What is the Lensbaby Burnside 35?
Lensbaby launched itself in our consciousness in the noughties with the arrival of a bendy plastic lens. Its vacuum-hose design let you squish one side or the other to shift the point of focus around. Several years on, Lensbaby now has a range of lenses with each giving images a distinctive look. The Burnside 35’s telltale is a central sharp spot surrounded by swirling blur and vignetting.
The Burnside 35 is a full-frame lens with a focal length of 35mm, but it can be used on smaller format cameras. It’s available in Canon, Nikon, Fujifilm, Sony, Micro Four Thirds and Pentax mounts. I’ve been using the Sony E-mount version on the Sony A7 III and A7RIII.
Like other Lensbaby optics, the Burnside 35 is manual focus only. It’s particularly well suited for use on a mirrorless camera like the A7 III which has focus peaking to guide you with the focusing. However, it has a long focus throw which means you can focus precisely.
Build quality and Handling
Lensbaby’s first lenses may have been made from plastic, but the Burnside 35 is made from metal and has a pleasantly industrial build.
As soon as you rotate the focus ring you realise that the Burnside is a serious lens. The movement is wonderfully smooth and it requires just the right amount of torque.
In addition to the focus ring, there’s an aperture ring with 1stop markings running from f/2.8 to f/16.
If you peep inside the lens you can see a second set of aperture blades closer to the front element than the exposure iris. This is opened and closed via a sliding control on the lens barrel. Closing it down produces more vignetting (corner shading).
Getting the maximum Burnside effect requires the same steps as minimising depth of field. This means shooting at a large aperture close to your subject with a wide gap between it/them and the background.
Although the A7RIII and A7III’s focus peaking display can be very helpful when focusing, its benefits depends upon the scene. It indicates the areas of highest contrast, and while these are often the sharpest part of the scene, it’s not always the case. This means that I occasionally missed the focus with the Burnside 35 when shooting wide-open. However, a little adjustment usually allows you to get the subject sharp.
Closing the aperture down to f/16 virtually eliminates the background swirl, if you feel the need. However, it’s not really the point of the lens. Consequently, the majority of the images that I shot with the Burnside 35, or the majority of those that I like, were shot at f/5.6 or wider apertures.
Lensbaby lenses aren’t really designed for avid pixel peepers. That’s not really the point. Nevertheless, the central part of the Burnside 35’s image is sharp. At normal viewing and printing sizes, it looks especially sharp relative to the beautifully swirly background, but don’t expect to be looking at quite the same level of detail as you’d get with a regular high-quality optic when shooting wide-open. More importantly, the combination of a sharp zone with soft swirls produces some very attractive results.
The only frustration I had with the Burnside 35 is that the sharp zone has to be in the centre of the frame. This means that it doesn’t work well with off-centre subjects.
I’ve been a fan of Lensbaby lenses from the outset and I have built up small a collection in different mounts. I love the creative freedom that they bring.
As with other Lensbaby optics, instead of concentrating on getting things 100% sharp, the Burnside 35 switches your attention to capturing the vibe of the scene. It puts you in touch with the most important aspect of photography, capturing an image that you like.
When I got my first Lensbaby, I loved it. I used it to shoot all sorts of things including a load of background shots at a trade show I was attending for Amateur Photographer magazine. The Burnside 35 has rekindled that feeling. I love it and the images it creates.
As I test cameras professionally, I’m constantly shooting in a quite technical way. I shoot to test various settings and to discover a camera’s response to a particular set of circumstances. When I pop the Burnside 35 on a camera and head out the door, it’s me saying I’m going to have some fun. It’s like getting home from work, kicking off your smart shoes, slipping on your favourite flip-flops and heading to the beach.
Of course the Burnside 35 isn’t just for those days when you want to let your hair down. It’s suitable for creative professional uses as well. It has a durable build and looks that won’t embarrass in front of a client.
The 35mm focal length is a nice versatile option, but I think an 85mm version would go down very well amongst portrait photographers. Are you listening Lensbaby?
Should I buy the Lensbaby Burnside 35?
The Burnside 35 is a great lens if you want to have some creative fun with your camera. It takes the trend for shallow depth of field in a new direction. It enables you to make your subject stand out from its surroundings and can give the image a dreamlike quality. It’s also fun and satisfying to use.
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