If you haven’t seen them before, a Lensball is basically a polished glass sphere. That’s pretty much all there is to it, but once you’re aware of it, you start to see them cropping up everywhere, in Instagram and other online photos. A little while ago, the company that makes them sent me one to review, and I’ve been having fun with it ever since.
At first glance, it may seem that it's just a gimmick. Also, maybe at second glance. I’ve racked my brain trying to think of any practical or functional use for it, but aside from using it as a prop, I can’t really come up with anything. But that would be missing the point. It might be a gimmick, but it’s a lot of fun. If you want to produce quirky, arty shots, it's just another tool in your arsenal.
Using a Lensball is pretty straightforward. You just put it in the shot and focus on the ball. This gives you an upside down fish-eye image of the surroundings. The result will vary from shot to shot, but it’s surprisingly crisp. Obviously, it’s not as good as a proper fisheye lens, but that wouldn’t be the point. When you use it in front of the camera, you will get an upside down image of whatever is behind it, distorted and warped into a fisheye. If there’s enough bokeh in the shot, it can look kind of cool. To get around the upside down nature of the result, I’ve found that if you hold it in your hand, and then rotate the shot 180 degrees afterwards you can get a cool fisheye effect, and the result is the right way up. Plus the background is out of focus enough that you don’t notice the photo is actually upside down.
Aside from using it as a lens effect, it also makes a pretty good prop -, especially for fantasy/magic type images. It makes a great “orb”! I had a go at creating a few quick shots using the Lensball (with a little bit of photoshop help) and here are the results. They’re just really quickly thrown together mind you. I’m sure I could do better if I spent some time on it.
The only negative point I’ve discovered so far is that you can burn yourself really quickly if you’re not careful. In bright sunshine, it focuses the sun’s rays like a laser, and so its really easy to accidentally burn yourself. This is mentioned in the instructions that come with it, but I feel that it could be bigger and bolder and right on the box where you can’t miss it.
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