What is a Sweet Optic?
You need a Composer series lens in order to shoot with our Sweet Optics. These lenses will give you a round sweet spot of focus surrounded by blur. This is a great way to direct the viewer’s eye to a certain part of your photo and create a sense of movement.
If you’re just starting out, you need to decide which set-up you prefer. A Composer Pro II with Sweet 35mm f/2.5, Sweet 50mm f/2.5, or Sweet 80mm f/2.8 Optic installed. Whichever you choose for your specific camera system, you’ll have everything you need to get started. If you’re hooked and decide you want more, then you can snag another Optic. We’re just going to concentrate on the Sweet Optics here and give you all the info you need to start shooting. All Lensbaby lenses are manual and contain no electronics to communicate with your camera. You focus manually and set aperture manually on the Optic. Most cameras, however, WILL meter for you. With these lenses, you’ll set the aperture for the amount of blur you want, and you’ll use shutter speed and ISO to control your exposure.
Here’s how it works
Most optics have a flat field of focus. The Sweet Optics have a curved field. Imagine a cone of focus pointing out toward your subject. The point of the cone is sharp, and the rest of the cone falls away into blur.
Step 1 – How to Set Aperture (which will determine the size of your sweet spot of focus)
Aperture controls how large or small the spot of focus is and how much blur surrounds it. Adjust aperture manually by rotating the dial on the optic. Your camera will likely show F– or F00. The brighter your aperture, the more blur and the smaller the spot of focus. This is good for getting just eyes in focus. As you stop down to darker apertures, like f/5.6 or f/8, your area of focus gets larger and the amount of blur decreases. This is good for getting an entire face in focus.
Step 2 – How to Get a Good Exposure
Since you’ll be using aperture to determine the area of focus and amount of blur, use your shutter speed and ISO to get a good exposure. Most cameras WILL meter for you in either Aperture Priority or Manual mode. Some older Nikon cameras won’t, and you’ll need to do a little trial and error, looking at your LCD and histogram to determine a good exposure.
Step 3 – How to Focus
Rotate the front focus ring on on the Composer to bring the sweet spot into sharp focus. Start with your lens pointed straight ahead to get comfortable focusing the sweet spot. Set your aperture to f/4 or 5.6 so you get a good balance of brightness and size of sweet spot.
Step 4 – How to Move the Sweet Spot
Once you feel confident getting the center in focus, tilt a little to move the spot of focus. Tilt the lens in the direction you want your focus to be. Once you tilt, you will need to re-adjust your focus. Also, if the lens feels too tight or too loose when you tilt, adjust the tilt tension by turning the silver locking ring closest to the camera.
Keep in mind, if you are shooting on a crop sensor camera, a little tilt goes a long way – it is possible to tilt so far that the focus will be out of the range of your camera’s sensor.
Exercise 1: Find a patient friend, or use a vase of flowers or other still life object to practice on. Shoot a series of images at f/4 or 5.6 with the lens pointed straight ahead, focused in the center.
Exercise 2: Shoot that same series at each aperture setting to see how the area of focus changes and the blur increases or decreases.
Exercise 3: Shoot a similar setup but position your subject off center. Practice your tilting at f/4 or 5.6 to get a hang of how tilt affects the area of focus, and how tilting a little can go a long way.
Bonus: How to control how crazy your bokeh is
The bokeh created by the Sweet Optics can be subtle, or it can be intense. Here are a few variables to play with to experience the intensity of your bokeh.
- Monochrome backgrounds will produce subtle blur.
- Background with light and texture will produce the most intense bokeh.
- The more wide open (brighter aperture) you shoot, often the more intense the bokeh will be.
- The more extreme the tilt, the more likely (given that you have a background with texture) you’ll get intense bokeh.
- Sweet 35 can be the most intense because it’s got the widest focal length and you can fit so much in the frame to get picked up by that stretchy blur.
Additional Tips & Extras
- As with all Lensbaby lenses, it can be helpful to bracket your focus. Take a shot where it looks sharp, then rotate the focus ring a tiny bit back and forth and take a few more shots – chances are at least one of those shots will be in focus.
- Use live view to confirm your focus – just zoom in to the center of the image, adjust your focus and shoot. Or, if you have a camera with focus confirmation or focus peaking, take advantage of this in-camera assist.
- Sweet 80 Optic has a built-in close focus extender – simply grip the middle of the optic and pull forward to focus a few inches closer. Just remember to push it back in to focus further away.