How Lensbaby gave new life to my old DSLR

all threeI received my Canon Rebel XS as a graduation present way back in 2009. It came with a sturdy camera bag, the 18-55mm kit lens, and a pretty impressive telephoto lens. It was undoubtedly one of the best gifts I’d ever been given: Something I both couldn’t afford and desperately needed. The year prior I’d suffered through photo journalism and electronic media classes by checking out loan units that had to be returned promptly, were difficult to acquire on weekends, and that people (me) often forgot to grab their SD cards out of.

So my very own Canon DSLR was a godsend. But I’ve unfortunately gotten older and wiser and now I know – and it pains me to say this – there are better things out there. Much better, in fact. The Canon EOS Rebel XS is an admirable camera, but there are more than a few things that date the device. Its 10.1-megapixel sensor now pales in comparison to 16, 24-megapixel APS-C sized sensors out there that cost about as much as my camera did when I originally got it. The 2.5-inch, un-adjustable LCD display feels downright constraining, the DIGIC 3 processor is nearing ancient status, and a max of 3fps at continuous shooting speed rules out more than a few scenarios.

While that’s all true, the fact remains that DSLRs are very, very expensive – and the more you learn about and review cameras, the higher your expectations become. It’s a dangerous cycle. So for the time being, I’m stuck with my Rebel XS.

But if you can get past an increasingly antiquated body, there are some comparably affordable and creative ways to teach an old dog new tricks – lenses. In my case, that meant ditching my usual glass and throwing on the Lensbaby Composer Pro with Sweet 35 lens and Edge 80 Optic. These creative lenses from the manufacturer opened up an entirely unreachable portfolio with a simple twist and click.

The Composer Pro with Sweet 35 Optic manual, selective-focus lens has been refined from the original Composer model. It has a smoother, easily manipulated tilt and swivel feel so you can direct focus and blur at your discretion. It quickly became my go-to lens. No longer was my camera constrained by straight shots; and finding the sweet spot between focus and blur was half the fun. If you’ve been limiting yourself to auto focus, relying on nothing but yourself and your lens to determine the focus of a shot is refreshing. It puts all the technical control in your hands and you can leave creativity (or at least much of it) to the Composer Pro.

composer pro sweet 35

The Edge 80 Optic required a bit more of a learning curve, but one that photographers will be happy to follow. It’s an 80mm f/2.8 optic with a 12-blade adjustable aperture. And it’s incredibly versatile: The Edge 80 can put a nice, soft focus-and-blur effect on portraits or macro shots or create a tilt-shift effect when looking down. It can also be used as a straight lens, if you want to forgo the hassle of switching out glass. 

edge 80 optic

The optic gives you a terrific amount of control, and images turn out sharp. You can play with the lens and turn ordinary shots into vintage, retro-esque, artistic profiles, or simply use it to create interesting depth of field in your photos. Try out the simulator here

Without a doubt, though, the best part of the Lensbaby gear is the fact that it made my very old camera feel new again. No, there’s nothing I can do about the sensor size or ISO limits (save buy a new camera), but pairing the Rebel XS with some new and innovative glass was a welcome refresh, to say the least. I think it can save me some full-frame DSLR lust for at least a little while longer. 

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