Lensbaby Spark review

Lensbaby Spark

The Lensbaby Spark is a wacky little lens and totally different to any I have used before. No real focusing and a fixed aperture, and designed to make you think outside the box, I was keen to see what this little plastic beauty had to offer.

Key features

  • 50mm focal length (approx. 75mm on DX/cropped sensors)
  • Fixed f/5.6 aperture
  • Multi-coated glass doublet lens
  • Manual focus only (no communication between the camera body and lens)
  • Available for Canon and Nikon mount DSLRs
  • Focusing range: approximately 13” (33 cm) to infinity

The key feature of the lens is its ability to create abstract bokeh effects with selective focus, which can result in some truly weird and wonderful photographs. It's fun to play with and cheap, and while it probably won't be your standard photographic instrument, for certain assignments (and obviously for fun) it's still a useful photographic tool.

Looking at the specifications it doesn't seem to be a very feature-rich piece of kit, but this is the whole point: it really makes you think about how you can be creative without relying on all of the automatic features we're all used to.

Lensbaby Optics

The Lensbaby Spark can be used in conjunction with other lenses within the Lensbaby Optics Swap system, such as the three above. The front of the lens has a built-in 37mm thread that allows these to be screwed on, and these include wideangle and macro options to broaden their suitability across a range of genres.

Design and handling

The design of the Lensbaby Spark is very simple: it's just one squeezable tube between a rear camera mount and a front optical element. The Lensbaby Spark is made from quality plastic, which makes it extremely light and durable. Of course, one of the major benefits of its light weight is that is that you can bring it along wherever you go without it being a burden, reaching for it whenever the creative urge strikes!

Lensbaby review 1

In the hand, the Spark feels reassuringly solid and it will certainly last for a good few years (particularly when you consider that, for many, this is unlikely to be their everyday optic of choice). The quality construction also extends to the included accessories, with the front and rear caps both being well designed - always nice to see at this price point.

Overall, I really like the design of the Lensbaby Spark. As a bit of a gadget fan (what photographer isn't?) I love the quirky appearance and overall look. Simple and effective as a photographic tool, it looks great and is fun to use. As a gadget, it scores top marks!

Performance

Lensbaby review

The Lensbaby Spark takes a little getting used to, as it's operates very differently to conventional lenses. Learning how to focus takes some time, but after a while it becomes second nature. I must admit that, to begin with, I found focusing a bit of a struggle; holding the lens down and keeping it locked on whilst shooting wasn't the easiest. I kept getting the right effect but for subjects on which I didn't intend to focus!

With perseverance I started to improve my hit rate, and soon it was simply a case of squeeze and shoot. The large surround on the front provides a firm grip for your fingers to squeeze the lens, in order to bring your intended subject into focus. Holding the camera and lens in this way proved comfortable, with little in the way of strain.

Lensbaby review

When using the Lensbaby Spark you have to meter manually; trusting your camera generally will not work so you need to go back to old fashioned methods. If you haven't heard of the Sunny 16th rule then read about it here so it becomes familiar (essentially, on a sunny day shoot at ISO 100, f16, 1/125 sec and compensate for any changes). With a little practice and experience, estimating exposures with the Lensbaby can become quite simple. In my testing I did find that I preferred to use higher ISO’s, so that I could use higher shutter speeds (around 1/320- 1/500sec) as these produced a greater number of keepers.

Lensbaby review

Verdict

Considering its intended use, the Lensbaby Spark is built well and performs very well. You can use it to create some stunning artistic images, using selective focusing to emphasize certain sections of a frame. Using it out in the field I found it enjoyable to shoot with, and a totally different experience to the types of lenses I am used to. Every image comes out looking different and producing two that look the same is a near impossibility.

In terms of usefulness as a photographic tool, it will never have the same weight (in photographic terms) as a standard lens. The fixed aperture, focal length and focusing all limit its ability to produce standard images, but if you're looking to buy one of these that's not what you want it for. It's for fun and creativity and it's highly enjoyable to use. A tool like this, which not only makes you think differently about how you shoot but also helps you to produce images you wouldn't be able to get otherwise, is worth considering if you're looking to step out of your photographic comfort zone.

Pros

  • Artistic effects
  • High-quality construction
  • Cheap
  • Very fun to use

Cons

  • Limited to one effect (without the additional optics)
  • Focus takes a little getting used to
  • Manual metering only
  • Can become a little addictive

Specifications

  • Focal Length: 50mm (75mm on DX/cropped sensors)
  • Aperture: fixed f/5.6
  • Optic: multi-coated glass doublet
  • Manual focus only (no communication between the camera body and lens)
  • Available for Canon and Nikon mount DSLRs
  • Focusing range: approximately 13” (33 cm) to infinity

About the Author

Tom Mason is an up and coming wildlife and nature photographer based in Hertfordshire where he frequently visits a number of local nature reserves including Rye Meads and Amwell. You can see more of his work on his blog.

 

Related links

Lensbaby Sweet Spot

A triplet of lensbabies