With the new Soft Focus II, Lensbaby improves on the classic Creative Bokeh Optic lens by adding an adjustable aperture. Practically speaking, this provides several different artistic effects in one lens, perfect for offering clients a mix of artistic and saleable images. Flexibility is key. And I’m all for carrying fewer lenses in my gear bag.
The Soft Focus II features a 12-blade manually adjustable internal aperture. Paired with Lensbaby’s unique and versatile drop-in magnetic aperture system, this allows you to easily use starburst and other aperture disks.
When I used the Soft Focus II lens with a wide-open aperture, the image was very dreamy and light, ethereal and impressionistic. Despite this artistic rendering, the image retains sharp details if you’ve manually set your focus correctly. In the studio, I tested all the aperture disks with the aperture wide open and fully stopped down. It was interesting to see how the appearance of the bokeh changed based on these variables. Of the four disks included with the set, my favorite was the starburst. It’s similar to the lovely starbursts you can get during traditional f/22 long exposure night shots.
The aperture disks come in a storage case that doubles as a disk removal/insertion tool. The Soft Focus II lens adjusts from f/2.5 to f/22 with its manual adjustment rings for both focus and aperture, and success comes down to user trial and error. Thanks to the dreamy nature of images made with this lens, I found myself taking extra shots to ensure I had at least one with my subject’s facial features in focus. When I hit the sweet spot the result was gorgeous, but there were also times I missed it. Use the lens with subjects who are happy to sit still rather than wiggly babies or critters.
It’s also possible to use the lens in a more traditional way. Adjusting the aperture setting down to at least f/8 gives the contrast and sharpness of a more standard contemporary portrait.
Comparison portraits I made showed that the Soft Focus II creates a different look from my normal portrait lens depending on whether the Lensbaby was wide open or stopped down. Since the Soft Focus II lens can produce a variety of artistic styles just by adjusting the aperture, this gives you an easy option to create both the artistic images your clients might enjoy and the images you know will make a sale.
My verdict: I love the ease of changing aperture disks, and the lens gives you the opportunity to add creative images to your clients’ experience. If you’re going for album sales, I could see this lens being useful for those value-added shots. If you’re not a fan of ethereal and artsy, the Soft Focus II lens is probably not for you. As for me, I love how Lensbaby lenses let me offer something different to my clients.
The Soft Focus II lens is compatible with all of Lensbaby’s current and legacy Optic Swap lens bodies. It retails for $279.95 (fixed body) or $179.95 (optic only, for use with Optic Swap-compatible lens body). The fixed body lens is available in Canon EF, Nikon F, and Sony E mounts. For more information visit lensbaby.com.
Betsy Finn is a portrait artist in Dexter, Michigan.