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© Ute Reckhorn

© Ute Reckhorn

Lensbaby: The Very Beginning, Part 2

  • 3 min read

Lensbaby History - Part 2

Craig Strong, Lensbaby Chief Creative Officer & Co-Founder, reflects on the story behind the very first Lensbaby lens. Craig's creative, outside-the-box approach to photography has resulted in unique tools for photographers all over the world.

This post is part 2 of a story that Craig Strong originally posted in the Lensbaby Unplugged Facebook Group. If you'd like to read part 1, you can find it on our blog.

Lensbaby started very DIY and almost stayed that way. In our museum at Lensbaby Headquarters, there are a couple of early Lensbabies that might have defined what we were capable of making but, in the end, didn't.
Original Lensbaby lens photo lens homemade experimental tilting lens Craig Strong about Lensbaby beginning

After making that first bendable, hacked together lens back in 2002, I took it and a box of similar lenses to three of Kevin Kubota's workshops over the course of eight months.

There was a lot of enthusiasm and those first beta testers were making some incredible images, so I started thinking this was more than just for me and that I should find someone to help offer Lensbabies to the world.

Enter Sam Pardue, who took this project seriously when I doubt any other business person on the planet with an MBA would have. Sam did some research with a dozen or so beta testers and decided it was worth a go.

We each put $5K in. Sam agreed to put a website together, and I agreed to make a product we could sell. Sam's recollection is different on the $$ side of things and I think he's probably right, see discussion in Lensbaby Unplugged.

Problem was, I was a photographer not a manufacturer. In the interest of making something repeatable (all my prototypes had been made with random optics, most of them off 120 folding cameras I bought on ebay) I used my best thinking and:
1. Found a supply of cheap eye-loupes from India that fit perfectly into the Shop-Vac hose
2. Bought body caps that a friend cut holes into on his lathe
3. Had apertures and the focus collar waterjet cut at a local plastics supplier
4. Had a metal stamp made to hot-emboss LENSBABIES.COM on the collar with white foil

The eye loupes were all different focal lengths (the two in the photograph above were ~50mm and ~70mm) so I bought an old-world optical bench for $600 to figure out which ones were about 50mm (>50% were not).

These lenses had a fixed f/5.6 aperture and made amazing images -- See image below from Red Square in Moscow that I made a few days after Lensbabies LLC came into being.

We started selling these hacked-together creations for $69 on our website. See a view of the 2004 Lensbaby website.

A couple weeks in, I got a package with a lens and a note in it. The note -- I wish I still had it -- read something like, "I took this out of the box, put it on my camera, didn't take any pictures with it, put it back in the box. I want my money back."

"He didn't take any pictures with it so, of course, he wants his money back," I thought.

After reading that note, I knew I needed a product that did more than enable the photographer to make unique pictures, it had to be worthy of the rest of a photographer's gear. The lenses we were selling were not up to snuff, and I had no idea how to make what I knew I needed to make...

To be continued.

Learn more about Lensbaby.