Lensbaby Burnside 35mm F2.8

Conclusion

Evaluating a lens like the Lensbaby Burnside 35 is not an easy thing to do, because the lens is not meant to perform like other lenses. Like many of Lensbaby's products, the Burnside was designed to create effects that are hard (and sometimes impossible) to obtain without relying heavily on post-processing.

Mechanically, the Burnside is superb. The metal body is smooth and elegant, the controls are easy to use and are logically placed, the rings turn smoothly and the vignetting golden lever is easy to control.  Markings are printed instead of engraved but they seem durable. The uneven steps between the various aperture values and the lack of partial stops are the only things to criticize about the controls. 

The lack of any communication between the lens and camera (even via the aperture lever usually found on Pentax lenses) has one advantage: there are fewer components likely to break. Using the green button for metering works well. In this regard the Burnside is particularly well matched to Pentax cameras, which make metering that much easier.

At 35mm, the Burnside is a good walkaround lens on full frame, and comes close to a normal on APS-C. This focal length was a good choice on Lensbaby's part, as it widens the appeal of their lens. Coupled with relatively close focusing capabilities, it makes the lens versatile, a good tool to have in the bag. Its other characteristics as well as its fast maximum aperture make it best suited for portraits or in general for subject isolation.

There is a lot to like optically. Even though the Petzval is a VERY old design, the manufacturer applied a number of modern elements to meet the expectations of digital photographers.

Vignetting cannot be described exactly as usual, since one unique element of the Burnside is its ability to add vignetting at will. Still, wide open the lens performs admirably on APS-C body (where vignetting will be hard to spot) and keeps things under control even on full frame. Using the vignetting slider and a small aperture will result in dark or even black corners, which can be used creatively to better isolate the subject.

Bokeh is one of the lens' strong suits, but not in a way that will be familiar to people used to round aperture blades and creamy transitions. The transitions are smooth enough, and the highlights are well shaped, but the Petzval design creates a characteristic, swirly bokeh rendering that's certainly unusual. It does so by elongating the highlights more and more nearer to the edges of the frame. This creates an impression of circles in movement and, even if it makes the bokeh more dynamic, still contributes to isolating the subject and making it pop.

The Burnside exceeded our expectations regarding aberrations. Flare is kept well under control in almost every situation, and CA is near-absent. Distortion is higher than usual for a 35mm but still hard to note in most cases, and easy to correct.

Sharpness is where the lens is weakest. In the center it is acceptable and the lens performs well at all apertures (with some decrease wide open). However, as soon as the subject comes closer to the edges, the resolution figures drop. This can be used creatively and to the photographer's benefit, but is certainly not a desirable characteristic. Couple this with strong field curvature and the result is a lens which must be used carefully regarding subject positioning.

Pros

  • Excellent build quality, all metal, easy to use controls
  • Swirly bokeh adds a unique element to pictures
  • Vignetting kept under control, can be tuned via the lens
  • Low distortion
  • Manual focus easy and accurate
  • Well-controlled flare, ghosting and CA

Cons

  • Sharpness drops rapidly away from the center
  • Aperture ring offers only full stops

Pricing

The Burnside 35mm F2.8 sells at a US street price of $499.95 in December, 2018.

Rating

Build Quality 
 9
Sharpness 
 6
Bokeh 
 9
Aberrations 
 8
Distortions 
 9
Handling 
 9
Value 
 8
Overall 
 8.3 (Very Good)

Who is it For

The Lensbaby Burnside 35mm F2.8 is not for everyone. Despite its convenient focal length and fast maximum aperture, its unique rendering and manual controls make it best suited for photographers who want to get creative and explore new ways to expand their photography. Its main qualities are wasted in a studio, and the lens benefits greatly from being used in busy environments. Its small size means that it can be left at the bottom of the camera bag, and used when opportunities show themselves.

The Bottom Line

It is refreshing to see some manufacturer step away from the common trends and create lenses with personality. It is not surprising to see Lensbaby do so: this is part of their DNA.

The Burnside is probably one of the company's most mainstream lens, easier to approach for beginners. Used like any other lens, the Burnside offers few surprises and quirks apart from the unique swirly bokeh. Taking the time to experiment with it will be a rewarding experience and open up a world of possibilities.

Be sure to check the user reviews or post your own if you already own this lens.

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