In an industry that provides me with my very favorite of hobbies, the idea of perceived perfection in performance is often the benchmark. To this end, I too am guilty in that I often look for and test to make sure I have the best optics for whichever sensor I happen to have invested in. Often times, when we as photographers focus on measurable optical metrics, we can lose sight of the artistic, creative outlet that visual art such as photography can provide us. As the old adage goes as far as skill and creativity are concerned, sharpness is overrated.
I like to explore photography from a very large spectrum of angles, and find I enjoy myself most when I change my vantage from time to time. I don’t feel photography is one thing, and certainly feel for me that if it only provided me with one type of result, I’d not be nearly as happy. I like variety, I like difference, I like weird. For those who’ve been around for a while, you’ll probably remember articles I’ve written about Lensbaby products, and how the company resides just down the road from me. Back when this was a fledgling little blog, they offered me many opportunities to beta test new optics, and provide fodder for those looking for adaptable optics for their (at the time, young, new) mirrorless system cameras.
Say hello to the Lensbaby Trio 28mm f/3.5 lens. Three unique Lensbaby optics, built into a single lens for mirrorless systems, and I’ve been loving it. C’mon in for some examples and comparisons…
Lensbaby has brought three of their most popular effects, into one lens. The Trio 28 offers a photographer the ability to quickly switch between their “Sweet”, “Twist” and “Velvet” effects via a rotatable trio of fixed 28mm f/3.5, manual focus lenses. Available solely for the Sony E, Fuji X and Micro 4/3 mount mirrorless systems, it is Lensbaby’s first mirrorless only lens.
The Sweet optic, like the Sweet 35 and Sweet 50 stand alone optics from Lensbaby, take the traditional selective focus idea, and plop a sharper, focusable area, center frame with a gradual defocused blur, radially moving from center to the edges. The bokeh is more ‘traditional’ looking in that out of focus highlights are fairly circular, and with this effect, you get a level of 3 dimensional pop to your images, especially when focusing on subjects relatively close to the camera.
The Twist optic, like the Lensbaby Twist 60, produces a similarly sharp center frame, but instead of a gradual, radial blurring toward the edges, you get more of a vintage Joseph Petzval designed optical swirl from that 174 year old design around the edge of the frame. I find you get more of the frame (within the central area) in focus, or focusable where out of focus elements spiral into a twisted bokeh for out of focus elements.
Finally, the Velvet optic, like the company’s Velvet 56 portrait optic, is a soft focus lens with hints of both the others. Soft focus optics have traditionally been used for older portrait styling and other kitschy effects. It has a focus falloff that sits between the most aggressive Sweet, and the Twist, with the effect eased by the fact that the area in focus is also softened by the soft focus rendering. The Velvet also provides a level of twisted bokeh to it’s frame edges (albeit more subdued than the twist) for out of focus elements when those elements reside a decent distance away from your focal plane.
Better to show, than to explain further. Here are three examples of the three lenses to show the difference in the effect each provides:
After getting to shoot for about a month with the Trio 28, I found myself gravitating toward the Twist as my go to, getting a little more in focus area in the middle of the frame, followed by the Sweet optic, which I probably enjoyed the result from the most, when I was able to compose to keep my subjects within the center area. While I really enjoyed my time shooting and reviewing the dedicated Velvet 56 lens, much of that was down to the ability to adjust the aperture to adjust the effect of the soft focus, with it more or less disappearing by about f/5.6 or so. With a fixed f/3.5 lens (for all three) it does limit certain shooting scenarios, like level of effect, video control, etc.
Below is a shot showing the Twist, with the flower pushed up against the edge of what I’d consider to be the ‘acceptable’ focus area for compositional reference.
You can see the right edge of the petals brushing up against that boundary which can give you an idea on how much, center frame, you can get, truly in focus.
The colors that the Trio 28 produces play really well to the pop provided by selective focus with nice punchy, contrasty and saturated tones. Vignetting is obviously happening, but if that is something you’re entirely concerned about, you probably know how to remedy that in software, and most likely aren’t shopping for these types of lenses. I feel that the vignetting, mirroring the focus falloff, amplifies the effect and does so in a nice, gradual way which adds to the overall quality of the effect.
While the idea of having an intentionally imperfect lens may not click with some, I will say that I’ve loved shooting this on the Sony a7II. It’s physically small and lightweight making for a very unencumbered, nearly pocketable kit (okay, big pocket, but it’s about as small as you can get an a7 to be). The simplified approach by way of a singular aperture, fixed focal length and manual focus made for a slowed down and intentional shooting experience, which I often forget how much I enjoy. That you do get three different looks out of this single, simple setup though, is very cool, and sure to spark creativity if for no other reason that it’s practically necessary to literally see your photography in a different way when shooting with a Lensbaby. Slowing down and getting weird with my photography has helped me reconnect a bit by getting out of my previous groove, and I like that.
The Trio 28mm f/3.5 is available in Sony E mount, Fuji X mount, and Micro 4/3 mount versions. It runs $279 and if interested, you can find them via Adorama HERE, B&H HERE, or directly through Lensbaby HERE.
Thank you for the read, and as always, feel free to fire off questions, observations or voice opinions in the comments below. I’d love to connect via the socials too, so hit me up on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and Instagram.
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