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Camera Accessories

Lensbaby Burnside 35 is a totally cool, ambitious lens

The latest lens lets you dial in the degree of the effect without having to increase the depth of field.

Lensbaby merged its classy all-metal Velvet lens body with a more versatile, 35mm-version of its Twist 60 and the result is the Burnside 35 f2.8. And it's yummy like chocolate and peanut butter. It's available now, though kind of on the expensive side since it's also priced like a Velvet at $500. I don't have official UK or Australia pricing, but the Velvet 56 is about AU$580 and £420, so I expect the Burnside to cost close to those.

The Twist series distorts the defocused areas of the photo, giving them a swirly look; that's in addition to the traditional Lensbaby effect of exaggerating the blur in out-of-focus areas, producing a a tilt-shift-like result (typically dubbed "miniature" when it's produced digitally as a filter). The wider the aperture, the more pronounced the swirl.

The Burnside's secondary aperture.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The Burnside builds on that by letting you increase the amount of vignetting via a second manual aperture slider. In addition to darkening the sides of the photo, it decreases the exposure a bit, which makes the colors look more saturated and brings down blown-out highlights -- the latter is a problem with Lensbabys, because if you want the maximum effect you have to shoot wide open.

The slider controls a second aperture that sits in front of the first and bubbles out (as opposed to a typical flat aperture). This allows the lens to let in less light, which decreases the exposure, while still shooting wide open. This method doesn't change the depth of field (because it's not smaller than the primary aperture) so you still get the same defocus area and effect strength. 

Out-of-focus highlights shrink a bit from the exposure difference, and because the secondary aperture has only six blades -- the primary has a rounded, eight-blade aperture -- the highlights take on a slightly more polygonal look.

The left image has the vignette slider at its maximum. Because it's decreasing the amount of light and encroaching on the edges of the frame, it creates a vignette and darkens the image without changing the depth of field the way stopping down the aperture would.

Lori Grunin/CNET

As with other Lensbabys, shooting wide open delivers the maximum effect, but it also delivers the smallest area of sharpness; smaller than you might usually get with an f2.8 lens, because by design the lens renders a little fuzzy. Starting at f4, though, I found it easier to get the subject sharp than with previous lenses. I also prefer to shoot with Lensbabys on mirrorless cameras, because focus peaking and live preview help a ton. I tested the Burnside with a Sony A7 II.

While it helps, you can't really see how strong the effect is on a small LCD, so to an extent you're still winging it. For best results, you should be close to your subject and there should be a lot of separation between the subject and the background. That's somewhat harder with a 35mm lens on a full-frame than the other Twist focal lengths; the 28mm is for Micro Four Thirds, so it's essentially 56mm, and the standard is 60mm. (I didn't test it on a camera with an APS-C-size sensor, but it will work on those as well.)

I'm never quite sure how much background swirl I'm going to get. For instance, here I didn't think there was enough separation between the subject and the background to get a decent effect, but I did. You can see how the effect gets stronger as it gets closer to the edges of the frame.

Note: I fixed the exposure for this shot (it was overexposed) and cropped out the garbage pail on the right. Because garbage.

Lori Grunin/CNET

Even with standard wide-angle photos where you don't have a closer subject, you still get the traditional Lensbaby tilt-shift-like effect. There's a lot of chromatic aberration, but that's part of its charm.

Even discounting the swirly bokeh, the Burnside produces a nice tilt-shift ("miniature") effect like most of the company's other lenses.

Lori Grunin

The lens itself is quite sturdy, if a little heavy at roughly 13.2 oz (374g), and the strong focus-ring tension makes it easy to be precise. For mirrorless cameras it's slightly longer than for dSLRs in order to provide the extra focal distance. 

The aperture range goes from f2.8 to f16, full stops only, and the aperture ring clicks firmly and audibly into place at each; the secondary aperture slider also clicks into place at each of its four stops. Clicking's nice for still shooting, and makes it easy to use the same settings repeatedly, but clicking may be an issue when shooting video. 

I hope Lensbaby decides to make a longer version of the Burnside 35, somewhere in the 50mm to 65mm range, for those of us who need a little more distance between ourselves and the subject. But even in its 35mm form, it's a nifty addition to your camera bag to help perk up relatively boring shots or to give great ones a little something extra.

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