Some time ago I reviewed the original Lensbaby. The basic idea behind all the Lensbabies is a simple lens mounted in a flexible plastic tube, which can be bent to create interesting optical effects. At large apertures the simple lens gives a sharp image in the center, with increasing blur towards the edges of the frame. Since the original review Lensbabies have introduced two new models, the Lensbaby 2.0 and Lensbaby 3G. Both have the same optics, a coated doublet lens, but the 3G adds an adjustable focusing mechanism and the ability to lock the lens at the desired angle of tilt. Lensbabies describe the 3G as "the hybrid love child of an old fashioned bellows camera and an up-tight tilt-shift lens"!
As you can see from the illustration, it's an unusual looking beast, something of a cross between a lens and a UFO! At the base is the lens mount which couples to the camera. Attached to the base is a flexible plastic "bellows" which contains the lens. At the top of the bellows is a focusing ring which moves the lens back and forth inside the bellows for focusing. Three threaded rods connect the base to a ring near the other end of the bellows. There is a mechanism which allows the ring either to grip these rods or to let them slide free.
If the rods are allowed to slide free you can move the bellows around with your fingers to focus and tilt the lens until you get the approximate effect you want. By pushing a button the ring then grips the threaded rods, allowing fine adjustments in tilt to be made. The focusing ring can be used to set exact focus. While all of this sounds a little complex, it's pretty easy to figure out once you've had your hands on the device for a few minutes.
The aperture is changed by placing one of a series of 7 disks in the lens. With no disk in place the lens is f2. The disks provide circular apertures for f2.8, f4, f5.6, f8, f11, f16 and f22. The aperture disks are held in place with a magnetic system and are pretty easy to change. You can also get an aperture kit for $9.95 which contains a star and a heart shaped aperture along with 5 blank disks in which you can cut your own aperture shapes. The material is a ferromagnetic metalicized plastic, so it's pretty easy to cut with a punch or sharp knife.
Auxilliary wideangle, telephoto and macro lenses are available. In fact any accessory with a standard 37mm accessory thread can be screwed into the front of the Lensbaby 3G.
So is the Lensbaby 3G a cheaper substitute for something like the Canon 45mm tilt/shift lens? No, it's not, though their principle of operation is similar. The Canon 45mm T/S lens has 10 optical elements and is designed to have a flat field with sharp images over a large focal plane area (larger than 35mm). Image quality is high from corner to corner of the 35mm frame, even when the lens is tilted and/or shifted. The tilt function is used to adjust the plane of focus and the shift function is used to correct perspective. On the other hand the Lensbaby 3G uses a simple doublet lens, which has a curved field. It is sharp in the center and increasingly blurred towards the edges. The tilt function is used mainly to move the sharp area ("sweet spot") around the frame. It really can't be significantly "shifted". It's a special effects lens, not a lens designed for perspective correction or focal plane manipulation.