When I first saw an ad for the Lensbabies SLR camera lens, my first thought was that this was just a gimmick, trick lens that after creating a few images, well, would just look gimmicky. Usually, something whose total support rest upon a gimmick tends to fade away after a while. I kept noticing that the Lensbabies lenses were not going away. In fact they were coming out with new and improved versions. When someone asked me if I would like to tryout the new Lensbaby 3G, I did not hesitate to say yes I would.
OK, what is a Lensbaby 3G? Basically, it is the combination of a bellows camera; a lens that is focused by moving the lens back and forth by manipulating a bellows device, and a tilt-shift lens; the ability to maneuver the bellows by tilting the lens to cause blur in part of the image.
The bellows when fully extended focuses to about 18 inches. When compressed it focuses to infinity. After adjusting your Camera's diopter for your eyesight, you first have to find your focusing point. Once you have that, you then tilt the lens to find the "Sweet Spot" where what you want focus, focused and what you want blurred is blurred. At that point, you lock down your lens using a locking button.
From there you make more precise adjustments to your focus by rotating the Fine Focus Ring and/or fine tune the Sweet Spot by rotating the metal rods. Once you have everything in place, you collect your image. If this sounds easy, it is, once you get the hang of it. When you first try to use it, you feel that you need a third hand.
The lens it self is a coated doublet, soft-focus 50mm f2 lens having manual aperture changes of f2.8, f4, f5.6,8,f11, f16 and f22. I say manual because to change apertures you must place magnetic disks on the front of the lens. There is no electronic communications between the lens and the camera body. And the lens is available for all major digital and film based SLR cameras. Automatic light metering is done by shooting in aperture priority mode for most cameras.
While I have never played with the Lensbaby 2.0, from what I have read, it was a good for intuitive photo-journalistic shots whereas the 3G was clearly made for professional photographers who need much more control and precise focusing; complete control. With this control comes the ability to work with long exposures, experiment with light, as well as playing with the sweet spot to create creative images.
The only complaint that I had with using the lens is the manual aperture mode. While it is not hard to do and it works really well, it does leave you open for dropping one of the rings and possibly loosing it; especially in the field as I do a lot of outdoor work.
In many ways, the 3G is an addition to the Lensbaby line, not necessarily replacing the Lensbaby 2.0, rather targeting it to a different audience and/or use. While, this is obviously not a lens that you will use for a majority of shots, it is one that will perform magic, on those that you need it to. You can watch Flickr if you want to see what people are doing with the Lensbaby 3G and Lensbaby 2.0
Lensbaby 3G Specifications:
Optic: Coated optical glass doublet (same optic as Lensbaby 2.0)
Focal Length: Approximately 50 mm
Focus Type: Hybrid Manual Compression / Manual barrel
Aperture Type: Interchangeable levitating aperture disks
Apertures: f/2, f/2.8, f/4, f/5.6, f/8, f/11, f/16, f/22
Minimum Focus: Approximately 12" (30.48cm)
Maximum Focus: Infinity
Size: 3" (7.62cm) high x 3.25" (8.89cm) wide
Weight: 5.7oz (161.59g)
Available Mounts: Canon EF, Nikon F, Olympus 4/3rds/Panasonic, Pentax K/Samsung, Sony Alpha/Minolta Maxxum