I’ve added several key pieces to my photography gear over the past two years; most notably, several L-series Canon lenses and the Canon 5D Mark III. With my budget running low and the itch to get new toys running high, I thought it might be time to jump on the Lensbaby bandwagon with the purchase of a Lensbaby Spark.

For ~$75 on Amazon.com, this was an inexpensive way for me to get hands-on experience with the Lensbaby way of shooting.

What is a Lensbaby Spark?

A Lensbaby Spark is a selective-focus lens. If you’re an Instagram or Photoshop user, this is a creative device that is familiar to you. You can select an area in your photo that will be in sharp focus and the surrounding area will be blurred out to the edges of the photo.

Rather than relying on software to achieve that creative effect, the Lensbaby Spark allows you to create that effect in the field.

The lens mounts on your camera like any other lens, with the exception that the camera body receives no digital information from the lens. As a result, your f-stop info will read as zeroes.

You focus a Lensbaby Spark manually by pulling and holding the bellow lens tube toward your camera and then by swiveling it up, down, or side-to-side to adjust the “sweet spot” focal point.

Want product specifications? You can read more about the Spark on the Lensbaby site.

First Time in the Field

My first foray with the Lensbaby Spark was a weekend bike trip to Block Island, off the coast of Rhode Island. I was shooting with the 5D with a 35mm prime and the 70-200mm zoom lenses.

The first shots with the Spark happened in, of all places, the Island Cemetery. We had pulled over for a rest and to get our bearings on the map. We decided to walk around the cemetery since we had read that some headstones there date back to the 1600s.

The cemetery was an ideal place to try out this lens because I had both near and far subjects. My assumption was that it would be easier to shoot nearer subjects since that meant little to no pulling back of the lens tube. (I found it difficult to hold the camera, focus, and snap the photo – all without creating blur.)

The following two photos show my best attempts. The farther away the subject, the tougher it was to find the right focal point. (Farther away = more pulling back of the lens to focus.) Even on the close shots, my focus was just a wee bit off from where I intended.

First try with the Lensbaby Spark: A tree in Island Cemetery on Block Island.
First try with the Lensbaby Spark: A tree in Island Cemetery on Block Island.

Let’s try this again

Later that day, I tried the Spark again while we were walking around Old Harbor. I was trying to shoot the Rebecca at the Well statue that is in the middle of an intersection. No luck since the statue was far away and I couldn’t quite get my sweet spot right.

Instead, I had my husband stand on the sidewalk in front of me. I wanted to try a nearer subject that was eye-level, rather than having to bend down like I did for the headstone photo.

The result is a fairly nice portrait photo. The sweet spot is allllmost right and the light, although slightly behind him, created a nice effect.

About that fixed aperture

The Lensbaby Spark has a fixed aperture of f/5.6. That is important to note for both indoor and outdoor shooting. An f-stop of 5.6 may be a bit too slow for indoors, especially if your camera can’t do high ISOs. I tried the Spark on my old Canon T2i and indoor shooting with the T2i’s max ISO of 6400 resulted in very underexposed photos.

Overall, the Spark is a low-risk, inexpensive foray into the Lensbaby world. It’s a neat little lens that is small enough and light enough to carry in a gear bag without much fuss. And, with more practice, some great photos may result.