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Camera Accessories

Lensbaby Sol 45 lens delivers its signature effects for a little less

The company's latest lens is one of its easiest to use.

22-lensbaby-sol-45
Sarah Tew/CNET

Compact, clever and easy to use, Lensbaby's latest and moderately priced lens is a great addition to your bag. The Sol 45 and upcoming Sol 22 (for the same effective focal length on an Olympus, Panasonic or other Micro Four Thirds camera) deliver Lensbaby's signature sharp-in-the-middle-and-distorted-everywhere-else look, with the extra perk of external manual aperture blades to play with the bokeh effect. 

The $200 price tag isn't crazy cheap for a lens that's not a staple, especially since it's targeted at "those who want to dip their toes in the Lensbaby pool." Kind of a pricey dip. 

But if you shoot a lot of portraits, take pictures for social media as part of your job or otherwise need to create generic stock-photo-looking images it might be worth the money. 

It's also cheaper and easier to use than many of the other lenses from Lensbaby, such as the Burnside 35

Lensbaby still sells the dirt-cheap Spark for $90, but it's a little harder to manipulate precisely and only supports Canon EF and Nikon F mounts because it's from 2012. The Sol 45, on the other hand, comes in Canon EF, Nikon F, Sony A, Pentax K, Sony E and Fuji X mounts.

The lens can help add a little je ne sais quoi to otherwise generic shots for social media or marketing without resorting to stock photography.

Lori Grunin/CNET

As its name indicates, the Sol 45 has a 45mm fixed focal length with an f3.5 aperture. Unlike other Lensbaby models, you can't change the aperture size, just the shape via a couple of blades that you can rotate to any orientation and swing into the frame individually. Since they do block some light they are technically narrowing the effective aperture, just not in any standard way.

You have to reach into the lens barrel to manipulate the blades, which may require fighting your instincts screaming "no fingers near the lens!"

Sarah Tew/CNET

Like many other Lensbabys, when the lens is positioned straight on you get a sharp image center with increasing distortion and defocus as you head out to the edges of the frame. 

Tilting the lens changes the area of focus as well as the intensity of the distortion. You can easily lock the lens into the standard position, which is nice.

This gives you a good idea of what the basic, straight-on effect looks like.

Lori Grunin/CNET

All Lensbabys use manual focus, and the Sol 45 is no exception. But its relatively narrow aperture makes focusing accurately with the optical viewfinder on a consumer DSLR in low light really, really challenging because of their dim viewfinders. 

I tested the Sol 45 on a Nikon D7500 ($1,197 at Amazon) and considered any in-focus low-light shots happy accidents. Even in bright light I was never positive. The shallow depth-of-field doesn't give you much focus leeway. Pro tip: Make sure your viewfinder diopter is set properly.

If you don't lock the lens, the slightest tilt can result in incorrect focus, which is hard to tell through an optical viewfinder. Sarah's hair clip is tack sharp in this shot. Her face, not so much.

Lori Grunin/CNET

I find that, especially for beginners, a mirrorless camera delivers the best Lensbaby experience thanks to focus peaking and focus assistants that magnify the image. 

You also have to set exposure manually, which can be a lot faster for newbies on a mirrorless because of the live preview.

This is the effect you get with the blades pushed partway into the frame and rotated vertically.

Lori Grunin/CNET

As an entry-level lens, it could stand to be a little cheaper, but it's fun to play with. And because it's so basic, it's easy to figure out if you've never touched a Lensbaby before. You don't even have to take advantage of the bokeh blades or tilt to benefit -- just leave it locked facing directly forward and you'll still see the magic.

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