Conclusion - Pros

  • Composer Pro is the smoothest operating, most usable Lensbaby yet
  • Sweet 35 is more practical than previous optics (built-in aperture control, tool-less removal)

Conclusion - Cons

  • Sweet 35 can vignette on full frame cameras at extreme tilt positions
  • Sweet 35's off-axis blur characteristics are (arguably) not as attractive as the Double Glass 50mm's
  • Composer Pro has no mechanism or indication for centering the lens when desired

Overall conclusion

The Lensbaby is very much what we British might call a 'Marmite' product; you either love it or you hate it, and once you've established your taste no-one's ever going to convert you to the opposite way of thinking. So we're not going to spend too much time passing judgement on imaging characteristics, but instead concentrate more on how well the latest products work.

In the case of the Composer Pro, the answer is pretty straightforward - it's the best Lensbaby yet, and substantially improved over the original Composer. In particular the focusing is very much improved over the somewhat loose feel of the older design, with a smooth, damped action that's reminiscent of 'proper' manual focus lenses. The ball and socket tilt joint has also been refined - again it's smoother in operation, which makes small, precise adjustments much easier. So if you think you're likely to use it a lot, we think the Pro is definitely worth the $50 premium over the Composer. Of course if you just want to experiment with whether you like the whole Lensbaby idea, the much-cheaper Muse probably makes more sense as an introduction to the system.

With the Sweet 35, things are a little less clear-cut. We very much appreciate the built-in aperture - it encourages experimentation with the size of the sweet spot, making it easier to achieve the image look you really want. Likewise, the ability to swap out the lens from the tilt unit without having to resort to a tool is a welcome practical advance. It's also impressive how well Lensbaby has managed to match the size of the 35's sweet spot with that of the Double Glass 50mm optic (users of which should have little problem getting a feel for the wider version).

In terms of the look of the images, though, we're more ambivalent. The whole point of the Lensbaby concept is that the peripheral blur focuses your attention on the subject, and if there's a problem with the Sweet 35 it's that this blur can be a bit more distracting, with harder edges to the characteristic radial oval highlights. This probably won't stop users making compelling images with this lens, but it is something to look out for, and means you may well need to pay rather more careful attention to your backgrounds to get the best results. We generally found this to be more of a problem on full frame cameras than APS-C, though.

The Lensbaby's peripheral blur can work very effectively to focus attention on your subject, but especially when used wide open, the Sweet 35's blur can be rather distracting. Generally, though, the rendition improves when the lens is stopped down. In this example, shot on an APS-C camera, the highlights in the background are rendered as sharp ovals at F2.5 (upper right), becoming notably softer and less harsh when the lens is stopped down a little to F4 (lower right).

The Sweet 35 can also vignette markedly on full frame when used at the extremes of tilt, which are necessary if you want to move the sweet spot to the extreme edge of the frame. This is most pronounced with distant subjects and reduces as you focus closer, but it's still very much there. In fact overall we found it to be a much more usable (and likeable) lens on APS-C compared to full frame.

In summary, then, Lensbaby's latest products are a logical progression of the company's line-up, and offer some genuine advances that make them rather more practical to use. Existing users will no doubt appreciate the additional refinements that the Composer Pro brings to the table, and the Sweet 35 at last offers a different perspective to the existing optics. For photographers looking for something a little bit different, with a very different look and creative approach compared to conventional lenses, they're well worth a try.

Samples Gallery

There are 30 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. As always the original untouched image is available by clicking on the appropriate link.

Lensbaby Sweet 35 review samples gallery - Posted June 10th 2011

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