It’s no secret that I’m a Lensbaby fan — I’ve been using their unique and creative lenses since 2005. After a recent visit to their headquarters in Portland, I was super excited to get my hands on one of their coolest lenses to test out, the Composer Pro with Sweet 35 Optic.
I immediately felt at home with the Composer Pro since it was probably the closest to the Lensbaby lens that I used back in my DSLR days, with a few exceptions. Instead of pushing and pulling the lens to achieve the desired focus, you rotate the barrel of the lens on a ball and socket to place the sweet spot on your subject, and then turn the focus ring to dial in focus. The result is beautiful “motion blurred” out of focus details and, depending on which aperture you pick, a sharp sweet spot of focus. Here’s an example.
Related: A Visit to Lensbaby Headquarters
The Composer Pro is part of Lensbaby’s optic swap system, which means you can switch out the optic for a different focal length or effect. For this review, I had the Sweet 35 Optic, a 35mm full frame focal length (which turns into a 70mm on my Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II) that lets you shoot a spot of sharp focus surrounded by blur. You can also use the Composer Pro with Lensbaby’s Sweet 50 Optic to give the same effect with a longer focal length, or Edge 80 Optic, which lets you create a slice of sharp focus bordered by blur.
The Composer Pro is a fully manual lens that’s easy to use, but there are a few areas on the barrel to familiarize yourself with, most notably the friction lock. Loosening this ring fully gives you the least amount of friction, and allows the Composer Pro to move fluidly and smoothly within its ball and socket so you can zero in on your subject. Tightening it fully will lock the lens in place, useful if you’re using a tripod or if you just want to take your hand off the lens once you’ve found your sweet spot, and be sure that the lens won’t move. In practice, I used the friction lock somewhere in the middle, so it allowed me freedom of movement, but for the most part would stay in place if I took my hand off.
The aperture ring can be turned quickly and easily, with a satisfying click from f/2.5 to f/22. The focus ring turns smoothly and allows you to dial in your focus after you’ve positioned the Composer Pro on your subject.
I had a lot of fun with this lens for the time that I had it. Here are a few PROS and CONS I found.
- Unleashes your creativity – I know this is subjective, but whenever I play with any Lensbaby lens, I tend to shoot subjects in a new and interesting way. Often, you don’t even know how you’re going to photograph something until you see how it looks through the eyes of a Lensbaby, and that’s fun and exciting. You can even buy add-ons, like macro converters (just $50!) to kick up the creativity even more.
- Image quality – When you hit the sweet spot for focus, this lens is very sharp and produces great colors.
- Price – The Composer Pro with Sweet 35 Optic retails for around $300. Not bad for a quality lens that can help you see things in a new way.
- Interchangeability – The Composer Pro is merely a shell for Lenbaby’s optic swap system. I tested out the Sweet 35 Optic, but you can also use the Composer Pro with Lensbaby’s Sweet 50 Optic to give the same effect with a longer focal length, or Edge 80 Optic, which lets you create a slice of sharp focus bordered by blur.
- Incomplete metadata – With no electronic connection to the camera, the metadata recorded for a picture taken with the Composer Pro is sparse, to say the least. I know this is an issue with fully manual lenses, but I wish that the lens could communicate to the camera, at the least, the fact that it’s a Lensbaby Composer Pro. That would make sorting through months of photos a lot easier in Lightroom.
- Tough to focus – I’m happy that on my Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II I have focus peaking. For manual lenses, this allows me to see an outline around my subject when its in focus. I sometimes had a problem really dialing in my focus with the Composer Pro, but as I know from using Lensbaby lenses in the past, this is overcome with practice.
By now you should have a decent idea of how the lens works, but how does it perform? Here are some of my favorite shots that I’ve taken over the last year with the Lensbaby Composer Pro with Sweet 35 optic and the Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II.
Do you own the Lensbaby Composer Pro with Sweet 35 Optic or any other optic from the Lensbaby optic swap system? Let me know in the comments!
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