The Lensbaby Muse ($150 direct) is a manual-focus camera lens that, at a glance, doesn’t look that much different than the less-expensive Lensbaby Spark. Both allow you to adjust focus by compressing or extending the front of the lens. This action also lets you tilt the lens, changing the angle at which light is captured. This is similar to the tilt mechanism on a high-end lens like the Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8, but the Lensbaby is designed as an artistic lens rather than a technical one—by design it is neither precise nor sharp on a corner to corner basis.
Instead the Muse is capable of capturing photos that have a small circle of sharpness, surrounded by a dreamy out of focus area. Even though it costs almost twice as much as the Spark, there are a few reasons that you may choose the Muse. The Double Glass Optic that ships with the Muse has a maximum aperture of f/2, which means that it captures eight times the light as the f/5.6 lens that ships with the Spark. Discs are included so that you can adjust the aperture to your liking, an option not available to Spark shooters. And the build quality of the Muse is noticeably better. Its mount and front are both metal, whereas those parts of the Spark are plastic, and its rubber bellows is noticeably sturdier than that of the Spark.
The downside to the fast aperture is that, unless you use one of the included discs to reduce the level of light that the lens captures, the sweet spot of focus is very narrow. Inserting an f/2.8 or f/4 aperture disc gives you a little more leeway in positioning the lens and increases the sharpness and contrast of the in-focus area. The optic’s field of view is equivalent to that of a 50mm lens, and it can be used on a full-frame or APS-C camera. The Muse is available in Canon EOS, Nikon F, Sony A, Pentax K, and Olympus Four Thirds mounts.
You can swap out the included Double Glass Optic with any other lens that is compatible with the company’s Optic Swap System. These include a Plastic Optic that is similar to those found in toy cameras, a lower-contrast Single Glass Optic, and a Pinhole/Zone Plate Optic that are available together in the Optic Kit.
The images you’ll get from a Lensbaby are unique, and are perfectly suited for portraiture and artistic shots alike. Like the Spark, the Muse is best used for handheld shooting—if you are a tripod shooter, the Composer Pro is a better choice, as it allows you to set the tilt adjustment and focus position. If you are just getting your feet wet with the Lensbaby system, you may prefer to put less money on the table and start with the Spark; but if you feel like you’ll enjoy using a Lensbaby, the faster aperture and superior build quality of the Muse justify its extra cost.
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