Tilt lenses open up great possibilities for getting creative with your images. But because of their high prices, they’re out of reach of many photographers budgets. Lensbaby, however, have been making affordable alternatives for a few years now. I recently got to play with the newest addition to the range, the Tilt Transformer for Sony’s new NEX mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras range. As is customary with most of Lensbaby’s models, the internal optics are intechangable, allowing one to swap the desired glass inside the body of the lens, thereby changing the focal length or affect. But Lensbaby went one step further than they did with the regular composer by allowing the element body section of the lens to be completely removable, opening up the mount part of the lens. On the remaining part still left attached to the camera is a tiltable Nikon F-mount adapter allowing you to use any D generation Nikon lens, be it fixed or zoom, as a tilt lens, opening up a vast amount of possibilities.
In theory, the lens is easy enough to use. There is a resistance ring at the base of the tilting part of the lens. Tighten the ring to lock the lens in place and turn it in the opposite direction to loosen the lens so the lens can be angled for the desired affect. Changing the angle of the lens changes where the sweet spot will be in the frame. In theory, still not that hard. But in reality, the combination of having to angle for the sweet spot, focus on the subject matter (as the tilting angle of the lens changes, the focusing ring must be readjusted, making focusing especially hard) and trying to lock the resistance screw without accidentally tilting the lens further once focus had been achieved is quite a task. The trick is to find the ideal amount of resistance so that it is easy to angle but not so loose as to fall under it’s own weight.
The camera I used to test the lens was the Sony NEX C3. It has no viewfinder, as it is a mirrorless camera, so I was forced to used the live view screen for composition. This actually turned out to be the best way to use the lens. Because focusing is so tricky, having a small viewfinder to compose through would make finding critical focus extremely difficult with a lens that leaves such a small amount of image in focus. The Sony’s live view can be zoomed in closely to check that the focusing is perfect before shooting. Even when using the Lensbaby with a DSLR, I would strongly recommend using it over the viewfinder, provided your camera supports live view. This made the lens fairly manageable.
But however much effort is required to get a sharp result, the effort is well worth the trouble because the results are beautiful dreamlike photos with an effect I can only describe as stretched radial blur, which is typical of a tilt lenses. Critically, when using the double glass optic inside the Lensbaby, the sweet spot of the image is pin sharp with little aberration. As for the rest of the image, the is massive amounts of aberration, but that is the purpose of a tilt lens.The aberration is intentional
The lens has no aperture blades. Rather it utilises aperture disks that are inserted by hand with a special tool into the lens. The disks look identical to a washer and so have a perfectly circular internal iris. As a result, they will always create perfectly smooth out of focus bokeh, unlike traditional lenses which use aperture blades, causing the internal iris to not be perfectly circular, and thus creating nervous bokeh.
I can hardly fault the difficulty of use as it is a typical characteristic of the type of lens. Using a tripod would free your hands enough to allow them to handle the tightening of the resistance ring better to the point where composing would be far quicker. So difficulty of use aside, this lens was a pleasure to work with and created images that exceeded my expectations. As one has the possibility of changing the glass inside, you can insert other options like the fish eye optic or soft focus optic. Imagine the possibilities of having a tilt fish eye lens. Images would be very unique as no other manufacturer produces a tiltable fish eye. Added to that the possibilities of attaching some of the best glass in the world by allowing Nikon lenses to be used makes it so much more of a sweeter deal.
Lensbaby’s really are the perfect way to achieve affordable creative results. A Lensbaby is sure to be next on my lens wish list for my DSLR.