Review: Lensbaby Composer

LB more for blog Picked up the Lensbaby Composer at the local camera store, Focal Point Photography.  Mike is friendly and knowledgeable – and has a great shop in Dallas, Oregon that offers a good selection of new and used competitively priced equipment.  If you’re anywhere in the Willamette Valley – I highly recommend stopping by.

As for the LB – I have to admit – when the system first came out – I wanted nothing to do with it.  And every time there was a new product announcement – I really just kind of ignored it – thinking it to be a passing fad – something like 8-track tapes.  Seriously.

And then came the Composer.  And the silly thing looked easy to use.  And my days of shooting Holgas and Lomos and hacking a Polaroid into a pinhole all came rushing back to me.  And there I was – wanting a challenge.  And holding it in my hands – it was like the first cup of morning coffee:  “ahhhh – funky optics…”

LB for blogBottom line: I dig it – but there are some challenges.

Some observations:

  1. The aperture system sure seems like it could be better – something mechanical.  Instead, they use this awkward disc / magnet system.  Isn’t there some 1973 technology that could be leveraged here for a low cost?
  2. The lack of autofocus could take some practice – and it’s important that you set your diopter for this.  The instructions are vague.  All I did was use an autofocus lens set on center focus, focus on an object, and adjust the diopter until the object was at its visibly sharpest point in the view finder.
  3. Unless you have a great memory, write things down, or only use one aperture – you could be left guessing about your success and failure with depth of field.  The exif data will not remind you of your f/stop setting.
  4. LB for blog-3The Lensbaby line has lots of options – but right now I only have the Composer with the multi-coated glass doublet – and if I were to add anything to my system – I might consider the wide angle adapter.
  5. It’s a prime lens (~50mm).  I happen to like prime lenses – but for some – a prime lens is equivalent to bull riding – they want nothing to do with it.
  6. I find myself shooting between aperture priority and manual mode.  As your aperture is set by the magnetic ring -your camera will simply read “0” for aperture.
  7. The focus point, at least on the doublet, is quite sharp – but everything else falls off rapidly.
  8. If you decide to pick one up – go out on a couple of shoots without another lens in your bag.  Force yourself to learn this lens – it’ll take some practice.
  9. OK – yes – if you’re savvy with photo software – you can emulate the effect.  But, I think it’s more than the effect that’s important here – it becomes a method to approach subjects with the constrained kit.

Is it for everyone?  No.  That would be like saying everyone should drink eggnog.  But, if you’re in a rut and looking for  something of a challenge, or really have a desire for out-of-the-ordinary optics – the Composer could fill a corner in your camera bag.

15 thoughts on “Review: Lensbaby Composer”

  1. Hugh Vander Plas recommended your blog so I thought I’d add my 2 cents to your lensbaby impressions.

    I’ve heard a lot about the Composer (I listen to the Digital Photography Life podcast and they interviewed the inventor). For the price, I don’t think I’d get my money’s worth out of it. I also think the decision of to buy or not to buy would depend on the type of photography one is doing. If one wants to work on the creative side, so look at things in an interesting way, the Composer might be a shortcut. But at it’s price, I think there are probably other less expensive alternatives.

    I do a lot of landscapes (for greeting cards that I sell), shoot some PR shots and events for my employer and try to sell prints when I can.

    Feel free to contact me since I think we’re both trying to make a few bucks on our wonderful hobby of photography. Hugh VP first saw me taking pictures in high school and that continued through our summer ’69 trip to Europe and even to today. I think I’ve learned a lot but have even more to learn.

    All the best,

    John Van’t Land


  2. Great review, and I especially like the observations. I’ve long thought about trying one out, but have other things that I should be focusing on…

    Next time I get south, I’ll have to stop by the shop you mentioned. I’m always willing to check out the local guy…


  3. I just got the Lensbaby Composer and I absolutely love it – I think it is a fun, fun lens. Right now I’m sticking to the f2.8 and will gradually work my way through the different apertures until I’m comfortable with all of them. I also have the wide angle and the telephoto adapters and have used the wide angle quite a bit. I do a lot of macro photography and this adds a different dimension to it. It definitely takes getting used to.


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