*Sony NEX5 + Lensbaby Tilt Transformer = Unadulterated Fun

*Firstly, thank you to Lensbaby and Sony for the early Christmas gift!  Being a micro 4/3 man primarily when it comes to my compact MILC camera system of choice, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t very curious about the new NEX cameras.  My experience with the NEX5 prior to this was limited to over the counter tinkering and parking lot shooting.  I will do a more in depth review of the NEX5 vs. the GF1 soon as the NEX5 both confirmed some of my doubts and opened my eyes to it as a viable choice for those looking into a small mirrorless interchangeable lens compact camera.  Combined with a Lensbaby Tilt Transformer and Composer front, I feel it provides NEX system users an easy, affordable and fun way to greatly diversify the NEX system.

For those who’ve not read through my ramblings about my enjoyment with the Lensbaby optics on the micro 4/3 cameras, welcome.  I’ve been lucky enough to have made friends with the folks at Lensbaby and have been fortunate enough to get to play around with their new E-mount Tilt Transformer + Composer.  If you’re not familiar with Lensbaby, they are a Portland, Oregon based lens manufacturer that has made their mark by offering affordable, kitschy optics with a distinct tilt look.  By way of a swiveling front optic, the Lensbaby provides a sharp in focus point surrounded by a dreamy out of focus area akin to a tilt shift lens pushed to its extremes.  The sharp, in focus area can be increased by manually stopping the Composer down by way of aperture disks.  With the Lensbaby Composer front element, you get a 40mm f/1.6 optic, and when removed, the Tilt Transformer offers NEX system users a tilt-able Nikon F mount adapter which enables any F mount lens to be used.

One major criticism I’d had with the micro 4/3 system, and in turn is directly applicable to the NEX system is that there are very few dedicated optics (especially fast, small options).  Yes, the drawback to a new mount and new system I know, but without choices, an interchangeable lens system quickly becomes a one or two trick pony with nothing but promises that we will eventually see the lenses we want and hope to have.  The m4/3 camp has come a long way over the last year or two now offering quite a few lenses, but most in my opinion are slow, bulky and uninteresting.  Of course, being able to use adapters to mount a bevy of 35mm lenses diversifies the platform even if you lose automated functioning in the way of focus and electronic aperture control.  Herein lies where a third party lens can really help the owner of a m4/3 or NEX camera immediately deepen your optical quiver.  The Lensbaby system offers a very unique approach with the Tilt Transformer in that it doubles as a Nikon F mount adapter, and with the Lensbaby Composer front gives one access to the Lensbaby Optic Swap system (minus the fisheye which protrudes too deeply into the lens barrel which may damage the sensor).  This gives the owner of an E-mount Lensbaby Tilt Transformer + Composer (which comes with their high end double glass optic) the ability to add a Soft Focus, Zone plate/Pinhole, Plastic, or Single Glass optic to offer a variety of different looks for relatively little investment.  Add to that the creative add ons like macro filters or customized aperture disks and you have a nearly endless array of creative options for both still and video!

Okay, enough with the talk, on to the rock.  Again, I’ll save my critical assessment of the NEX for the review, but I will say, the APS-C sensor provides beautiful results and when using the 40mm f/1.6 Lensbaby Composer optic (60mm e-fov) it provides a fast, near standard focal length in a package not much bigger than the 16mm pancake.  To adjust the aperture in the Lensbaby optics, you will need to manually drop in or remove the magnetic aperture disks.  Without an aperture disk inserted, the E-mount Composer element weighs in at f/1.6!   Aside from larger, heavier manual optics used with adapters, this is, as far as I know, the fastest lens available for the NEX system in a dedicated mount.  Granted, wide open, the edges of the Composer are very soft, but that is the hook that the Lensbaby system has always hung its hat from.  It may not be a look you want all the time, but if you need sharper edges, just drop in a smaller aperture disk and watch the in focus “sweet spot” grow larger and larger.  For the times you want the speed, you will be shooting with a lens that gives a soft, dreamy out of focus look outside of the small sweet spot.  The Lensbaby Tilt Transformer uses a ball/socket along with a locking ring to allow you to pivot your plane of focus akin to the tilt effect on a tilt shift lens (think those cool miniature effects that you see or can recreate in Photoshop etc).  If you want to minimize the distortion involved, stop down your aperture, center the lens and twist the locking ring which will minimize the edge distortion and center the sweet spot.

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Many of the above shots were taken using the add on “creative aperture” set creating the hearts, stars, birds and various other out of focus shapes.  The Lensbaby Tilt Transformer with Composer Focus Front element gets you a fully functioning set up as well as access to more of what Lensbaby offers in their optic swap, macro kit and creative aperture set ups.  Relatively inexpensive and entertainingly diverse, it will create unique pictures otherwise impossible to do without much more expensive lenses or software.   Add to that, these optics provide video shooters with unique and very cool ‘in camera’ effects to produce dreamy sequences or tilt “mini” style videos.

Personally, I’m sold and have a couple different Lensbaby set ups (for my various camera mounts) that I carry with me in my camera bag at all times.  They’re light, compact and provide me with a little inspiration anytime that I need a little creative push.  If you have a NEX3 or NEX5 and are looking to add on to your lens choices, you might want to take a look at the Tilt Transformer (and I’d certainly suggest purchasing it with the Composer Focus Front element).

If your local camera shop doesn’t have them, you can buy them directly from the Lensbaby website : http://lensbaby.com

Make sure to get the proper mount for your camera as they offer the Composer in various SLR mounts and the Tilt Transformer (TT+ Composer) in both the NEX E mount and the Micro 4/3 mount.  (remember that the TT will offer either mount with a Nikon F lens mount adapter to enable use of Nikon lenses on your NEX or Micro 4/3 camera.)

The NEX E-mount Tilt Transformer is here (specify Sony NEX in the drop down menu): http://www.lensbaby.com/shop/composer-tilt-transformer

I’d be happy to try and answer any questions you may have, either in the comments or via email.  Thanks for reading, feel free to subscribe to get articles and updates via email up at the top of the page and happy shooting!

-Tyson

 

*UPDATE: Okay, here is the Showdown between the GF1 and the NEX5.

27 thoughts on “*Sony NEX5 + Lensbaby Tilt Transformer = Unadulterated Fun

  1. Interesting Tysen, to say the least. Not exactly what a itinerant travelog/blogger cum nature photographer would pull outta the bag first when first seeing a new bird or insect. Though the GH1’s lack of a macro lens makes Lensbaby

    I do kind of like being able to blur certain parts of a photo (who wouldn’t?), but after a while…. Kind of like a magician showing the same trick or one based on the same pass twice.

    I really like the Creative Aperture Kit and went immediately to the Lensbaby page, pulled up their gallery with the CAK selected. Really a nice website if you want to see what all this “weird stuff” will do in a lot of different combinations. Fersure, fersure.

    You find the Lensbaby easy enough to use? I’ve heard a couple complaints but they make so many different lenses that maybe it was just one of the several.

    And control? Do you find you’re getting able to just pull the lens out, put it on and perform a little setup magic and voila: there’s a shot that looks like you intended.

    So I just went back to Lensbaby’s page and dialed in Tilt Transform: I’d divide the results into 3 categories. 1) Stuff that looks natural and is pleasingly blurred in appropriate places, 2) Shots that are “artist’s choice” and maybe not mine but I accept them, and 3) stuff that’s weirdly blurred in strange places and don’t do anything for me.

    Of yours, I particularly like the lakeside, the balustrade, LBWHF closeup, and the lampshade – if you don’t mind a critic intruding here. Very nice and I can see why Lensbaby has graced you with the lens(es). Maybe they need a southern Oregon test base?😉

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    • I agree that most ‘tricks’ should be used in moderation, but I’ve been enjoying the creative process of doing series of images using these tricks. The LB’s certainly have their own look about them, but I think that’s what makes them so cool. What you can do with them is difficult to accomplish otherwise.

      I just received the creative aperture kit this last round and I must say, I think it is a must if the LB look appeals. When the main benefit to the system is the out of focus area, it is really fun to alter the points of light in that OOF area to utilize the negative space as it were, into a focal point. Again, not for every shot, but for the price, the add on creative aperture kit is something that enables that type of playful effect further enhancing the LB experience.

      As for control, I think (like Alisdair mentions below) it is immediate, intentional and very easy to control. The real trick is using a proper aperture disk to enable more or less ‘in focus’ area in the image. With the Composer, the locking ring doubles as a damper and can tighten or loosen the ball and socket to suit the movement the photographer is looking for. Very easy and very quick.

      On top of the TT + Composer, I’ve been playing with the various optics (soft focus, plastic, single glass, pinhole/zone plate) all of which minus the soft focus optic, can be purchased together for less than $100. I could live without the single glass, but the plastic and pin/zone are cool. The soft focus is great, but it is more expensive than the other three combined. More specialized as it were. The fact that for about the same price as available dedicated mount lenses, you could effectively get 4 different lenses, macro capabilities and the aperture kit. While I don’t think it is for everyone, it is exactly the type of thing I like seeing for these mirrorless systems, especially when there are few fast, affordable options currently. It won’t do a lot of things well, but for what it does, it does great and does something different than anything else available.

      I’ll have to see if they need more testers and let you know…🙂 Otherwise, if you head up here for anything let me know and I’d be happy to lend you mine.

      Thanks for reading as always Terry.

      t

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  3. Another nice write-up Tyson, and it will be interesting to read your in-depth article on the NEX in due course – particularly the comparison with m4/3, as I know you are aware I’m stuck in the GH1 camp! Sony’s system should be the ‘perfect’ solution, what with the APS-C sensor in a tiny package, but it’s always been a turn-off for me – not entirely sure why.

    Nice to see some samples with the Creative Aperture Kit too!

    @terrydarc – I find the TT+Comp really easy to use on my GH1, whether I want to get all arty and dreamy, bend things a touch, or leave the TT straight on. Comparing manual focus with say an FD 50mm f/1.8, the Lensbaby is much lighter and less damped, which is hardly surprising given how much (or rather how little) glass is being moved about.

    One thing I really like about the combo with the GH1, is that if you’ve decided on a tilt composition you like – i.e. the focus sweet spot moved off center to one of the horizontal thirds – you can lock off the TT to that position and also move the focus magnification point to the same place for very quick, easy focus confirmation!

    Now, I really must get out and take some pictures but work beckons……

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    • Hi Alisdair,

      Yes, the comparison post is almost done…

      Not to spoil anything, but really I’m a fan of having people find the right fit for their style and the GF1 (and m4/3 systems in general) vs the NEX5 really provide two very differing styles and approaches to interacting with the camera. Going through it, I realized that while one works better for me, inevitably there are those who see it as the exact opposite (and we’d all be right).

      I’ll leave it there for now, but they are both great systems that will continue to push each other through their respective developments which is a win/win for users of both platforms.

      Ahh yes, work. I need to do a bit of that myself. I hope you’re able to get out and shoot just as I long to have the rain/snow/sleet go away so I can do the same…

      Cheers,
      Tyson

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  5. I’m a fan of your reviews (but that’s not new news to you ; – ) ).

    I’ll look forward to seeing what you think about the NEX – as for me, my first days with the GF1 are “enjoyable” (ha ha) – finally beginning to look at things with a different eye. LOVE the DOF!! Will get my hands on some fine Nikon glass in the next couple of months, so will have to try out the Lensbaby adaptor per your earlier posts!

    Cheers!

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    • Thank you Andree,

      Yes, I am always on the lookout for deals on Nikon and FD mount lenses… Glad to hear you’re getting enjoyment out of the GF1/20 combo and I’m excited to start to see your images with said combo roll through the flickrsphere!

      t

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  11. This may be a bit late, but a quick question.

    The LB-TT also doubles as a Nikon F lens adaptor for a M4/3 camera?

    I’m assuming (yeah, I know, NEVER assume😉 ) that you’ve used other Nikon M4/3 adaptors with your GF1, so how does it compare?
    (I’ve got my eye on the Voightländer, BTW. AND just managed to order a GH2 that was available for a minute from Amazon!)

    If it works well enough as an adaptor, the LB-TT could be a nice double-duty solution, since I doubt I’d use the thing in TT mode very much, but it does look like it could be a lot of fun!

    I’ll have to check the Lensbaby site.

    Thanks for another good article and some really nice example images! How’d you do that auto slideshow thing? (It looks great on my iPad, BTW.)

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    • Okay, now I understand what the Lensbaby thingie does and what it doesn’t do. And how it doesn’t replace a dedicated Nikon to M4/3 adaptor. Still looks like it could a lot of fun.

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      • Hey, sorry I didn’t get back to you sooner, but it looks like you’ve figured out the benefits and drawbacks to the TT. While it will provide you with an F mount adapter, it will exhibit the “lensbaby” look for most any lens used wide open. As you stop a lens down and center/lock the ball and socket, the soft edges start to recede. For the cost of some of the lower end adapters though, it would be worth it to grab a straight F mount adapter on top of a TT (if the TT was purchased). Where the LB TT provides a cool tool is for the obvious LB ‘look’ as well as for macro type stuff as you can alter the plane of focus allowing you to shoot at wider apertures. The V-lander adapters are nice, but expensive. Because the adapters do not require any optical elements, they are merely an extension tube for all intents and purposes to account for the proper flange distance translation so really, they aren’t super technical and as long as a seller is legit and the adapter is guaranteed to focus to infinity, it might be worth saving a little money…

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  13. I’ve been wondering about combining an NEX body with the Tilt Transformer and adding either a (Nikon F mount) Holga or Diana lens to it rather than one of the Lensbaby optics. This combination may make for an interesting review.

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    • I think that as long as you enjoyed the lensbaby look, it would be a really fun tool. Of course LB has their optic swap system with the plastic optic as well for pretty cheap (relatively anyway) but it would require the composer front to fit the LB optics. Not having the NEX5 anymore, I can’t do a review per se, but I think the look would be pretty comparable to the lensbaby plastic optic. Depending on how far one wanted to take the LB look, they also offer the creative aperture kit which is fun too, as well as the pinhole/zoneplate optic, single glass which can be purchased as a kit, although, to my eye, the single glass and plastic are similar enough that one can get away with one or the other for the look.

      t

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  14. problem with the lensbaby is a little too much peripheral blur. i was thinking that perhaps a diana lens on the nikon F mount means a slightly larger image circle over the NEX sensor thereby reducing (but not eliminating) some of the heavy vignetting and corner blur.

    with the tilt transformer, then you can get this nice slice of “depth of field” focus along an angular plane but still retain the dreamy look of plastic.

    just a thought…

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    • Yeah, the LB “look” is something you kinda need to buy into when using the system, although, you can control the amount of peripheral blur by stopping any of their optics down. By f/16 or f/22, the blur is very subtle, although it may create exposure problems if you’re shooting in lower light situations. I think the F mount Diana lens would be fun on the tilt transformer regardless though. Just awesome that we have so many options and combinations nowadays.

      Thanks for the comments and conversation.

      t

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