So I picked this up because it seemed like a fun lens to have and while away spare time snapping photos with. And it is fun to use! The multi-fingered manipulation you need to adopt to simultaneously focus and distort photos sounds tricky, but is in fact (I found) surprisingly easy. You're probably not going to get off any quick reaction shots with it (except maybe by luck), but you soon get the hang of pulling on the lens to tilt and focus it.
The lens itself looks like a Dalek's bastard child and totally out of place on an SLR. It has a `body' like those rubber joints on old HGV gear-levers, within which there must be a big spring. Left to itself the lens sits facing straight-ahead at its furthest extension (pushed forwards by the spring). What you need to learn to do is pull back on it just enough to focus the image (no auto-focus here!) while simultaneously tilting it to change the centre point of the distortion effect.
Aside from focusing and moving the central distortion you don't have much else to play with, which limits the appeal quite quickly.
I've also found that you need a nice "noisy"/contrasted background if you want good results (see the chain-link fence and the trees in the sample images). This requirement, combined with a pretty feeble f5.6, make indoor photos very disappointing. Walls hide the distortive effect of the lens and the low light produces poor images. You only need to see that Lensbaby recommend an ISO of 1600 for indoor shots to realise the Spark is not adapted for this.
Outdoors is where the Spark wants to play and any outdoor events, like picnics or sports events (if you're quick-fingered enough), should have you tweeking away at it quite happily. The good news is that this is a pretty cheap lens so you can excuse its failings and just try to have fun with it. How long you do that for probably depends on how creative you are.
Looking at the instruction diagram I had a little bit of a heartsink as it appeared you had to wrap both hands around the camera to grasp the lens to focus correctly. Now the 50D I have is quite a chunky camera but I was able to do this really easily. The light weight of the lens helps here. Really it should be no trouble at all using this with more recent Canon releases. The image is focused by moving the outer lens on the end of the bellows, tilting from side to side to move the centre of focus.
One tip I would pass on if you are not used to using this type of lens - practice on fixed objects! After chasing the dog around the garden and having her move just as I got the appropriate focusing spot was quite frustrating! Practicing on fixed objects allows you to understand how the lens works and organise your exposure - the camera needs to be in full manual mode to use this lens.
One disappointment I had was that the picture seems to suggest that you can move the lens to focus and it remains in the position you placed it in. This is not the case and you need to hold the lens in place whilst you take the photo.
Overall though this is an interesting piece of kit to use and will really get you thinking creatively about how you take photos and what you are taking them of. One small thing - when starting out you probably need to plan your photography session as this (if this is the first time you've used a lens like this) isn't suited to quick snaps. With a bit of practice though you'll soon be able to use it for more creative projects.
I have used Lensbabies for a few years and they are fun. You can get similar effects in Photoshop but this is easier. well easier isn't a word used with Lensbabies as it isn't too easy to focus. However, with practise and a good knowledge of manual settings on your camera you should get some good results. i got this on a saturday and was out the same afternoon in London using it. I will add some images from it to show the effects I had.
The Spark is a very cheap Lensbay - I have the Composer too and thats quite a few bob more. Notwithstanding this isn't that poor a relation. Fiddly at first first but fun.
I would say that it is not a lens to keep on your camera but rather the odd occasional use to get some nice blurry effects is cool.
Good price, good fun.
I have long coveted a lensbaby and when I saw one on vine I snapped it up.
The Spark is the base model and is simplicity itself. The box contains the lens, front and rear caps, a drawstring bag, instruction leaflet, sticker and silicone sachet.
The lens has a fixed aperture, f5.6 and the instructions suggest various ISO settings and shutter speeds. I pretty much ignored these as my SLR worked well enough in aperture priority mode.
In use the lens has to be manipulated by both hands in order to achieve focus, the bellows can be tweaked to get a decent focus then front element can then be tilted off-axis to get that famous lensbaby look.
However, this is where initial excitement became shaded with slight disappointment. Achieving initial focus is not that easy, it seems to be a fiddly process and when I did get focus and tried a slight off-axis movement I would lose the sweet spot.
I assume there is a technique to this that needs some practice but I felt slightly let down that the whole process was unintuitive. I am certainly not averse to using my usual lenses in manual focus but still struggled to get a decent focus.
I will continue to soldier on as the lensbaby effect is really nice when achieved. I only wish the learning curve wasn't so steep.
***** Okay, nearly six months in and I am loving this lens, I played with it for a while and finally 'got it'. I can now focus with relative ease, okay there is still the odd misfire but you need to accept this as a fact of life, there will be some shots out of focus. Anyway, its all part of the fun and sometimes your shot is focussed in an area you didn't quite intend and the shot is all the better for it. I even showed the spark to a high end pro and he was really impressed with it, his working life is dedicated to sharpness and perfection, he loved the loose and fun style of shots you get with the spark. So, its a keeper and is worth a solid four stars. ******
The Lensbaby Spark is a fun, entry-level lens for creating selected-focus effects on your Canon DSLR. It's very light, but feels sturdily built and was easy to fit to the body by the usual method; you then work with it in Manual mode, metering yourself.
It's a fixed focal length lens (ie prime) which you focus manually by pulling the ring forward using your 'spare' fingers; this method is pretty tricky to master, especially if, like me, you have small hands, or suffer from shaky hands or a tremor. If you're used to focussing manually using a ring you'll have your eye in, but even then it's difficult to hold the lens in position while you press the shutter. However, I have no doubt at all that this gets easier with practice.
Tilting the lens allows you to create a 'sweet spot' of focus, with blur around it. Again, this technique is hard to pick up, but by no means impossible, and some of the results are fun: you can create quite trippy, dreamlike results, as well as a simpler depth of field effect. I imagine it could also look very good with action shots, increasing the sense of motion and speed; however, I haven't been able to master this yet, because of the difficulty of focusing manually using the unfamiliar squeezy ring and light metering all at the same time.
I work in Manual mode anyway, which gave me a bit of a head start with this lens; however, I found that tilting the lens to alter the 'sweet spot' altered the light metering too, so the trick was to pull the lens to the correct focus, then tilt it to create a blur effect, and FINALLY meter. Not impossible at all, but hard if your subject is moving or the light is changing.
I also found that in bright natural light the Lensbaby Spark consistently caused my shots to overexpose, but this was easily enough fixed by metering down by one F stop. Indoors the tendency was not so pronounced, and in fact, probably made it usable in dimmer conditions.
Make no mistake, this lens represents a challenge, even to a confident SLR user; but having said that, it's nothing that can't be overcome with practice. Those with smaller hands or who are not confident working in Manual mode may find it harder, but still not impossible, and in fact new challenges are a good way to improve your technique.
I feel confident that given time I will be able to produce some great effects with this clever little lens; however, I can't help but wonder, given how easy it is now to create effects like this in post-production, why one would need a special lens to achieve them at all.
This lens is FUN! You will not get perfect results every time, half of the shots that I get from it are not in focus at all. But that's OK, it's a fun lens to use, it has a unique look to it, and it is unique. The lensbaby website contains some excellent videos and articles to teach you how to use it. You will need to be taught how to use the lens, it doesn't work like a "normal" lens. Plenty of practice will be needed just to be able to focus with it.
Certainly not an indoors lens, I found that it needed to be used outdoors. This lens requires a lot of light before sensible shutter speeds become usable. Set your expectations to "lomo" as well! Certainly not a lens I would use every day, but it is small and light enough to throw in a camera bag for occasional use. It's a lot cheaper than most other lenses, so if you like the look of the images it produces, it's something that you could buy and not regret the cost of.
Mine came with plastic caps for each end of the lens, a cloth bag and a card box, just the right amount of packaging. The included sample photographs look great cropped to a square format.
If you're looking for something a little more serious, but still with a lensbaby look, the "Edge 80" optic with the "Composer" might be more to your tastes, but if you're just after something cheap and fun, this lens might be just what you're looking for.
Undoubtedly, and like all worthwhile photographic methods and techniques, practice will improve one's results but I have to say that so far this Lensbaby has not proved a hit with me. Especially given the almost complete lack of written guidance on use provided, and a not particularly helpful series of short videos on YouTube, the user really does have to try this lens out to try to get the any sort of effects. Even then, and in common with other reviewers, I do not seem to be able to generate the sorts of effects promised in the lens literature. I'll keep trying, but I must admit that I am rather disappointed so far with both the build of the lens (will it last?), and how far it provides an identifiably different outcome for one's shots.
on 22 January 2015
Takes a while to get used to and a lot of hit and miss, but if you get a hit then the result can be quite stunning. Brushing up on your manual settings is a must and if you are the impatient type then this is not for you. Would advise Amazon to price match a bit better as I got this from a well known online source for almost £20 cheaper.
on 15 December 2014
A fun lens that produces an interesting effect. The concertina means of focusing is a little odd, but easily learned. The only drawback that I have found, is a lack of sharpness in the focused object. I can only imagine that this is due to the quality of the lens. Despite this it's worth the money.
on 1 July 2014
Not the sharpest or fastest lens you will ever buy, but might t be one of the most fun ones, plus the restrictions imposed are good for breaking away from the auto modes.
Works smoothly on my D600, images render beautifully!