Lensbaby Tilt Transformer and Composer

Over the past six years, the Lensbaby product line has evolved from a single lens developed by Craig Strong to produce a Holga-like look with a digital camera, to a full line of unique lenses and accessories. I’ve been a Lensbaby fan from the beginning (and still have my original Lensbaby) and have found that each addition to the Lensbaby line—like the new Composer/Tilt Transformer combo—makes it easier and more interesting to shoot creatively. But the bigger news is that this is the first Lensbaby that’s compatible with mirrorless cameras and the Tilt Transformer does double duty as a mount adapter (and tilt base) for Nikon lenses. Read Josh’s overall review of the Lensbaby system to find out more.

What is It?

As the name implies, this two-part kit consists of the Composer, a tiltable lens, and the Tilt Transformer, a mount that allows the Composer to be used with Micro Four Thirds cameras from Olympus and Panasonic or Sony NEX models. Even cooler is that the Tilt Transformer acts as an adapter so you can use—and tilt—Nikon lenses on the aforementioned mirrorless cameras.

If you want to use the Composer on a Micro Four Thirds or Sony NEX camera, you need the Tilt Transformer since none of the Lensbaby lenses are available with compatible mounts. If you already have a Composer with a Nikon mount, you can purchase the Tilt Transformer separately—the two work together seamlessly. However, the Composer that comes with the Tilt Transformer cannot be used on a Nikon camera (there’s no ball on the Composer so it doesn’t fit properly).

Also, if you have the new fisheye Scout with a Nikon mount, you can mount it on the Tilt Transformer and turn the Scout into a tiltable lens. The Scout is pretty cool on its own but it doesn’t bend or tilt, so pairing it with the Tilt Transformer adds another level of versatility.

Lensbaby Composer with Tilt Transformer for Olympus & Panasonic|Amazon|B0041D8G4O
Lensbaby Composer with Tilt Transformer for Sony NEX|Amazon|B0043EV292

Hands-on Test

The Composer/Tilt Transformer is really easy to use. All you have to do is remove the camera’s lens and replace it with the Tilt Transformer. Then mount the Composer on the Tilt Transformer. From there, use the Composer’s manual focus ring to find the sweet spot (the round area that you want in focus). Since the Tilt Transformer is based on a ball and socket design, the unit can be tilted/rotated to “move” the sweet spot from the center of your composition. The Tilt Transformer has a ring that can be used to lock in the position of the Composer so you don’t inadvertently move the Focus Front lens (i.e., the Composer).

To mount a Nikon lens, simply depress the release lever on the side of the Composer, rotate clockwise and remove. Then put the Nikon lens onto the Tilt Transformer just as you would change lenses on a DSLR. Use the lens’ manual focus ring to focus. The lens will work like a tilt/shift lens, producing a “slice” of focus versus the Composer’s round sweet spot.

To control aperture settings, use the Nikon lens’ aperture ring. If it’s a G-series lens and doesn’t have an aperture ring, depress the release lever and turn the lens counterclockwise to adjust the aperture. With both the Composer and the Tilt Transformer, the wider the aperture (i.e., f/1.8), the smaller the area that will be in focus. A set of interchangeable aperture discs and a tool to remove the discs comes with the kit. You might want to check out the Lensbaby Creative Aperture Kits that provide discs with shaped cut-outs to catch and reproduce specular highlights. The Creative Aperture Kit 2 contains 9 new discs—most of them designed by Lensbaby users. You can also buy some blank discs and cut out your own shapes if you want to experiment.

The Composer/Tilt Transformer is also compatible with almost all accessories and comes with the Double Glass Optic, which produces a sharper image than the other interchangeable optics. Also new from Lensbaby is a carrying case for your optics ($39.95 from the Lensbaby site).

Hands-on Test

I tested the Composer/Tilt Transformer with the Olympus E-PL1 camera, either set on Aperture Priority, Manual exposure mode and even Program AE. Attaching the two Lensbaby units was effortless. And since the E-PL1’s metering system worked with the Lensbaby, I had few problems finding the right exposure.

Perhaps the biggest challenge was focusing. It takes a little practice to get the small area of focus sharp, especially when using the camera’s LCD. I do have to blame some of this on the fact that I need new reading glasses and have become too dependent on autofocus, though. Still, be patient if it’s your first time using a Lensbaby.

Fortunately, the E-PL1 can enlarge a small portion of the image (just press the “zoom” button, which is normally used for zooming into images in playback) while you’re composing to get a close-up look at your focus area so you can fine-tune sharpness. This also works if you’re using the E-PL1’s accessory electronic viewfinder. Otherwise, using the Composer/Tilt Transformer is really quite simple and can produce beautiful images. I also really like being able to use (and tilt) my Nikon lenses on the E-PL1 with the Tilt Transformer. It’s a great combination for mirrorless camera users, especially those with a stash of Nikon lenses.

Of course, there are a couple of caveats about Lensbabies in general. The selective focus style is not for everyone nor is it appropriate for every type of image. And the products are relatively expensive. However, the Lensbaby “look” works especially well for flowers, close-ups, portraits and some landscapes/cityscapes. If you’re a wedding photographer or shoot fashion (particularly editorial vs. runway), creating some selective focus images with the Lensbaby may give you an extra edge with your clients.

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