Lensbaby for iPhone is frustrating yet awesome

The lensbaby LM-10, shot through a fisheye lens and two mirrors.

The Lensbaby LM-10, shot through a fisheye lens and two mirrors. Photo: Charlie Sorrel/Cult of Mac

I like the Lensbaby that I have for my regular camera, but I frikkin’ love the Lensbaby LM–10 for the iPhone. Like most things that make the trip from elsewhere to iOS, the little Lensbaby offers a subset of the original’s features, but they are – dare I say – a more focused set of features.

Let’s just say the iPhone Lensbaby is about the funnest iPhoneography accessory around.

The LM–10 does the same edge-blurring tricks as its big brother, only you can’t move the sweet spot around like you can on the full-sized model. (As a recap, the original Lensbaby has a front section that twists and turns, letting you move a sharply focused “sweet spot” around the frame and leaving the rest of the picture in Lensbaby’s trademark blur.)

My new Cult of Mac profile pic, shot with the LM-10

My new Cult of Mac profile pic, shot with the LM-10. Photo: Nuria Gregori

The LM–10 brings this same sweet spot, only it can’t move. To counter this, the companion app uses a clever workaround to produce the movement via software.

But first, the hardware. The little LM–10 attaches to the iPhone using a metal ring stuck around the lens, and then the lens sticks to that with a magnet in its tip. It’s a crappy design: You must carefully line up the lens every time you put it on, and you can’t use a case on your iPhone because the ring must remain permanently attached. Olloclip’s slip-on design is far better.

The lens itself can be used either way around – there are magnetic rings on each end. This means that you can attach any other magnetic lenses you own to the other end of the Lensbaby, adding a fisheye or telephoto to the crazy sweet-spot action.

The app isn’t great either. The controls are clunky – you can’t tap to focus, for example. Instead you need to tap a special (and tiny) focus button over on the control panel at right. The shutter button is in the most awkward spot possible, and things like white balance and filters are given equal importance (in terms of button size) as the focus and exposure controls.

You also have to line up the lens perfectly in order to get it to play properly with the app’s one clever feature — the moveable sweet spot. Double-tap the screen and you can now drag the central focus point around to pretty much wherever you like. It’s a kind of fake, like digital zoom, in that it’s just cropping your image on the fly and presenting the result, but as the Lensbaby isn’t about high fidelity, that’s not a problem.

Why not just use the built-in camera app? You can, but the LM–10 inverts the image making it hard to compose anything, and you’ll have to flip every single one of your photos after snapping them to set them up the right way.

So, you’re wondering why I like the LM-10 so much, when I’ve spent the best part of 500 words moaning about it. The reason is that the Lensbaby really takes some amazing photos. It gives a crazy effect not available from any digital filters, and despite all the shortcomings the results are just plain rad. Take a look at the results here, or the much better ones on the Lensbaby site.

One final thing: The supplied lens caps deserves a special mention for its design. Instead of two easy-to-lose caps, you get a pair of caps joined by a rubber loop so they can’t fall off or get separated. There’s also a little cord for hooking this onto a keychain or whatever. It’s actually a way better design than the actual Lensbaby mounting system.

You might find the LM-10’s $70 price a little steep for such a flawed product, but on the other hand, there’s nothing else like it — and the results are plain amazing.

20140527_LM10_Cap_Standing__43463.1408486356.1280.1280

LM-10 by Lensbaby ($70 list)
The good: Fantastic fun, amazing results.
The bad: Stupid attachment system, clunky app.
The verdict: It’s flawed, but you’ll love it anyway.
Buy from Lensbaby

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About the author

Charlie Sorrel Charlie Sorrel is the Reviews Editor here on Cult of Mac. Follow Charlie  on Twitter at @mistercharlie.

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