28 July 2013

Enjoying The Past

Photography hasn't always been like it is today. In the beginning cameras didn't have lenses but just a very small pinhole to grab the light. As an enhancement the zoneplate got invented. Today you can enjoy the glowing effects of this ancient technology by putting the Lensbaby Zoneplate Optic into your lens body of choice. As there's no sweet spot with the zoneplate optic you may use pretty much any body, but using the non-lockable bodies like the Muse, or the Control Freak needs a lot of light to prevent from motion blur at f/45. 

How dark is f/45?

Small Creek at f/45 - 20 seconds - ISO200
Lensbaby Inc. rates the Zoneplate f/19, but that's way off according to my metering. I shoot the Zoneplate optic at a more reasonable f/45, and this fits me quite well. However, f/45 is pretty dark. In dark scenes you can't see pretty much anything through the viewfinder at all. The creek I shot on a hike was a whopping 20 seconds exposure on a bright summer's morning … for starters, make sure you'll bring a tripod when using the Zoneplate optic. Set up your gear properly and then aim for your subject. If things get really dark, I frame my shot by guessing. By shooting digital it is quite easy to wait for the exposure to finish, check the result on the display, reframe, reshoot - until things look as desired. Some cameras offer sort of a 'auto exposed Live View' -- you'll see an electronically boosted picture on the display which helps framing a lot. My camera can't do this, so I have to improvise.

Framing the Darkness

First, I aim the camera towards the subject by looking along the lens. I then tilt the camera upwards until I can see some brightness from the sky. Now panning down until I suspect the subject being in focus. At that time my eyes have usually accommodated to the darkness and most often I can see spots of brightness which help the framing. Putting a dark cloth over the head and the camera (without obscuring the lens, of course) helps a lot -- but also makes you look ridiculous at times. 
5 second exposure in the forest

The Reward

The ordeal of shooting a zoneplate optic is quite rewarding. The optic gives a nice glow around everything bright and the glow becomes quite esoteric when contrast gets rather high. There are various ways to shoot the zoneplate optic – either in low contrast situations as in the forest shot on the right, or in high contrast scenes as in the title image. 

I think I prefer low contrast over high contrast, although there are situations when bright lights add to the picture. I can imagine that brides in bright white will look quite amazing through the zoneplate and there's no issue with skin retouching either. Just make sure you have plenty of light available to get all the sharp details the zoneplate provides. 

The Easier Way 

Most of the look of the zoneplate optic can be achieved by using the more recent Lensbaby softfocus optic. It's as soft, it doesn't feature a sweet spot either, and it allows for easier shooting as it's a f/2.0 lens. Dropping in the proper aperture disc gives you as much glow as you want at a fraction of the hassle the zoneplate will give you. But you will feel more like a hero when you mastered the zoneplate, and the pinhole, which is also built to this lensbaby optic. Just flip the switch and you're shooting at f/181 in total darkness, but that's saved for a future blog :)

Can't Get Enough of This?

You can see these and some more pictures I created with the Lensbaby Zoneplate Optic. I hope you enjoy the images which show the behavior of the zoneplate under various conditions. Let me know what you think by leaving a comment - your feedback helps me tremendously to create future reviews. 

Norbert Fuerst
Happy lensbabying.