If you’re a photo student, chances are you balk at contemporary digital photography’s over-processed, airbrushed, way-too-clean aesthetic. You want to be real, damn it! And you probably want to create pictures that have the dramatic effects of a view camera’stilt-and-shift selective focus and the organic randomness of plastic shooters like the Holga. Awesome! Consider taking the Lensbaby Composer for a spin.

Essentially a digital SLR lens that’s fitted into a ball-and-socket-style housing, the Composer also has interchangable optics: a single lens, double lens, plastic lens and pinhole/zone plate combo can be swapped in and out depending on the photographic effect you want to achieve. Depending on aperture these four options yield images that range from fairly sharp with a large sweet spot (double glass) all the way to the very gauzy and ethereal (pinhole).

Before you get too excited at the prospect of churning out dynamic images on the fly, you’ve got to understand that the Lensbaby experience is a creative one and requires a lot of manual tweaking. Apertures on the double glass, single glass and plastic units range from f2 to f22 and you set them by inserting black metal discs into the front of the lens, not by turning a dial. Selective focus is of course, manual as well. Thankfully, the aperture priority setting on most modern cameras works with the Composer. It’s available for the for Canon, Nikon, Sony Alpha A/Minolta Maxxum, Pentax K, Samsung GX, Olympus E1, and Panasonic Lumix DMC in case you’re wondering.

Its design and execution is fantastic. The ingenious ball and socket is easily articulated to manipulate sharpness and stays securely put, allowing you to use the focusing ring to make images as sharp as you’d like them. The Composer gives you all the exhilarating flying-by-the-seat-of-your-pants fun of creating graphically interesting selective focus images with the precision of a fine focus.

WIRED High-end creative control at a real budget price point. Swapping optics is simple and quick. Fit and finish is outstanding. Thoughtful accessories include two wide angle lenses, a telephoto lens, a macro kit, all of which will thread into any of the four lens options you choose.

TIRED Aperture discs tend to go missing pretty easily if you’re not careful.

  • Style: Accessories, DSLR
  • Manufacturer: Lensbaby
  • Price: $270

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