Lensbaby Macro on a Budget
Lensbaby Macro for under $100
What is a Lensbaby?
A lensbaby is a camera lens for DSLRs that can be shifted so that its lens is not parallel to the sensor/film surface. Basically this means that the photographer can select a part of the image to be in focus (a sweet spot) and a part to be blurred. Lensbaby is also the name of the company that manufactures the range of Lensbaby lenses and accessories.
What is a Lensbaby Spark?
The Lensbaby Spark is a recently released version of the Lensbaby that undercuts the previous entry price by almost 50%. (Around $80 as opposed to $150). The manufacturing company obviously realized that there was a potentially large group of people that didn’t want to pay more for a fun non-precision optic than for a good 50mm prime but who would fork over $80. Lensbaby Spark on Amazon (Aff.)
The Lensbaby System
Lensbaby, like all businesses, would much rather have you buy several items than just one and to this end they make their lenses upgrageable and interchangeable, the basic 50mm optic can be swapped out for a 35mm effective focal length @ 35 mm (efl) or an 80mm efl one, and macro adapters can be added. These do not come cheap though.
The alternative route to Lensbaby macro photography is very easy and very cheap. Rather than spend $50 on a Lensbaby macro converter just purchase a 37 mm to 52 mm step up ring for $3 and zero shipping costs in the US from Amazon. (Aff.)This will enable you to use anything that you’d put on the end of your other lenses onto the Lensbaby – from macro adapters, polarizing or neutral density filters etc.
I use this from Amazon which is a two piece set that consists of a 10x macro adapter and a x 0.45 wide angle adapter – cost $13 . The macro adapter allows for a focal distance of around 10 inches from the sensor and 5 inches from the front of the lens. The wideangle extension actually does very little, at least on this lens. The reason for this is that it is a x 0.45 adapter on an 18 mm lens but that this figure increases as the focal length increases. It does have a slight widening effect on a 50 mm lens but my guess would be that it reduces it to a 40 mm at most.
It is worth having the wideangle though as it works great on the standard issue Nikon 18 mm – 55 mm kit zoom, on this set up a focal length of under 20 mm is possible. There is some softening at the edges which doesn’t bother me at all but even if you think that sharpness is next to godliness a lot can be done in editing software to mitigate this. Bear in mind though that optics in the few dollar range are never going to be perfect but if you are prepared to work with them can give excellent results.
The biggest drawback with the wideangle part is that it is on the heavy side. I see that Amazon has started carrying lighter versions by different manufacturers for a similar price and one of these may well be worth a try. I have only used the one that I describe though and am not comfortable recommending something that I haven’t used myself.
Of course there is no reason at all why the stacking type of diopters (Aff.) that usually come in a set of four cannot be used. These sets are usually priced between ten and fifteen dollars.
I’ve tested the Lensbaby Spark/ 10X diopter with both a Nikon D40X and a Nikon D3100, (both of which are crop sensor). The big difference between the two cameras is the sensitivity of the sensors at high ISOs. The image from a D3100 at ISO 3200 is cleaner than that from the D40X at ISO 800. This extra two stops makes a huge difference when working with the fixed f/5.6 Lensbaby Spark.
Macro combined the the Lensbaby selective focus approach is fun as well as educational. It made me see differently which is always a good thing as this is what photography is really about (at least for me). I don’t however, use it enough to warrant spending a lot of money on so the step up adapter/macro attachment approach was the perfect answer.
The other unintended consequence of working with the Lensbaby was to get me to be very comfortable working in manual as opposed to aperture priority. On the two cameras mentioned above there is no option. Apparently the light metering works with some cameras and not with others. If this is likely to be an issue a quick Google search may be in order. Personally, I found it very easy to adapt to manual. Now I can get the exposure right first time about 70% of the time and even if I miss a second ajustment does the trick.
The image at the top of this post was taken with the Nikon D3100, Lensbaby Spark, and the x 10 attachment. The effect is quite subtle; the out of focus areas have a smooth creamy appearance although there is a slight swirly effect. Also the letters T and A are in focus but other parts of the image, the same distance from the camera are not. It is hard to see this on the small image at the top of the post but much more obvious on this larger version (Click on the image to get an 1100 pixel version).
By Steve Johnson