Stark Insider tests the Lensbaby Trio 28mm f/3.5 lens, a creative way to get into manual photography.
“See in a new way.”
Open the box and you’ll find a sticker that implores you to be creative. And with the Lensbaby Trio 28 lens it’s easy to do just that.
Named the “trio” for its rotating dial on the front of the lens with three different optical effects: Sweet, Twist and Velvet. You simply rotate the ring to select your effect of choice, then focus, and take your shot.
I’ve never used this kind of lens before — mine are of the garden variety collection of primes and zooms, used mostly for shooting Stark Insider videos. Lensbaby (yes, that’s the company’s name) sent me a Trio 28 with a Micro Four Thirds mount. I popped it on the new Panasonic GH5 mirrorless camera and gave it a go.
One thing to note up front is that this is a completely manual lens. There are no electronics involved. So there’s no communication between the camera and lens, meaning the camera has no idea about focus, the aperture, focal length, etc. You are completely on your own. Manual focus is the only way to go. And, as I discovered, that’s one of the fun things about shooting with this kind of lens. It’s old school, and forces you to get back to photographic basics.
Simple fold-out instructions with 5 steps and accompanying photos are included to get you started.
It’s easy enough. You just attach the lens and put your camera in “A” mode (Aperture Priority). The Trio 28 is a fixed f-stop lens, and shoots everything at f/3.5. The camera will automatically vary the shutter speed automatically to achieve correct exposure. This won’t be ideal for low light situations. For every day, casual shooting, though, it works out just fine.
You can see the sample shots I took below with the Trio 28 and Panasonic GH5 camera. Some our slightly out of focus, where I missed the mark slightly, and/or the respective effect kicks in to soften and add artistic effect to the image. Tip: make sure your camera has a “focus peaking” feature to help with manual focus precision.
After bringing the shots into Lightroom, and spending some time taking a look, I realized I couldn’t really see much difference among the three effects. Still, I was impressed with the overall quality, especially given this lens (or lenses) costs only $270 (USD) — relatively low cost by today’s standards.
The big question, though, is do you really need effects in the lens itself where you could achieve similar effects (with far more choice) in-camera, or later when uploading photos to social networks like Instagram, Twitter and Facebook?
It might be better to put the money towards a normal lens. Then do all the effects processing later. That way you’d still have the photo as taken in its original state.
- Manual focus lens with 28mm focal length
- Aperture: fixed f/3.5
- 3 Optics for 3 effects – Twist, Velvet, Sweet Spot
- Minimum focus distance: 8”
- Maximum focusing distance: Infinity
- Available in 3 mounts: Fuji X, Sony E, Micro Four Thirds
- Price: $279 (USD)
I think the real potential value of a lens like the Lensbaby Trio 28, is its manual nature. It’s perhaps the perfect segue into manual-operated photography. Give this to someone and they’ll quickly learn what it means to shift their camera — be it a Olympus or Panasonic Micro Four Thirds, a Fufji X-based system or a Sony E-mount — out of Automatic mode. The user should soon grasp the concepts of the “P/A/S/M” modes given enough time and practice. Plus, learning how to manually focus lens opens up lots of creative potential and framing opportunity (as not demonstrated in my sample photos below, sadly lacking in skill). So consider this a gateway lens. A stepping stone to learning more about the principles of photography and the joys that can come from digging deeper into the craft.
Overall I think this is a fun little lens. It’s lightweight, the focus ring is smooth and works well. I’m not convinced I see a lot of difference between the various effects, be it Sweet, Twist or Velvet. Nevertheless the images pop with color, and the ones with light, especially, can achieve a really creative, interesting look.
The Lensbaby Trio 28 costs $279 (available on Amazon) and is available for Sony E, Fuji X and Micro 4/3 mounts.
IN PHOTOS: Test Shots Taken with the Lensbaby Trio 28
Photos taken with Panasonic Lumix GH5 mirrorless camera and Micro 4/3 version of the Lensbaby Trio 28 lens.