Skip to main content

Blurs aren’t defects, but the charm in Lensbaby’s new mobile lens kit

Update on July 14, 2015: Lensbaby sent us a new mount to re-test the lenses, and, sure enough, our first lens was defective – an anomaly. The new mount has a firmer grip on our iPhone, and doesn’t come off as easily. Should you encounter an issue like we did, you should definitely get a replacement. Lensbaby cares a lot about its customers, and was extremely concerned and worked hard with us to rectify the issue. We’ve updated our info below to reflect the new tests.

After the LM-10 Sweet Spot Lens’ successful Kickstarter launch, Lensbaby is continuing its mobile lens development with the new LM-20 and LM-30. Available together as part of the new Creative Mobile Kit ($90), the lenses give mobile photographers a creative way to take photos. Also available soon is a new version of the free Lensbaby mobile app.

If you aren’t familiar with Lensbaby, the small company based in Portland, Oregon, specializes in making artistic lenses for interchangeable lens cameras. While big-name lens makers concentrate on making images sharper, Lensbaby is about adding creative flair to images. (Read our profile here.) Last year, the company created the LM-10, which brings the company’s Sweet Spot bokeh-esque effect — a sharp focus point that’s surrounded by intense blur — to smartphones. Add-on smartphone lenses aren’t new, but Lensbaby is looking to do something more creative than the usual wide-angle or telephoto.

The new LM-20 builds on the LM-10. It has a larger sweet spot of focus that’s surrounded by gradually increasing blur. The LM-20 is great for portraits or anything you want to put focus on and channel viewers’ eyes toward it. LM-30, however, is for creating a fun, kaleidoscope effect where the focus point is surrounded by reflected patterns. Both work for videos too.

The Creative Mobile Kit comes with an iPhone mount; the mount is model-specific, so get the one that matches your phone (5/5S, 6, or 6 Plus). Similar to clip-on lenses like Olloclip, the mount grabs onto the corner of the iPhone, over the camera, and has a magnet that the lens adheres onto. The kit also includes a magnetic kickstand to use with the mount, which is used for propping up an iPhone. An alternative to the mount is an optional metal ring you can adhere over the lens; this is also the method used with Android smartphones.

We’ve been playing with the new lenses for a few days, and while they aren’t meant for everyday shooting, the lenses can add some nice, dramatic effect. You may not want to use the LM-30 on people’s faces, but it can turn a few colorful flowers into a rainbow. The LM-20 is the opposite: It brings out your subject, and it’s great for drawing attention to a person’s face or an interesting object. It’s like the bokeh you get when using a lens with a fast aperture. And unlike filters or any software post-processing, the photo looks a bit more “natural.” Unlike the LM-10, however, you can’t attach any lens adapters. Overall, we enjoyed the LM-20 the most because we feel it’s the more practical of the two.

In our first-round of tests, we had a defective iPhone Mount that would slip off easily. After receiving a new mount, the unit stayed in place properly. Of course, you could still yank it off, but the locking mechanism worked better and it didn’t come off when we swapped lenses. If you’d rather not deal with a mount, you can always use the aforementioned metal ring.

Like a lot of clip-on lenses, the mount will only work if your iPhone isn’t in a case — irritating for those of us who don’t like to carry around a naked iPhone. And on the iPhone 5, the mount will block the sleep button at the top.

Lensbaby's new iOS app.
Lensbaby’s new iOS app. Image used with permission by copyright holder

Along with the new Creative Mobile Kit, Lensbaby is introducing a new version of its iOS app. You can use the lenses with any photo app, but Lensbaby’s app offer more controls. You can move the spot of focus, lock in white balance and exposure, pull up rule of thirds grid or Instagram-friendly square crop, switch between spot and evaluative metering, slide to sharpen, flip an image upside-down (this is meant to be used with the LM-10, because the lens’ optical design turns things upside down), or switch between photo and video modes. Unlike the previous app, you have a larger frame that isn’t blocked by icons. It’s relative easy to use, although it’s hard to notice any changes when you make adjustments. Because the app is icon based, we wish the app had a quick reference to what those icons mean (would you have known that a pyramid meant “sharpen?”); the only time it’s explained is the first time you launch the app, so pay attention. (The new app isn’t available for Android yet.)

We are fans of Lensbaby lenses because they offer something unique, and complement our arsenal of regular lenses. With the new mobile products, Lensbaby brings the creative optics they’re known for to smartphones, and it lets you add some flair without using filters or post-processing software.

Les Shu
Former Digital Trends Contributor
I am formerly a senior editor at Digital Trends. I bring with me more than a decade of tech and lifestyle journalism…
Best Camera Deals: Save on Canon, Panasonic, Nikon, and GoPro
fujifilm x t4 review set 2 dm 1

Whether you're looking for the best digital cameras or the best travel cameras, there are a ton of options out there, sometimes too many options, especially for those who aren't familiar with the photography world. Luckily, we've done a lot of legwork for you and collected a range of great camera deals across the spectrum, so even if you want something more sports-oriented, like a GoPro, there are a couple of deals for those too. So, let's jump right into it.
Today's Best Camera Deals
One of our favorite deals is the Canon EOS Rebel T7 going for $400, as it's one of the better DSLR cameras on the market, and it has a reasonably budget-friendly price on it, making it a great starter camera. Of course, if you've been in the game for a while and are looking for a powerful upgrade, the Sony Alpha 7R IV is one of the best full-frame cameras on the market, and while it still costs a hefty $3,200, that's still $300 off the usual $3,500 price tag. That said, if you're looking for something more portable and action-oriented, you can't go wrong with the GoPro HERO11 Black Mini, although if you're a professional content creator, the GoPro HERO9 Black 5K is probably the one to go for instead.

Do I Need a DSLR or a Mirrorless Camera?
Like most things, this really depends on what you're trying to do. Mirrorless cameras have fewer internal moving parts, which generally means they can capture images quicker, so if you're taking pictures of action-packed stuff like sports or animals in the wilderness, a mirrorless camera is a great option. On the other hand, DSLR cameras are great for low-light conditions and are great for anything from portraits to landscapes. DSLRs are also cheaper and have much better battery life, as well as having a decade or two worth of lenses to choose from.

Read more
How to blur a background in photos
A person photographed with iPhone 11's portrait mode.

Introducing a background blur to your photos can draw attention to a specific subject, such as an individual in a portrait or an item in a still life, while also adding a professional flair to your image. This beautiful background blur, also known as bokeh, can be achieved even after shooting your photo, thanks to advances in editing software. This guide will walk you through the process on iOS, Android, Windows, and macOS.

Read more
How to download Instagram photos (5 easy ways)
Instagram app running on the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5.

Instagram is amazing, and many of us use it as a record of our lives — uploading the best bits of our trips, adventures, and notable moments. But sometimes you can lose the original files of those moments, leaving the Instagram copy as the only available one . While you may be happy to leave it up there, it's a lot more convenient to have another version of it downloaded onto your phone or computer. While downloading directly from Instagram can be tricky, there are ways around it. Here are a few easy ways to download Instagram photos.

Read more