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Lensbaby 3G
Precision Shooting With the One-Eyed Slinky

By Allan Weitz

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I had to laugh when I read you can order a Lensbaby 3G in a Leica-R mount. That's like showing up to a high-power business meeting wearing your finest suit and a rubber clown nose. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but you have to be real good to pull it off without jeopardizing that fast-track career you've been honing over the years. All joking aside the new Lensbaby 3G is an interesting addition to the Lensbaby product line.

If you're not familiar with Lensbabies, imagine a lens element attached to a flexible lens barrel, which you push, pull, and twist until you get your subject into fuzzy-edged focus. At rest the Lensbaby's focus is at about 2-feet from the lens. For distant subjects you squeeze the lens tighter and for closer subjects you push the lens further away from the camera body. By tilting the lens from side-to-side you can also alter the plane of focus, somewhat like the swing and tilt controls on a view camera, allowing you to bring one area of the photo into sharp focus while surrounding areas get increasingly blurry (Think poor man's tilt-shift lens.)

Each Lensbaby comes with a set of round, magnetic 'aperture openings' that you drop in front of the lens using the combination magnetic wand/aperture holder. The degree of fuzziness depends on which aperture you drop in front of the lens. The lens by itself (roughly a 50mm) has an effective aperture of f2, and each Lensbaby 3G lens comes with a set of aperture rings that take you down to f22 in 1-stop intervals. The smaller the aperture, the sharper the edges become. For what it's worth, the folks at the Lensbaby Advanced Research Facility in Portland, Oregon recommend starting with f4 or f5.6 if you want to capture images that flaunt the "spirit of the Lensbaby look".

At first glance the Lensbaby 3G resembles a miniature Russian Lunar Module (and don't be surprised if you find yourself practicing low-gravity landings on your desktop the next time some Bozo leaves you on hold). What sets the new model off from earlier Lensbabies is the addition of three focusing rails that allow you to lock the lens in a bent position, and then fine-tune both the focus as well as the plane of focus. If you're working on a tripod it's like shooting with a low-tech but surprisingly intuitive Linhof. By pressing two release buttons on the side of the lens you release the three focus rails, which enables you to manually push, pull, and twist the lens as with earlier Lensbabies. Once you find the "sweet spot" you trigger a smaller button on the other side of the lens which engages the focus rails and locks the lens in place. You can now manually adjust the individual focus rails until you get the sweet spot of sharp focus where you like it.

While this might sound like overkill for a Lensbaby, it's kind of neat to be able to get your image the way you like it, walk away from the camera (assuming you're on a tripod!) and come back without losing focus. The ability to repeat photos exactly while bracketing exposure or making slight adjustments to composition make this a much more appealing device for studio photography than previous generation Lensbabys. Even shooting hand-held the Lensbaby 3G proved to be less squirrelly to shoot with as compared to earlier versions.

As for compatibility, the Lensbaby 3G is currently available for Nikon, Canon EF, Minolta Maxxum/Sony Alpha, Pentax K / Samsung GX / Sigma SD, Olympus 4/3 / Panasonic Lumix DMC and Leica R lens mounts. Be advised some cameras systems offer more metering options than others. Most camera systems can be used in aperture priority mode to allow automatic exposure adjustment while certain Nikon bodies (including D50, D70, D80, D100) can only be used in manual mode. Check with the Lensbaby website to see the operational details of your particular camera.

No matter which camera you own keep one thing in mind; In a razor-sharp world it's nice to get fuzzy once in a while.

Check out the B&H website for a wide variety of Lensbaby lenses.
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