Do you want to awaken your creative side? Are you tired of clinical and technically perfect lenses? If so, this roundup of specialty lenses that offer unique characteristics is for you.
There’s no denying that modern lenses are far superior to lenses of the past. Distortions, ghosting and flaring are almost eliminated thanks to new and improved coatings. Modern optics can render impressive bokeh, and when it comes to sharpness, well, most lenses — even affordable offerings — are sharp enough to cut. Many photographers love these lenses thanks to how clinical they are; there’s nothing wrong with this. However, some photographers hate that character has been engineered out of modern optics.
So, what if we told you that there are modern lenses out there that throw safe and technically perfect out of the window and that embrace character? If you like weird, wacky, and technically imperfect images with character that will make your pictures stand out from an oversaturated crowd, these specialty lenses will make your heart skip a beat. So, let’s check out the five weird yet truly wonderful specialty lenses we’ve rounded up below.
Lensbaby Trio 28mm f/3.5 — Three specialty lenses for the price of one
If you didn’t know, Lensbaby specializes in making weird and unique specialty lenses. Lensbaby has it down, and while their unconventional lenses aren’t for everyone, those who demand character will be wowed by their lenses. For example, the Lensbaby Trio — available for just about every mirrorless mount — is a pancake-style lens with three different optics (Sweet, Velvet and Twist) installed in a rotating dial. Look up creativity in the photographer’s bible, and this lens will be pictured.
The Twist lens gives users the look of a Petzval lens. You’ll get a sharp center surrounded by twisty, twirly bokeh. The Sweet optic creates images with a sharp center but with a gradual bokeh-filled fall-off. Lastly, the Velvet lens will give photographers a soft dreamy look. If you want to create images that will stand out and you want to spend less than $300, check out the Lensbaby Trio.
Venus Optics Laowa 24mm f/14 probe lens — The wackiest specialty lens ever made
The award for the wackiest camera lens must go to the Venus Optics Laowa 24mm f/14 probe lens. Yes, it looks uber weird, but don’t let its looks put you off. Instead, do a quick search on Flickr for this lens and look at the fantastic images created with it before you write it off.
The Laowa 24mm f/14 — available for Canon EF, Nikon F and Pentax K mounts — is incredibly unique in the world of macro lenses. It provides 2:1 magnification. The lens has a minimum focusing distance of 1.5 feet and a working distance of 0.8 inches. The front element is waterproof, it has a built-in LED light, and the lens weighs just 1.04lbs. The lens is ridiculously sharp; it renders gorgeous colors, and bokeh, despite the lens being stuck at f/14, is very lovely. Check it out if you want your creativity to soar.
Meyer Optik Gorlitz 100mm Trioplan f/2.8 II — For soap bokeh lovers
OK, the Meyer Optik Gorlitz 100mm Trioplan f/2.8 II might be the most normal of the specialty lenses we’ve listed here; however, it’s more than worthy of a place on our list. Meyer Optik Gorlitz lenses are famous for creating stunning soap-bubble bokeh. This modernized version of a classic lens does not disappoint.
This re-imagined classic features 15 aperture blades that help create the famous soap-bubble bokeh. However, the lens features an enhanced optical design to improve contrast and resolution. In addition, the lens uses a revised triplet optical design that will help you create sharp images across the board. All this comes packaged in a lens that looks as good as the old vintage classic. It’s available for Leica L mount, Fujifilm X mount, Micro Four Thirds cameras and Sony E mount. If you want to create sensational bokeh, this could be one of the specialty lenses for you.
Lensbaby 35mm Burnside f/2.8 — The most unique 35mm prime lens available
The Lensbaby 35mm f/2.8 Burnside is one of my favorite specialty lenses. This lens features two separate diaphragms and a bokeh control dial that allows you to dial in how much swirly bokeh you want in your images. How cool is that?
Not only can you control how much bokeh your images have, but you can also control the quality of the bokeh and how much vignetting appears in your images. You can opt to work on small or large focus areas too. The glass is multi-coated to reduce flares and ghosting, which leads to better colors and contrast. If you want swirly bokeh that you can control, this is the specialty lens for you. This specialty lens is available for just about every mount out there for under $500, including Canon RF and Nikon Z mounts.
Lensbaby Obscura 16mm — You’re going to fall in love with this lens
The Lensbaby Obscura 16mm is the weirdest specialty lens I have ever used. However, I can also say that I have never had more fun using a lens. The Lensbaby Obscura 16mm is a pinhole lens. There’s no way to focus it. You have three very different pinhole experiences to choose from — f/22, f/45 and f/90. All three pinholes create very different images. In our review, we said:
“You’ll have to completely rethink your approach to photography and this is what makes it brilliant. In no time, you’ll be having fun with your photography. You’ll be creating instead of just capturing. Put the time in with the Lensbaby Obscura 16mm and you’ll be rewarded.”
Gear Editor — Brett Day
If you’re interested in buying a specialty lens, they don’t get much better or more rewarding than the Lensbaby Obscura 16mm. It’s available for just about every camera mount imaginable, and it’s incredibly affordable at under $250!