I'll start off by stating that this lens comparison test is really only interested in the resulting images created by the two lenses in question and not necessarily their technical features.
Both of these lenses create a very specific look and it is not my intention to prove one 'better' than the other but to show just how varied they can be if used correctly.
Along the way I'll discuss a few features of the Lensbaby Edge 80 but this is not meant as a review but more of a look at a real-use situation when shooting portraits and why the Edge 80 might be an interesting addition to your current 85mm portrait lens rather than a direct replacement.
The Lensbaby Edge 80
The Edge 80 is another lens in a long lineup of creative lens from the art house of lenses Lensbaby. The Edge 80 is a lens that shifts the plane of focus in a shot so that we see a slice of focus that we not only dictate the angle of but also the size of it.
I understand that might sound a little confusing so let me take a moment to explain how that works. The Edge lens often gets confused with a 'tilt-shift lens' which although understandable, is incorrect. A tilt-shift lens is a very expensive and precise piece of kit that corrects perspective errors in architectural and still-life photography. They are a real pain to use properly and although the Edge 80 has the 'tilt' section of those lenses it isn't able to 'shift' in the same way. As a result the Edge 80 is not designed (in my opinion) to correct perspective but rather the complete opposite as it does an amazing job of distorting the perspective.
The Edge 80 distorts the perspective by literally tilting the lens in the middle of the lens barrel. The lens attaches to your camera like normal but then you have the option the tilt the end of the lens up, down or side to shift the actual plane of focus.
As you can see from the diagram above this is a powerful tool because although you'd think you could simply tilt your regular lens up and down, the magic happens with the distortion because when using the Edge 80 the camera body doesn't move at all resulting in a mismatch of focal planes that thereby creates the perspective distortion. Believe it or not, I'm simplifying what's going on here and I'll go into a little more detail on what the resulting images look like in moment too.
The rest of the Lensbaby Edge 80 is much the same as any other lens you're used too, the only other key difference is that this lens is completely manual and doesn't 'talk' to the camera body in any way. The aperture ring is situated around the outside of the lens at the front and as this is a creative lens type it's also manual focus. Manual focusing is a bit of pain and it can put a few people off but you're not alone. Manual focusing is a skill just like any other so some practice is required to get good at it. To help you out I've already written a couple of articles to point you in the right direction. Tips on getting Sharper Images with Manual Focus Lenses Part 1 and Hacks for Getting Sharper Manual Focus Shots Part 2
The Edge 80 does have the option for macro images via a pull-out collar at the front of lens. Standard minimum focal distance is around 1m and with the collar extended that focal distance can be reduced to about half that at 48cm.
How Sharp is the Edge 80?
Whilst we are talking about focusing here I really wanted to talk about just how sharp this lens can be. I'll caveat this by saying that I'm not normally very fussy on how sharp a lens is compared to another lens. I like my lenses and resulting images to have a 'soul' and tack-sharpness doesn't really play a factor in that look so I'm happy to use a 50 year old beaten up Russian lens to get a desired look. But after seeing just how insanely sharp this Edge 80 lens is I was genuinely shocked.
I think the sharpness is even more impressive when you consider the fact that this really is an 'art' lens and supposedly not designed to the same ridiculously expensive standards as some other lens manufactures. On that note I know plenty of lenses that cost well in excess of £1000 that are nowhere near this sharp. On top of that, those lenses don't have a huge ball-joint-tilting-mechanism slapped in the middle of them like this Edge 80 and they still aren't this sharp. If Lensbaby ever decide to step away from just the art-lens market I'd be seriously interested in what they come up with.
On that note I even posted the above image online and asked my community to guess what lens had taken the shot. Out of the 70 or so guesses we had everything from the £1800 Nikon 105 f1.4, the 85mm f1.2 from Canon and we even had the Zeiss 85mm f1.4 at £3,300 come up a few times! Suffice to say it created quite a stir and if you're interested you can check out the discussion here 'Would anybody like to make any guesses as to which stupidly sharp lens this is?'
The Lensbaby Edge 80 has been out a little while now and it's another one of the modular lenses from Lensbaby. That essentially means that if you own one or another of the other modular Lensbaby lenses you can simply swop in and out the specific optic you need with relative ease. I personally think this is a smart and very generous move on Lensbaby's part as this saves the consumer a lot of money when not having to purchase an entirely brand new lens each time. Buying the whole lens will cost around £399 whereas just buying the optic alone is around £229.
What's really going on with Edge 80 focusing?
So what is actually going on in the Edge 80, why do the portrait shots you take with it look like they've been taken at an extremely shallow depth of field? In this section I'm going to attempt to demystify what's actually going on with the focusing in the Edge 80 and how this can be manipulated for creative effect.
First up let's take a little look at a standard lens and see how that focal plane views its subjects.
So now that we can see how this slice of focus works and how we can use it to create perspective distortion now lets see how the depth of field interacts with that.
From the above illustrations it should now be more apparent as to what's going on with the Edge 80 shots. This should hopefully go some way to explain why some people were rightly tricked into thinking that my Edge 80 shot was taken on a £3000 f1.4 lens when in reality the forced depth of field was created with an Edge 80 lens taken at f2.8.
Edge 80 Images
Ok so now we've nerded out with the physics let's take a little look at some of the images I've taken with my Lensbaby Edge 80. In the below shots it's worth paying attention to how the bokeh is rendered too, it's this sort of light play that post-production tools like Photoshop's 'lens-blur' tool has a VERY long way to go to recreate in this detail.
Click on the images below to enlarge them.
Featured model: Ryo Love
Comparing the Edge 80 to a Standard 85mm Lens
I wanted to explain what the Edge 80 was actually doing with light and perspectives before I jumped into this section as without really understanding what is going on with the Edge 80 optics would make the following images a little hard to explain.
The 'standard' 85mm lens I will be referring to from now on will be the Nikon 85mm f1.8 D lens. This is a great little lens that I've had for years and I would certainly never get rid of this lens because of the Edge because they do very different things.
For this comparison test I shot a bunch of headshots with both the Edge and the Nikon 85 set at exactly the same aperture of f2.8. I tried to compose them at roughly the same crop so you can see the effect that the aperture and tilt has on the same setup.
The shots below are from the Edge 80 at f2.8 - Click on the images below to enlarge them or view the slideshow.
The shots below are from the Nikon 85mm at f2.8 - Click on the images below to enlarge them or view the slideshow.
Featured Model: Sammie Howe
To me the difference and look that the Edge 80 creates is outstanding and I personally love it but it is a very unique and certainly not for every occasion. If we look at the above shots from the Edge 80 we can clearly see the plane of focus that it's creating compared to the regular 85mm. Like I mentioned I love the forced depth of field look it gives and I love the bokeh that it can produce as a result. And remember, this can't be done in Photoshop so the looks and shots you create will be pretty unique.
Is the Edge 80 great for every shoot?
No, definitely not.
Can you create some visually stunning shots?
If used in a certain way with portraits and headshots can it look like it's producing images from a lens nearly 10 times its price?
Maybe, but I'll let you decide that one ;)
Lensbaby Edge 80 Specs
- Focal Length: 80mm
- Aperture range from f/2.8 through f/22
- 12-blade internal aperture, controlled by a dial on the front of the optic
- Focus Type: Manual
- Tilts from zero to 15 degrees
- Compatible with the Lensbaby Optic Swap System
- 5 multi-coated glass elements, in four groups
Thinking of getting one?
If you are thinking of picking one of these Edge 80's up then feel free to use my discount code at WEX Photographic. The code is JAKEHICKS10 and it will entitle you to a 10% discount on any of the Lensbaby lenses at WEX. (EDIT: There was previously a problem with this code but it has now been resolved and is confirmed to be working again).
Here's soem direct links if you'd like to check it out.
If you've got one already then please let me know what you think of yours and if you've tried using them like this for portraits. I say that as I only ever see the 'toy-town' style pics taken with the lens so I'd like to hear from others who use them for portraits too.
Also if you have any questions then feel free to ask away in the comments below and I'll do my best to answer them as soon as I can :)
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