Interesting optics don’t have to cost a fortune. Andy Westlake tries out some inexpensive lenses to stimulate your creativity - and finds some to avoid, too
At a glance:
- For DSLRs
- Covers full-frame
- Canon or Nikon
US-based Lensbaby has been making its quirky range of selective-focus lenses for almost 15 years now, with the idea being to allow photographers to express their creativity by using optics that are, by any conventional standard, deeply flawed. The Lensbaby Spark is an easier-to-use recreation of the firm’s very first design, and is essentially a nothing more than a simple single-element glass 50mm f/8 lens placed within a flexible tube. The idea is that by compressing and angling the tube, the photographer can focus selectively on subjects anywhere in the frame, and leave them surrounded by ever-increasing blur. This gives a look that, despite what anyone might claim, is near-impossible to recreate in software.
The problem, though, is that it’s also very difficult to control in-camera. The focusing screens of modern DSLRs, and especially APS-C models, are notoriously poor for judging manual focusing. The lens itself it extremely unsharp, and flares dramatically at the merest hint of bright light, resulting in distinctly lo-fi images. It’s a look, and a process, that you’ll either love or hate.
Unfortunately, I have to admit this is a lens I really struggle to get along with. Ironically I find it works better on mirrorless cameras, as a good electronic viewfinder provides a more accurate preview of the image you’ll be getting. Overall I’d add it to the ranks of ‘could be worth a try, if you like that sort of thing’. Clearly some photographers will love it and use it to take great shots, but it’s not the kind of lens I’d choose on a regular basis.