Lensbaby has been producing creative art lenses since the company was established in 2004. They have since released a number of different products for both SLR and Mirrorless camera bodies, as well as mobile smartphones. Recently, Lensbaby released the ‘Creative Mobile Kit’ which features two unique lenses: the LM-20 and LM-30. Today, we are taking a look at the kit to see if it truly delivers on its creative promises.
Depending on the smartphone you are using, there are different mounting options available for the lenses. Owners of Apple’s iPhone 6 will receive a specially designed mounting bracket that can be attached and detached at any time. Owners of older Apple iPhones or Android devices will receive a set of small adhesive steel rings that fit around the device’s camera; these rings can be removed if needed but are not designed to be constantly swapped out.
We are testing the Lensbaby Creative Mobile kit with an Apple iPhone 6, so we received the mounting bracket for our review. The bracket is made completely from green plastic with the addition of a small metal plate for the lenses to attach magnetically. We found it extremely easy to mount the device when needed and remove when we were finished taking photographs. The design ensures the bracket stays secure without any worry of it detaching.
Before we get to the main attractions of our review, we also want to note that the kit includes a small kickstand in the box. The kickstand slides into the bracket and is secured to the mount via magnets; it can be rotated for different viewing angles, but is best used with the device in landscape. It is worth pointing out that the kickstand mounts over the camera, so you cannot use the kickstand and the creative lenses at the same time.
Digging deeper into the kit, you will find the true treasure: the LM-20 and LM-30 Lensbaby lenses. Each lens features a metal exterior and glass optics. Included with the kit are two lens cap sets that allow you to protect the glass when not in use. I found them handy when carrying around the set in my pocket. Each lens also has a unique etching in their exterior metal, so that you can differentiate between them without needing to look.
Let’s begin with the LM-20. The more subtle of the two lenses, Lensbaby’s LM-20 is advertised as giving “you a large sweet spot of focus surrounded by gradually increasing blur.” We found the LM-20 fun to shoot with and the more practical of the two lenses. The designated sweet spot was a bit difficult to find at times, and as you will see below, many of our images do appear soft and muddy in the center. However, when our device and the lens were able to work together effectively, we were able to produce some interesting results. For the full resolution images, be sure to visit our Flickr page by clicking here.
We believe the LM-20 could make for some interesting portrait or landscape shots when handled correctly. It is worth noting that due to the lens’ design, it is extremely prone to lens flare around the edges, but the flare itself can introduce some interesting visuals. The effect produced by the LM-20 is almost reminiscent of a science fiction spacecraft hitting light speed.
The LM-30 is a different beast altogether. Lensbaby describes the LM-30 as having “a sharp centered image surrounded by reflections.” We found the effect produced similarly to that of kaleidoscopes from our childhood. Unlike the LM-20, the LM-30 does, in fact, have a very sharp center of focus that produces quite crisp results. The surrounding edges can only be described as a trippy effect.
While fun and exciting, it was more difficult for us to find practical applications for the LM-30 and its ‘effect’ quickly went from being fun to overexerted. Of course, creative art lenses truly come alive in the hands of people who have a specific use for them, so it is possible that we simply couldn’t get in touch with our inner kaleidoscope artist.
Lensbaby also produces an application for both iOS and Android smartphones. The app, Lensbaby Mobile, allows shooters to move the sweet spot of focus around the frame while adjusting exposure, grid outlines, image orientation, metering modes, and sharpness. The Android variation of the application also includes a few filters including warm/contrast, monochrome, and sepia.
During our testing, we used both the Lensbaby Mobile application and the iPhone’s default camera. We found the real-time sharpening effect to be quite interesting, but overall we didn’t favor the Lensbaby app. The iPhone camera app was able to handle all of our needs and was quicker to access from the lock screen when needed.
At first, we thought our LM-20 lens may be appearing soft because of special processing needed within Lensbaby Mobile, but testing showed both the official application and Apple’s built-in camera app returned the same rate of softness within images.
Overall, we quite enjoyed using the Lensbaby Creative Mobile Kit. While we found the LM-30 to be a bit gimmicky in our hands, it performed as promised. Anyone looking to utilize its effect should be very happy. On the other hand, we have mixed feelings about the LM-20: we truly loved its effect but found ourselves with muddy photos. If you want to truly harness the LM-20, we recommend taking a photograph then chimping to make sure everything you want in focus is indeed sharp.
The Creative Mobile Kit retails for $90, and we would recommend ensuring that you want both the LM-20 and LM-30 lenses before purchasing. If you find interest in just the LM-20, you can currently pick up Lensbaby’s LM-10, a slightly larger mobile sweet spot lens, for $60. Unfortunately, the company does not currently offer the two Creative Kit lenses separately, so until then you must purchase the entire kit if you desire either the LM-20 or LM-30.