In a previous article I wrote about my love for the Lensbaby Velvet 56mm and 85mm lenses. Now I’d like to introduce you to another member of the Lensbaby family – the Sol. The Sol 45mm, for Canon, Nikon, Sony, Fuji and Pentax mounts, and the Sol 22mm for Panasonic and Olympus Micro 4/3 mounts was released in August, 2018. This little powerhouse of a lens creates a sweet spot of focus surrounded by beautiful blur and bokeh. If you love shooting with selective focus, this lens is a great addition to your camera bag and is guaranteed to ignite your creativity and bring some fun to your photography.
More About the Lensbaby Sol Family
As with all Lensbaby lenses, the Sol is a manual focus lens. Therefore, Lensbaby lenses do not connect electronically with your camera. Moreover, the lens information and aperture will not be recorded in your EXIF data. Depending on your camera brand, you will either need to shoot in aperture priority mode or manual mode. Similarly, in some camera models you may need to go into your menu to set the camera to shoot without a lens.
So, why do I love these lenses and how does it help give a creative boost to my work? First, I have to admit that I was a bit skeptical the first time I took my Sol 45mm out for a test run. I was not sure I would like working with a fixed aperture lens. The Sol lenses can only be used at f/3.5. As a macro and flower photographer, aperture is very important to my work. I am constantly experimenting with aperture to create my vision of a botanical subject. I rarely shoot in one aperture, but choose to shoot in a range to ensure I come home with choices and a successful interpretation of my subject. Limiting myself to one aperture seemed a little unnerving to me.
It was just that feature, however, that gave me a sense of creative freedom. By not having to worry about changing aperture, I was simplifying my shooting and I found myself concentrating more on the creative and expressive aspects of my photography. When deeply delving into shooting in one aperture, I was able to more fully explore the possibilities. Let’s face it, f/3.5 is an aperture that produces beautiful results for selective focus. It’s both fun and challenging to dance on that edge of focus and embrace the beautiful blur. The simplicity of use, the small size and the light weight of the lens also give a sense of freedom. It just feels good in my hands and I’m easily able to handhold this lens with great results.
Let’s look at the components that make this lens special and fun to use.
#1 – Play with the Selective Spot Focus
The Sol gives you a sweet spot of focus surrounded by beautiful blur. I recommend that you center compose your subject the first time you shoot with this lens. Shoot with the lens straight ahead and practice finding your focus by turning the focus ring in the front of the lens. With center composing, you can lock the lens into place straight ahead so it doesn’t move. With such a shallow depth of field at f/3.5 you have to be accurate in your focus.
When using selective focus, it’s important to determine what is your most critical point of focus. It might be the center of the flower as in the image below, or a petal edge or a stem, as in the images above. Take a minute to determine what it is you want to draw the eye to, keep your eye on that area as you turn the focus ring to bring it into sharp focus. Unlike the Velvet lenses which have some glow built in that can make it difficult to attain focus, the Sol is very easy to see the focus.
#2 – Experiment with Tilt Function
After getting the hang of focusing in the center, try composing off center and tilting the lens. The tilt function of this lens allows you to change that sweet spot of focus within the frame. The lens will tilt in all directions – horizontal, vertical and diagonal. Choose what you want to draw you eye to in the frame. Then compose your subject and tilt the lens toward that area. Simply turn the focusing ring in front to bring the subject into focus.
You will know you have the lens tilted correctly if the area you are drawing the eye to comes into sharp focus. If it doesn’t, adjust the tilt slightly and try again. For example, I use the grid in my viewfinder to help me determine where my most important point of focus falls in the frame and I tilt accordingly. If you have focus peaking technology in your camera, use that to help you attain focus. In the image below, I have determined that I want the bright yellow center of the flower in sharpest focus. I tilted the lens slightly the right.
#3: Be Creative with Bokeh Blades
What are these crazy bokeh blades? The bokeh blades, pictured below, add a playful and creative feature to the lens. Try engaging the blades in front of the lens, swivel them into different positions (horizontal, vertical or diagonal) and play with creating interesting texture and lines to your background. The blades work best when you include background that is separated from your subject. So pull back a bit. Also, include more background so that the texture is more apparent. When using the bokeh blades you are shooting at an aperture more equivalent to f/5. If that look doesn’t suit you, simply push them back and embrace the simple and beautiful bokeh and blur the lens produces without the blades. The images below compare the same flower using the bokeh blades (left) and pushing them back (right).
#4 – Don’t Forget to Capture Macro Photography Images.
As a macro photographer, it’s always important to me that a lens have macro capability. The Sol 45mm has a minimum focusing distance of 14 inches, the Sol 22mm at 3.5 inches. This lens can be used for a variety of genres – landscape, urban, portrait and macro photography, all with creative results. If you want to get in close and shoot macro with the lens you need to add the Lensbaby 46mm macro filters to the front of the lens. The macro filters come in +1, +2 and +4 strengths and can be used separately or stacked together to get in even closer. Alternatively, you can use traditional extension tubes between your camera and the lens to get in closer. If you like using the bokeh blades, extension tubes may be your best bet since they don’t cover the front of the lens like the macro filters do.
One of the hardest variables to control in macro photography is your background. Producing a good clean background free of distractions is just as important as a beautiful subject. Thankfully, this lens creates some of the most stunning backgrounds I have seen from any lens straight out of camera. The ability to control the background so effortlessly adds to the sense of creative freedom this lens gives. Knowing I will not be struggling to correct a less than perfect background later in post processing adds to the fun of shooting with this lens. All the images in this article have backgrounds straight out of camera.
For someone new to the Lensbaby family, the Sol is a fun and inexpensive way to dive into the world of creative effects lenses. It is lightweight and simple to use and takes up next to no space in your camera bag. For an experienced Lensbaby user, this lens is a fun addition that will bring back a more playful, creative way of shooting.