Lensbaby’s new Sol lens makes quirky images

Lensbaby lenses are known for being, well, weird, and the new Sol lens may be one of the weirdest yet. The Sol, which is available starting today for $199.95, is available in a 45mm focal length for Canon EF, Nikon F, Sony A, Pentax K, Sony E, and Fuji X mounts, and a 22mm version for Micro Four Thirds.

The Sol is a fully manual, fixed aperture (f/3.5) lens with some unique characteristics. Its fully manual operation, medium to longer focal length, and relatively slow aperture make its use cases rather limited — it’s basically a lens for portraits in good to great lighting, especially if you’re using it on a camera with an APS-C sized sensor instead of full frame.

But what makes it a Lensbaby is the Sol’s ability to move the point of focus around the frame, so you can have a small circle of sharp focus anywhere you want that rapidly deteriorates into blur around it. It also has manually adjustable blades that can be positioned in front of the lens to alter the characteristics of the blurred background and add texture to it. It’s a unique effect that I haven’t seen reproduced by other lenses before, and the Sol’s solid metal construction with a knurled focus ring make it easier to pick up and shoot with than the company’s earlier, mostly plastic lenses.

The Sol’s adjustable bokeh blades in open and closed positions.
Photo by Dan Seifert / The Verge and Photo by Dan Seifert / The Verge

Shooting with the Sol on a Fujifilm X-Pro2 for a few weeks has allowed me to learn what the lens is good for and what it’s not good for. Basically, the Sol’s narrow field of view (the Fujifilm has an APS-C sized sensor) and slow aperture makes it difficult to use indoors in poor lighting, and it can be tricky to nail the manual focus every time. But outdoors in good lighting, it’s much easier (it’s also good to enable your camera’s manual focus aids, such as focus peaking, if it has them) and can make for some fun portrait effects.

It’s not something that everyone will like — the small area of focus isn’t as tack-sharp as a modern portrait lens and the bokeh blades’ effect is most noticeable with busy backgrounds, where they mostly just make it… busier. It doesn’t replace a standard portrait or zoom lens in any way as it’s not something that works for every image.

But as a cheap lens to toss in your bag for when you need to add just that touch of weird to make an image sing, the Sol is about as good as it gets.

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