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Inspiration

Lensbaby 50mm Sweet Optic Review | Tilt-Shifting on a Budget

By Josh Chun on February 16th 2019

Lensbaby is known worldwide for their unique array of lenses that allow photographers to capture uncommon in-camera images.

In this article, I will review the Lensbaby 50mm Sweet Optic + Composer Pro II. The Composer Pro II acts as a lens mount, and the Optic fits nice and snug into the Composer II.

Optic Options

 

Optics can be switched like lenses, and Lensbaby offers 3 different focal distances for the Sweet series: 35mm, 50mm, and 80mm. The Sweet Optic series allows the user to tilt the axis of the lens, creating a circular area of focus that can be tilted in any desired direction. This creates a dreamy bokeh effect that I like to describe as a “hyperspace” effect because it looks as if the focus ramps into hyper-speed until it reaches the subject.

The Sweet Spot

With the Lensbaby 50mm Sweet Optic lens, there is a “sweet spot” that the focus shifts towards. To get your subject in focus, first place and frame your subject and then tilt the lens according to where you would like the focus to be. Lastly, use the focus ring to pull focus. There’s a learning curve to using this lens, but once you get the hang of it, it’s really fun and rewarding to shoot with.

Aperture

Initially, I thought its fastest aperture of f/2.5 was too slow, but as soon as I slapped the lens onto my Canon 5d Mark IV, I was surprised at how buttery the bokeh was at f/2.5. The Lensbaby Sweet Optic Lens creates way more bokeh than traditional lenses with fast apertures like f/1.4. However, with great power comes great responsibility; you have been warned, photographing subjects with this lens wide open is quite challenging as it is difficult to properly focus that “sweet spot.” This is especially true for nailing focus on moving subjects.

Manual Focusing

The sensitivity of this manual-focusing lens makes it difficult to focus. I am incredibly nitpicky about sharpness in my photos (and all photos in general), so this lens often frustrates me. To ensure that I nail the focus, I shoot in live-view and zoom in before I snap the shot. You will likely experience difficulty when trying to focus with this lens, especially when subjects are close, but once you correctly focus the lens, it is heaven on earth because the bokeh at f/2.5 is incredibly dreamy, almost too dreamy. 

To showcase how the depth of field functions in this lens, I took several photos of a hole in the gravel at f/2.5 (see above). These images are outcomes of adjusting the focus ring. It’s wild how this lens can make gravel look out of this world.

Vs. Sigma’s 50mm and 85mm HSM Art Lenses

For research purposes, I compared the Sweet 50mm Optic at f/2.5 against my 50mm and 85mm Sigma HSM Art Lenses at f/1.4. As you can see, the tilt-shift ability really isolates the subject in a way that traditional lenses cannot match. (The Sigma lenses have more of a green tint; I did not change the temperature as those are all unedited, straight out of camera.) As you can see, the bokeh of the Lensbaby Sweet Optic 50mm is incredible.

Size And Price

Size isn’t an issue here; this lens easily fits in my camera bag being only 2” (5.08cm) high x 2.5” (6.35cm) wide. This lens is a fun little trick-up-my-sleeve when I feel like my clients want photos that are different than the traditional. That’s the caveat, though. Is this “trick-up-the-sleeve” worth the money? The Lensbaby 50mm Sweet Optic comes out to $119.95 USD, and with the Composer  Pro II it comes to be $299.95 USD. It’s worth noting that once you have the Composer II, you can just purchase Optics with different focal lengths, as the optics are interchangeable with the Composer II.

I think Lensbaby lenses are incredibly fun to shoot with. If you have the extra money and wish to take your photography to the next level, I suggest giving them a try, especially when you consider that traditional tilt-shift lenses cost thousands of dollars.

Beginners Beware

If you are at the beginning of your photography journey, however, I would advise against purchasing one of these lenses for the following reasons:

  • They are difficult to use compared to traditional lenses
  • There are essential focal distances and lenses you should familiarize yourself with beforehand (like a the nifty-fifty, Canon’s 50mm f/1.8 lens)
  • You might learn to rely on their effects as a crutch for creative shots, which may hinder your photography growth

Overall Thoughts

The Lensbaby 50mm Sweet 50 and Composer Pro II offers a unique, in-camera look that I think is incredible. Its lightweight and small size make it super easy to carry around, and the build quality is pretty robust as well. I definitely want to pick up another Lensbaby lens, and when I do, I’ll be back with another review for it!

Lensbaby doesn’t mess around when it comes to spicing up your photography game. If you’re looking for something that will challenge your creative abilities, you should consider checking out Lensbaby’s lenses.

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About

Josh grew up in the San Gabriel Valley area, and graduated from the University of California, Irvine. With a double major in Education Science and Sociology, he wanted to pursue further education to become a Sociology Professor. On the way, he fell in love with photography and cinematography, and decided to pursue that instead. Currently, he is a full-time photographer and a second shooter at Lin&Jirsa. Follow his Instagram here.

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