Lenses with Unique, Built-in Looks

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Most photographers use sharpness as qualifier to rate the quality of their lenses, but as any seasoned photographer can tell you, resolution isn’t the end-all when it comes to ranking lens qualities. If anything, it’s the character of a lens—the way it renders your subject, that determines the quality of a lens. In this article, we will discuss lenses that bring something special to the party—lenses that break from the rest of the pack.

Pinholes

Some of the earliest photographs were captured with cameras obscura, which have evolved into pinhole cameras today. While we still sell film-based pinhole cameras at B&H, we will concentrate on pinholes for this article, which replace conventional lenses, and are available for DSLRs, mirrorless cameras, medium format cameras, and even large format cameras.

Pinholes are available for most consumer cameras from Thingyfy, Rising Pinhole, Lensless, and SLR Magic.

Pinholes are unique from lenses in that they do not contain a single glass lens element and they’re not even technically lenses—they are simply boards with a tiny hole (aperture) and a certain focal length. Other interesting facts about pinholes and their resulting images: despite their inherent fuzziness, they exhibit zero distortion and offer infinite depth of field, which is something to which no true lenses can lay claim.

Pinholes capture soft-focus imagery with infinite focus.

One of the downsides of most pinholes, though, is that because they tend to have small apertures, they typically require longer, tripod-mounted exposures, which makes them impractical for photographing roller derbies, hockey games, or really any other moving subject matter.

Lomography

Lomography and whimsy are two words that go hand-in-hand. The cameras and lenses produced by this company are designed to bring a smile to your face and the faces of others. Lomography’s Experimental Lens Kit for Micro Four Thirds Cameras includes three lenses: a 12mm wide-angle with a 7.9" minimum focus distance, a 24mm normal-length lens, and a 160° fisheye that can focus as close as 2" from your subject’s nose. All three lenses have a fixed f/8 apertures and built-in shutters with a choice of 1/100-second or bulb for longer exposures.

According to the folks at Lomography, each of these lenses is manufactured from genuine plastic, which helps to explain the unique optical qualities of these creatively playful imaging tools.

The Lomography Experimental Lens Kit for Micro Four Thirds Cameras includes a trio of lenses and filters designed to capture whimsical imagery with Micro Four Thirds cameras.

In addition to the lenses, the Lomography Experimental Lens Kit includes yellow, blue, orange, violet, and two neutral density filters for adding an extra measure of pizazz to your pictures.

Lensbaby

Lensbaby’s entire reason to exist is to manufacture lenses that go totally against the grain. In a world of ever-increasing megapixels, Lensbaby currently manufactures more than a dozen types of lenses that pretty much thumb their noses at all the pixel peepers out there (and you know who you are).

From left to right, we have the Lensbaby Composer Pro II, the Lensbaby Sol 45mm f/3.5, and the Lensbaby Twist 60 Optic.

Depending on which Lensbaby you choose, you’re guaranteed to take pictures with creative focus, selective focus, swirly bokeh, or other unique ways of arranging focus to highlight certain elements in the frame.

Depending on the lens, Lensbaby makes it possible to add all sorts of creative flourishes to your photographs.

Holga

If you’ve ever fantasized about shooting Holga-style pictures with your Nikon or Canon (D)SLR, it’s time to charge your camera battery. The Holga Lens, which is available for Nikon F and Canon EF-mount cameras, is a 60mm lens that renders Holga-esque photographs right out of the box. Get the look of a toy camera along with the sophistication and convenience of your SLR.

The 60mm Holga Lens for Nikon F & Canon EF-mount cameras.
The 60mm Holga Lens for Nikon F & Canon EF-mount cameras

Pre-View Panoramic System for Nikon F and Canon EF Lens Mounts

On a more serious note, the Pre-View Panoramic System, for Canon EF and Nikon F, is specifically designed to capture high-resolution 360° panorama photographs. The Pre-View Panorama System consists of a 5.6mm f/5.6 fisheye lens, with a 185° angle of view, which is attached to a three-stop rotator that captures three separate ultra-wide photographs. These images are then stitched together to create a single high-definition 360° panoramic image in your computer using Ebot stitching software. All you need is a Nikon F or Canon EF-mount camera and a sturdy tripod or alternate camera support—everything else you need is in the box.

This ain’t no toy! The Pre-View Panoramic System for Nikon F and Canon EF-mount cameras captures high-definition 360° panoramic photographs.

Smooth Trans Focus, Defocus, and Apodization Lenses

Smooth Trans Focus, Defocus, Apodization… however it’s referred to or applied, these lenses differ from Lensbaby optics in that, unlike Lensbaby optics, which are never quite sharp sharp, these are inherently sharp. Defocus lenses, such as Nikon’s AF DC-NIKKOR 135mm f/2D, can be used as a traditional short-telephoto portrait lens, or with a twist of a ring, alter and shift the plane of focus of the lens for creative or moody soft-focus portraits. Lenses with an apodization filter or coating, such as Canon’s RF 85mm f/1.2L USM DS, Sony’s FE 100mm f/2.8 STF GM OSS, Venus Optics’ Laowa 105mm f/2 Smooth Trans Focus, or FUJIFILM’s XF 56mm f/1.2 R APD, modify the optics to achieve especially smooth bokeh for selective-focus shooting. Read more about this process in our What is Apodization? article.

Nikon AF DC-NIKKOR 135mm f/2D (left); Venus Optics Laowa 105mm f/2 Smooth Trans Focus Lens (center); and Sony 135mm f/2.8 STF Lens (right)

Do you have any experience with interesting, non-conventional lenses, different than so-called normal lenses? If so, let us know about it below, in the Comments section.

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