*Firstly, thank you to Lensbaby and Sony for the early Christmas gift! Being a micro 4/3 man primarily when it comes to my compact MILC camera system of choice, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t very curious about the new NEX cameras. My experience with the NEX5 prior to this was limited to over the counter tinkering and parking lot shooting. I will do a more in depth review of the NEX5 vs. the GF1 soon as the NEX5 both confirmed some of my doubts and opened my eyes to it as a viable choice for those looking into a small mirrorless interchangeable lens compact camera. Combined with a Lensbaby Tilt Transformer and Composer front, I feel it provides NEX system users an easy, affordable and fun way to greatly diversify the NEX system.
For those who’ve not read through my ramblings about my enjoyment with the Lensbaby optics on the micro 4/3 cameras, welcome. I’ve been lucky enough to have made friends with the folks at Lensbaby and have been fortunate enough to get to play around with their new E-mount Tilt Transformer + Composer. If you’re not familiar with Lensbaby, they are a Portland, Oregon based lens manufacturer that has made their mark by offering affordable, kitschy optics with a distinct tilt look. By way of a swiveling front optic, the Lensbaby provides a sharp in focus point surrounded by a dreamy out of focus area akin to a tilt shift lens pushed to its extremes. The sharp, in focus area can be increased by manually stopping the Composer down by way of aperture disks. With the Lensbaby Composer front element, you get a 40mm f/1.6 optic, and when removed, the Tilt Transformer offers NEX system users a tilt-able Nikon F mount adapter which enables any F mount lens to be used.
One major criticism I’d had with the micro 4/3 system, and in turn is directly applicable to the NEX system is that there are very few dedicated optics (especially fast, small options). Yes, the drawback to a new mount and new system I know, but without choices, an interchangeable lens system quickly becomes a one or two trick pony with nothing but promises that we will eventually see the lenses we want and hope to have. The m4/3 camp has come a long way over the last year or two now offering quite a few lenses, but most in my opinion are slow, bulky and uninteresting. Of course, being able to use adapters to mount a bevy of 35mm lenses diversifies the platform even if you lose automated functioning in the way of focus and electronic aperture control. Herein lies where a third party lens can really help the owner of a m4/3 or NEX camera immediately deepen your optical quiver. The Lensbaby system offers a very unique approach with the Tilt Transformer in that it doubles as a Nikon F mount adapter, and with the Lensbaby Composer front gives one access to the Lensbaby Optic Swap system (minus the fisheye which protrudes too deeply into the lens barrel which may damage the sensor). This gives the owner of an E-mount Lensbaby Tilt Transformer + Composer (which comes with their high end double glass optic) the ability to add a Soft Focus, Zone plate/Pinhole, Plastic, or Single Glass optic to offer a variety of different looks for relatively little investment. Add to that the creative add ons like macro filters or customized aperture disks and you have a nearly endless array of creative options for both still and video!
Okay, enough with the talk, on to the rock. Again, I’ll save my critical assessment of the NEX for the review, but I will say, the APS-C sensor provides beautiful results and when using the 40mm f/1.6 Lensbaby Composer optic (60mm e-fov) it provides a fast, near standard focal length in a package not much bigger than the 16mm pancake. To adjust the aperture in the Lensbaby optics, you will need to manually drop in or remove the magnetic aperture disks. Without an aperture disk inserted, the E-mount Composer element weighs in at f/1.6! Aside from larger, heavier manual optics used with adapters, this is, as far as I know, the fastest lens available for the NEX system in a dedicated mount. Granted, wide open, the edges of the Composer are very soft, but that is the hook that the Lensbaby system has always hung its hat from. It may not be a look you want all the time, but if you need sharper edges, just drop in a smaller aperture disk and watch the in focus “sweet spot” grow larger and larger. For the times you want the speed, you will be shooting with a lens that gives a soft, dreamy out of focus look outside of the small sweet spot. The Lensbaby Tilt Transformer uses a ball/socket along with a locking ring to allow you to pivot your plane of focus akin to the tilt effect on a tilt shift lens (think those cool miniature effects that you see or can recreate in Photoshop etc). If you want to minimize the distortion involved, stop down your aperture, center the lens and twist the locking ring which will minimize the edge distortion and center the sweet spot.
Many of the above shots were taken using the add on “creative aperture” set creating the hearts, stars, birds and various other out of focus shapes. The Lensbaby Tilt Transformer with Composer Focus Front element gets you a fully functioning set up as well as access to more of what Lensbaby offers in their optic swap, macro kit and creative aperture set ups. Relatively inexpensive and entertainingly diverse, it will create unique pictures otherwise impossible to do without much more expensive lenses or software. Add to that, these optics provide video shooters with unique and very cool ‘in camera’ effects to produce dreamy sequences or tilt “mini” style videos.
Personally, I’m sold and have a couple different Lensbaby set ups (for my various camera mounts) that I carry with me in my camera bag at all times. They’re light, compact and provide me with a little inspiration anytime that I need a little creative push. If you have a NEX3 or NEX5 and are looking to add on to your lens choices, you might want to take a look at the Tilt Transformer (and I’d certainly suggest purchasing it with the Composer Focus Front element).
If your local camera shop doesn’t have them, you can buy them directly from the Lensbaby website : http://lensbaby.com
Make sure to get the proper mount for your camera as they offer the Composer in various SLR mounts and the Tilt Transformer (TT+ Composer) in both the NEX E mount and the Micro 4/3 mount. (remember that the TT will offer either mount with a Nikon F lens mount adapter to enable use of Nikon lenses on your NEX or Micro 4/3 camera.)
The NEX E-mount Tilt Transformer is here (specify Sony NEX in the drop down menu): http://www.lensbaby.com/shop/composer-tilt-transformer
I’d be happy to try and answer any questions you may have, either in the comments or via email. Thanks for reading, feel free to subscribe to get articles and updates via email up at the top of the page and happy shooting!
*UPDATE: Okay, here is the Showdown between the GF1 and the NEX5.