A manual focus lens can make you a better photographer – forcing you to slow down and really enjoy the art of making a photograph. Shooting with the Trio 28 on the streets of Singapore pushed Debbie Soh to re-evaluate her creative process.

Dog laying in front of blue wall Debbie Soh with Trio 28 Lensbaby Creative Photography

Photography became my main hobby about 5 years ago and has stayed that way since then. I don’t think I have gone a full month without shooting a single thing – camera phone excluded. My first encounter with the Trio 28 was some time after chancing upon a photo online that was taken using a Petzval art lens. It had this swirly effect and interesting bokeh, which I personally find attractive. I knew I had to get myself that lens and experiment with it.

I decided to check online to see if Petzval had lenses for mirrorless camera users like myself – a pity they don’t have a line for mirrorless users! With an increasing number of photographers – amateurs, hobbyists, semi-pros and pros – using mirrorless cameras these days, I thought they would’ve catered to this group of users, too. In continuing my search for this (IMO) cool lens, I finally found myself browsing through the Lensbaby website, and was delighted to see they had the lens for mirrorless mounts. Better still, it’s 3-in-1, although I’d believe that most are into it for the Twist or Sweet effect. I ordered a Trio 28 for Fujifilm X mount. The lens arrived just over a week later, and I brought it out on a shoot that very weekend.

Gray and black Cat on tree branch in trees Debbie Soh Trio 28 Lensbaby Creative Photography

Man with camera on trail through the forest Debbie Soh Trio 28 Lensbaby Creative Photography

Fishermen on beach at sunset casting Debbie Soh Trio 28 Lensbaby Creative Photography

My immediate go-to was the Twist effect lens. It was difficult to get a nice, swirly background up close, though it produced a pleasant, creamy bokeh. The swirl effect to me is most prominent when the lens is focused at mid-distance. But of course, at the given focal length and as the name indicates, the Trio 28 is not a macro lens – what was I thinking? I just like pushing things a little sometimes. Furthermore, I shoot mainly street, and am comfortable (or used to) with 28mm/35mm/50mm.

Then, I tried the Sweet effect lens which I liked because it produced photos with smooth bokeh up close. I love the distorted circular bokeh that the lens creates when focused at mid-distance. Velvet produces creamy images which are soft and dreamy in natural light. For me, it’s the least used, but I’d think that it is wonderful in its own way.

Solitary fall leaf in empty road autumn Debbie Soh with Trio 28 Lensbaby Creative Photography

Yellow flowers green leaves Debbie Soh Trio 28 Lensbaby Creative Photography

With street photography being my primary focus, I found myself bringing the Trio 28 (attached to an X-T10) out more often, together with my X70 regularly, be it to the park or just shooting on the street. It is such a fun lens to shoot outdoors. It often gives me a carefree feeling, like there is no need to be overly serious and I can shoot anything that catches my attention, which is pretty much my style of shooting. 

While a fun lens to use, the Trio 28, like any other lens, has its own imperfections. As a fully manual lens, it is certainly not made for a point-and-shoot, fleeting moment. The sweet spot cannot be adjusted, so your images are always sharp at the center and they blur out (nicely) towards the edges, so you have to be careful in your composition – however, working with constraints is not at all bad. It forces you to step out of the norm, out of your comfort zone. Although, with sufficient anticipation, one could quickly focus and then take a picture when the moment comes. With some patience – an important virtue in photography – it is possible.

man woman and child in street Singapore black and white Debbie Soh Trio 28 Lensbaby Creative Photography

Singapore taxi stop taxi service street Debbie Soh Trio 28 Lensbaby Creative Photography

The lens borders on a pancake range: it’s not as bulky compared as many other DSLR and mirrorless lenses. The three lenses are made of glass, and actually feel pretty light. I’m not a flash person and love making use of natural lighting outdoors, so I shoot mostly in the day. While not the brightest lens, at f3.5 the Trio 28 still performs considerably well under a good amount of lighting. The Trio 28 would probably suit anyone itching to try out something different, any photographer who wants to take a breather from “standard, serious business” lenses to have a dose of fun. 

The Trio 28 has taught me patience when composing a shot. When using a lens that has autofocus, I used to snap away without paying much thought to the scene in-frame. While I did get nice shots by doing this, I also had to discard a good amount of photos which were unusable. I realized that I was also taking just enough photos so I could have stuff to post regularly on social media. Not that this is wrong, but I later realized I wasn’t exactly enjoying each moment to the fullest possible – talk about catching only a glimpse of an exceptionally beautiful sunset that lasted only a few minutes! When I was shooting with the Trio 28, somehow I was able to savor each moment more.

yellow flowers Debbie Soh with Trio 28 Lensbaby Creative Photography

cat ready to jump at dusk Debbie Soh Trio 28 Lensbaby Creative Photography

To see more of Debbie’s work, check out her website, Flickr and Instagram.

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