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Urban Safari: Lensbaby in NYC

We took a FirstLook of the Lensbaby Edge 80 Optic last week and were eager to give it a FirstUse workout. Since we were heading to NYC for an event, we thought we would bring it along and see how it handled as a “street” lens. For us, “street photography” is about responding to the unstaged and unplanned scenes that unfold around us just by being out and about. Speed and flexibility are the two key things we want in our gear for those situations. It is why when we are shooting in the streets we do it with the Nikkor 50mm f1.8 lens. We like the Nikkor because it is light, fast, and gives us good depth-of-field control.

After this weekend’s experience, we were blown away by the performance of the Lensbaby Composer Pro with the Edge 80 Optic. It is likely that it will replace the Nikkor 50mm and become our lens of choice for street photography! While the Edge 80 Optic is not as fast as the Nikkor 50mm, the Lensbaby’s focus control enabled us to be so much more expressive, which allowed us to get so many more interesting shots. We have picked a few representative samples to show you what we mean. Take a look and see if you agree. Click on any of the images for a larger version.

The Lensbaby is a completely manual lens. That means no autofocus, and that both shutter speed and aperture must be set manually. The new feature of the Edge 80 Optic is that it has an adjustable aperture. This allows the photographer to easily change the depth of field while precisely controlling the location of the focus. We took advantage of the train ride into the city as an opportunity to get familiar with placing the focus sweet spot where we want it (shallow leftmiddledeeper left). Those who are accustomed to full-auto DSLRs may find it a bit confusing at first, but those who are familiar with shooting in manual mode should not have a problem learning how to handling the Lensbaby.

Our first stop was Rockefeller Center. We thought all the flagsfountain, and skaterswould provide ample selective focus opportunities. Being able to precisely control where to place the focus was so much more engaging for the photographer. It not only lets the photographer think about the scene as a whole, but also enables the photographer to bring the viewer’s attention to something specific. We played with that capability a lot while shooting various scenes of the skating rink.

Street photography is opportunistic. It is training oneself to look, recognize, and shoot when opportunities present themselves. Of course, sometimes the opportunities hit you over the head. Still, even then, the equipment you are using must be responsive enough such that you can get the shots. No posing, no second chances.

When we spotted a couple crossing Fifth Avenue on their way to the church (groombridebouquet) we only had time to fire off a few shots but got what we wanted. The Lensbaby felt so natural to use that we didn’t even think about it. We just composed and shot, composed and shot, composed and shot. It was only afterwards that we realized how comfortable we were with the Lensbaby Composer Pro/Edge 80 combo.

Walking further down Fifth Avenue, we stopped at the newly renovated Apple Store to see if it offered any street photography moments. What struck us immediately was the constant stream of people flowing into and out of the store. We wanted to see if we could capture that crowded feeling.

Once again, the Edge 80 enabled us to play with the depth of field and the Composer Pro gave us the control over the location (leftright) of the focus. The combination proved to be an expressive tool. By changing the focus (nearfar) in the image, we were able to capture a variety of feelings to tell a story.

After we had our fill of the opportunities at the Apple Store, we decided to take the subway down to the Brooklyn Bridge and give that a go. With the ability to tilt the lens, shooting scenes far away from a high vantage point give a miniature effect to the subject in the photos. This was exactly what we had hoped to be able to achieve shooting from the Brooklyn Bridge.

We cannot be more enthusiastic about the Lensbaby Composer Pro and Edge 80 Optic, especially for anyone interested in creative and expressive photography. Those not used to shooting in full-manual mode may find it challenging at first, but once mastered, we think this Lensbaby combo will offer such rewarding experiences that you may find yourself looking for more and more opportunities to use it. Now that we have had a taste of what it can do, we know we certainly will!

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