Lensbaby has always been good at creating unique and interesting lenses, and the Burnside 35mm f/2.8 is merely a continuation of that tradition, with its distinct swirly bokeh and dual-aperture design for controllable vignetting. Special effects are Lensbaby’s calling card, and the Burnside draws on that experience by using the swirl from the Twist 60 Optic and building on it as it joins the company’s relatively recent adventure into full-fledged lenses. The use of a secondary aperture is a brand-new development for this manufacturer, and this combination of factors makes it the most intriguing lens in the lineup, and something that I was curious enough to take for a spin.
Another rare trait of this lens in the Lensbaby line is the wide-angle 35mm perspective, since most of its optics and lenses are standard or telephoto focal lengths, and this choice is something that makes it the most appealing lens Lensbaby has released so far. As you may have read before, 35mm lenses are my favorite, so if Lensbaby wants to win me over, this was a great start. I must admit it is a bit of an ironic choice, because the wider lens tends to have deeper depth of field, making it an odd choice for a special-effects lens where bokeh is a serious consideration. On the other hand, if you don’t use the second aperture setting and stop the lens down a little, you effectively have a normal 35mm lens to use for your standard photographs, meaning this lens is a bit more versatile than the usual Lensbaby options.
Anyway, let’s get into the real meat of this review and look at how the effects affect your images. Let’s start with the swirly bokeh, since that is always going to be present in your shots. It is a lot subtler than the Twist 60 Optic, no doubt due to the change in focal length, but it comes with some instructions if you want to get the most dramatic effect. This requires the subject to be within three feet with 12 feet of separation between them and the background. The background should be busy, making it more obvious when the swirl effect is taking place. The only problem with this setup is that sometimes you don’t have control over one or any of these factors, and it can be disappointing if you really wanted to make use of the effect for a subject.
Now on to the secondary aperture which, I must admit, adds a nice, natural-looking vignette. I will suggest being careful if you want to make the most of the swirly bokeh, since using the second aperture will increase the depth of field, so it will be a little less dramatic. This vignetted look is much better than just throwing a filter on in your favorite app, and it benefits from being fully adjustable with three hard stops. It blends well with the swirly bokeh effect, because both have a similar strengthening when it comes to the edges of the frame. But, one thing to be careful of is using this lens on APS-C or Micro Four Thirds cameras, because the sensor crops into the frame and will reduce the impact of the effect. I was using this on a full-frame Sony Alpha a9, so be aware of how the final images may look cropped-in, if you want to see how it will perform on your camera.
One thing I was surprisingly pleased with was the center sharpness. I’ve spent a lot of time focusing on the effects at the edge of the frame, so now is the moment to discuss the “normal” center. The spot is very sharp and has good contrast, contributing to the Burnside’s use as a regular lens on your camera. It also helps that this point is sharp, since with the effects gradually reducing sharpness in the corners, the sharper this spot is the more dramatic and apparent this falloff becomes.
To top it all off, the lens feels good in the hand with all-metal construction and a smooth focusing ring. The aperture has a nice tactile feel, as well. All in all, it is an intriguing lens with a distinct look that should appeal to many looking to spice up their photographs or just have some fun. Lensbaby has certainly come a long way from its early Composers, and this foray into “real” lenses instead of sticking with the Optic Swap System is, in my opinion, one of the company’s best moves yet.
Are you a fan of Lensbaby and the latest Burnside lens? Let us know your thoughts in the Comments section, below!