Lensbaby was so kind to send me their newest lens, the Edge 35, to give it a good test run! Here's a little write-up on what you can do with that little tilt-shift-like 'elephant trunk' lens, as I call it, how it handles different situations, and what is so special about it.
I started using Lensbaby lenses in 2006 and always loved that these little lenses enable you to create something different. I own several swap optics for their Optic Swap System and am pretty obsessed with their latest stand-alone lenses, especially the Burnside 35 and the Sol 45.
When Lensbaby contacted me and asked me if I want to give the new Edge 35 a good test run, I was so happy! First of all surely feeling very honoured to have Lensbaby giving me the chance to get my hands on this lens early, and secondly for having a second go at an Edge lens. Years ago I got the Edge80, and I must admit I didn't really come to terms with it. Nowadays with my Fuji mirrorless cameras which show directly how the end product will look like regarding exposure etc. I have much more control, and so I thought I would do much better this time. Also, 35 mm on APS-C is in my opinion an awesome focal length that in the past year I started to really like also for landscape pictures, my main subject.
What does the Edge 35 look and feel like?
The Edge 35 is one of the Optic Swap lenses, which means that you will need a Composer housing for your camera type to use it. I used mine with the Composer Pro on my beloved Fuji X-T20.
Lens and Composer weigh around 430 g (13.6 oz, as Keri from Lensbaby tells me). The optic protrudes 4 cm from the composer and can be tilted around in any direction (hence me referring to it as my little elephant trunk!). The nicely clickable aperture starts at 3.5 and goes up to 22. Focusing is done by turning the upper ring (further away from the camera) of the Composer and is very smooth. From time to time I had to tighten up the lower ring of the composer as the weight of the lens seems to loosen it a bit after a while and movement is a bit too loose. The lens comes with a metal lens cap that attaches and detaches easily, I have liked that a lot on my Burnside 35, too!
So, what's so special about it?
Most of you will have heard about the tilt-shift effect, that creates a sharp band of focus in your picture, with areas above and below this band being out of focus. It's also called the 'miniature effect' as it can make things rather look like toys in a miniature land than real. The Edge 35 can do just that, and more. The lens does bend, and you can move your band of focus wherever you want to, vertical, upright, diagonal through the picture. Not only the aperture will determine how visible the effect will be, the more you tilt the lens, the smaller the slice of focus will be. Also, think about it in a 3D way. You can have a slice of sharp focus in your picture that starts in the foreground and has sharp elements in the background, too. This is something you can't achieve easily in post. Let me throw some examples at you!
For testing the lens I used it a lot with a rather wide open aperture in order to single things out within the resulting slice of focus. At f/3.5 this slice of focus is really thin, so I preferred to use it at f/4 most of the times, sometimes 5.6, making things a bit easier. The more you close the aperture, the broader your band of focus will be.
Sharpness, picture quality and other features
What about the sharpness of the lens for the bits that are in focus? I find the sharpness quite good, and stopped down to f/8 or more the Edge 35 produces nicely overall sharp images.
Especially when shooting alternating with my Fuji lenses I noticed that the Edge 35 produces warmer colours than the Fuji lenses, what I liked (see also comparison with my Fuji 35/1.4 at the end of the post).
Regarding the colours and the slightly lower contrast compared to some other lenses I would say it is really easy to create pictures with a vintage feel. I am a fan of bold and strong colours, but when I had a go at enhancing that vintage feel in post I was more than happy with the results!
Bokeh and sun flares
When I saw the river Rhine glinting in the sun I knew that this is a good opportunity to have a look at the Edge 35's bokeh. It's pleasing and round! Tilting the lens will produce oval-shaped bokeh rings.
Like most other Lensbabies the Edge 35 also can turn pictures with the sun and reflections in them into little pieces of art, displaying a lot of rainbow colours. Make sure to tilt your Edge 35 when you have plenty of sun in front of you.
I'm being honest: The learning curve is steep. But don't give up too early! I had to take the Edge 35 on several outings until at one point it 'clicked' and I got it. From then on I knew what a tilt of the lens in different directions would do the picture and where the slice of focus would be. I think I will benefit from this lesson for using my other Lensbaby lenses that I use with the Composer. What I am doing now after having become comfortable with the Edge 35 is focusing on the spot that I want to be the main point of interest in the picture, then moving the lens to place the line of focus where I want it to be. Often I take three shots in which I move the camera just a tiny bit forward and backward to ensure that one of the pictures will have nailed the focus. I think that using a tripod would be good when out shooting with the Edge 35, but I am lazy plus prefer to pack light. Might try carrying one in the future though.
I also learned what situations I want to take the Edge out for. It is excellent for singling out something that would otherwise be lost in the flood of information contained in your image. On the other hand you can take the focus off things that you don't wanna be clearly visible in your picture, like a building in a landscape picture. Also, if you like to experiment with that band of focus, finding lines to display, you can do it with this lens. Plus I like playing with the sun when it is around in order to give the pictures a special touch.
How does it compare to other Lensbabies?
Have a look at the effects different Lensbabies have, pointing them at trees. The Edge 35 gives you a line of sharp focus in the picture that can be moved around to your liking, the Sol 45 creates sharp focus in the middle with blurry edges (here used with Bokeh blades), and with the Burnside 35 you can add swirly background and vignetting.
From left to right: Edge 35 — Sol 45 — Burnside 35
Here's another comparison, same scene with some minutes between the pictures. You can clearly see how the Edge 35 plays more with the light available than the Burnside 35:
Edge 35 — Burnside 35
Finally, a comparison of three different 35 mm lenses (Fuji 35/1.4, Burnside 35 and Edge 35), with the Edge 35 used straight and tilted, please check out the slide show below. I must say I was really astonished how 'flat' the Fuji 35/1.4 image seems compared to the Lensbaby ones!
Comparisons for the Edge 35 using different kinds of sensors can be found in the Lensbaby blog.
If you like to create something different, not only 'mainstream images' and to really explore a situation with your camera, the Edge 35 gives you plenty of chances to play and turn your images in little pieces of art. If you are not in the mood for it, simply stop the aperture down, get overall sharpness but still enjoy that the lens creates pictures with more depth and atmosphere than a normal lens. You have to take into account though that the learning curve is steep with much hit-and-miss in the beginning. I used it for landscape pictures but can see it also producing cool portrait pictures. I wouldn't recommend it for fast-moving subjects though, I certainly had trouble snapping running dogs ;) With the Edge 35 you have a lens that makes you stand out of the crowd not only by carrying a little 'elephant trunk' around but also by the pictures it produces.
I will now go and take my Edge 80 out — guess it deserves some playtime of its own now, and I think I will master it much better now after having played with its sibling.
I'm closing off my review with some of my dog-related hit-and-miss photos...