Anyone who has had the opportunity to use any of the Lensbaby lenses knows the unique effects that can be achieved with them. The Lensbaby Trio 28 is no exception. However, this lens is a little different than the other Lensbaby offerings. This article will explore how this lens operates and how using it may be just the thing to jump-start your creativity.
Most photographers have probably heard of Lensbaby. This small company, based in Portland, Oregon, has been around since 2004. The goal of founder Craig Strong was to develop new ways for photographers to make more creative imagery. The tagline “see in a new way” is the philosophy around which this company was formed. It was never really about making lenses that are better or sharper than all the rest. It was more about creating something that is different and would inspire photographers to try new things. Perhaps even more important, something that would be a lot of fun to use. With their expansive lineup of lenses for about every major camera system, I would say mission accomplished. By the way, to learn more about some of these lenses, check out these expert reviews of the Velvet 56, Twist 60, Composer Pro II with Edge 50 Optic, and Velvet 85 on this website.
About the Trio 28
Lensbaby lenses are all about creative effects. The effects include things like focusing on only one area in an image while keeping everything else a blur (Sweet); making an image with a dreamy or soft focus look (Velvet); or creating unique bokeh patterns for dramatic effect (Twist). Typically, each lens specializes in one of these effects. The Trio 28 puts a different “spin” on this approach, by packaging all three optics into a single lens. The desired effect is selected using a turret-like dial on the front of the lens. Turning the metal dial allows you to choose between the Sweet, Velvet, or Twist optics, for lots of creative flexibility.
The Trio 28 was made specifically for mirrorless cameras, and is available for Sony E-mount, Fuji X-mount, and Micro 4/3rds bodies. Focus is fully manual with this lens and as the name would imply, it has a fixed focal length of 28mm. One thing a little different than other lenses is that this one also has a fixed aperture of f/3.5.
The build quality of the Trio 28 is generally good. The mount and focus ring (with a functional focus scale) are metal. There is a fair amount of plastic on the front of the lens, but the lens still has a solid feel. It is rather compact and light, so it is easy to take with you, especially on relatively compact mirrorless camera bodies.
My Shooting Experience
The Trio 28 is the first Lensbaby lens I have ever used. Although I had some idea of the different effects given by Lensbaby lenses, it took some practice to learn how to use the lens to create the images that I wanted. That's part of the fun, though, not only with this lens, but with photography in general. Trying out new gear or new techniques, or putting new ideas into practice to create new looks or styles is fun. The ability to switch between optics is like having three lenses in one, each with their own unique characteristics.
I've been using this lens on a Fuji X-T1 mirrorless camera body for the past several months. The lens fits nicely on the Fuji and makes for an overall package that is fairly compact and easy to carry around. Using manual focus can be challenging in a world where auto-focus has dominated for so many years. However, using the focus peaking feature to provide a visual indicator of what part of the frame is in focus makes it pretty simple. For each of the effects it seems best to place the main subject in the center of the frame, then let the edges transition to a blur or swirly bokeh, depending on the look you're going for.
There's something refreshing about keeping things simple, and this lens does that. It is easy to carry around on a hike through the woods or on the street. Focal length and aperture are fixed, so simply set the shutter speed to account for camera shake (I commonly used 1/60th of a second), turn on auto-ISO to let it go where it needs to be, and just shoot away. The most difficult decision is figuring out which optic to use. I commonly found myself using all three optics for a subject to see which one I liked best. One complaint I have is about the dial that turns to select the different optics. It has a smooth metal construction, which can be difficult to grip in certain situations.
I initially found that using the Sweet optic was my favorite, which was evident by the fact that that was the optic selected most of the time. The sharp focus in the center of the image and increasing blur toward the edges is a cool effect.
The Twist optic was my least used at first, since the effect was very subtle or seemingly nonexistent in my shots. However, after more experimentation and following advice provided by Lensbaby, I have found that this can be a really neat effect if applied properly. The trick is to have a prominent foreground subject (i.e., a flower or a person), good separation between the foreground subject and the background, and a background that has some texture. Getting those three ingredients right can result in an image with sharp focus on the foreground and ‘swirly' bokeh reminiscent of an old Petzval lens.
Last but not least in the Velvet optic. After getting past the idea that some part of the image should be in sharp focus, which admittedly is still difficult for me to do, this is a fun effect to use in certain situations. The soft focus of this optic creates a ‘dreamy' effect, which works well for some nature scenes.
Who is this lens for?
You have probably heard the old saying, “necessity is the mother of invention”. In all honesty, the Trio 28 is not a necessity. Or is it? For me personally, this lens has helped me to look at things differently. It has also provided the motivation to get out and shoot. Sometimes a new piece of gear does that. Shooting more is instrumental in helping one to become better as a photographer. That's not to say your images will instantly improve with this lens. However, if you are inspired to shoot more as a result of having it, then maybe it is a necessity (sort of).
The Bottom Line
The Lensbaby Trio 28 is fun to use. There, I said it. I believe that sometimes we lose sight of the fact that photography should be fun. It has happened to me. Shooting can be the best medicine. Going out shooting just for the fun of it is such a freeing experience. There's no pressure to please someone else. No box to put yourself in, bounded by parameters of a certain image you have to create. You are free to create what you want, and the rules can be checked at the door before you head out. If there is something that can help bring that back into focus, then it is a good thing. The Trio 28 may fall into the category of a niche product, but the fun-factor it has provided has made it a great addition to my creative toolbox.