Lensbaby History - Part 4
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.
The Original Lensbaby aperture was to be fixed at f/5.6 Eleven days before the 2004 WPPI trade show, that changed to a variable aperture starting at f/2.5.
It was frustrating to sell such a dark lens but in my mind the aperture belonged behind the glass not in front of it, and f/5.6 gave the most desirable all-around look to the final images.
Swapping apertures from the back of the lens meant they could fall into the camera's mirror box if they came out accidentally, so a fixed aperture was the only option.
Less than two weeks before the very first Lensbaby needed to be ready to sell, I woke up at 3 in the morning with the thought: "If the aperture were in front of the lens the photographer could swap aperture disks, and if they fall out nothing expensive breaks!"
As simple as this thought seems now, it was a huge shift in thinking.
I'd never shot a simple lens with an aperture in front. I spent the next couple hours, with no daylight to test a front aperture, searching Yahoo for examples of lenses with apertures in front of their optics.
I found nothing.
While obsessing over whether this would work and how Id pull it off if it did work, I pulled apart my nearly final Lensbaby prototype, removed the optic and put the f/5.6 aperture in front of the glass.
My daughter, Eugenia, and our dog, Ellie, were the first up that morning and they became the subjects of the first set of images made with a Lensbaby that had the aperture in front of the glass.
A couple days later, 11 days before we launched the Original Lensbaby, I had:
1. switched the manufacturer of our metal f/5.6 aperture over to making plastic f/4, 5.6 and 8 apertures (not the ones pictured, apertures from that first batch were matte on one side, shiny on the other and perfectly flat. If you have those, they are from the very first batch. They're so rare we don't have any left at all)
2. ordered O-rings that would hold the plastic apertures down inside the front of the lens (and, by themselves stop the lens down to f/2.????
3. ordered plastic picks cut from a square acrylic rod that could (barely) pry that big thick o-ring out to give you access to the aperture rings beneath
4. found a way to keep them all together (a simple keychain)
5. convinced Sam that this was a good idea
If you've ever manufactured a product, you know that last minute changes are usually a very bad idea.
This time, the changes worked and changed the Lensbaby look from one thing to a whole range of options as each aperture allowed users to make an image with its own unique look and feel.