Photo Kit: Embrace the swirly bokeh

Background with a twist: The Lensbaby Twist 60 produces some interesting swirly blur in the background especially when you have multiple light points. — Photos: TAN KIT HOONG/The Star

Background with a twist: The Lensbaby Twist 60 produces some interesting swirly blur in the background especially when you have multiple light points. — Photos: TAN KIT HOONG/The Star

I’m not one to constantly buy new lenses but ever since featuring the Lensbaby Twist 60 a while back in this article, I’ve been itching to get one for myself.

Well, I finally managed to save up the cash to get one (yes I need to save up and buy my own camera equipment same as everyone else) and I just recently got delivery of it.

Incidentally, together with a recent sale on the Lensbaby site, I got my Twist 60 for about RM1,254 with shipping included, but there was also a 6% GST charged on top of that when it came in so the total was about RM1,330 or so – still not too bad.

The Twist 60 is especially good for shooting close-ups of flowers where the swirly bokeh is particularly obvious.

In case you don’t want to click out of this article to read my previous post on it, the Lensbaby Twist 60 is a special effect lens based on a very old lens formula called a Petzval design.

Unlike most modern lenses which are corrected to produce straight lines and smooth out of focus areas, the Petzval design produces a very interesting effect – out-of-focus areas away from  the very centre are rendered as a swirly blur.

In certain situations, this produces a very interesting effect, especially if you have multiple points of light in the background, because it all produces a series of concentric circles which looks rather cool and helps to focus your attention on whatever’s in the centre of this swirl.

So how does it perform? Well it's a really fun lens when used in the right situation.

The Lensbaby Twist 60 has a metal build and is surprisingly compact.

A baby lens

I got the Nikon version of this lens and I must say it’s very compact and very light, despite being made mostly of metal.

I also like the anodised gold finish even though it may not be for everyone.

The Twist 60 is completely manual focus and manual aperture control – without any electronic or physical communication with the camera, you basically have to guess the right settings by trial and error.

A tip if you have a mid-range or high-end Nikon camera – Nikon has a “Non-CPU lens data”  option which allows you to input the focal length and maximum aperture of the lens so you will be able to get Aperture Priority autoexposure with a Nikon DSLR.

In this case you just control the aperture from the lens and let the Nikon DSLR handle the shutter speeds to get correct exposure.

The Petzval design means that the corners are soft but the Twist 60 is surprisingly sharp right in the centre as this 100% crop shows.

Image quality

What surprised me most is that right at the centre of the image, the Twist 60 is very, very sharp – with careful manual focusing, the lens is right up there with the best lenses when it comes to sharpness even when shot wide open at f/2.5.

You still get a bit of sharpness if you stop down, but results wide open are more than acceptable by any standards.

So I’m sure you’re wondering just how pronounced the swirly bokeh effect is?

Well with the aperture set at f/2.5, the swirly bokeh is really quite strong especially if you have more obvious cues like like points or lots of flowers in the background.

Stop down the aperture to f/5.6 and smaller and the swirly bokeh effect is lessened so if you want the maximum effect, you’ll have to shoot at f/2.5.

However, there’s really no point stopping down since we’re using this lens for its swirly bokeh.

I’ve had this lens for a little over a week now and I must say that I’m really impressed with it – it’s a fun little lens and its small size means you can easily pop it into your camera bag and use it when you want.

The results speak for themselves, really – as I said, the effect is certainly not for everyone, but with the right subject matter and background, the Twist 60 can really produce some stunning results.

Tan Kit Hoong ( is a journalist who's been an enthusiastic photographer longer than he's been reporting tech news and this monthly column allows him to ramble on about cameras and photography.