Antique Swirly Goodness with a modern Twist

I have recently had a great time shooting with the Twist 60 lens by Lensbaby. The Twist 60 optic is designed to emulate a Petzval Lens from the 1840s. The effect is a desirable swirly background blur with a large tack sharp center focus. The Twist is a manual lens and feels well made.  It’s heavy black metal enclosure and a metal mounting plate give it some heft which I like. The Twist 60 optic is interchangeable and can easily be snapped into place or swapped just like other lensbaby optics. This lens works best with full frame sensors, as crop sensor cameras will reduce the edge swirls.  I shot these images on my Sony a7r.

One of my first shots with the Twist 60 where I achieved the swirl bokeh.

It’s no secret that I am a huge fan of vintage lenses, manual focus, and shallow depth of field. When I saw examples of the bokeh taken with this lens I knew I needed to get my hands on one. The next week Shelly approached all of us signed up for this years Utah toy safari and asked if anyone would like to try out any Lensbaby lenses. I jumped at the chance and asked her to bring a Twist 60 if she could.  Little did I know that I would be gifted this lens a week later.

My brother is a landscape photographer and has a working relationship with Lensbaby. He was given a few lenses to test and review including the Twist 60; and subsequently he gifted it to me.  I liked what I had seen but I was still unsure about shooting toys with it.  I brought it along to the Utah toy safari and limited myself to shooting entirely with it. Like any new gear or lens there is always a learning curve and for me this Twist 60 was a bit out of my comfort zone of vintage glass.

Is it good for Toy Photography?

The answer is a resounding Yes.  It far exceeded my expectations. In fact, it is now my go to lens and hasn’t really left my camera much since the safari.

“High Ho Copper!”

During the Utah Toy Photo Safari we spent a lot of time at Snow Canyon as well as many other unique spots in the redrock of southern Utah. It was a bit tricky at first to nail shots with the twisty bokeh apparent, but I generally shoot wide open and found that this is the best way to shoot for results. I also found that in order to capture the unique twisty bokeh effect one needs to shoot at proper distances. On the Lensbaby website I found a great Tips and Tricks section for this lens and it was fairly helpful although I didn’t find this until after I had dialed in the lens myself.

Chip ‘n Dale Home Tree Lookout

This Twist 60 focuses fairly close at approximately 18 inches but I found shooting larger figures tends to be easier to get the swirl. It’s also good to make sure your background has quite a bit of contrasting details. Examples include backlit vegetation (sunlight filtering through), reflective objects like barbedwire or water, and shooting in either early morning or evening to get the low light reflections from the sun. The recommended distance for the swirl bokeh is about 7 feet behind your main subject.  I still achieved swirly goodness on closer backgrounds but I do have to agree that if you match the 7 feet the swirls are amazing.

This forest is old…

Before and after – Barbed Wire Tightrope


It took lots of trial and error shots experimenting with distances and backgrounds to see what really brought out the twist and made this lens shine. I feel after several weeks of shooting I am now comfortable at getting awesome shots on the fly.

The Twist 60 produces some beautiful lens flares

I am very impressed by the results of the Twist 60.  I highly recommend it for unique outdoor toy photography. Priced at about $280 its a lot of bang for your buck and you can’t go wrong adding this gem to your bag.

~ Joseph Cowlishaw (@joecow)

Do you have a go to lens that you reach for more than any other?  What do you think about utilizing in camera effects rather than adding them in post, ie flares and blur?