- Well made
- Creative possibilities
- Unusual bokeh
- Good central sharpness
- Needs working at to get best results
- Poor as a general purpose lens
- Some odd flare effects
Lensbaby are already well known for producing unique and interesting lens designs, bringing new creative possibilities and stretching our imaginations. The very antithesis of the general search for overall sharpness. The new Burnside 35 lens is an unusually wide Petzval based design with its distant origins in Voigtlander’s revolutionary design from 1840. The Petzval lens is characterised by much faster (brighter) optics in relation to its day (exposure times for portraits could be reduced to less than one minute for the first time) but at the penalty of a restricted field of view outside of which field curvature and vignetting overwhelm the image. However take that concept and make it the raison d’etre of the lens……and let’s see where that journey takes us.
Handling and Features
Mounted on the Canon EOS 5DS R used for this review, the Lensbaby looks very much the part, weighing in at 375g or 13.20 ounces. Quality of finish is generally good. There is a 62mm filter thread and within this the front element of the lens is very deeply recessed, forming in effect its own lens hood. The manual focus ring is smooth in operation but quite firm, certainly when new, and a small amount of rotational play can be felt in the lens/mount interface. This will not affect the image in any way of course.
Moving closer to the mount, there is the vignette control and as is sometimes the case the opportunity to add a depth of field scale has been missed. This is a pity as there is plenty of room for such a scale and it can be useful.
Closest to the camera is the aperture ring, light in operation and with a non-linear spacing. The gap between the aperture settings becomes much less as we approach f/16. The ring is quite lightly made, although to be fair the click stops are just the right tension, being positive without being too firm.
This is a fully manual, manual focus lens, so there are no electronic contacts between lens and camera. The Canon EOS 5DS R worked very well using Av mode and metering was generally accurate. The aperture stays at the value set, the diaphragm having 6 blades. There is a secondary 8 bladed internal aperture for effect enhancement and vignette control. This is adjusted by the gold coloured lever on the lens and offers four settings from no vignette to maximum vignette.
Focusing is down to 6 inches (15.24cm), measured from the front of the lens. The optical design offers full frame coverage, using 6 elements in 4 groups. The optics are multi-coated.
A wide range of mounts is available, including Sony E, MFT, Canon EF, Nikon F, Pentax K, Samsung NX, Fuji X and Sony A.
To obtain the maximum “swirly bokeh” effect the instructions indicate that the main subject should be within 3 feet of the lens and the background 12 feet or more away. Add to this the four vignetting options, plus different effects using full frame or crop sensor cameras, plus of course different subject matter, and we have a vast array of creative options to explore. Some photographers will revel in this and grasp those possibilities, others may see just a rather muddy image outside a tolerably sharp central area. The Petzval inheritance would normally be directed at a short telephoto design for portraiture, but here again we have a new option with 35mm being a “wide standard” lens on full frame cameras and a “standard” lens on APS-C. The effect on MFT would be similar to a short telephoto, approaching more the idea of the Petzval portrait lens.
Handling of the lens is absolutely fine, with no issues at all. The skill will be in identifying the right sort of subject matter and then exploring in depth the myriad possibilities that various settings and distances demand.
Performance here is largely irrelevant, but in conventional terms of sharpness the centre of the image is good from f/2.8 to f/5.6 and very good from f/8 to f/16. The edges have no concept of sharpness throughout the range of apertures, falling as expected into the abyss of field curvature and vignetting. Which of course is what the lens design is all about.
Lensbaby Burnside 35mm MTF Charts
How to read our MTF charts The blue column represents readings from the centre of the picture frame at the various apertures and the green is from the edges. The scale on the left side is an indication of actual image resolution as LW/PH and is described in detail above. The taller the column, the better the lens performance. For this review, the lens was tested on a Canon EOS 5DS R using Imatest.
Central CA (Chromatic Aberration) is closely controlled centrally but becomes more evident at the edges. However, in the general melee of aberrations this becomes largely lost.
Lensbaby Burnside 35mm Chromatic Aberration Charts
How to read our CA charts Chromatic aberration (CA) is the lens' inability to focus on the sensor or film all colours of visible light at the same point. Severe chromatic aberration gives a noticeable fringing or a halo effect around sharp edges within the picture. It can be cured in software. Apochromatic lenses have special lens elements (aspheric, extra-low dispersion etc) to minimize the problem, hence they usually cost more. For this review, the lens was tested on a Canon EOS 5DS R using Imatest.
Distortion likewise is hardly the point, but it does measure at -1.91% barrel, a reasonable figure that is unlikely to be an issue in the context of the lens design in general.
Flare is somewhat odd, being generally quite well suppressed, but at certain angles becoming a multi-coloured patchwork in the darkest shadow areas.
Bokeh is of course at the core essence of the lens and as such is very distinctive and highly variable depending on subject, distances and lens control settings. It’s all about the final effect and the performance is geared towards creative use in a way that largely defies the bald measurements.
Lensbaby Burnside 35mm Sample Photos
At F8 No Vingette | 1/800 sec | f/8 | 35.0 mm | ISO 200
At F8 Vignette Level 3 | 1/800 sec | f/8 | 35.0 mm | ISO 200
Close Up Decay | 1/50 sec | 35.0 mm | ISO 100
Orchard | 1/1000 sec | 35.0 mm | ISO 200
Portrait No Vignette | 1/4000 sec | 35.0 mm | ISO 200
Portrait Vignette Level 3 | 1/2000 sec | 35.0 mm | ISO 200
Lensbaby Burnside 35mm Aperture range
Bokeh At F2,8 | 1/320 sec | f/0 | 0.0 mm | ISO 200
Bokeh At F5,6 | 1/80 sec | f/0 | 0.0 mm | ISO 200
Bokeh At F11 | 1/20 sec | f/11 | 35.0 mm | ISO 200
Bokeh At F16 | 1/10 sec | f/0 | 0.0 mm | ISO 200
Value For Money
The Lensbaby Burnside 35 lens is priced at £399/$543 and is of course one of a kind. There are other Lensbaby creative lenses and also many other optics exploring areas other than sharpness, but all have their own individual signatures.
From perhaps the body mount lenses from Pentax, under £50/$68, for the Q range and also from Olympus, to the £459/$625 Lomography Petzval 85mm Art lens there is no shortage of individualistic lenses to try.
Against this backdrop, those looking for a 35mm lens of a general nature will likely find the Lensbaby very poor value. Those looking for a creative tool to make very specific styles of images may well find this is exactly what they need. At this point general concepts of VFM do really start to break down and opinions could be quite polarised.
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You have a concept, you want to explore it and create unique images, and if this lens fits that situation then the choice is very clear. To just dabble it could be considered quite pricey and maybe a short term option that soon gets moved on.
It needs care. Images can end up looking bland and muddy. On the other hand, with skill and perseverance some very amazing shots could emerge from the creative process. Not every shot needs to be ultra-sharp all over to be a success.