The Lensbaby Spark ($80 direct) is a manual focus lens for Canon and Nikon SLR cameras that allows you to tilt its neck, which is a flexible bellows, in order to change the angle at which light hits your camera’s image sensor. This allows you to focus on one spot and blur the area around it, creating an interesting effect that a standard camera lens can’t reproduce.
The Spark is the least expensive Lensbaby available—the next model up, the Muse, is $150, and the more advanced Composer is $200. As such, its build quality is not as spectacular. Its lens mount is plastic and you’ll want to be careful to mount and unmount the lens via its base, as you can twist the front section of the lens if you twist it with any amount of force. The included optic has a 50mm focal length and a fixed f/5.6 aperture, which should make it easier to get a decent amount of the image in focus, but limits your options for creating a really shallow depth of field.
The included lens is a multi-coated glass doublet design, similar to the $90 Double Glass Optic that Lensbaby sells, but that lens has a much faster maximum f/2 aperture. You can remove the included lens and use any Lensbaby Optic Swap module, but the company doesn’t recommend using the Sweet 35, Fisheye, or Edge 80 lenses as they are a bit too heavy for the Spark to properly support—you’ll want to move up to a Muse or Composer if you want to use one of these higher-end lenses. It is also compatible with all of Lensbaby’s 37mm threaded accessory filters, which include macro, wide-angle, and telephoto converters.
The images you get from the Spark are sharp in one spot, with the rest of the image giving way to blur. Portrait photographers can really make their subjects pop out from the background using this technique, and it’s also useful for drawing attention to a specific object or texture in a photo. If you’ve long been curious about the Lensbaby system, but hesitant to pay the high cost of entry, the Spark is a great product with which to start. If you find yourself using it regularly you can swap the optic out for one that better suits your vision—the Double Glass Optic will give you a similar look, but a shallower depth of field, and there are also Pinhole, Single Glass, Soft Focus, and Plastic lenses available—and if you don’t like it, your out of pocket costs aren’t that extreme.
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