I started playing around with my first Lensbaby lens back in 2005, when a friend lent me one to use on my Canon DSLR. Instantly, I was hooked. I loved the ability to push and pull the lens to achieve focus and, as as Lensbaby says, “see in a new way”. I’ve been a huge fan ever since, and a few weeks ago had the opportunity to visit and take a tour of their headquarters out in Portland, Oregon.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with Lensbaby, they make specialty camera lenses for almost all interchangeable lens camera systems that allow you to bend, compress or rotate the lens in order to achieve selective focus and create specialty bokeh effects. Recently they’ve been making some really interesting new lenses, the Circular Fisheye and the Velvet 56, that branch out from the original Lensbaby design, but still stay with their core principal of “see in a new way”.
As an engineer and photographer, I was super excited to go behind the doors of Lensbaby. I felt like I had gotten a golden ticket and was getting a look inside Willy Wonka’s Factory! After a quick stop in the lobby, which is graced with beautiful Lensbaby photos, I was shuffled back to the factory floor. It was a Friday, so Lensbaby employees were hard at work tweaking, assembling and testing all of the products that Lensbaby currently makes.
After checking out the operations, I was taken up to the R&D area, and met with Lensbaby founder Craig Strong. Amongst all of the camera bodies and secret bits that were in this room, Lensbaby has a couple 3D printers and a CNC machine for rapid prototyping. Whenever I see a 3D printer it’s usually making something not very functional, like a plastic replica of the Eiffel Tower or a Pokemon, so it was really cool to see them being used for real world applications.
In the early days of digital, Craig was a bit of a pioneer, jumping in head first with some of the newest DSLR bodies in the early 2000s. Shortly after getting the Canon D30 he found himself in New York City wanting to take some architectural shots. But, the crop factor on this new digital SLR made his 20mm prime into a 32mm, which didn’t exactly give the wide field of view he was looking for. Craig has always been a tinkerer, so he grabbed a wide angle conversion lens to screw onto the front of his 20mm prime and pointed the camera up. The blurred edges and almost fisheye effect of this tiny franken-lens ignited a creative spark in Craig, and wound up being the inspiration for the original Lensbaby.
After speaking with Craig I got to check out Lenbaby’s “museum”, a conference room where they have all of their products from the various years as well as awards and accolades. It’s always interesting to see the evolution of a product, and Lensbaby is no exception. With a quick scan of the room, you can see everything from their original prototypes to their current lineup of lenses. Really cool!
A visit to Lensbaby wouldn’t be complete without tying out some lenses though, right? While I was there I had the chance to check out the Velvet 56 and the Circular Fisheye. It’s really awesome that these new lenses are all being made for micro four thirds, and that Lensbaby plans to continue to support the micro four thirds mount with their future products.
In addition to trying out some new lenses, I took home the Composer Pro with Sweet 35 Optic for micro four thirds. It’s a really fun lens that I’ve been testing out out for the past few weeks and I plan to have a review up soon.
I had a great time hanging out with the folks are Lensbaby and can’t wait to see what fun stuff they’ll be cooking up in the future for micro four thirds!
Are you a Lensbaby fan like me? Let me know in the comments!