Amateur Photographer verdict

The Lensbaby Sweet 22 is an idiosyncratic optic that won’t be for everyone. But the unique effects it produces can be rewarding for photographers looking to experiment with their images.
  • Easy to use
  • Compact and lightweight
  • Creates a dramatic effect
  • No communication between the lens and camera
  • Manual focus only
  • The small sweet-spot is fixed to the centre of the frame

The Lensbaby Sweet 22 is a wideangle lens for creative photography that gives a central sharp region surrounded by dramatic blur. It has a focal length of 22mm and it produces images that cover a full-frame sensor. But it can also be used on APS-C format cameras with the appropriate mount, providing an equivalent focal length of around 33mm. Lensbaby makes the lens for mirrorless cameras and it’s available in Canon RF, Nikon Z, Fujifilm X, and Sony FE mounts, along with the L-mount that’s used by Leica, Sigma and Panasonic. 

Lensbaby Sweet 22: At a glance

  • £179/$179.95 (lens only)
  • £222/$222.95 as a kit with a case, ND filter and lens cloth
  • Standalone lens
  • 22mm focal length
  • Full-frame but compatible with smaller sensors
  • Fixed f/3.5 aperture
  • 46mm filter thread
  • Manual focus

As usual for Lensbaby, the Sweet 22 is a manual focus lens with no electrical contacts. It’s constructed from 4 elements arranged in 2 groups and the round aperture is fixed at f/3.5. Consequently, the only control on the lens is the ridged focus ring, which moves smoothly though around 90-degrees of rotation. Although focus peaking can help, I find it best to customise a button on the camera to enlarge the image in the viewfinder to ease focusing.

Lensbaby Sweet 22: Key Features

  • Sweet spot: The Sweet 22 captures a central sharp spot surrounded by dramatic blur 
  • Available Mounts: Lensbaby produces the Sweet 22 with Canon RF, Fujifilm X, Nikon Z, Sony E and L Mount
  • Close focusing: The lens can focus on subjects just 12.7cm from the sensor, giving a reproduction ratio of 1:5.
  • No contacts: Lensbaby lenses don’t have electrical contacts so the camera cannot record any EXIF data about them.
Lensbaby produces the Sweet 22 with Canon RF, Fujifilm X, Nikon Z, Sony E and L Mount. Image: Angela Nicholson

Using the Lensbaby Sweet 22

Unlike Lensbaby’s other Sweet optics (Sweet 35, 50 and 80) that are part of the company’s optics swap system, the Sweet 22 is a standalone lens that mounts directly onto a camera like a regular lens. However, it creates the same distinctive in-camera effects as the Sweet series optics and captures a central area of sharpness surrounded by blur. This effect can sometimes resemble a zoom-burst, adding to the image’s impact.

Image: Angela Nicholson

While Lensbaby’s Optic Swap bodies/barrels, such as the Composer Pro II and Spark 2.0, allow the sweet spot to be moved around the frame, the Sweet 22’s fixed barrel keeps the sweet spot central. This can seem limiting at first because it means you’re likely to want to put the subject in the centre of the frame and not use the rule of thirds. But it also inspires alternative creative approaches.

In the absence of aperture control, the Sweet 22 is best used in aperture priority or manual exposure modes. Using the camera’s Auto ISO mode gives extra freedom and allows the exposure to adjust automatically to changing lighting conditions.

This slim and lightweight pancake lens won’t weigh your kitbag down. Image: Angela Nicholson

The Sweet 22 is just 38.5mm in length and 73mm in diameter, which means it’s a ‘pancake’ lens, so it’s very unobtrusive. That’s handy for street photography, but the wide-angle of view may mean you have to go close to your subject. It also weighs just 140g, so you won’t mind slipping it your your bag just in case a creative opportunity arises.

Lensbaby Sweet 22: Performance

When correctly focused, the central area of the Sweet 22 is sharp, although it doesn’t match the level of detail provided by high-end lenses. It’s also quite a small area, so you have to think carefully about your composition. Consequently, this lens is more about artistic expression and creativity than technical perfection and pixel-peeping.

Image: Angela Nicholson
ILCE-9M3 · 1/2500s · ISO250

Images from the Sweet 22 usually feature a smooth, uniform blur around the central focused area and this can conceal unwanted elements in the frame. It’s also a nice way of drawing attention to your subject and removing distractions. As I mentioned earlier, in some cases, this blur can create an almost zoom-burst effect, and small highlights in the blurred areas may appear stretched, contributing to a sense of movement and drama.

Vignetting is noticeable when the Sweet 22 is used on a full-frame camera, but flare and chromatic aberration are minimal. Those who enjoy adding a bit of creative corner shading will find the vignetting can enhance the overall artistic effect of the images.

Original image with 3:2 aspect ratio. Image: Angela Nicholson
ILCE-1 · 1/400s · ISO100

Because of the central sharp area, some photographers may wish to set their camera’s aspect ratio to square (1:1). But I prefer to shoot using the full sensor and then crop post-capture, as some images also work well in 16:9 or other aspect ratios. 

Edited image cropped to a 16:9 aspect ratio. Image: Angela Nicholson

Setting up the camera for using a Lensbaby Lens

Because Lensbaby lenses have no electrical contacts the camera doesn’t know that a lens is mounted. As a result, you may need to search your camera’s menu for a setting that allows it to shoot without a lens. Once that’s done, you just need to focus the lens manually and shoot as normal.

Lensbaby Sweet 22: Our Verdict

The lens has 4 elements arranged in 2 groups and the round aperture is fixed at f/3.5. Image: Angela Nicholson

While the Lensbaby Sweet 22 requires some mental adjustment in terms of composition and focusing, the unique effects it produces can be rewarding for photographers looking to experiment with their images. Its distinctive style encourages creative exploration and reworking of familiar subjects. Although the Sweet 22 is a great introduction to Lensbaby lenses, an experienced Lensbaby user will also enjoy its ease of use and high-impact results.

Amateur Photographer Recommended 4.5 stars
Image: Angela Nicholson

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