There’s quite a bit of photography gear that could be dubbed a ‘1 trick wonder’. Odd focal lengths, niche accessories, and special effects lenses all kind of fall into this category.
The Lensbaby ‘Sweet’ 35 is without a doubt one of these pieces of gear. Like most lenses in the Lensbaby lineup, the Sweet 35 creates a very different and specific effect from a standard lens, but at times may be a bit too in-your-face and over the top.
In use, the lens renders a ‘sweet spot’, or circular area of the frame in focus, while blurring out the remaining area. The in-focus area can be changed or re-positioned thanks to a swivel ball and socket design.
This housing is what they call the ‘composer pro’, which can accept several optics with different focal lengths. In the ‘sweet’ series, there is the 35, 50, and 85. Of all three focal lengths, my preference is definitely the 35. I think on a full frame the 35mm field of view suits the sweet effect best, but of course YMMV.
If I were to describe the ‘sweet’ effect, I might use words like ‘pulling’ or ‘stretching’. The rendering of the out of focus area sometimes reminds me of a time warp (cue Marty McFly), or even a radial motion blur filter.
The amount of the effect can be adjusted by changing the aperture. The larger the aperture, the more pronounced the effect is. So, at f2.5 the majority of the frame will be out of focus with a more noticeable effect, while at f22 the blurring will be minimal.
The image quality is fine, but nothing particularly sharp. Like most lenses sharpness increases as you stop down the lens aperture. However, I’m not reaching for this lens for images with surgical sharpness, but instead when I want more of a creative, dreamy look.
After shooting with this lens for a few years in different situations I’ve found my preferred aperture to be around f4. For me, that gives the best ratio of in-focus versus out of focus area in the frame.
Something worth mentioning is how the Sweet 35 renders bokeh. Lights become like a stretched orb that seems to pull from the center focus area. It’s one of my favorite traits about the lens, and it appears even more pronounced in night images.
So, would I recommend the Sweet 35? Definitely. However, because the sweet effect can make any ordinary scene or subject look interesting, it has the potential for overuse. Besides that one caveat, though, the creative possibilities that this lens offer is in my opinion worth adding to your bag.
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