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Lensbaby Composer review: Lensbaby Composer

Shattering all preconceived notions of focus, blur and sharpness, the Lensbaby Composer is more than just a toy — it's a proper photographic tool, picking up an Editors' Choice award.

Lexy Savvides Principal Video Producer
Lexy is an on-air presenter and award-winning producer who covers consumer tech, including the latest smartphones, wearables and emerging trends like assistive robotics. She's won two Gold Telly Awards for her video series Beta Test. Prior to her career at CNET, she was a magazine editor, radio announcer and DJ. Lexy is based in San Francisco.
Expertise Wearables | Smartwatches | Mobile phones | Photography | Health tech | Assistive robotics Credentials
  • Webby Award honoree, 2x Gold Telly Award winner
Lexy Savvides
3 min read

Let us establish something straight away — the Lensbaby Composer is a lot different to any other photographic tool you have used before. It certainly looks quirky, and given the resurgence of lomography and toy cameras you would be forgiven for relegating the Composer to the same pile. Façade aside, it's capable of producing some astounding images with a bit of effort, practice and luck — and will undoubtedly make you question the way you approach photography.


Lensbaby Composer

The Good

Challenges the way you see the world. A lot of fun to use. Innovative system in a relatively inexpensive package.

The Bad

Steep learning curve.

The Bottom Line

Is it toy or is it a proper photographic tool? Despite the steep learning curve, based on the pictures the Lensbaby produced it definitely falls into the latter category. If you're prepared to get into the nitty gritty of fiddling with manual exposures, the Composer will inject a whole lot of fun into your photographic practice.

Design and features
The Composer is one of three new Lensbaby models which we reported on last year. It's available for a variety of mounts for most brands of SLR cameras. This lens in particular rotates 360 degrees around a ball and socket structure, with a focus ring around the outer portion of the unit.

Essentially, the Composer works by tilting the lens to adjust the "sweet spot". The Composer, like the rest of the Lensbabies, is a selective focus lens. This means that while one area of the image is in focus, the rest will be heavily blurred — this effect is also called bokeh.

It comes supplied with a selection of aperture plates, from f/2 to f/22. These are magnetised, and can be dropped into and lifted out of the lens itself using the aperture changer tool (which also doubles as the storage case for the plates). The focal length is approximately 50mm, which is generally considered to be equivalent to how the human eye sees the world.

Apart from selecting the focus, rotating the lens to adjust the sweet spot, and changing the aperture plates, there are no other features per se to the Composer. That is, until you come to take a picture.

Image quality
Using the Lensbaby is quite unlike any other photography experience you'll have. This is a totally manual lens — there is no electronic communication between it and the camera. Automatic mode is out the window, along with scene, P and shutter-priority mode. Depending on your camera, you may be able to meter through the lens when shooting in aperture priority mode — see the list on Lensbaby's website — otherwise you're left all on your own in manual mode, setting shutter and aperture yourself.

Some of the amazing effects you can achieve with the Lensbaby. Click image to enlarge.(Credit: Alexandra Savvides/CNET Australia)

If you're not used to setting exposure yourself, be prepared for a learning curve with the Lensbaby. It takes some trial and error to figure out the right settings, especially if you still shoot film, but on digital you will be able to review your pictures instantly and adjust accordingly.

To put it simply, not all images you take with the Lensbaby will work. Some will be out of focus as you learn the foibles of the lens and some will just look like a mess of blur, but when you do strike the balance, you will be rewarded with some truly unique images. Dream-like scenes are second nature to the Composer, and a general ethereal feel will permeate most images you take.

We loved how the Composer stayed in place when we moved the sweet spot (unlike the Control Freak and the Muse lenses), and how it attracted comments and attention everywhere we took it. People were inherently drawn to the quirky exterior and when they took one look through the camera's viewfinder, they were pointing, twisting and using up all our film.

For the price, there is no better lens to achieve the same effect as the Lensbaby. We would forego toy cameras and lomo models, and skip straight to the Composer because of its versatility and (somewhat) controlled effects.