Niche is sort of a nice way to say “one-trick pony”, which is a term often seen in reviews of Lensbaby products in general. I feel like a lot of their products are the kind of thing you use once or twice, tuck away, and never use again.
But in this case, the Twist 60 Optic does its one main trick exceptionally well. And, it offers some basic utility beyond that well-done trick.
Quick History Lesson
In a nutshell, the folks at Lensbaby have created a functional work-alike to a Petzval lens (also called a “portrait objective lens”), so named for its mathematician inventor Joseph Petzval. His lens was the first to be widely adopted for portraiture (way back in 1840) because it was sharp in the center and then got really blurry near the edges of the image. These lenses are still being made and used today, but costs a bit more than the Lensbaby version.
The main draw of the Twist 60 is the crazy bokeh. The center of the frame is quite sharp, while moving out from the center gets progressively blurry with some very cool bokeh artifacts. The overall look of the out-of-focus area is that of swirly motion blur. It can be quite similar to the Radial Motion Blur filter in Photoshop. It is a very striking, if the composition is set up properly. We’ll get to set up in a bit, but first an example photo.
How to Make the Most of the Twist 60
Unfortunately, the most exaggerated effects of this lens can only be realized with a full-frame camera. A crop sensor will not show the outer edges, which is were the good stuff is happening. It can still be used on a crop body, but with less of that eye-catching and unique effect.
Choosing the background is critical to getting a good result. Look for repeating patterns that extend well beyond the center of your composition. Or look for a deep background, such as a field of sunflowers (as in the example above). A chain-link fence would also work quite well. And, I have seen a few clever photogs use strings of Christmas lights in the background to create both soft warm light and a pattern on which the lens can work its magic. Small points of light in the background really make this lens pop. This could be a string of lights, or sunlight poking through dense leaves.
The funky swirly blur can be tamed, if necessary. But to rein it in, you’ll need to stop down to around f/5.6 or higher on a full-frame. This won’t make it a totally standard lens when it comes to depth of field, but it does sharpen up very nicely, and the craziness of the bokeh is toned down considerably. It could act as very short portrait lens and do the job at a respectable level of normality. It’s not ideal for this (in my opinion), but it would be a decent stand-in should the need arise.
Tech Specs & Details
The Twist 60 itself is an “optic”, which is Lensbaby’s name for the drop-in lens elements that are used with their camera mount bases. You can buy it either as a standalone optic or with one of Lensbaby’s bases. They sell fixed angle and tilt-shift bases. I bought the optic and base separately and both were bought used (to save money, of course!). I use mine with the now-discontinued Lensbaby Scout base, which is very similar functionally to the base that now comes packaged with the Twist 60.
This lens is manually focused with a fixed 60mm focal length and a maximum aperture of f/2.5. The aperture is set by turning the ridged ring on the front of the optic (even on Canon bodies), while the focus is controlled by the focus ring on the base.
This is pretty cool lens that delivers a unique visual effect directly in the camera (no Photoshop filters need apply). If you already have the basics covered in your lens collection, this might be a nice addition to the lineup. However, I think the money would be better spent on a more tradition type of lens, if you’ve got a hole in your gear portfolio.