Lensbaby Sol

It’s not the first or even the second lens you should buy for your DSLR or mirrorless camera, but the Lensbaby Sol is an affordable(ish), gimmicky lens that’s fun to shoot, and can yield surprising results.

The Sol produces a small circle of sharp focus—though you’ll have to spin the focus ring manually, as there’s no autofocus here—surrounded by psychedelic and increasingly distorted blur. You can even tilt the front of the lens in any direction to change the focus spot’s location in your frame, or lock it to the center if you want to keep things simple.

The entire lens tilts to adjust your focus point within the frame
Photo: Lensbaby

On the front of the lens, you can also fold down two plastic “bokeh blades” to sit in front of the optics, adding some more texture to your blur. In my testing, the difference was subtle enough that I usually didn’t bother using them, but it can be fun to play around with different combinations to get the right shot, if you have time.

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By now, you’re probably clenching your fists and screaming at your computer, “just use filters!” And you’re right, you could, with the right software, probably achieve a similar look. But I don’t think it would be as straightforward as you might think. Take a look at this shot I got at the U.S. Open with my micro four thirds Olympus:

Photo: Shep McAllister

Granted, I’m not a professional photographer or photo editor by any means, but I know that achieving this look would be more involved than clicking a button and dragging a few sliders. Check out the way the lines in the corner of the court almost look like double vision:

Photo: Shep McAllister

That’s generally not how computer-generated blur behaves. You may like it, you may not, but it is a unique aesthetic.

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Ditto these trees I shot at Outpost. The way the distortion increases towards the edge of the shot is a great effect:

Photo: Shep McAllister

But anyway, the point of this lens is not to create the most accurate images, or even photos that couldn’t be replicated through skilled software editing. The point of this lens is to have fun! At $200, it’s cheap (at least as far as lenses go) and small, and anyone who enjoys shooting as a hobby should have a blast finding new and unique ways to use it.