Freelensing or Lensbaby?

Freelensing or Lensbaby?


As promised, here is a follow up post after my recent Freelensing article in the February 22nd 2014 issue of Amateur Photographer Magazine (link below). To recap, the term ‘Freelensing’ is when you take the lens off your camera and hold it with your hand in front of the camera body. You focus your images through the viewfinder as normal but you will need to set your camera to ‘M’ manual mode. You may also need to go into your camera menu and select ‘operate W/O lens attached’ (or similar) setting. You dial in your aperture and focal distance on your lens beforehand using the approximate hyperfocal distance. Note, older lenses work better where there have an aperture ring. For example you cannot use Nikon G series lenses for freelensing (as easily) but Nikon D, Nikon AI-s and older lenses work no problem as they all have the aperture ring.

Why would you want to take the lens off the camera you ask1? When the lens is attached it is at the same plane of focus as the sensor. When you take off the lens you can tilt the lens with your hand (similar to a large format film camera lens on bellows) in front of the camera thereby altering the plane of focus hitting your subject.

Here are some freelensing example images using various medium format film legacy lenses on my Nikon D800 last year. Any lens that requires a deep adapter to fit to your camera body will give you the ability to tilt the lens a greater amount than one designed to fit the camera. I rarely used Nikon mount lenses for freelensing for this reason but it is possible. Keep reading..
Freelensing Portraits – Model Katie

Katie SOOC
Katie in the Studio!  ..with Mir-26b
Bells are ringing.. Everyone is waiting..  I should go...
D800 6x6 with Biotar 80/2.8
Retro SOOC
Smiles in the Studio
Retro SOOC
Katie SOOC with Mir-26B (45mm/f3.5)
Katie, SOOC

Freelensing Portraits – Model Emma
Emma SOOC (+ tag)

Freelensing Portraits – Model Harriett
Harriett SOOC
Creative Studio Lighting
Harriett - Is that the Time
Harriett SOOC
Harriett SOOC JPEG
Harriett SOOC JPEG
Harriett SOOC - Peeking out
Harriett SOOC JPEG

Nikkor 50mm f1.2 AI-s for freelensing with the Nikon D800.You have very little tilt ability for portraits and it is very easy to catch the DSLR mirror inside the camera with the back of the lens where the metal protrudes as you take your shot as you have to hold the lens so close to the body.

Zsaklin (3)
Zsaklin (2)

Freelensing Landscapes
Morning Lights, Hungary
Autumn Colours, Hungary
Nikkor 24mm/f2
City Lights, Bydgoszcz

Freelensing Macro (Close up). Macro is very easy with any lens if you are freelensing as you mimic the effect of macro extension tubes by holding the lens further from the camera for a greater magnification.

Autumn Leaves, Hungary
Freelensing is possible for film photography as well as digital photography. The biggest difference is you have the expense of the film cost while you practise where with digital it is of course free. Here is a portrait of Zsaklin taken in Hungary with my Contax.

Contax 645 Medium Format Film camera.
Zsaklin with Contax 645


Freelensing creative photo look using a Lensbaby Edge 80. If you would like an easier way to get a similar look to your images you could get yourself the Lensbaby tilt lens, the Lensbaby Edge 80 optic. The advantage of using a Lensbaby lenses is you camera sensor remains clean and dust and moisture free. This is particularly important out of the studio when shooting on location. I had the Edge 80 mounted on a Lensbaby Spark mount on my Nikon D800 for these images.

Lensbaby Edge 80 Optic
Katie with Edge 80
Katie Candid - Lensbaby Edge 80
Katie with Lensbaby Edge 80
Bridal Photography
Sarah with the 'Edge 80'
Galyna with Edge 80
Yuliya, Ukraine
Roxana SOOC
Lensbaby Edge 80, Ukraine
Alyona & Robert Engagement Shoot (2)
Roxana by Arri Light ;) - SOOC
Lensbaby Edge 80

Lensbaby Film Photography – Nikon FM SLR 35mm film camera

Lensbaby Edge 80 Film
Vintage film photography
Dubai Airport
India Highway..
I want to ride my bicycle
Little India


As you can see you it is easy to get creative using freelensing photography or a Lensbaby Edge 80 lens. Both have their advantages and both have their limitations. On my Nikon D800 I used both techniques as and when I wanted a different look. I now shoot mostly with a 35mm digital rangefinder camera, a Leica M9. The rangefinder focus system is different to the through the lens DSLR style focusing and so is not compatible with freelensing. This wont stop me from getting creative with my Leica. I just think of new ways to get the edited look straight from my Leica M9. One of the things I loved the most about freelensing is your images can look photoshopped straight from the camera. Many of the photos shared here probably had little or no editing.

Happy shooting! – Leica Photographer

Related Posts

Amateur Photographer Magazine – Freelensing


Amateur Photographer Magazine

Amateur Photographer Magazine – February 22, 2014

Freelensing Issue

Above is my photo of Harriett on the current issue of Amateur Photographer magazine. It was taken with a Nikon D800 DSLR camera back in early 2013 and shot as black and white JPEG in my Coventry studio. The photo was shot at night so that isn’t actually window light.. or a window!

Here are two more photos inside of models Harriett and Emma using the same camera and freelensing technique. I used various medium format camera lenses for freelensing so I am not sure exactly which lens I used here.

Amateur Photography Magazine - Freelensing

I will write an additional freelensing blog post soon with more examples and details using the Nikon D800 camera.

I now shoot with a Leica M9 most of the time both in the studio and on location for fashion photography and for Leica wedding photography so I no longer use the freelensing technique on a regular basis. – Leica Photographer

Featured: Henri Cartier-Bresson

Featured: Henri Cartier-Bresson (“HCB”)

Featured: Henri Cartier-Bresson

The French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson captured some of the very best street photography photos ever taken with his Leica 35mm film camera.  He is amongst a handful of my all time favourite photographers and I am sure has had an influence on my photography style today.

I favour high contrast black and white photos for both digital photography and film photography.  I shoot both my Leica M9 rangefinder and Nikon D800 DSLR cameras in black and white JPEG + RAW file mode and usually only use the JPEG files.  Modern digital cameras tend to have an extended dynamic range capturing details in the shadows and highlights.  I enjoy the more traditional look of Henri Cartier-Bresson’s crisp whites and black blacks in his photos.  I love the scenes captured in his early street photography images and I hope one day I too can learn to compose and capture such images within a split second without having to think.

Moving from a Nikon DSLR to a Leica M9 has let me get one step closer to photography in it’s purest form.  By that I mean the camera has less buttons and gimmicky features and so lets you concentrate on taking a photograph rather than worrying about camera settings.  I now need to learn to see the world through some of my favourite lenses so I can visualise a picture before I put the camera to my eye using focal lengths such as 21mm (Zeiss ZM Biogon 21mm f2.8), 35mm (Voigtlander Nokton 35mm f1.2 ASPH ii) and HCB’s favourite 50mm focal length (Leica Summilux ASPH 50mm f1.4 & Zeiss ZM Sonnar T 50mm f1.5 amongst others).  I can then chose that lens for the day and use a one camera one lens setup letting me focus 100% of the photograph I would like to compose and capture.

For my last Leica wedding in January, I used the 21mm ZM Biogon on the Leica M9 camera for almost the entire day.  I found it perfect for my documentary style wedding photography.  I was able to photograph the wedding with the unobtrusive Leica up close yet without being noticed, mingling amongst the wedding guests.  I enjoy shooting by available light as Cartier-Bresson did and but also use off camera lighting if I have too to simulate daylight in low light situations (such as winter wedddings in the UK!).

Practise makes perfect and as Cartier-Bresson once described in an interview, if you bring the camera to your eye and pull the trigger it needs to be a direct hit or nothing at all. – Leica Photography

Lumix G3 Portraits

Panasonic Lumix DMC-G3 for Portraits

To recap from my last Lumix G3 post, I bought the small inexpensive micro 4/3s camera as a challenge to myself to see if I could take photos that I would be happy to share on my Flickr page. I would be using the G3 only with legacy lenses that I already owned from various manufacturers including Carl Zeiss, Voigtlander and Leica. I normally use a Leica M9 or a Nikon D800 so the little Lumix had quite a challenge ahead.

My last Lumix G3 post showed me using the G3 for street photography.

Here are some examples using the G3 for portraiture. Yesterday I did a shudio shoot with Kira using the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G3 + Carl Zeiss Pancolar 80mm f1.8 + M42 – M4/3 adapter. I shot them with lighting to make them look like that had already been edited but in fact there was very little processing (contrast, sharpening, watermark).

Panasonic Lumix G3

When I was shooting on location in London I used the Lumix G3 + Zeiss ZM Sonnar 50mm f1.5 C + M4/3 – LM adapter (Leica M).

Lumix G3 + Zeiss ZM 50/1.5
Panasonic Lumix G3

All of these photos are Lumix G3 JPEG files. The photos tend to be much softer than what I am used to with the D800/ M9 but I can work quite well for female portraiture.

Would I use the Panasonic Lumix G3 for paying wedding photography clients?
No. The detail and resolution in the images is just not sufficient for my needs and taste. – Leica Photographer

Related Posts

Lumix G3 for Street Photography

Lumix G3 + Leica Lenses

Zeiss ZM Biogon 21mm f2.8

Zeiss ZM Biogon 21mm f2.8 –

for Leica Fashion Photography & Leica Street Photography

Yesterday I had another productive day shooting in London. 600 images, 8 hours of photography and many miles walked. I did a mix of Leica street photography and street fashion portraits with irish model Leona.

In my camera bag for the day was:

3 Camera Bodies –

  • Leica M9 body
  • Voigtlander Bessa R3A body (35mm film)
  • Panasonic Lumix G3 body + M4/3 – Leica M adapter(Backup)

Prime lens trio – 21mm, 35mm, 50mm –

  • Zeiss ZM 21mm f2.8 Biogon
  • Voigtlander Nokton 35mm f1.2 ASPH ii
  • Leica Summicron 50mm f2 v5 (“Cron”)

Speedlight + SD cards, batteries and the usual.

Of the above equipment taken the usage was:

100% M9 / 0% Film / 0% G3
80% ZM 21f2.8 / 20% 50f2 / 0% 35/1.2

I took the Cron to give it a day out and for more sample shots but I must say I prefer my Zeiss ZM Sonnar 50mm f1.5 C and Leica Summilux ASPH 50mm f1.4. It is a 50mm focal length so was used when I needed that range but it didn’t give me any wow factor. The Voigtlander Nokton 35mmm f1.2 ASPH ii is a fantastic lens but had already proved itself previously so I was keen to test the new ZM 21mm the most.

Example photos using the Zeiss ZM 21/2.8 for Leica fashion photography with Irish model Leona. When using a 21mm lens for portraits it is important to get the angle correct otherwise you can distort the image /subject.

Zeiss ZM Biogon
21mm Portrait
ZM 21mm Portrait
Catwalking down The Mall, London

Here is me using the ZM Biogon 21/2.8 for Leica street photography. 21mm is a wider focal length than many Leica street photographers use. It means you need to be very close to your subjects for them to have any impact in the image. Getting close to people in the street is in effect breaching their comfort zone so it can be a little unnerving yet exciting at the same time. If you get caught the best defence is just to smile!

Leica Street Photography
Candid Street Photography
21mm ZM
Regent Street London

Lens of the day was without doubt the Zeiss ZM Biogon 21mm f2.8. It is very sharp and a very versatile focal length. I used an auxilary 21mm viewfinder initially for composition but once the speedlight was occupying the Leica M9 hotshoe I just guestimated for the rest of the day. – Leica Photographer