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Lensbaby announces new Obscura system, a modern take on pinhole photography

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Lensbaby is well known for its unusual lenses. However, as the company says, its latest product ‘isn’t a lens,’ but rather is an ‘extraordinary experience crafted in the origins of photography.’ Lensbaby’s latest product is Obscura. Lensbaby Obscura is a modern twist on pinhole photography that allows photographers to use digital cameras to capture images like what you might get from an actual pinhole camera.

Lensbaby Obscura Optic

As a quick refresher, an actual pinhole camera is a light-proof box with a small hole in one side. Through this hole, or aperture, light passes through, projecting an inverted image of the scene on the opposite side of the pinhole camera. This is the camera obscura effect, of which there are descriptions as far back as 500 BCE. The effect was used for pinhole photography as far back as the 1850s.

Today, pinhole cameras are most often used to safely view a solar eclipse or for fun photographic experiments and projects. Lensbaby wants its Obscura product to bring photography’s ancient spirit back to modernity.

Lensbaby Obscura comes in two versions. There’s a 50mm Pinhole/Zone Plate/Pinhole Sieve optic. There’s also a standalone 16mm Pinhole/Zone Plate/Pinhole Sieve pancake lens although, pinholes aren’t technically lenses) for mirrorless cameras, including Canon RF, Nikon Z, Sony E, Fuji X, Micro Four Thirds and L mount. Finally, for the Optic Swap system, there’s an Obscura Optic. It has a 50mm focal length.

Obscura’s pinhole, zone plate and pinhole sieve are made of three layers of chrome with a total thickness of 0.00014mm deposited on 1.5mm thick glass. An anti-reflective coating is also applied. Below is a sample gallery of images captured with the LensBaby Obscura lenses:

Lensbaby writes, ‘With a resolution of 128K dpi, this photolithography process not only makes true zone plates with excellent light transmission, it produces perfectly round pinholes and precision zone plate zones.’ Unlike traditional pinhole cameras, which can be quite fragile, Obscura can be cleaned in the same way as any camera lens.

‘Pinhole photography taught me to see composition, contrast, leading lines and the shape of things in ways that led me to make some of my most powerful images,’ says Craig Strong, Co-Founder and Chief Creative Officer at Lensbaby, Inc. ‘We created the Obscura so that you could learn and grow while using a technologically advanced pinhole lens with options. It’s the Lensbaby twist to old-world imagery.’

Lensbaby Obscura 50

The Obscura 50 has a 50mm focal length, as evidenced by its name. The Zone Plate has an F32 aperture. The Pinhole Sieve is smaller still, at F64. Finally, the Pinhole has an aperture of F161. The minimum focus distance also varies across the three versions, ranging from 0.27m (10″) to 0.001m (0.04″). Unsurprisingly, Obscura is a manual focus system.

Obscura 16, the standalone pancake ‘lens’ Obscura product, has the same three parts, Zone Plate, Pinhole Sieve and Pinhole, with F22, F45 and F90 aperture values, respectively. Minimum focusing distances range from 0.6m (23″) to 0.05m (2″).

Lensbaby Obscura 16

Obscura 50 is available now for Canon EF and Nikon F mounts. It costs $280. Obscura 16 is available for many more mounts, Canon RF, Nikon Z, Sony E, Fuji X, Micro Four Thirds and L mount, and costs $250. The Obscura Optic is $180. The full Obscura product line can be viewed here.


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