Lensbaby Edge 80 Quick Review
Andy Westlake | Product Reviews & Previews | Published Feb 14, 2012
Lensbaby is a company that's resolutely pursued its own path since it first started making 'selective focus' optics for SLRs about 8 years ago. Its lenses offer a distinctive low-fi aesthetic, with a 'sweet spot' of sharp focus that can be moved around the frame. Over the years its product range has expanded and increased in sophistication, but the basic aim has been the same: to provide a creative alternative for photographers who sometimes find technically-perfect images to be uninspiring.
By its very nature, this approach has made Lensbaby's products somewhat niche in appeal. But the company's latest optic, the Edge 80, may well see many more photographers sit up and take notice. It's an 80mm F2.8 telephoto lens that's optically-corrected across the whole frame, and designed to be used in the company's flexible lens bodies more-or-less like a conventional tilt lens. This means it gives effects somewhat similar to the 'Miniature' modes seen in many current cameras, but with a far greater degree of creative control and flexibility. Its short-telephoto focal length means it's particularly well-suited to close-ups, abstracts and portraits.
The Lensbaby 'Optic Swap' System
The Edge 80 joins an extensive system based around Lensbaby's 'Optic Swap' concept. Optical units fit into flexible lens bodies that mount onto the camera, and come in a variety of types. Our favourites are the Composer and the similar but more-refined (and expensive) Composer Pro, both of which use a ball-and-socket design with separate tilt and focus controls. For more information on how the Composer Pro works, click here to read our review with the Sweet 35 optic.
Older lenses such as the Double Glass optic need to be removed from the body unit using a specific tool that's incorporated into the base of their supplied protective plastic carry-case. However the Edge 80, like the Sweet 35, can be removed and exchanged quite straightforwardly by hand - you just push down and twist, rather like a child-proof bottle cap.
The Edge 80 is not compatible with the 'Composer with Tilt Transformer' for NEX and Micro Four Thirds cameras, but this doesn't really matter as these offer similar tilt movements with any Nikon lens. And while it physically fits into the 'Scout' unit, its fixed-body design rather negates the point.
The Edge 80 optic
The Edge 80 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".
Using the Edge 80 is reasonably straightforward. The aperture is set using a ring on the optical unit, and the diaphragm stops down directly as you turn the ring. This can make the viewfinder view relatively dark, and at small apertures you're generally best off switching over to live view (if your camera offers it). It's normally easiest to set the camera to aperture priority and shoot away, letting your camera choose the shutter speed, but you can equally use program and manual modes.
When using a Composer body you focus using the large ring at the front of the lens body, and can tilt the lens freely using the ball-and-socket joint. It's not always entirely easy to see exactly what's going on in the viewfinder, so again live view can be an invaluable aid to composition. The conventional metering systems of SLRs also get confused when the lens is tilted, so you have to be prepared to watch your exposure as you shoot and apply compensation when necessary. Again, most cameras meter much better in live view.
Using the Lensbaby Edge 80
The Edge 80 is straightforward enough to use: select an angle of tilt based upon your subject, focus, set the aperture and shoot. If your SLR has Live View then this may well be the easiest way to work - it's often easier to visualize the selective focus effects of tilt on your image when using the rear screen, and you're likely to get more accurate metering too.
Unlike conventional tilt lenses, which offer precise control over the lens movements, Lensbaby's lens bodies all use completely 'free' movements. This means there's no way of tilting the lens in a perfectly-defined direction - vertical or horizontal, for example. This reflects the fact that it's intended mainly for selective focus or 'miniature effect' photography, highlighting key elements of the image and blurring away the rest.
Effect of lens tilt
The rollover below shows the basic effects of tilting the lens: focus is on the figurine lower left. Tilting the lens downwards produces a narrow 'slice' of sharp focus horizontally across the frame, wheres tilting it left produces a vertical in-focus 'slice' (these examples were shot wide-open at F2.8 with maximum tilt in each direction). One key advantage of the Edge 80 over the 'Miniature' effects found in many cameras is that this slice can be freely placed at any position and angle across the frame.
|Straight||Tilted down||Tilted left|
Effect of aperture
The aperture has much the same effect as with conventional lenses - stopping down to smaller settings increases sharpness and depth of field. The crops below show how sharpness changes with aperture: this being Lensbaby F2.8 is somewhat soft and dreamy, but for this effect that's not necessarily a bad thing. Stopping down to F5.6 gives substantially sharper results.
|F2.8 (EOS 600D 100% crop)||F5.6 (EOS 600D 100% crop)|
|F11 (EOS 600D 100% crop)||F22 (EOS 600D 100% crop)|
When the lens is tilted, stopping down the aperture makes the slice of sharp focus wider and cover more of the frame. This is illustrated in the rollover below (again using the Canon EOS 600D):
From this, you should be able to see that the combination of tilt direction and aperture gives a great degree of freedom over which parts of the image will be sharp. The angle of tilt in any given direction also matters; it determines the exact 'slice' of the scene that appears sharp. The ability to control these three separately gives and extraordinary degree of creative control. On the next page we'll look at some practical examples.
Lensbaby Edge 80 practical examples
On this page, I'm going to show a few practical examples of the kind of imagery you can get out of the Edge 80. In all cases I used it in the Composer Pro body on a Canon EOS 600D. The 'look' obtained from the Edge 80 lends itself to further post-processing to get the most impact out of the images, and correspondingly these have all been worked-up in Photoshop, with relatively simple manipulations for colour and contrast. As usual, original out-of-camera JPEGs are available in our samples gallery.
The Edge 80's focal length means it's well suited to portraiture, both on APS-C cameras (on which it offers the equivalent of a 120mm lens on Nikon, Pentax and Sony cameras, and 130mm on Canon). It allows you either to focus specifically on an individual within a crowd, or narrow the emphasis of the image to your subject's eyes, blurring away anything else.
Tilting the lens can also give the currently-fashionable 'fake miniature' effect, but with a far greater degree of creative control than offered by most in-camera filters. You can change the angle, width and position of the in-focus region of the image in a fashion that's simply not otherwise possible. The very nature of the Lensbaby's 'freeform' approach to lens movements means, however, that it's all a bit more hit-and-miss compared to a conventional tilt lens - you can't place the in-focus region at a precisely-defined angle across the frame - but that's all part of the charm.
Tilting can also be used for selective focus effects, somewhat akin to existing Lensbabies but with a more conventional look to the out-of-focus regions. This can be useful when you want to blur away objects in the same plane as the main subject which would usually be rendered equally sharp.
With a tilt lens, you can also play with selective focus in ways that are simply impossible with conventional optics. You can even place the focus plane running diagonally through your subject so that objects behind each other are equally in focus.
Using tilt to increase depth of field
The Edge 80 can also, at a pinch, be used for a more-conventional application of tilt lenses: to increase depth of field, for example in product photography. The advantage over simply stopping the lens down is that you can work at more favourable apertures that are unaffected by diffraction softening. The lack of precise control over lens movements means that this is a rather hit-and-miss process, but with patience good results can be obtained.
If, like me, you enjoy shooting entirely abstract images, the Edge 80 can bring an extra dimension by adding the ability to selectively blur areas of the frame. This can be used to selectively blur-away parts of the image that may distract from the overall composition, or simply to add a new element to the image.
|The impact of this shot comes from mainly its colour palette and bold graphical shapes, with tilt used to add an additional compositional element - the diagonal region of sharp focus. This is obtained by tilting the lens upwards and to the right.|
Lensbaby's lenses have until now been distinctly niche products - their emphasis on optical imperfection placing them very much counter to the mainstream in a digital photography world striving for ever more pixels and detail. The Edge 80, however, may well appeal to a broader spectrum of photographers, as it offers something rather interesting that SLR users simply haven't had until now - a telephoto tilt lens that doesn't cost a fortune. Of course existing Lensbaby users should find it offers a useful new string to their bow.
Naturally it's still not really cheap, in the way the company's original products were - the lens alone is likely to set you back around $300, and that's without a body unit to use it in. This may seem like a lot of money to pay for something so unconventional, but it does come with plenty of creative possibilities. Crucially, many photographers may well find its less-idiosyncratic imaging more appealing - and more generally useful - than existing Lensbaby lenses.
Perhaps the biggest question is why you would use the Edge 80 rather than in-camera 'Miniature' filters or post-process manipulation in Photoshop, and the answer to that is threefold. It offers much more flexibility than typical in-camera effects filters, which are commonly restricted to a sharp zone of fixed width across the center of the frame that often doesn't suit the subject. In contrast, with the Edge 80 you can vary the angle and width of the sharp region almost infinitely. Compared to post-processing after the event, it allows you to compose your image specifically with the effect of tilt in mind, as it's visible in the viewfinder as you go along. Producing the effect optically also offers gradual transitions from sharp to out-of-focus regions in a natural-looking and attractive fashion that's often difficult, if not impossible to replicate in post-processing.
Overall, I've enjoyed using the Edge 80 - it makes a refreshing change from 'conventional' photography, and offers a genuinely interesting creative option that's suitable for a range of subjects. Purely personally, it's my favourite of the company's lenses yet by quite some distance. I'm not going to pretend that it will be ideal for everybody, but if you're interested in adding something a little different to your images then it's well worth a try.
There are 19 images in the samples gallery. Please do not reproduce any of these images on a website or any newsletter / magazine without prior permission (see our copyright page). We make the originals available for private users to download to their own machines for personal examination or printing (in conjunction with this review), we do so in good faith, please don't abuse it.
Unless otherwise noted images taken with no particular settings at full resolution. Because our review images are now hosted on the 'galleries' section of dpreview.com, you can enjoy all of the new galleries functionality when browsing these samples.
The images in this gallery are out-of-camera JPEGs with no post-processing, and include full-size versions of the exampes shown above.
|Lensbaby Edge 80 Review Samples - Published 14th February 2012|