Lensbaby’s optical engineers have done it again. After moving away from the toy camera replication type lenses into more complicatedly designed optics with lenses like the Sweet 35 and 50, Edge 50 and 80 and the Velvet 56, they’ve replicated the swirly vortex of the old Joseph Petzval designed optic from 174 years ago with this new Twist 60. Don’t dismiss this lens as pure kitsch, as it is remarkably sharp where you’d want it for a portrait lens (middle frame) and while, wide open you’ll see some pretty severe vignetting to go along with the twirly bokeh, this adds to its charm and vintage qualities. Portrait painters of yesteryear used many different brushes to create their renditions, and this can certainly be seen as a wonderfully specialized brush for the portrait photographer, along with those looking to add some fun to shots of any kind.
While perhaps not an effect to suit everyone’s taste, it is one that has found a place for certain portrait and fine art photographers looking to add in camera effects to visibly differentiate their look. With other companies seeing the value in chasing this corner of the market with lenses like the Kickstarter Petzval clone and the Trioplan Soap bokeh lenses that are looking to be launched on the market, it’s obvious that there is some demand for these newer versions of throwback optical designs. The question though, is how much are photographers looking for these optical effects willing to pay?
Priced at a very modest $280 for the Twist 60 Lens (optic and non-tilting metal lens body housing) available in Canon EF, Nikon F and Sony E mount, or $180 for the optic solely, the Twist 60 is certainly worth a look. You can find it at Adorama HERE, B&H HERE or directly through Lensbaby HERE.
C’mon in for more example shots, some technical mumbo jumbo and my thoughts on this lens…
For those new to the world of Lensbaby, they are a company, based in Portland, Oregon who design and manufacture specialized lenses for use within their optic swap system. The company started off focused on toy camera like results which were able to be tilted to create selective focus within your frame.
They’ve since continued to engineer and produce a wide variety of optics from a circular fisheye, to a soft focus lens in the Velvet 56 as well as very solid optical performers with the ability to adjust the selective focus in either an orbital plane with the sweet 35 and 50 lenses, or a linear, flat plane in the Edge 50 and 80 optics. The Edge lenses can be of particular usefulness when looking at incorporating their macro ring extenders which enable a macro shooter to adjust the plane of focus in a linear slice by way of tilting the lenses, providing the ability to utilize larger apertures, and resulting faster shutter speeds when capturing macro subjects that may be of the living, breathing variety which can be very handy in my experience. Based on different lenses on offer, Lensbaby also offers different fixed, and pivoting lens housings. To use the Lensbaby system, one would need a lens housing like the Composer Pro, and then an optic, or optics of their choice. For the Twist 60, it’s suggested to be used (and is sold) with the metal fixed lens housing as opposed to one of the ball and socket, tilting housings. That said, I did test this lens with my Composer Pro (tilt) housing, and aside from hard vignetting when tilted too far, it worked well. I’d suggest locking the Twist 60 in a fairly centered position if using it on a tilt lens housing though.
The Twist 60, as the name suggests, is a Full Frame 60mm f/2.5 lens that has been engineered and designed to replicate the swirly out of focus characteristics from the old (1840!) lens design of the aforementioned Petzval optic, most noticeable when the lens is focused on close subjects which are relatively distant from background elements (see: bokeh).
- The lens has 4 elements, in 3 groups.
- A rounded, 12 blade aperture
- Minimum focusing distance of 18″
While there are many who like to discredit this type of lens, stating “X lens can achieve this for less”, or “I can do this in post,” may not quite get what is on offer. Firstly, this lens is very sharp in the center wide open, and when stopped down (or when shot on a congruous background), this ‘effect’ disappears almost entirely providing a very sharp, reasonably inexpensive alternative, capable of competing with much pricier options in this focal range.
As for post processing, I’ve spent a lot of time in and around photoshop and various specialized plugins (as evidenced by much of the content here on the blog) and I don’t know how to achieve this without multiple shots, various filters and plugins and a bunch of time spent in front of the computer. Possible? Maybe, but not without some investment in both software and time. Is this a look that one will employ all the time? I seriously doubt it, and can only speak for myself when I say it’s not one I’ll use all the time, but for a unique, surreal and perhaps ethereal look, it definitely has a place for me. Will this universally appeal to everyone? Of course not, but Lensbaby hasn’t gotten where it is today by trying to win over naysayers and poo-pooers. They’ve always done what they’ve done, and been true to the vision they’ve created as a company. As the kids say, haters gonna hate, so for those looking to discredit those of us who may enjoy specialized optics or effects, feel free to move on to the comments and hack away.
It’s certainly a surreal look, and one that, because of it’s pronounced difference, will immediately cause pause to most viewers. From a photographer’s point of view, that can be seen as a hindrance or a boon. If I were a studio portrait, pet, kid, senior or family shooter, I could see this as yet another option for perspective clients, or tool in my kit.
The key to the twist effect and 3D pop, is to keep your subject and plane of focus (DoF) relatively close to the camera, and at least twice that distance from the background elements. As seen in the shot above, by keeping LBWHF close, and within the realms of my working DOF, he seems to pop out from the swirly background behind him. If background elements are too far away or the out of focus area is fairly congruous in color/tone, the effect can be less intense (see the next shot down), so I found it to really be a combination of, and relationship between the subject and distance to BG elements. The effect will certainly present itself in a variety of circumstances, but the distorted bokeh is most pronounced when the out of focus elements in the image are close to the corners and edges as well. The center of this lens is sharp, and the DOF at close focusing distances shooting wide open is very shallow, so it can certainly provide a challenge.
When I can nail my focus though, it is as sharp as I’d ever need. Just as a reference, all of the shots (less one further down) in this article are shot wide open, or at f/2.8 with the exception of the chart below (showing the waning effect as lens is stopped down). This is because I wanted to see what this lens was intended to do for the purposes of showing it off on the blog. I did shoot this lens stopped down, as I needed to see what it was capable of doing, and found it to be impressively sharp, especially considering its price.
For some fun within the Lensbaby system, for those that have the Lensbaby Macro Converter rings, this lens can provide a unique macro experience as well.
As was mentioned above, this lens is designed for use on Full Frame cameras, mostly due to the fact that an APS-C, or m4/3 sensor camera will essentially crop out the bulk of the swirl and twist effect. The effect becomes far less pronounced as the lens is stopped down, and while the corners never get near as sharp as the center, the vignetting does dissipate almost entirely by about f/8. Click image to see larger:
This lens is not meant to be a universal tool, but really in my opinion as a fun portrait optic that can also provide some fun closeup or surreal results for everyday shooting.
Image Sample Gallery
So, what do you think? Is this effect one that draws your eye into the image, or is it one that creates a vertigo inducing photographic mind meld? I like it, but as with anything, I appreciate the effect used sparingly and with intention. Not the type of lens I’ll have glued onto the front of my camera, but one that I will definitely employ from time to time when wanting to create a dream like surreality, and for $270 (or even $170 for those of us with a Lensbaby Lens housing already), it’s really pretty inexpensive, especially considering the newer Petzval clone. The Twist 60 and compatible housings are all built solidly. Many of the LB products I own, I’ve had for many, many years and they’ve seen some milage while still working like they did day one. I’d love to test this out against the kickstarter Petzval lens to see if there is any reason to pay twice as much, but for me, I’m feeling the Twist.
Thanks for the read. Keep up with any new announcements, articles, reviews and tutorials by adding your email to the top right of the page, (down below if viewing on a mobile platform) and find me on the socials, via Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and Instagram.