Review: Lensbaby Sweet 35

SONY DSC (Bryan Sutter)

I’ve enjoyed shooting with the Lensbaby system for over 2 years now.  Rarely do I go out to shoot and leave my Composer at home.  As a music photographer it’s saved my butt in a few situations with tough angles, difficult subject matter, or tricky lighting. I may not always get photos that a major publication would want to license, but the end result is something unique and expressive in ways that are typically harder to come by when shooting with traditional optics. So when I was sent a Sweet 35, I was pretty dang excited.

The typical Lensbaby optic gives an angle around 50mm on non-crop sensors and the aperture is changed via an imaginative but sometimes slow-to-use system of magnetic disks.  The Sweet 35 changes this up by offering a 35mm angle (which translates to around the 50mm standard on a crop) and an internal, more traditional system for changing aperture. Before, if you wanted a wide angle Lensbaby you had to purchase the screw on adapter. This works fine in its own right, but like the magnetic aperture disks, it can become impractical in certain situations. Compared to the Sweet 35, a normal optic with the wide angle adapter (which brings things to 30mm) is a more cumbersome affair, both as a matter of function and physical appearance. A more practical form, however, isn’t worth much if the photos aren’t great. Thankfully, the optic holds its own quite well.

The IQ of the Sweet 35 has been often compared to the Double Glass optic, which typically comes stock with most Lensbaby lenses. It’s pretty sharp, with reliable colors and contrast. However, the blur surrounding the sweet spot can bit a bit harsher than the Double Glass optic, with bokeh elements that sometimes have an outline that is defined rather than creamy. Other reviews have pointed out that these qualities are more agreeable on crop sensor cameras but I don’t have access to one to give my own opinion. Personally, I don’t find it to be much of an issue.

Focusing the Sweet 35, at least in low light situations, can be difficult. With the maximum aperture being f2.5, it’s can be hard to make out your point of focus in less than ideal lighting as the size of the aperture governs the amount of light making its way through the veiwfinder. Since I wear glasses there is an small touch of error introduced when using manual focus. Sometimes when I break out the Sweet 35 during a set I feel like I can’t nail it for the life of me.  Tweaking the diopter as the manual suggests did help but in-focus through the viewfinder does not always mean a properly focused exposure. It’s odd and to be fair, it seems more like an issue pertaining to my particular shooting situation and environment rather than a legit flaw but I do feel it’s worth noting.

Conclusion

The Sweet 35 is a great addition to your Lensbaby lineup if you’re looking for a wide or normal angle selective focus solution. Focusing quirks aside, it’s the sort of piece that shows the folks at Lensbaby still have their eyes on innovation within their craft (look at the recently released Edge 80 if you need more evidence). The $180 price tag is reasonable, given the quality and functionality of the optic. You’re going to use it just as much as your other Lensbaby optics, trust me.

Check out more of my Sweet 35 photos here.

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