Capturing a Slice of Life with Lensbaby Composer Pro II


The cold days of winter are finally upon us and that means hunkering down with a cup of hot chocolate and taking a long deserved break. It also signifies shorter, darker days, when many of us will chow down with our family and friends, embracing the foodie inside all of us. As for me, I used the time to embrace the unique look of Lensbaby’s latest Composer Pro II and Edge 50 Optic to create fun shots without constantly worrying about technical perfection.


Photographs © Shawn C. Steiner

I am extraordinarily lucky to have a girlfriend who loves to cook. This made my subject choice fairly easy, since a variety of dishes filled my home. She embraces the fall and winter seasons by making a plethora of baked goods and heading to the local farmers’ markets to find the freshest ingredients. I followed her around to take some photos (and carry some bags), as she perused this season’s offerings.

For those completely unfamiliar with the Optic Swap System, Lensbaby splits functionality between two parts, the Composer Pro II, which has the tilt and focusing functions, and the Optic, which closely resembles a standard lens, housing the glass and aperture control. Changing out the optics is the way photographers can achieve a range of effects; in this case I had the newest Edge 50 for creating images with a thin slice of selective focus through the image. I most closely relate this to one of the selective focus options in Instagram, but having physical control while shooting is the extraordinary difference.

Canon 6D; f/3.2; 1/125-second; ISO 640

The Composer Pro II itself has a segmented design that not only looks different, but will definitely change how you think about making your shots. Its natural holding position just begs you to twist and turn the lens to see the effects you can make. I took a few moments to work with it and I found it really nice that you could adjust the tension in the tilt, making it more or less difficult as needed. The minimum setting resulted in the optic drifting and the maximum was way too firm, making medium the obvious choice. This is where the unit's overall durability was tested and fortunately, while the Pro II does still use plastic in some key parts, it is made of mostly metal.

The Edge 50 optic component was quite nice, capable of giving me exactly what I thought it would. Its extreme tilt of 15 degrees was not an aesthetic I often use, but the control to utilize this extreme was precise. Adjusting tilt became natural very quickly, once you see it a couple times adjusting the focus area is super easy. Compared to a tilt-shift lens or view camera, the Composer Pro II sacrifices precision for ease of use, but that's not a bad thing. There are many times when we choose expediency over precision, it's why I picked up a point-and-shoot earlier this year for day-to-today shooting.

Canon 6D; f/3.2; 1/125-second; ISO 1000 Sony a7R II; f/4; 1/125-second; ISO 16000

One brilliant move on the part of Lensbaby was the addition of a macro setting on the Edge 50. All I had to do was pull the front element forward and it was ready to go. For the food shots I was taking, it was absolutely perfect and the lens practically lived in this setting. It also helped amplify the lens’s effect, making it more fun to work with.

Complaints about the optic are few, considering its overall purpose as a specialized lens, but it clearly showed chromatic aberrations and was not sharp when used wide open. This can escape scrutiny if users only post online, but don't expect this system to provide the same image quality as a legitimate tilt-shift lens. Also, while f/3.2 was actually a great choice for keeping the slice of focus from becoming narrow to the point that it's unusable, in practice shooting only with available light made it a bit of a hindrance.

Canon 6D; f/3.2; 1/125-second; ISO 640

So will I be putting the Lensbaby in my usual rotation? Not quite yet. Did I enjoy the two week diversion? Definitely. Taking a break from the usual demands of my photography was a great reset for the holidays and is exactly the reason I would recommend it. Also, for beginners looking to expand their horizons and see the effects of different lens movements, the Lensbaby provides an excellent entry point.

Sony a7R II; f/3.2; 1/125-second; ISO 3200 Sony a7R II; f/3.2; 1/125-second; ISO 4000

A bonus is that you can get it for practically every mount around. I had the Canon EF model, which I used on a Canon 6D and adapted to a Sony a7R II, but you can pick it up in Nikon F, Sony A, Pentax K, Sony E, Fujifilm X, Samsung NX, or Micro Four Thirds variants, as well.

Sony a7R II; f/3.2; 1/125-second; ISO 20000


Lousy review.  

He goes from fluff about his groovy girlfriend right to arcane details about adjustment of the thing, without ever explaining what the thing does.

What is a Composer Pro?

The Composer pro allows you to create creative Tilt shift effects. LensBaby is one of the leading contributers to this particular field of Photography. Follow link for more info:)