Lensbaby has been making creative effect lenses for SLR and DSLRS for many years, and maintain a high level of popularity among a wide range of photographers. They have three primary “looks” that they sell in their lenses: selected focusing, soft focus, and a “twist” effect (similar to a Petzval lens). Until recently, their lenses were only available in SLR mounts, but they have begun to offer mount options for mirrorless cameras as well. Their new lens, the Trio 28, combines their three classic optics into a single lens. Does it give you the best of all worlds? Let’s find out.
Some quick specs on the Trio 28:
Available in Fuji X, Sony E, and Micro 4/3 mounts.
28mm focal length.
Fixed f/3.5 aperture.
Manual focus only.
The Trio 28 is a surprisingly solid little lens. The body is made with a decent amount of metal and has a nice heft to it. It fits very nicely on my Fuji X-T1.
Side note, I haven’t shot with other mirrorless cameras, but the focus peaking on Fuji cameras is nothing short of fantastic, and allows me to shoot manual focus lenses with the same level of confidence as when I shoot with autofocus.
You switch between the three different shooting “modes” by rotating the plastic element on the front of the lens, choosing between “Sweet,” Velvet,” and “Twist.” The element is sturdy yet easy enough to turn, no real worry about it getting bumped to a different setting by accident.
Shooting with the Trio 28
This was my first experience shooting with a Lensbaby. I’ve considered buying one before, but always felt that they were a little gimmicky. After playing around with this one for a while I can’t say that opinion has changed, but I think my idea of “gimmicky” as a bad thing probably has.
The “Sweet” setting is definitely where the Trio 28 shines in my opinion. It gives you a fixed area in the frame that stays in focus while the rest of the image drops out of focus, like a lesser tilt-shift effect. The sweet spot of the lens stays surprisingly sharp and the look it gives you is, quite frankly, fun. My one gripe was that you can’t control where that sweet spot goes; it’s always in the middle of the frame so you have to compose accordingly. I suppose this then is a success for Lensbaby because it made me want to get one of their higher-end lenses that afford you that control.
There's nothing my wife loves more than being my surprise test model.
I enjoyed the sweet spot effect on landscape shots in particular.
Sweet spot focus is fun, not gonna lie.
Flip over to the “Velvet” lens and you will get the soft focus effect. Soft focus is a style I’ve never had any real attraction to as a photographer so, unsurprisingly, the Velvet effect didn’t do much for me. If the whole hazy thing is what you’re into, then you would probably enjoy this setting more than I did. For me, it just didn’t fit into how I like to shoot. The Trio 28 seems to achieve the effect well enough and would be more than competent for that shooting style. If it were up to me, the Velvet option would be replaced with something like “Standard” or “Clear”, basically just a normal unmodified lens option. That would really make the Trio 28 stay on my camera more, if I could shoot like normal, then easily pop in a focus effect when I wanted without having to change lenses.
Soft focus works, but it's not something I see myself using regularly.
“Twist” was the setting I was most intrigued by. Alex did a review of the Twist 60 lens last summer, and it seemed like a fun, more approachable Petzval, with variety of situations I could use it in. Unfortunately, the Twist setting on the Trio 28 seems to suffer the most from the downsizing required to put all three optics in a pancake mirrorless lens. While the swirling effect in the bokeh can definitely be seen, it is far more subtle than I would like. Shooting a subject with a very contrasty background is a must to get the desired effect out of this lens.
You can see the very subtle Twist effects in the out of focus areas of the image.
Compare this with one of Alex’s images from his review, the difference is pretty extreme.
Much more noticeable effect. In part because of the darker and more contrasting background, but also a higher quality lens element.
You can see a little of the effect on the rocks photo below.
If I were to rank the three effect lenses in my order of preference, it would be Sweet, Twist, then Velvet. I really wish that the Twist effect in particular was able to distinguish itself more as it would be really nice to have that effect on hand for just casual adventures outdoors or walking around downtown. The idea of an inexpensive multipurpose lens like this is a good one, but I think another iteration or two might be necessary to really nail the functionality.
What I Liked
Innovative effect changing mechanism.
What Could Be Improved
Not a fan of Velvet, but that might just be me.
Addition of an unmodified lens option.
Twist effect is almost too subtle to be used how you might like.
f/3.5 is somewhat limiting, especially on a mirrorless camera.
At $280, the Trio 28 feels just a hair overpriced for what you get. If it were down closer to $200 I think I could recommend it more strongly. All that being said, I enjoyed it enough that I will probably invest in some nicer Lensbaby tools down the road, and definitely keep the Trio 28 in my bag for when I’m wandering around with my Fuji. You can purchase your own Lensbaby Trio 28 here.