Review: Lensbaby Fisheye Optic

LB fisheye test - low res-3Announced on Thursday 22 October – the Lensbaby Fisheye arrived on my doorstep 23 October – thanks to 1 day delivery.  And on 24 October – I was at Finley Wildlife Refuge – on a mostly sunny autumn Saturday – for a bit of shooting.

This 12mm f/4 fisheye lens is part of Lensbaby’s Optic Swap System. In other words – this isn’t a lens – but it’s an optic that fits into the Composer system (you can read my favorable review of the Composer here).  If you happen to use the Muse – you’ll need an adapter to use this optic (apparently not available until mid-November) – and according to the press release – this accessory is not compatible with the Control Freak.

And one more note – for those familiar with the Lensbaby system – this isn’t a selective focusing optic.  In other words – it’s not a “shift” optic that allows you to specify the focus point in the frame – and optically – it performs closer to a typical lens.

After some time with the lens this last weekend – here are my initial thoughts.LB fisheye test - low res-2

First – this fisheye lens is fun – and I enjoy shooting it. I don’t mind the manual focus – and though the aperture system takes some getting used to – it’s not a huge obstacle.  Of course – with a 160 degree view – it can be a bit challenging to keep your toes or shadow out of the shot.

This accessory optic is $150 – which likely puts it outside the “impulse buy” range.  As for the total package – I found some things that I liked – and I had a few quibbles.

LB fisheye test - low res-6I’ll start with the “pros”.

To be honest – I was pleased with the glass and the coatings.  The optics were sharper than I had thought they might be (I was shooting primarily at f/11).  And CA (chromatic aberration) was pretty well controlled – though there was some – as you might imagine – in large contrast areas (e.g. branches / sky interface) – but nothing that I found intolerable (at least at f/11).

The plastic storage case is a nice touch.  It’s handy for storing the fisheye optic when not in use – and it stores the other Composer optic while using the fisheye.

On a crop sensor camera – the full image circle (characteristic of fisheyes) will not be in the image – but you will get dark corners.  That’s OK – it’s just good to know.

And with Lensbaby’s announcement of the fisheye and soft focus optics for the Composer system – I think they’re showing their intent to provide a comprehensive and compelling creative system for photographers.  It makes me wonder what else they might have up their sleeve…

LB fisheye test - low res-1

Now – for the fickle list.  Though nothing here is a “deal breaker” (except for maybe cost) – these are my quibbles:

  1. OK – maybe I shouldn’t be fickle that this doesn’t come with a lens cap – and the lens cap from the Composer optics doesn’t work – but I like lens caps.  If I’m out shooting this lens – I’d like to be able to just put the camera + lens in my bag and not have to worry about smudging or scratching the optics.  Maybe I’ll find a (clean) sock missing a match and slide it over the front of the lens…
  2. Swapping optics on the Composer system can be a bit funky (though not necessarily difficult) – and something probably best done while the system is not on the camera – so as to limit your sensor’s exposure to dirt / dust.
  3. When the fisheye first arrived – and I tried to put in an aperture disc – I really had to apply some effort to turn the front fisheye optic to remove it.  More so than I should have needed.  In fact, a lot more than I should have needed.  Maybe the optic tightened during shipping – or maybe this is how it was assembled.  Hopefully, this is just a random data point.
  4. If you don’t already own a LB Composer – the whole package will be around $425 (fisheye optic + Composer).  If you really want just a fisheye – and the rest of the Composer system doesn’t interest you – the Canon 15mm is about $650 right now – and a few third party lenses can be had for less than $400.  But – if you’re looking to buy into the Composer system – this is a nifty addition.

Bottom line: if you already have a Lensbaby Composer – and a fisheye is on your wish list – $150 isn’t cheap – but it’s definitely a lot less expensive than some alternatives – and it’s a lot of fun to shoot (I’m definitely looking forward to trying this at a gig).  On the other hand, if you’re only looking for a fisheye – and you’re not invested in the Composer system – there are other options out there.

4 thoughts on “Review: Lensbaby Fisheye Optic”

  1. Well written review. I just picked up the fisheye optic last Saturday, and I’m really having fun with it. My assessment of it is right in line with what you have said here. Also I share your irritation with a lack of lens cap. What’s with that?


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