MatadorU photog student Amanda Zeisset scopes out a Lensbaby Composer for Micro Four Thirds cameras.

At some point in your experience as a photographer you are likely to develop a case of photographer’s block. Symptoms of this common creative ailment include lack of motivation to pick up your camera, dullness of photographs, and loss of interest in shooting techniques you once loved. Never fear: Lensbaby is here.

What is Lensbaby?

Lensbaby is an independent camera lens manufacturer on a mission to “bring joy to professional and amateur photographers who wish to see and document the world in a unique and personal way.”

When I got the opportunity to try out Lensbaby’s Composer with Tilt Transformer I was hopeful it could cure my own case of photographer’s block.

The Composer with Tilt Transformer is a combination of two Lensbaby products, the Composer Focus Front and the Tilt Transformer. It is specifically designed for Micro Four Thirds and Sony α NEX cameras (the Olympus Pen, Panasonic Lumix G Micro System, and Sony α NEX). To better understand this system, let’s detach the Composer from the Tilt Transformer and look at them individually.

The Tilt Transformer is a lens mount adapter with a ball swivel. It can be used with the Composer or alternatively with any Nikon mount lens. The Tilt Transformer tilts up to twice as far as standard tilt-shift lenses, making it possible to achieve more extreme blur falling with a thin slice of focus.

The Composer Focus Front is a manual focus lens on a ball and socket configuration. The Composer is the socket to the Transformer’s ball. This design allows you to tilt and shift the lens and then adjust the focus to find the sweet spot. Once the lens is in the desired place, secure it by using the locking ring on the Transformer.

What is the sweet spot?

The sweet spot is the area of sharp focus. Everything around the sweet spot is blurred. You control the size of the sweet spot by changing the aperture. Using a larger aperture gives the image a smaller sweet spot and vice versa.

The Composer comes with a set of interchangeable levitating aperture disks ranging from f/1.8 to f/22. Changing the disk is simple — using a small magnetic tool that ships with the lens, you pick up the disk and drop in the one you desire. Through the use of magnets, the disk levitates so there are no worries about it falling out of place.

Another feature of Lensbaby lenses is the optic swap system, which allows you to experiment with different creative effects. The Composer ships with the double glass optic, which gives you a very sharp sweet spot. This lens is compatible with single glass, pinhole, soft focus, and plastic optics.

Testing it out

To test the lens I attached it to my Olympus E-PL1 and headed out to San Francisco’s Outside Lands music, food, wine, and art festival. The festival and San Francisco proved to be a great event and city to try out the lens. Being on the bay, the weather conditions change frequently — as the clouds move across the sky, so does your need to adjust the aperture. Some people might find having to manually change the aperture disks to be a pain.

Photo by author

Do I want to bother changing the aperture disk while standing shoulder to shoulder with a sea of people? No.

Should I have considered the lighting and changed the disk in between performances? Yes.

Despite the minor annoyance, I like the aperture disks. Having to manually change the disk forces you to consider each shot and ask questions. What is the lighting like? What size do I want the sweet spot to be? Even the sweet spot itself forces an important question: What is the subject of the photograph? Also, seeing the disks helps drive home the point many beginner photographers forget, that a low f-stop number equals a larger aperture.

Although the lens is intuitive and simple to use, it does take a bit of practice to control the placement of the sweet spot. I recommend you take some time to practice focusing and adjusting the sweet spot and really feel comfortable with the lens before you take it out for a shoot.

Traveling with a Lensbaby

The Composer with Tilt Transformer is the perfect travel mate for creative photography. It is lightweight and compact. As the function of this lens is to have a sharp focus on the subject and blur the surrounding area, it will be a great tool for photographing exotic food, local people, and native animals.

At the same time, this lens challenges the photographer to carefully consider the elements of the shot, making it a product both beginner and professional photographers can appreciate. I recommend this lens if you are looking for a cure for photographer’s block, a fun creative tool, or as Lensbaby puts it, to “see in a new way.”

Price: $350

And the winner is….

Russell Webster (@russellewebster)! Congratulations. Stay tuned for more giveaways!

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