Lensbaby 3G: Tips & Hints On Using A “Selective Focus” Specialty Lens

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(Note: This article originally appeared in iMag Photography Magazine. To download the free PDF file of the published version, click here.)


The first time I got to use a Lensbaby 3G, not one but several of my colleagues asked me what I need it for. They know I have already accumulated quite a number of fabulous Nikkor lenses that I interchangeably fit into my current D2Xs and all my other Nikkor-mounted cameras, and to add another lens, a Lensbaby 3G at that, seemed a little odd. If ever I get another lens, it had to be one of the newfangled Nikkors. So, indeed, at this time, what do I need a non-Nikkor lens for?

Inventor Craig Strong would surely know how to answer that question. But as for me, well, I just had to get one.

All I can say is that Nikkor doesn’t have one of those specialized “selective focus” lenses that brings one area of the photo into sharp “sweet spot” focus surrounded by gradually and almost magically increasing blur. That’s a perfect excuse right there. Once the idea was planted on my head, there’s no escaping the fact that I’d get my hands on one, even if later than sooner. No matter how long it takes. I guess, that’s just how it is with photographers.

Well, I eventually did get my hands on one. It took 3 iterations before I did get hold of one. So, was it all worth it?

I can definitely say that using a Lensbaby 3G added zest to my photography. The Lensbaby 3G lens never fails to spice up what otherwise would have turned out to be ordinary, commonplace, or drab images. I must say that everything looks good through a Lensbaby 3G.

It is easy to use the Lensbaby 3G. It doesn’t even come with a manual. Out of the cute square box, it comes with only a small and thin multi-fold brochure that carries an explicit warning saying it is safe for photographers to read it because “it is not a manual.” These guys sure know of our aversion to reading manuals! A little but surprising touch that made me love the Lensbaby 3G more.

To make the most out of your Lensbaby 3G, here are a few tips:

  • Lensbaby or not, it’s easy to get dust on your lenses. You don’t even have to do anything! The best way to keep your Lensbaby 3G clean, or at least to minimize dust from clouding your lens, is to make sure you cover both ends at all times (conveniently provided), and also use the protective see-thru plastic casing when storing (also conveniently provided).
  • Keep the Lensbaby 3G Aperture Set handy. With this set, you can nterchange among several magnetically levitating aperture disks that will help you achieve the f/2, f2.8, f/4, f/5.6, f/8, f/11, f/16, and f/22 aperture settings in a carrying case with removal tool. You can, of course, buy a replacement, if you lose it.
  • If you don’t have a tripod, or if you have a heavy monolithic one that you just keep and use in a studio, you should not only consider but actually get a sturdy yet infinitely lightweight tripod that folds into the smallest configuration possible. It’s a pain to carry a tripod, so get the one that is ultra-lightweight, and that compactly folds. Also, a tripod with a carrying case is a big plus. You will not only thank yourself but most especially congratulate yourself for taking the trouble of getting and lugging one around. Lensbaby 3G is designed to work so well with a tripod. With a tripod, you can fine-tune your focus, take long exposures, achieve infinitely repeatable results, and create interesting micro variations. Besides, Lensbaby 3G or not, an ultra-portable sturdy tripod is one of the best accessories you can get that will considerably extend and improve the quality of your photography.
  • You can already do so much with just any of the three basic or standard Lensbabies. But to really get the most out of it, particularly if you are using the Lensbaby 3G, you might want to consider adding the Wide Angle/Macro, Wide Angel/Telephoto, Digital Optics, and Macro lens kits. These conversion lenses adds an amazing array of capabilities to your existing Lensbaby. For just a little more, you open yourself to an amazing range of photographic styles using your Lensbaby. And if you have money to burn, it’s not a bad idea to go all the way with the Creative Aperture Kit and the Creative Aperture Blanks. And, don’t forget the awesome Custom Case, the Lenspen Pro, and specially-branded Lensbabies caps and tees.
  • The tenet “know your subject” is nowhere more important than when using a Lensbaby. Knowing your subject, in this case, literally means knowing where to sharply focus across your composition and focal plane. Once you know what the particular focus of an image is, you can keep that sharp while gently blurring away everything else in the frame.
  • Vary your composition. Move the frame all around a focused subject to see what works best. The focused subject does not necessarily have to be in the center. It can be on the left or right part of the frame. Put to good use the age-old “rule of thirds”. The rule of thirds works best with a Lensbaby.
  • Expose images properly. You might have the tendency to under or over-expose an image. With a Lesbaby 3G, keeping perfect exposure gives you a wider latitude in post-production. If you wish to subject your final images to post-production processing, properly exposing RAW images will help give you a wider latitude.
  • With the Lensbaby 3G’s ability to create as many variations of sharply fine-tuned series of images, it is best to use a post-production tool such as Apple’s Aperture. Aperture allows you to easily and quickly select the best shots from the many you’ve taken by allowing you to compare two or more selected images side by side, use the Loupe tool to assess the quality and sharpness of the image, rate and organize the images in many different ways, and create various outputs from websites to slide shows and from photo books to fine art prints.

Red Wine GlassesFirst time I’ve seen a photograph taken with the original Lensbaby were flirty shots of flowers taken by a photographer friend. The images possess glowing color highlights, subtle prismatic color shifts, and also featured the now trademark graduated blur. The images taken with the original Lensbaby were either soft and ethereal or raw and imperfect. Of course, it best suited portraiture, black-and-white, and artistic photography. I was amazed and amused. I thought it quirky, but at the same time, I was amazed at how beautiful the images came out. It was creative and it was inspiring.

And the problem is, I couldn’t stop thinking of it since then. I kept postponing the inevitable (read: to get the lens), rationalizing that I can do the “selective-focus” magic in post-production using Photoshop. But months and months, and several thousand pictures later, not once did I actually do something to create an image with a “selective-focus” approach similar to what a Lensbaby can produce.

The first and the original Lensbaby gave way to a new one. Lensbaby 2.0 came.

Lesbaby 2.0 is a compact, all-around, portable and infinitely fun lens to use. This new version of the lens has been designed for quick shooting, and even for travel and adventure photography. All you have to do is compress to focus, bend it around to find the sweet focused spot, and click away. A couple of new technologies were added to the second version of Lensbaby. The optics is considered sharp and bright. It had a magnetically levitating aperture disks, and provided an aperture range of from f/2 to f/8.

Still, I somehow missed getting this second version.

And now, comes Lensbaby 3G. Finally, I did get hold of one. But now, despite the latest and the greatest, I’m still wishing I’d get my hands both on the original and the 2.0 Lensbabies. It would be uber-cool to collect them all, just like the Nikkor lenses.

While operating on the same basic selective-focus principle, this new lens sums up the experience of the two previous models. It is a “hybrid love child” of an old fashioned bellows camera and an up-tight tilt-shift lens.The Lensbaby 3G is amazing because you now can do the following, which previously, you can’t: precise focus control, longer exposures, and repeatability. What makes this possible is that you can lock the lens in place b pressing a button on a focusing collar. Then you can fine focus, using a traditional barrel focusing ring. With your camera mounted on a tripod, you can take variations to the same composed subject with focus on selective areas. This time, with the Lensbaby 3G, you get not only get better but more importantly a really refined razor-sharp focus on selected areas. Using a low dispersion, multi-coated optical glass doublet, the Lensbaby 3G delivers images with a tack-sharp sweet spot. Also, aperture settings now ranges from f/2 to f/22.

To fully enjoy the Lensbaby experience using still cameras, you might want to try out the Lensbaby 0.6X Wide angle/Macro Conversion Lens, the Lensbaby Wide Angle/Telephoto Kit, and the Lensbaby Micro Kit. These are compatible with all Lensbaby models that can be used for both film and digital SLR cameras. All of these bundle accessories, as well as a few others, effectively extend the functionalities of a Lensbaby.

Other than Nikon, the Lensbaby 3G will mount with the following camera brands: Canon, Sony Alpha, Minolta Maxxum, Pentax K, Samsung GX, Sigma SD, Olympus 4/3rds (E1), Panasonic Lumix DMC, Leica R, Pentax 67 and the Mamiya 645.

Is a Lensbaby only for still camera? The answer is “no”. If you’re into moving pictures, there is the Lensbaby 3GPL designed to create movie magic! This special lens puts the same magic of selective focus into making movies.

For more information on Lensbaby 3G, go to the website.


Written by dominiquejames

March 22, 2008 at 5:16 PM

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