Reviews |Lensbaby Soft Focus II

Lensbaby Soft Focus II Review

Lensbaby Soft Focus II review
Review

Price when reviewed

£169

$179.95 / £249 / $270.95

Our Verdict

The Lensbaby Soft Focus II is a great lens for those days when you want to lose yourself in your photography and create atmospheric images. As it’s  a manual focus lens that is best focused at mid-range apertures, you’re encouraged to slow down and consider the best point of focus before adjusting the aperture to create the degree of blur that you want.

Although it’s not an exact swap, the Soft Focus II makes a great alternative to Lensbaby’s popular standalone Velvet lenses, such as the Velvet 28. It’s particularly appealing to photographers who already own one of Lensbaby’s lens housings like the Spark 2.0 or the Composer Pro II because they only need to add the relative small and light optic to their kit.

For

  • Enables soft or sharp focus results in-camera
  • Supplied with or without a barrel
  • Small and light

Against

  • Requires a barrel (can be bought as a kit)
  • No electrical contacts

What is the Lensbaby Soft Focus II?

The Lensbaby Soft Focus II is a new (or refreshed) optic for the company’s optic-swap system. Like Lensbaby’s other optic-swap optics, the Soft Focus II must be mounted in a barrel/housing before it can be used on a camera.

Lensbaby sells the Soft Focus II by itself or with the same straight/fixed barrel that is often sold with the Lensbaby Twist 60. At launch, the Soft Focus II straight barrel kit is available with Nikon F, Canon EF or Sony E mount. The optic can also be used in any of Lensbaby’s other lens housings including the Composer Pro II or Spark 2.0, however, the company recommends that it’s used without any tilt with the flexible barrels.

The Lensbaby Soft Focus II is a full-frame optic with a focal length of 50mm, but it can be used on APS-C or Micro Four thirds cameras on which it has an effective focal length of 75/80mm and 100mm respectively.

Read our guide to the best Lensbaby lenses to find out more about the different optics, housings and effects.

You can pre-order the Lensbaby Soft Focus II from Wex Photo Video in the UK or Adorama in the USA.

Lensbaby Soft Focus II review

Specification

  • Product type: Swappable optic with or without a barrel
  • Format: Full-frame or smaller
  • Creative effect: Soft focus
  • Optic compatibility: Lensbaby optic-swap system: straight barrel (available as a kit), Composer Pro II, Spark 2.0
  • Focal length: 50mm
  • Construction: 2 elements in 1 group
  • Coating: Broadband multicoated anti-reflective
  • Aperture range: f/2.5-22
  • Aperture blades: 12
  • Focusing distance: 45.7cm / 18inches
  • Filter size: 46mm
  • Focus: Manual
  • Minimum focus distance: 38cm / 15-inches in Composer lens bodies
  • Dimensions (optic only): 49.8 x around 48mm
Lensbaby Soft Focus II review

Features

Lensbaby constructs the Soft Focus II from two elements arranged in a single group.

The internal aperture is created from a 12-blade iris to make a nicely rounded shape that helps to give out of focus areas a very soft, smooth appearance. However, Soft Focus II is also compatible with Lensbaby’s drop-in magnetic creative aperture disks. These have different shaped apertures to give the bokeh a different appearance.

Like all Lensbabies, the Soft Focus II is entirely manual, it and whichever barrel it’s mounted in, has no electrical contacts. This means that as well as being manual-focus-only, the optic cannot inform the camera about the selected aperture setting. Consequently, it’s best to shoot in manual or aperture priority mode, using the aperture ring to set the aperture and either letting the camera select the shutter speed, or setting a value that yourself. I like to shoot in manual exposure mode so that I can control the shutter speed, but I often set the sensitivity (ISO) to its automatic setting so that it adjusts according to the brightness of the scene.

Lensbaby Soft Focus II review

Build and handling

The body of the Soft Focus II optic is made from metal, which gives it a high-quality, robust feel. It has a single ring, which has a knurled edge towards the front optic to make it easier to rotate the ring to adjust the aperture setting.

This ring has markings running from f/2.5 to f/22 in whole stops from f/2.8 to f/22. There’s a subtle click as each aperture setting is reached. The setting is designated by the marking that’s aligned with the solid circle on the lens barrel/housing.

The easiest way to mount the Soft Focus II in a housing like the straight barrel or Composer Pro II is to rotate the aperture ring clockwise so that the aperture is open fully.  Then pop the optic in the barrel ensuring that you align the solid circle on the aperture ring (which is beneath the f/25 marking) with the hollow circle on the barrel. Then twist the optic clockwise until you feel a soft click as it locks into place. You can now use the aperture ring to adjust the setting.

To remove the optic from the barrel, simply rotate the aperture ring anti-clockwise as far as it will go, then apply a little extra force to make it go beyond the smallest aperture setting (f/22).

The lens is focused using the focus ring on the housing/barrel. It’s helpful to close down to f/8 or smaller when you’re focusing so that the image is sharp enough to see what’s in focus. Once you’re happy with the focus, you can set the desired aperture based upon the depth of field or degree of softness that you want.

Lensbaby Soft Focus II review

Performance

At the widest apertures the Lensbaby Soft Focus II produces dreamily-soft results. It can be too soft for some subjects, but it’s really a case of personal preference and the effect that you’re looking for. Closing down to f/4 or f/5.6 diminishes the effect so that the focus point is relatively sharp while the foreground, background and outer edges are soft.

Closing down to f/8 produces images that are predominantly sharp, especially at the centre, but don’t expect results that are a match for top-end optics.

Lensbaby Soft Focus II sample images

Verdict

Lensbaby lenses aren’t for people who like to pixel-peep, they’re for photographers who like to capture the feeling or emotion of a subject, using lens-based controls to create a specific look in-camera.

With a focal length of 50mm on a full-frame camera, the Lensbaby Soft Focus II is suitable for a wide range of subjects with the aperture ring enabling control over the degree of blur.

You can pre-order the Lensbaby Soft Focus II from Wex Photo Video in the UK or Adorama in the USA.

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