quality, surreal bokeh, and accurate colors. The innovative Vignette Control mechanism allow photographers to fine tune images within their cameras, potentially reducing the amount of post processing needed, if at all. When paired with a camera body that has in body image stabilization, you can run and gun with the Burnside and be assured you’ll be able to produce acceptably sharp images with ease. My only wish is that Lensbaby would create faster revisions of the Burnside, but the revised lens would likely see an increase in both size and weight due to restrictions in the laws of physics.

The Lensbaby Burnside 35mm F2.8 receives 4 out of 5 stars.