Lensbaby Review: Edge 80 & Sweet 35 Optics – by Marc Piscotty

Marc PiscottyMarc Piscotty is a commercial and editorial photographer based in Denver, Co. specializing in food, portraits, sports and assignment based work. He is a two-time Pulitzer Prize winning photographer with a rich background in newspaper and documentary photography. He has covered everything from major sporting events such as the Super Bowl and the Olympics to major news events such as Columbine and the Democratic National Convention. He also continues to work on an ever-growing collection of stock photography and is available for assignments and commissions worldwide.

The Edge 80 and Sweet 35 Optics joins an extensive system based around Lensbaby’s ‘Optic Swap’ concept. Optical units fit into flexible “composer” that mount onto the camera, and come in a variety of types.

Lensbaby Edge 80 and Sweet 35

The Edge 80 Optic is essentially an 80mm F2.8 lens that has a bayonet mount at the back to fit into Lensbaby’s body units. Optically it’s a 5-element, 4-group design with a built-in 12-blade circular diaphragm that stops down to F22. It has one notable trick – a built-in ‘extension tube’ so you can pull the lens forward in its mount for closer focusing down to about 48cm / 19″.

Lensbaby

Edge 80 Optic around f/4 (at about minimum focus capability – no tilt or shift)

The Sweet 35 Optic is a selective focus lens system. With a focal length of 35mm, it features an internal 12 blade aperture controlled by a dial on the front of the lens with an available range of f/2.5 to f/22, in contrast to previous optics which used drop-in aperture discs. The optical unit is composed of 4 multi-coated glass elements in 3 groups, has a 46mm filter thread and is compatible with the Composer, Muse, Control Freak and Scout lens bodies.

More Info at : http://www.lensbaby.com/

Lensbaby

Sweet 35 Optic around f/5.6

Pros :

– Affordable – The Canon TS-E 90 mm – F/2.8 Tilt-shift lens is about $1300 retail while the Composer Pro is $300 and the Edge 80 Optic is $300, while the Sweet 35 Optic is $180. Less than half price for a somewhat comparable lens. I owned a Canon 90mm TS-E for a while and only used it occasionally finally ending up selling it because I found I didn’t use it often enough to justify the money I had tied up in it so the Edge 80 might be a viable option if it’s a lens you only want to use every so often.

– Optical quality – The older Lensbaby optics were simple single lens elements that yielded a “sweet spot” of focus that was a bit difficult to achieve acceptable image quality at times. The Sweet 35 optic is somewhat similar in its end result although a bit wider (the original Lensbaby was about 50mm). It also now features an adjustable aperture instead of having to replace aperture disks in the original. Overall I found the Sweet 35 images to be much sharper and focusing much easier than the push-pull system of the old Lensbaby.

The Edge 80 is a 5 element flat field of focus optic that can produce extremely sharp images and function much in the same way that a view camera would allowing tilt and shift movements to control the plane of focus. Straight on image quality was much improved from the original Lensbaby but it’s like comparing apples and oranges on that front. It will focus down to 17″ and makes for a decent macro lens for flowers, food, etc.

– Versatility and plenty of choices for different effects – Lensbaby is now using what they call an optic swap system with 8 different optics all with a unique creative effect. The optics are : Edge 80, Sweet 35, Single Glass, Double Glass, Soft Focus, Plastic Optic, Pinhole/Zone Plate and Fisheye http://www.lensbaby.com/optics.php

Lensbaby

Edge 80 Optic around f/4 (with a good amount of tilt/shift for some selective focus)

Cons :

– I wish they made a wider angle Edge Optic (say maybe a 35mm or 28mm) as well. It seems to me that the benefits of a tilt/shift type optic are even more useful in wide angle work.

– In regards to the Sweet 35 Optic your subject needs to be pretty close to the center of the frame if its something you want sharp so it limits your composition a bit for sure.

– Build quality – while certainly more robust and better built than the original Lensbaby it still feels nowhere near as solid as a Canon or Nikon lens.

– No autofocus functionality or lens info recorded to IPTC fields because it’s simply a mechanical mount…Also no TTL flash functionality or display of aperture value in the viewfinder.

– Ends up being a lot of parts and pieces in your bag especially if you start adding macro converters, wide angle and telephoto kits, etc. (plenty of parts and pieces to lose as well!) and changing out optics takes a minute or two and a bit of getting used to.

– The newest versions of Adobe Photoshop and some stand alone apps are replicating some of the same effects digitally which allows you to shoot a scene straightforward and make the decision later allowing for more flexibility in the use of the final images (although I’m a bit of a purist when it comes to that and would rather do it in-camera than try to manipulate an image beyond recognition in post). However the benefit of doing it in camera is that you can see the effect in action and place the plane of focus exactly where you want it.

– I don’t think you can use any of these lenses and effects on a daily basis but I can see them use successfully in certain situations. I especially kinda like the Edge 80 with just a bit of tilt or shift so it’s not too overboard and the Sweet 35 with an overexposed and dreamy background.

Lensbaby

Edge 80 Optic around f/5.6 (Straight up and various tilts and shifts to show what the lens can do)

Overall impression :

I think for the price it’s a pretty reasonable equipment investment if you think you would use it enough in your daily work. I doubt I would personally but I could see using one on occasion if the subject matter lends itself. It can tend to be a bit gimmicky at times and I would certainly be careful about how and when you end up using any of the effects but if employed in a thoughtful manner I think it can certainly work at times.

BTW – That’s my dog Tanner, a Vizsla, in the photos…He’s always a willing model!

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