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Reviews Software

Review: Disc Cover by BeLight Software

Even though CD’s are becoming less used, DVDs for data storage are still going strong, and personal projects such as iMovie and iPhoto still have a strong usage of labeling  for stored material.

Disc Cover 3 is a delightful software that allows you to print DVD labels and covers and case booklets for music, archives, and anything you are saving to disc.  Jewel case inserts can be made easily and cleanly from a tremendous number of pre-designed templates with layouts and art importable from iTunes, iPhoto, Aperture, and iDVD. It’s easy. The hardest thing for you to do is decide which design and layout you intend to use because the options are immense. This is a Mac only software.  Sorry Windows users—you’re missing out on a good thing.

Categories
Digital Lifestyles Gadgets Photography

Review: Lens Baby Control Freak

Serendipity” is the way to describe a recent interaction between myself and a colleague of mine. It produced several interesting photographic days for me.
You know:

ser·en·dip·i·ty [ser-uhn-dip-i-tee]
n. pl. ser·en·dip·i·ties
the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way: a fortunate stroke of serendipity | a series of small serendipities.

I had just written to Britt Stokes to comment upon the Lensbaby article that he had written and his response was to inform me that he had just dropped my name to the Marketing Manager of the Lensbaby company to suggest that I might enjoy reviewing one of their specialty lenses. He knew me too well; of course I would enjoy it.

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Featured Photography

Lensbaby Fisheye Optic

A long time ago, in a world that only used film, a lens was developed to see the whole sky. Cloud studies for meteorological use prompted the invention of the fisheye lens. It wasn’t long until the keen eye of the “art” photographer saw one and decided to use it to make images that could not otherwise be made. Fisheye images aren’t like rectilinear images, where straight lines mostly stay straight… fisheye lenses give you a convex rendering with curved straight lines, and encompass a huge area into a single image. Imagine if you will the end of a dog’s nose about six inches from the front of the lens… yep, you’ve seen photos with fisheye lenses before.

There are two basic types of fisheye lenses, circular and full-frame. The full-frame lens covers the full 35mm or FX sensor size frame with image – no cut-off corners. The circular fisheye is designed to project a circular image slightly smaller than the height of a 35mm or FX sensor, with vignetted corners. The second type is now available for your Lensbaby Composer (or any of the other Lensbaby models that accept the optic swap system with a special adapter).

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Featured Photography

Lensbaby New Soft Focus Lens Optic

Want a great lens with the look of a $1,000 Rodenstock Imagon for your digital SLR? Look no further than the newest lens addition to the Lensbaby line. Lensbaby, the brain child of photographer and inventor Craig Strong, brought soft focus and skewed focus planes to cameras that normally produce sharp results. The current generation lenses offer interchangeable elements, and that is where this article comes in. I recently obtained a Lensbaby Soft Focus element, and wow, is it cool!

My 3 part review of the Lensbaby Composer can be found here… Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3. I tested this new Soft Focus lens element with the Lensbaby Composer that is always in my camera bag.

I got my first soft focus lens in the early 1980’s, a Sima Soft Focus 100mm f/2 lens. It came with three aperture disks (f/4, f/5.6 and f/8) that you could install as desired. I played with the idea of creating a Imagon-style aperture disk for the Sima, but I never got around to it. Craig Strong played with the idea, and built the Soft Focus element for the Lensbaby line. No “woulda, shoulda, coulda” for Craig… he just does it.

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Featured Gadgets Parallel Desktops

The Accidental iPad and How I Use It

When Steve Jobs announced the iPad a few months ago I didn’t think “Wow, I gotta have me one of those…”. Though I was intrigued by the form factor and slightly motivated by Steve Jobs’ demonstration of the device, it didn’t scream out at me as something I needed. I was actually more amused with all the criticism surrounding the choice of iPad as the name for the device.

I yawned and went on with my life.

Nearly a month ago I walked in to our local Apple store with my family. We weren’t looking for anything in particular, just letting my kids fawn over the Mac hardware as we thought about buying a MacBook for my son before he heads off to college. I asked one of the Apple store employees if they had an iPad I could take a look at. He handed me an 8 x 6 inch card with a picture of one on it. The device was far thinner and lighter than I expected.

He then asked if I would like to reserve one.

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Parallel Desktops

Macs and Failing Hard Disks – an early detection tool

The other day I was sitting at my desk when I started to hear a faint clicking sound. I pushed the noise out of my mind for a while and continued to work on the task at hand. Before long the clicking started to get louder and louder; it was clearly a consistent mechanical noise and was coming from under my desk, right where my Mac Pro is parked.

I popped my head down there and sure enough, it sounded like one of my 4 hard drives was starting to go. Usually if you hear a clicking sound coming from a hard drive its demise is imminent. I blasted out a quick note about this on Twitter and my friend Ast recommended that I try running SMART Utility to see where the problem was.
SMART Utility for Mac scans the internal hardware diagnostics of a hard drive to quickly determine its health. Using the data collected on the hard drive itself as well as a custom algorithm it can help predict when a hard drive is starting to have problems and may need to be replaced. It’s like an early warning system that can give you a chance to pull the data off a drive before it’s too late.
I pulled SMART Utility down and ran it and sure enough a Growl warning popped up:
When I took a look at the main SMART Utility screen there was a failing drive:
My Backup drive was having some issues: 375 errors and a reallocated bad sector. This 1TB drive is my primary backup for Time Machine; with that drive potentially compromised I started to panic. With all the documents, photos and digitized home video I’ve collected over the last 20+ years I was worried if one of my primary drives went down I’d be in serious trouble.
Fortunately for me I had an additional drive that I kept in my Mac Pro to serve as a spare. SMART Utility recommended that I replace the drive so I reset Time Machine to point at my spare drive and let it run, backing up the drive overnight.
The next day I shut down the Mac Pro, preparing to pull out the bad drive. It was only after I powered down my Mac that I realized I could still hear that clicking sound that started this little adventure. How was the drive clicking if it didn’t have any power?!?
Well, it turns out it wasn’t one of my drives that was doing the clicking; it was an older UPS that was also parked right next to my Mac Pro. The fan in it had started clicking—that was the sound I was actually hearing. I proceeded to kick the UPS until it stopped clicking.
(No, really, I did. Kicked it like a soccer ball. It ended up getting quiet for about 10 minutes too. Ultimately I ended up having to replace it anyway. No nasty comments from the People for the Ethical Treatment of UPSs, please.)
An Important Lesson
While the clicking sound wasn’t actually the problem it did prompt me to test my drives. Had I known that a tool like SMART Utility was out there I would have bought and run it a long time ago. Sure, the drive SMART Utility identified hadn’t completely failed yet and is technically still serviceable. That said, the data I have is far too important to store it on a drive that shows signs of having problems.
SMART Utility is a nice little app, can diagnose all of your drives in just a few seconds and costs $25. Highly recommended.
Oh yeah, if your drive starts to make a clicking sound I wouldn’t recommend kicking it until it quiets down. That’s only something you do with a balky UPS. Got a tip for keeping your hard drive healthy? A utility you recommend for ensuring it’s safe? Drop a note in the comments.

Visit DavidAlison.com

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Featured Photography Profiles

Analog to Digital Part 2: Interview with Craig Strong, Inventor of the Lensbaby

In the beginning, there was light, and we captured it with film. Next came digital cameras, and then came the Lensbaby. Created by professional photographer Craig Strong, the Lensbaby has had an impact on photographers, and their ideas and images. Craig is a photographer turned inventor… his love for photography started at an early age, and after college he went pro, working as a photojournalist. He also had a steady business shooting weddings and portraits. I recently had a chance to interview Craig for our Digitalapplejuice readers. This is the second part of the interview, read Part 1 of this Interview here….

Britt: Speaking of going down the road and what you’re doing now, what kind of a personal project are you working on currently?

Craig: Well, I’m working on a project that I started in 1995. There’s a couple of wonderful, salt of the earth people that I know, Bert and Colleen Elliot who live down in Trujillo, Peru. They have been there for sixty years serving the people of Peru. I spent about eight or nine days with them in ’95. Right out of college Bert and Coleen got married, got on a boat and went down to Peru, and they’ve been there ever since, doing humanitarian aid, doing Christian work. They’ve started a couple schools, they’ve helped about a hundred or more communities to develop thriving, healthy places for people to live, and communities for people to plug into. Peru has been a war-torn nation for many many years and they’ve been through a lot of that, giving a lot of strength to those people. They are in their late eighties now and I look forward to continuing that project. I hope to going back down and spending some time with them. I’ve got a lot of chromes that I’ve shot of them that I look forward to going back through when I feel like I’ve got what I need and combining it with the digital stuff that I’m shooting now to document their lives. They’re really beautiful people.

Britt: That’s great. On your website there is a phrase that I really like, you talk about “feeding your soul” – is that how you feed your soul?

Craig: Yeah, it is, and it doesn’t happen enough. Being the president of Lensbaby I spend a good portion of my time working on solving problems, and that’s great and to some extent can feed my soul. But certainly it’s close to my heart to be out and documenting the lives of people who I really believe in who they are and what they’re doing. I look forward to more of that.

Britt: I’m just curious, when you’re wandering around the world, what triggers your mind and gives you an idea for a photo? Is there a special place in your brain where you go to get ideas for creative photos or do you have a creative process, or is it all gut instinct?

Craig: I would say that the creative process I have is really clearing my mind. I find that I am most effective, whether it’s at a wedding or doing street photography or on an assignment, when I’m able to be fully introverted, fully in a zen-like state where I am able to observe the world around me and really take it through the filter of who I am and what matters to me. It’s really important to know, critical to answer the question what do I care about, what matters to me? What changes is the the answer to the question how do I see the things that matter to me. If its a connection between a father and son I tend to gravitate to those moments.

There’s so many moments in life to choose from, especially at events and weddings. You walk into a reception and there’s a hundred potential moments that you could be drawn to in that scene and that situation, and so choosing and deciding ‘OK, what part of this am I going to own, what part of this am I going to document, what am I qualified to document?” If I go on a list and try to meet somebody else’s expectations of me I’m going to go in and some of the things are going to resonate with me, but the vast majority aren’t. My process is fairly quiet, where I want to be introverted, I want to be quiet, I want to be still and see what it is that hits me so that then I can really move into that space and document what matters to me.

Photographically, one of the most poignant times for me was in college. I was driving across the country having just left my father at my grandparents house in Colorado. It was an extremely cold winter and I was driving along a canyon and I thought ‘I think there is a reservoir up here, I’ll bet there’s going to be ice fishing, it’s going to be right around sunset and I want to capture the emotion between a father and son that I remember from being with my dad fishing.’ we didn’t go ice fishing but I wanted to recapture the feeling of being in the outdoors and that special time I had with my father as a child. About two hours later I’m driving along the reservoir and, sure enough, there’s people spread out all over the ice with fishing poles. I stopped my 1968 Volkswagen camper, pulled out a tripod, a Canon T-90 and a Tamron 180mm f/2.5 lens – I had to make a quick decision as the light was disappearing so I just grabbed that combo.

The T-90 was loaded with Kodachrome 25, and standing out on the ice toward the edge of those braving the sub-zero temperatures waiting for fish to bite, I zeroed in on a father and son. The mountains and the sunset were behind them, and I was able to document this very tender moment of the boy leaning back against his father as they stood beside their fishing pole in the beautiful evening light. What that really showed me, probably for the first time, was that I am filtering reality. I’m seeing the world around me through my own lens, and taking that realization and using it to my advantage has ensured that, as I go through life, I’m ready when those moments that are most important to me show themselves. Surprisingly with Kodachrome 25 and a 180mm lens at sunset I was able to get the beautifully detailed image with a one-second-long exposure of this tender moment between father and son. The process is a very quiet one for me.

Britt: I love that answer. Thank you so much for your time, I really appreciate you sharing your thoughts with me and our DigitalAppleJuice readers. Do you have anything you’d like to add?

Craig: I would just like to reiterate that I look for new ideas in my frustration. When I’m faced with problems, that’s where I find the best ideas come to me. As unpleasant as it is to experience, for me I’ve found that frustration is essential. As the father of three young children I see them lose their wallets and they’ll just get really upset, or they’ll drop their camera and it’s not working anymore… I just want to take them and say ‘Yeah, but this means you won’t lose your wallet when it’s really got a lot of money in it, in ten, fifteen, twenty or thirty years. And this means you’re learning from this experience.’ I think there’s so many times in life when we just focus on that frustration. I know I have. Really learning for me is to say ‘Oh, I’m frustrated here, what can I learn from this?’ And how can I solve a problem being on the inventing side has really come out of that frustration. Cherishing, acknowledging and nurturing frustration has been key to discovering who I am and what it is that I want to do, to be and how I can best contribute to the world I live in.

Britt: Sounds like you have some very lucky kids. So at the end of the day, do you work on a Mac or a PC?

Craig: I work on a Mac. I don’t care to be that frustrated.

Categories
Featured Photography Profiles

Analog to Digital: Exclusive Interview with Photographer Craig Strong, Inventor of the Lensbaby

In the beginning, there was light, and we captured it with film. Next came digital cameras, and then came the Lensbaby. Created by professional photographer Craig Strong, the Lensbaby has had an impact on photographers, and their ideas and images. Craig is a photographer turned inventor… his love for photography started at an early age, and after college he went pro, working as a photojournalist. He also had a steady business shooting weddings and portraits. I recently had a chance to interview Craig for our digitalapplejuice readers. Here is the first installment of two…

Britt: Photography is always evolving… today, we’re dealing with a lot of digital natives. Our kids in high school now probably never shot film. It’s interesting to me to see what kind of changes there are in an analog photographers move to digital, such as you and I have done. How do you think that is going to affect the photographers that never shot film? Do you think that will have any impact on them in the future?

Craig: Instant feedback brings with it excitement for photography. Shooting digitally is similar to us getting our images developed at the one hour lab (although I don’t think there were one hour labs when I was in ninth grade). I was taking my 35mm print film to the lab and they were doing their magic. They would take this piece of exposed film and turn it into prints and negatives. It wasn’t until college, and I started learning from people who were serious into photography, and especially newspaper photographers, it was a lot cheaper to roll your own film and develop it and print it than it was to send it out, and a lot quicker for a newspaper. It was a natural progression for me to get intimately involved in the process of photography through working in the darkroom.

The process of photography is changing to where a print comes off an inkjet printer if you’re doing it in-house or you upload the file and it comes off of a printer that prints it optically with a laser. That’s obviously very different from what you and I experienced, but the end result is potentially the exact same. I don’t think there’s a huge difference. What may happen, and I can see it to some extent with the Lensbaby, is that people are getting much more interested in the process. In the same way that my journey led me to the darkroom and staying up until 3:00 in the morning making prints, as they become more serious many photographers are spending time learning and influencing the process that had previously been out of their control. It’s bringing people to say, ‘Well, that’s great if I can do this or that in Photoshop, but how else can I do this?’

Photographers are exploring how it used to be done, what really made prints look so organic, and in answer to these questions, many of them are going back to film. They start with their 18-70 zoom and their digital SLR that they are making great photographs with. As they become more excited about it image makers are more interested in the process, whether that’s the hands-on of using a Lensbaby to control things like selective focus in ways we never could before, getting a Holga and shooting on film or actually going into a darkroom and printing. It’s a different progression. It is similar to the process we went through to learn photography but today photographers can learn the art of making great images much more quickly. They can become excellent photographers by discovering much of their photographic vision long before they need to learn the process.

Britt: I find this an interesting idea, that as a visual artist you don’t necessarily have to breathe fixer fumes to achieve a good print these days. It is an interesting concept to me thinking about the process of photography and thinking about how I do things now versus how I did things twenty years ago. In your previous statement you mentioned the Lensbaby; what made you become an inventor and create something cool like the Lensbaby?

Craig: That’s a great question. I never really saw myself doing what I’m doing now. There wasn’t a big plan for me to go off into a business other than photography. I was doing well and very happy with what I was doing as a professional photographer. Eventually, though, frustration was what made me an inventor. My most useful homemade gadget when I was shooting film was the flash diffuser I couldn’t buy that I made out of a Tupperware lid. Once that worked so well I went to Goodwill and bought every Tupperware lid I could find so I could make a better one and have a bunch of them laying around (because I would lose them all the time). The first Lensbaby came about because I liked the look of selective focus lenses but I wanted something to experiment with that didn’t cost me $1,200 for a Canon tilt/shift lens. I just wanted to make some crazy images and I have a lot more fun with things that don’t cost me so much I have to worry about them. The very first Lensbaby prototype started as an 50-year-old Speed Graphic camera that my sister bought and gave me for my birthday in the early nineties. I removed the lens from the Speed Graphic, mounted it to a short piece of shop vac (vacuum) hose, cut a hole in a body cap that the tubing snapped into and started shooting all sorts of stuff with it. I took it to weddings and photographed the wildest images I had ever created, my clients loved the photographs. It was just something to play with at the time, not anything that I considered a business, especially not to the extent that Lensbaby has become.

Britt: So now that you’re several years into making Lensbaby’s and on the second major revision (of the commercial version) and expanded the line quite a bit… what do you think about what Lensbaby’s are doing to the look of photography that you’re seeing?

Craig: The fact that people want to buy this lens seems feasible, but the enthusiasm that users have for their Lensbaby’s is far beyond my expectations. And the application that they are making of this lens to just about any subject matter really blows my mind. Honestly I’m much more impressed with the photographers who’ve found such impressive and unique ways to use this funky tool than I am with the Lensbaby itself. I’m really excited about people trying new things. The willingness to try new things, coupled with frustration, has changed my career, changed the way I look at life. I’ve been very impressed with what I’ve seen. I think it is inherent in the fact that so many photographers, like you said, a lot of them, even many of the professionals, have never shot film. Everything they’ve done in photography has been brand new for them in the last several years. Lensbaby lenses are just one more aspect of that. Photographs that people have created with Lensbaby lenses just blow me away time and again. Much of my amazement with these images has been because they are far beyond anything I would have imagined using the Lensbaby for.

We came out with the Pinhole/Zone Plate optic for the Optic Swap System and it replaces your glass (the Composer comes with the double glass) and you just swap it out for the Pinhole/Zone Plate cup. The Zone Plate was a last minute addition to our system. Shawn Linehan whom we work with and does fantastic graphic design suggested the zone plate as one of the options for the optic swap system and I looked into it. I had no idea what it was. The zone plate is by far my favorite Lensbaby optic now. I’m seeing completely differently than I ever did because this is a new tool that interprets light and subject matter and detail and, well, everything in a way I never could have imagined. I’m putting this on my camera and I’m seeing things, I’m looking at the world saying, ‘here’s an image that I never would have seen before’ because of this tool that I’ve got on my camera.

Someone picking up a Lensbaby for the first time often experiences a ‘Wow!’ moment when they realize that they can create images of completely different subject matters than they’ve photographed before. It’s important to find a way to apply new tools to the subject matter you’ve always photographed. In addition, photographers can broaden their horizons with the kind of pictures and the kind of subject matter they choose with these new tools, be it fisheye lenses, Lensbaby lenses, tilt/shift lenses or Holgas. Each one of these non-traditional tools has a resonance, a spot where they really fit into someone’s style and the way they see the world. I’m excited to see people trying something new and finding that place where it resonates with their personal vision.

Britt: When digital started coming into the photography scene, I thought it would be a long time before digital eclipsed film and analog style photography. Every few months it seems we see a new digital SLR with more features and more megapixels. Where do you see digital photography and photography in general going over the next ten years?

Craig: It’s funny you say that, because about two weeks before I ordered my first digital SLR someone came up to me at a wedding and asked ‘So, do you have a digital camera? I said ‘Nah, that doesn’t really apply to what I do, (I knew there were professional cameras out there but they cost $15,000 or $20,000 dollars for the SLR’s), maybe I’ll get one in 10 or 15 years.’ at that point film was really required for the kind of photography I made my money with. Two weeks later I had just found DPReview out of the blue, I think I actually did a search because I heard someone saying ‘Canon’s coming out with this digital SLR’ for $3,000 or $2,000 I don’t even remember what it was, but it was the D30 that can print film-quality 11×14’s. And I went ‘What? That’s not possible.’ And so I went looking and I think I was the second person on the list at Pro Photo Supply (www.prophotosupply.com) here in Portland. I picked up that Canon D30 the day the first shipment arrived; it changed my career, it changed my photography.

And obviously the Lensbaby came out of that because I wouldn’t have done all of the necessary experimentation to come up with the Lensbaby had I been shooting exclusively with a film SLR. I had not experimented much with photographic techniques since I was in college. I had a developed very comfortable vision, something that I was comfortable with, of what photography was, how I used it, what my role as a documentary photographer was, and I didn’t really see a need to try a whole lot of new things. I had my three prime lenses and a couple of zooms and that’s what I needed, just as long as my camera bodies worked. Once I got the D30 I immediately started trying new things, and my vision started to change, and as far as my personal artistic vision (and I’m getting older so my vision changes anyhow), but the excitement for photography came back and I felt like I was in college again where I was trying something new and trying to get my mind around paradigms that I’d never understood before.

I’m rambling here, but I’d have to say based on having told someone that digital photography wasn’t for me and then two weeks later ordering my first dSLR I am looking forward to being surprised by the future of photography in this digital era. Things are changing so much… you look at that D30 and in two weeks my paradigm shifted from being ten to fifteen years before I get a digital camera to two weeks later putting one on order. There are a lot more of those kind of innovations and changes to come in this industry, thats the world we live in right now. Things are changing. Paradigms are shifting, there’s a lot of technology that hasn’t been fully utilized that’s maybe just in the mind of the inventory right now that I think is really going to dramatically affect photography. It’s going to affect how we see the world, and it’s going to affect the images we create. I can’t really guess; I’ve got some things in my engineering notebook but I wouldn’t say those are going to categorically change anything.

I am excited about the stuff that is out there that will be changing how I see the world, the tools that I have in my hands. On the other hand, I know that I have a digital SLR in the (Nikon) D300 that’s able to keep me happy as a clam with more than enough features for me to play with and to figure out, for the rest of my life. With what I’ve done thus far I’ve decided that I have a camera which is all I need. I’m sure that when the D800 or whatever comes out with the full-frame (sensor) and the HD video, and hopefully it’ll have some other features, because I don’t think the HD video is something I have the time to work with right now, but there will still be something that entices me to do an upgrade. But at the same time, I am still photographer, I have the tool I need that potentially I could create and continue to grow with for the rest of my life. There’s a real dichotomy there too, ‘cause while I have everything I need, I know there’s going to be something else that’s going to bring me along, and get me excited down the road, and I have no idea what that is.

Read Pt 2: Analog to Digital: Interview with Craig Strong, Inventor of the Lensbaby here…

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Parallel Desktops

Need to shorten URLs? Give Bit.ly a try

I always ignored URL shortening services in the past; what was the point? My e-mail systems always seemed to handle URLs automatically, forums that I frequented usually shortened the URLs for me and more often than not if I needed a URL in a blog post I created a hyperlink. It wasn’t until I started using Twitter quite a bit that I started to appreciate a really small URL. When you have 140 characters to express your thoughts and you are as verbose as I am, every single character counts.

Not long ago I noticed a buddy using Bit.ly to shorten his URLs. Up until then I always thought of TinyURL.com but 5 fewer characters in the domain name alone is substantial so I thought I’d give it a try. I give it my long URL, it gives me back a short URL and then I send that out to people. End of story, right?

Well, not quite. Bit.ly does two things that have made it a top service for me, one that I use frequently and recommend to friends. The first is that they provide a small JavaScript link that can be added to your browser’s toolbar. If you are parked on a page you would like to share with others just click on the toolbar button and a dynamic page will load over your existing page, giving you the shortened URL.


The reason I really like Bit.ly though is that it has dynamically updated click-through stats. Since I have no control over traffic I link up through Twitter and other services I can see how many people have clicked on a link I have provided. I can also see which conversations have referenced it, something that’s handy if you want to see how people are forwarding around something.

If you happen to hit a URL that has already been “bit.ly’d” then you’ll see the click through stats on it as well. Needless to say services like Bit.ly are taking URL shortening to a completely different level.

Got a URL shortening service you really like? Drop a note in the comments and share! And if you’re not already doing it feel free to follow me on Twitter through DAlison.

Visit DavidAlison.com

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Featured Gadgets Hardware Photography Reviews

Lensbaby Composer: A Selective Focus SLR Camera Lens (pt 3)

A Three Part Series  Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Pt. 3 of 3: Be My Lens, Baby…always

Another improvement over my Lensbaby 2.0 is the lens cap – the 2.0 shipped with a nice, heavy solid metal lens cap that screwed in place… unfortunately, it was kind of slippery and difficult to get off sometimes. The Composer ships with a new squeeze-type lens cap (the style that lets your fingers get inside a lens hood, hmm, what a handy accessory that would be?). Easy on and easy off, but not so easy that you can lose it. In fact, the lens cap is flush with the front of the lens only when focused at the closest possible distance, so the style of the lens cap has something to do with getting the cap on and off when the lens is focused at a further distance and the front element is recessed into the front of the lens housing. The size is compact, about the same physical length as my Nikkor 50mm lens.

The Composer I received fit nicely on my Nikon, but you can also order Canon EF, Sony Alpha / Minolta Maxxum, Pentax K or Olympus 4/3. That covers most of the current digital SLR’s… of course, you could mount the Nikon version on your trusty Nikon F from 1965, and mount the Canon version on any autofocus Canon body ever made, including those that shoot (shudder), film. Pentax K mount may have had more bodies and lenses manufactured for it than all others combined. On my Nikon D3, I found that the website is essentially correct in that you need to shoot in manual mode and check your exposure via the histogram. I found it easy to get my exposure set for a scene, and then I set the bracketing to 3 shots (first exposure normal, 2nd exposure one stop underexposed, and the 3rd exposure is one stop overexposed). Most of the time, the normal or one stop underexposed produced the best images.

The first weekend I had the Composer, I visited my mother and grandmother. I got my mom interested in photography in the early 1980’s, and she has shot Nikon film bodies for 25 years now. At my gentle prodding, this year she upgraded to a Nikon D200, which she is never without. I showed her the Composer, and let her put it on her body… I almost didn’t get it back. I had to promise to order her one that very night to get it off her camera.

My shooting was sporadic over the time I had the Composer, but I did get to try it on a variety of subjects. Things, landscapes, people. I shot over 1,000 images with the lens… in other words, I barely scratched the creative surface. Having used many of the possible configurations, I have a starting suggestion for you: start with the Composer. It is not a huge investment by the standards of lenses made by camera manufacturers. Please check the Lensbaby website for current pricing at   http://www.Lensbaby.com/shop/ — there are some special pricing options there if you buy the Composer and Optic Kit and/or Accessory Kit at the same time. All told, you can get the entire system for the Composer and all the optics and accessories for well under $500.

A new feature I noticed as this article goes to press is the photo gallery on the Lensbaby website. There are many images to view with captions to tell you which lens optic made the image  http://www.lensbaby.com/gallery-photo.php . Every time you refresh the page, new images come up.


But Britt, surely there has to be something not perfect with the Lensbaby? Are you selling out? Well, no, I am not selling out. There are a couple of picky little things. When Craig Strong first developed the Lensbaby, my understanding is that he did it to fill a niche for his digital SLR. When he was first doing this, there weren’t too many full-frame digital SLR’s in the world. Certainly, I didn’t have one. So my original Lensbaby 2.0 looked and felt like a 75mm lens on my Nikon D2X (still half the focal length of the Sima, which translated to a 150mm). Now I have the D3… with the Composer (I have not tested the Muse or Control Freak), it is possible to skew the image to the point of cutting off or vignetting the image circle. Once I saw this and realized what was happening, it was no big deal. There is plenty of movement available without vignetting. I didn’t see vignetting with the D200 or D2X, which are both 2/3 frame sensors. Second, I wish the directions for removing and replacing lens elements were a little more detailed. Maybe I’m just not too bright. Are either of my minor gripes deal breakers? Not even close. One accessory I would like to see is a lens hood made to screw into the lens threads, although it would be funny shaped or maybe not possible because of the way the lens optic group moves into the body as you focus to infinity.

So, the bottom-line? Get one. I didn’t test the Muse, but it is essentially the Lensbaby 2.0 upgraded to use the interchangeable optics. In my opinion the Muse is best for fast, on-the-go photography.  Or, step up to the Composer (my recommendation). To me this is the most versatile lens in the series. If you shoot little toy soldiers in dioramas or architectural elements and want the ultimate in precision control, go for the Control Freak. Get more detail on all of these lenses and accessories at  http://www.Lensbaby.com/ . Any prices noted are current as of the time this article goes to the webmistress, but check the website for current pricing and availability… the Composer is currently in stock and shipping in about 3 weeks. The one that I ordered for my mom arrived in about four weeks, which was early by two weeks of the estimated shipping time on the website at the time it was ordered.

Lens Baby SLR Lenses

$150-270

Free Shipping Via USPS

For more information or to purchase, visit

www.lensbaby.com

The Lens Baby Composer – A Selective Focus SLR Camera Lens : A Review in 3 Parts

Part 1 |   Part 2 |   Part 3

Categories
Featured Gadgets Hardware Photography Reviews

Lensbaby Composer: Selective Focus SLR Camera Lens (pt 2)

A Three Part Series Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Pt. 2 of 3:  Be My Lens, Baby…again

Remember our fun with the Sima? The Lensbaby Composer (and all the Lensbaby line, since they use interchangeable elements) is 50mm in focal length compared with the Sima’s 100mm. That gets into the usable range for many landscape opportunities, and makes a decent average focal length for portraits and details. Need wider? They can do that… it’s that system concept I love so much. Offered as additional accessories are a 0.6x Wide Angle lens adapter and a 1.6x Telephoto lens adapter (in a set). That makes the 50mm equate to a 30mm or a 80mm lens via the front-threaded lenses. Yep, there is a macro kit as well, which would be really handy for those of us who shoot close details of things.

Instead of being happy with f/2, f/4 and f/5.6 with the Sima lens, we can now get down to f/22. Why would you want to shoot a “soft focus” image at f/22? Well, what the Sima didn’t do was skew the plane of focus… the Lensbaby skews the “sweet spot” of focus to the point you choose. Want the whole left side of the image to go completely out of focus? We can do that.



When the folks at Lensbaby shipped me the demo unit, I was very excited to open the box and find (first) a Lensbaby Composer (yes!) and a thoughtfully included set of lens elements. The Composer shipped with the double glass element in it, with the f/4 aperture. That seemed like a good starting point, so for the first several hundred shots I did with it, I left this configuration in place.

As I first handled the Composer, I was satisfied with the obvious build quality… it isn’t heavy, but feels solid. It is made of metal and composite materials, with a metal lens mount. The lens has a locking collar at the rear – if you want to lock the lens in position, simply turn the locking collar to lock it in place… since the lens doesn’t move easily on its own, I would think that most people would use the locking ring when on a tripod. Inside the lens optic, there is a magnetic arrangement that holds the f/stop apertures in place. With a little practice it is easy to drop the f/stop aperture in to the front of the lens, but if you have trouble, you can always use the handy magnetic tool provided for the task.

As previously noted, the Composer does away with the hard but flexible rubber bellows of the Lensbaby and Lensbaby 2.0. A composite ball-and-socket allows the front of the lens to move independently of the rear, creating changes in the plane of focus that the lens throws. This shifting of the plane of focus is what gives the Lensbaby its signature look.

Examples- Pt. 2


Lens Baby SLR Lenses

$150-270
Free Shipping Via USPS
For more information or to purchase, visit
www.lensbaby.com

The Lens Baby Composer – A Selective Focus SLR Camera Lens: a 3-part series

Part 1 |   Part 2 |   Part 3

Categories
Featured Hardware Photography Reviews

Lensbaby Composer: A Selective Focus SLR Camera Lens (pt 1)

A Three Part Series Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Pt. 1 of 3:  Be My Lens, Baby!

Soon after receiving my first 35mm camera, I found that photography was a little more difficult than it had first looked. Ok, it was a lot more difficult. After mastering the learning curve on how make a sharp, well-exposed photo, I saw some photography by David Hamilton and Robert Farber. I was back to square one. Suddenly, I wanted to shoot soft focus images. But, how to do it?

Shortly after graduating college, I got my first dedicated soft focus lens. I had tried all different ways of getting that beautiful soft focus look… shooting through cigarette package cellophane, smearing petroleum jelly on the filter, shooting through other materials like hose, netting, window screen, almost anything you can think of. Then came the Sima soft focus lens… 100mm at f/2 wide open, a simple single lens plastic element, push and pull focusing, it made beautiful images. It worked great… as long as you had your subject perfectly centered. The lens was sharper in the center than at the edges, so if you put your subject off center it would suffer degradation beyond the intent of soft focus. You could manipulate it slightly with an f/4 and an f/5.6 disk, plus there was a neutral density disk in the box that I never really used. The other limitation I immediately realized was the focal length; it was too long to use for most landscape situations. I moved on and tried other specialty lenses, mostly with less success than the Sima.

Then something wonderful happened… a guy like me who liked soft focus made a lens with an integral hard rubber-ish bellows to focus and bend all over the place to skew the plane of focus. Let me be clear – I experimented but never really built anything. I was content to use what others had made before me. Not so for photographer Craig Strong. He too had been unhappy with the soft focus options available to him, so he decided to do something about it, and the first Lensbaby was born. That was 2004; I found it in 2005 at PhotoExpo in New York City… when I saw the booth I went in and bought a Lensbaby 2.0.

The Lensbaby 2.0 creates beautiful images, but it has limitations for me. First, if I wanted to shoot a bracketed exposure, sometimes I found it difficult to hold the lens exactly on the focus point with the skew for a 3 or 5 shot bracket. I also had some difficulty focusing and bending the lens exactly the right way to throw the focus off a certain way. Using it on a tripod gave similar results. Forget trying to do a perfect long bracket for rendering an HDR scene… the original and version 2.0 Lensbabies were great for quick, on the move photography, but not for more studied compositions.

Jump forward to 2008. Apparently nobody mentioned to Craig Strong that he had created a great product and that he should rest on his laurels. He continued to improve the Lensbaby design, and introduced the new Lensbaby Composer. Instead of a bellows, it has a rotating ball-n-socket joint. Focus is achieved in a much more conventional fashion (to us old-school folks who were already used to focusing the lens themselves) with a rotating collar that moves the element assembly closer or farther from the sensor plane. But lo and behold, this wasn’t just an improvement on a single lens… the Lensbaby Composer had crossed over to… the system side. I remember one of the early literature pieces I saw from Nikon – it was titled the “Nikon System”. Need a right angle viewer that magnifies? Got it. How about a high-point action/sports finder? Ditto. Motor drive with 250-exposure cassette (yeah, film was somewhat precious, but what was really precious was time… like the time spent reloading your camera while the shot gets away). They can do that. Not to mention little things like the Noct Nikkor (look it up if you don’t know).

The Lensbaby and Lensbaby 2.0 had some attachments, but weren’t what I would call a system. The Lensbaby Optic Swap System is the heart of a new system of lenses that cover the spectrum of soft focus possibilities. Start with the sharpest, a double element glass lens. Second, a single glass element, followed by a single plastic element (if you have experience with a Diana or Holga, you’ll know this look). Apertures… we have apertures! Wide open the Composer is pretty soft with any of the lens optics. In the compact storage case/aperture tool housing (Lensbaby calls this the “Magnetic Aperture Set” and is included in with your first Lensbaby), you will find apertures from f/2.8 to f/22. If you are looking for f/4 in there, it is probably already in the lens. Finally, there is a fourth (and fifth?) element that thoughtfully combines a pinhole and zone plate in one housing. But wait… there’s more! All of these lens elements fit neatly into the newly redesigned Lensbaby Muse (replacing the Lensbaby original and 2.0 lenses), Control Freak (if precision soft focus, which seems something of an oxymoron, is your gig, this is the lens for you), and the Composer.

Ok, let’s do our math now. 5 lens types (double glass, single glass, plastic, zone plate and pinhole), 9 possible apertures including those in the creative aperture kit (without making your own), wide angle and telephoto converters, macro close-up kit… Without creating your own apertures from the blanks in the creative kit, there are well over one hundred different possible system configurations. Of course, you can also get there 3 different ways – the Muse, Composer or Control Freak. For those artsy readers that aren’t system oriented, don’t be alarmed… on the Lensbaby website you can preview the effects of many of the combinations… just browse to  http://www.Lensbaby.com/optic-comparison.php and use your mouse to create the combinations. This handy preview tool will get you started toward the look you desire.

Examples

Lens Baby SLR Lenses

$150-270

Free Shipping Via USPS

For more information or to purchase, visit

www.lensbaby.com

The Lens Baby Composer – A Selective Focus SLR Camera Lens : A Review in 3 Parts

Part 1 |   Part 2 |   Part 3