My long standing relationship with Lensbaby as a fan, and friend has rewarded me again with the ability to use and review the Burnside 35mm f/2.8 dual aperture lens. I was asked to play around with the new Burnside 35, but as is always the case here, all my opinions are purely that. Mine. I don’t get paid (unfortunately) to do this, nor was it required that I write up a fluff piece, so while I do have a soft spot for the local, independent Portland based company, I’m also in no way contractually required to like their stuff. As you’ll read, I don’t hold back criticism where I see fit. Lensbaby tends to get the online readers divided based on perception that cameras and lenses need to test off the charts in all ways, and anything that isn’t trying to accomplish that should be burned at the stake. If that’s what you’re after, feel free to argue scientific test charts somewhere else, also, I feel a little sorry that the joy of photography has seemingly evaporated in your life, assuming it was ever there to begin with. I’m not saying you need to like the weird, wild and quirky, but you certainly don’t need to piss in the cereal of those who enjoy creating different effects in camera. The true beauty of free will is just that. We all get to decide what we like, and I often like in camera effects. …okay, are all the curmudgeony troll pessimist chart nazis grumpy enough to have clicked away? Good.
While Lensbaby is known for odd and quirky effects produced in camera via their proprietary lens designs, the Burnside is somewhat unique in that it’s the company’s first integrated dual aperture design as far as I’m aware. The primary aperture functions just as any traditional aperture does, controlling light through the optical elements and onto the sensor, along with a remarkably solid optical design in its own right. The secondary aperture however, well, that is a slightly different story, and one that defines the difference this lens is capable of providing…
The Burnside provides the photographer control over the amount of vignette and effect via this secondary aperture mechanism which sits further forward in the optical formulation (see below, a couple shots down) via a slider (as seen above). With a minimum focusing distance of only 6″, it allows you to get up close and personal as well.
My review copy happened to be of the micro 4/3 variety, but the Burnside is offered in various mounts (Canon EF, Nikon F, Sony FE, Sony A, Fuji X, Pentax K, Samsung NX and Micro 4/3), with the larger the format offering a more pronounced effect as it includes more of the full image circle that the lens creates. That said, being on the smallest format this lens is designed to mount to, my results are a bit less dramatic. Didn’t stop me from having fun with this lens though, and one I think many micro 4/3 shooters could get a lot of mileage out of, especially for film making, in camera effects.
Without the secondary aperture engaged (wide open) the lens acts almost like a Petzval style 35mm lens would. Wide open, the center is sharp with out of focus, background elements producing a swirly pattern. Stopping down the primary aperture, it’s sharp, with corners sharpening up quite nicely as you work your way down through the manually adjustable aperture ring, in whole stops from f/2.8 through f/16. The secondary effect aperture has 4 settings from wide open (no additional effect) into three increasing intensities provided by way of hard stops, which affects both the amount of vignetting as well as further amplifying the corner and edge distortion swirl. Cropping to a 70mm equivalent field of view on the micro 4/3 cams makes it a nice portrait focal length with the effect really coming into its own when shot focused on a close subject, and distant background elements.
Introducing the vignetting and effect via the secondary aperture begins to create some interesting results causing a natural vignetting as well as a more pronounced swirl in the corners in out of focus areas akin to the more standard Lensbaby reputation.
The shape of your out of focus points of light will also start to exhibit the shape of the secondary aperture as it is engaged where the bokeh is nice and round with the secondary mechanism wide open, and starts to show an octagonal shape via the 8 blade secondary aperture as it stops down.
The secondary mechanism doesn’t affect the exposure in the center frame as it merely cuts light slightly along the edges and corners, so the exposure doesn’t need to be further manipulated in cases of shooting stills or video, in my experience. (Again though, the larger your format, the more pronounced the effect.) Handy if wanting to engage and adjust it while capturing video, bracketed exposures, time lapse, etc without needing to compensate exposure settings in the center of the frame. Your corners and edges will be darker as you use the secondary aperture, though.
I enjoyed shooting this on my GX8, but feel as if I were missing the full power by not having the opportunity to shoot this on a full frame camera where I feel both the focal length, and full effect both shine. Some may say, why not just add an exposure and focus vignette in post? Sure, you could do that, but you can’t swirl your background like this in post, at least not any remotely easy way I know. Also, why even shoot images of anything? Why not just take an image of a blank piece of paper and digitally create everything? This lens, like any lens, is a tool. A more specific tool, certainly, and one that an individual needs to determine the usefulness of for themselves, but that said, it was a very fun 70mm e-fov lens to play with on the GX8, and I can only imagine having more of the image circle to play around with via a larger format. I’d never say any given photographer should buy one thing or another. That’s up to you. I’m merely in a position to get to play around with certain gear, and share my findings and opinions. You can see and read more of the technical and insightful bits via Lensbaby’s website HERE where they have a great step by step on how best to utilize this lens, and for those interested I’d suggest doing so. For now, I’ll leave you with a few example frames from my month with this fun little optic…
Thanks, as always for the read. I hope that the new year finds you all happy, healthy, and with an abundance of opportunity to get out and shoot. Find me via the socials and hit me up on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and Instagram.
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