a twisted lens

Doing what you love for a living is awesome. I count my blessings that I get hired to make [hopefully] beautiful and intriguing images. But it can be a challenge to create them day after day, rain or shine, through good times and bad. But my clients pay me good money to show up on time, conduct myself professionally, and most importantly, deliver killer results. Over and over. No matter what. So how do I keep my creativity up and consistently deliver “the goods”? I take classes, I collaborate with other professionals who’s work I admire, and occasionally, I buy a piece of gear that I don’t really need. Like the Lensbaby Twist 60.

I love funky, cool shots that look photoshopped but aren’t. It’s a point of pride for me when someone looks at my work and asks how I did it, and then seems surprised when I tell them I only cropped it and tweaked the levels a bit. So when I was mucking about on the interwebs a while ago, the Twist 60 caught my eye. It’s totally low-tech and totally full of character. So much so that character is about all it has. No AF, no VR, no chip relaying info back to the camera. Nada. Just, you know, glass.

Lensbaby, Twist 60, New York, photo, NJohnston Photography, www.njohnstonphotography.com
A shot of the Lensbaby Twist 60 taken with my new Petzval lens.

Made by Lensbaby, the Twist 60 is a throwback to times when optical technology wasn’t as good as it was now. Lenses were soft and had all kinds of problems like distortion, bad color fringing, vignetting and terrible ability to deal with things like lens flare. We’ve come a long way hunting for photographic perfection, and the amazing, razor-sharp, distortion-free lenses I own have silky-smooth bokeh, great color rendition and great contrast. They are so good that when I look through a kit lens on a lesser camera, my first instinct is to put it down and walk away. But the Twist 60 is not only soft and vignetty, it’s designed specifically to have a swirly bokeh that’s often a little busy, even dizzy. And it’s really hard to get anything in focus if you’re a shooter like me who rarely uses a tripod, preferring to be “spur of the moment” even during studio sessions. And only the center of the image is sharp (if you can call it sharp). The rest is just mush. Basically, it’s all wrong. But that’s where it’s right. There’s an unexplainable something that enters your image when you nail it, a world that doesn’t exist in the scientific precision of Nikon’s finest glass.

Lensbaby, Twist 60, New York, Christmas, family, photo, NJohnston Photography, www.njohnstonphotography.com
A snowy Christmas morning in Dobbs Ferry, NY.

I’m a professional photographer, not a product blogger, so writing a review of the Twist 60 isn’t really what I was intending here. But after a few days of downtime with my family over the holidays, it’s just too interesting not to write about. After the box arrived from Adorama (no kickback here, I just like buying from Adorama and am happy to plug them), I popped the lens on my Nikon D750 and immediately set out to make art. That’s when I learned how dependent I’d become on auto focus, making one piece of digital garbage after another. But after a little practice I was able to figure it out. This isn’t a piece of photographic equipment you can just hop in and drive. You have to coax it into life. But that’s kind of part of the magic, because it slows you down and forces you to be deliberate, which is actually refreshing in this modern era of instant gratification and “must get it all done NOW”. If you have the patience, you can take some really wonderful photos.

Lensbaby, Twist 60, New York, Christmas, family, photo, NJohnston Photography, www.njohnstonphotography.com
A girl by the fire.

My only real complaint is it’s complete lack of electronics. It would be handy to have a chip inside that reports to the camera what it is and how it’s being used, that way when I’m editing the photos later, I can use that information as a reference. But I guess I’ll most likely be shooting wide open for maximum “twist” effect, so it’s not a big deal. Still, it would be nice.

In keeping with the Twist 60’s “old timey” vibe, I decided to push retro even farther and set my camera to shoot sepia, thus taking away my options in post. I mean, why not? I haven’t shot a roll of black and white film in almost 20 years, and I’ve already turned my nose up at my nearly flawless, uber expensive “pro” lenses in favor of an optically inferior, totally limiting piece of glass in the name of art. Let’s go all the way. Only thing that seems to missing from these shots are Little House On The Prairie clothes on the kids. Maybe I’m a closet hipster.

I don’t really feel like I’m setting any new standards in photography here. These photos are just for fun as I’m beginning to learn this lens and have a lot more to uncover.  Point is, it’s a quirky, cool lens that’s potentially going to give me some unique looks out of camera that might send me down new roads creatively and professionally. At the very least, it’s a fun thing to keep me engaged with my craft, and I look forward to new adventures with it.

Speaking of new adventures, the doorbell just rang. It’s the UPS guy delivering the new Petzval 85mm lens I ordered. Watch out, I think I can feel a handlebar mustache sprouting under my nose and the budding urge to move to Williamsburg, Brooklyn…..

Thanks for commenting! Check out more weddings, portraits and photos on my website NJohnston Photography.

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