The LensBaby Composer Pro with Sweet 35 lens ($400) can create beautiful mixes of blur and focus in your images, but beginner photographers beware — this optic pair is not for the faint of heart.
So what’s so special about the LensBaby Composer Pro and Sweet 35 lens? Well let me start with a word on how each works, since they’re actually two separate pieces.
The Composer Pro is basically a lens mount with a built-in ball joint that let’s you point the internal part of your lens at different parts of your camera’s sensor. It is compatible with a small array of lenses that LensBaby sells.
My Composer Pro came with a Sweet 35 optic (LensBaby their lenses “optics”). The Sweet 35 is a manual-focus lens that creates a “sweet spot” area of focus in your images. You can control the size of that sweet spot by adjusting the Sweet 35’s aperture: A large aperture like F2.5 creates a small “sweet spot” while smaller apertures like F22 makes the spot larger.
Whew! Ok, review time.
After bolting it on my DSLR, I could immediately see that the Lensbaby Composer Pro with Sweet 35 combo was unlike any lens I had ever used. Together, they open up a whole new world of composition. As a photographer, I’m used to blurring the foreground or background of an image, but with the Sweet 35, you can blur items in the same focal plane. That’s powerful, and it gets me excited to explore what kinds of photos I can generate with my newfound blurring abilities.
Optically, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the Sweet 35 lens delivered crisp color and beautiful bokeh to my camera. I’m a sucker for great bokeh, and I wasn’t expecting to find in the Sweet 35.
Also surprising: the Composer Pro is built like a tank. Its all-metal construction gives it a nice heft, and its smooth moving ball joint makes it easy to maneuver. I feel confident the Composer Pro is going to last a while.
I had sharpness issues with the Sweet 35 lens. Even though confident my images were properly focused when composing them, I found many a bit blurry in post-processing. Now, this could be because the Sweet 35 isn’t the sharpest of lenses (which, at its price point, wouldn’t surprise me), or it could have to do with my next issue.
The Lensbaby Sweet 35 is a fully manual lens, and as such, it can be tricky to focus. With manual lenses, the only way to tell if your image is in focus is to eyeball your subject through your viewfinder or on your LCD screen. This isn’t difficult to do if you’re taking photos of subjects that are close to your camera (and well lit), but try focussing on someone’s eyes through your viewfinder when they’re standing 20 feet away. And of course, this difficultly is compounded when it’s not bright outside or if you’re using a small aperture because, with manual lenses, smaller apertures let less light into your viewfinder.
And finally, though not a “bad” thing per se, here’s something you should consider: the Composer Pro takes practice to use correctly. A bit of bending of the ol’ lens goes a long way, and if overdone, you can actually move your focus point right off your camera’s sensor, giving you a 100% blurry image. I had this happen a bunch and it was confusing. If you want to get good images using the Composer Pro and Sweet 35, you’re going to need to spend time learning their nuances.
I like the LensBaby Composer Pro/Sweet 35 lens combo. It’s fun to use, can create beautiful images, and is a novel idea in a world of similar lenses. If you can afford it, I would recommend it, but only if you’re not a beginning photographer. If you have little knowledge of aperture, shutter, areas of focus, and how all of it relates, I’d stick with autofocus lenses for now — the LensBaby Composer Pro and Sweet 35 lens are only going to confuse you.