Tilt shift photography for me is like candy. It tastes good, but way too much of it and you get a little sick to your stomach, which is why I just can’t seem to justify spending $1,700-ish on a real tilt shift lens. Since I’d rather put that kind of money towards a new mountain bike, which is something that I’ll use way more often, like many photographers, I use a Lensbaby whenever I get the urge to tilt.
Lensbaby just released a brand new gizmo called the Edge 80 Optic. It’s an 80mm f/2.8 optic with a 12 bladed adjustable aperture that you can pop into any of the Lensbaby lenses. When aligned straight, the Edge 80 gives a flat field of focus, but when tilted, it creates a slice of sharp focus in a soft field of magical sugar filled blur.
Since I’ve already got a Lensbaby Composer Pro, and since I’m a big fan of the 80s, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the Edge 80 Optic. Nice Mr. UPS man dropped one off at my door the other day and so I slapped it on my D700 and took it on mountain biking yesterday afternoon to give it a review.
Bear with me. Being my first time using the Edge 80, I probably over-tilted a little bit, but hey, I might as well get it out of my system, right? Despite being limited to your own artistic whimsy, you can actually over tilt the Edge 80 with some subjects. Yes, you’ll get a nice wide blur, but you might lose needed subject matter that helps tell the story. That’s all I’ll say on the matter.
As for quality, I was impressed by the heft, weight and overall build quality of the Edge 80 Optic as soon as I pulled it out of the box. (Lensbaby does really nice packaging!) It’s built with 5 multi coated glass elements in 4 groups and it feels quite solid in your hands. It’s also solid enough to hold up to when you accidentally bang the front of the lens against your metal bike stem. Believe me. I hit it pretty hard while riding with the camera around my neck with no damage done.
Being 80mm, it falls right in that sweet spot of a great fast short telephoto lens, which makes it an extremely versatile tool for all types of photography, and gives your imagery a more professional look. I love my 85mm f/1.8 for portraits and as a lightweight outdoor lens, so the Lensbaby Edge 80 Optic was an easy visual transition for me. Even without tilting, it’s got a shallow depth of field and produces wonderful background blur.
In use, the glass is good. They’re sharp, especially when you stop them down. Outside, though I tend to shoot fairly wide open, mostly so that I can see better. Since the Lensbaby has a manual aperture control, the blades stay stopped down when you turn the dial. Add to the fact that they’re all manual focus and manual exposure, Lensbabies can be pretty challenging to use outside. If you like to make things a little harder, though, you can definitely get some cool results.
I find the key to using a Lensbaby on fast breaking scenes like sports and adventure, where you’ve got constantly changing subject distances, is to put the camera on high speed continuous mode and just go crazy with the shutter. Shoot tons of frames. Shoot more than you normally would in the hopes that as you keep focusing on your moving subject, you’ll nail at least one sharp image. So far, this technique has worked for me.
Also, with such a variable amount of shifting, you can tilt your way into a corner with a very narrow slice of focus. Depending on your subject matter, your slice might be overly visible, or else you can have such a tiny delineation between what’s sharp and what’s blurred on your subject. Again, that’s where shooting lots of frames helps.
Overall, the Lensbaby Edge 80 Optic is a cool lens. I might even prefer this over the Sweet 35 Optic, but only because, as I said, I love the short telephoto look. It also might be sharper at the edges, simply because it has more narrow field of view, however, I’ll have to test further to confirm this. One nice difference is that even if you tilt the Edge 80 all the way, you don’t get vignetting like you do on the wider angle Sweet 35 Optic.
It’s a versatile lens for a wide variety of outdoor photography subjects, and if you already have one of the Lensbaby bodies, such as the Composer Pro, the $299 price tag is pretty easy to handle for a well made piece of gear that will give you tons of creative options. This is especially true when you consider that by using it flat field, you effectively get a nice sharp and fast 80mm f/2.8 lens thrown into the deal. Check out this video tutorial for a full explanation of the Edge 80 capabilities.
I’ll post more Edge 80 Optic shots as I take them, and I promise, I won’t tilt quite so much next time.