Lensbaby Obscura 16mm: Incredibly frustrating yet incredibly fun

The Lensbaby Obscura 16mm. It’s a lens that will make you laugh. It will make you cry. The Lensbaby Obscura 16mm will make you question everything about photography and your skills. It’s absolutely brilliant.

Lensbaby’s Obscura 16mm is one of the most unique lenses I have ever used. The Lensbaby Obscura 16mm is a pinhole lens with three very different apertures and styles to play with. It will definitely challenge you as a photographer. The Obscure 16 is available for just about every major mount, so, let’s take a closer look at it.

Editor’s note: Lensbaby sent us a copy of the Obscura 16mm to review and keep. This, however, is a completely independent review. All thoughts expressed are our own. We’re telling you this as we always want to be honest with you.

What makes the Lensbaby Obscura 16mm so different?

Pinhole cameras really make you think about photography differently. You can’t just run and gun. You have to think about what you’re doing and you have to be very deliberate. The Lensbaby Obscura 16mm is no different in this regard. There are three apertures to choose from. The f/22 setting is a zone plate. The f/45 setting is a pinhole sieve, and f/90 is a standard pinhole.

The f/22 setting will let in the most light. There are multiple circular rings, which surround a center hole. This setting produces a central area with a bit of detail but it blurs as you reach the edge of the image. The f/45 setting (pinhole sieve) uses a field of pinholes. The biggest pinhole is in the center. The smaller holes that surround it let in light and create very unique flares and glow. The f/90 setting is a standard pinhole. You’ll get more depth of field, however, the focus is soft and there are no sharp details.

Build quality and ease of use

The Lensbaby Obscura 16mm is a pancake lens that features an all-metal build. It feels really nice in the hand. Even the inlay that allows you to switch between the three pinhole settings is made from metal. This is not an expensive lens (it’s under $300). Still, the Lensbaby Obscura feels premium. The only plastic around is in the lens cap. Unfortunately, there’s no weather sealing, but overall, this is a well-constructed lens.

There’s a steep learning curve

lensbaby obscura 16

From a technical standpoint, the Lensbaby Obscura 16mm is easy to use. You see, this lens has no autofocus, you can’t even manually focus it. You simply attach it to your camera and you just select which pinhole plate you want to use via the rotating dial. However, from a photographic and creative standpoint, if I told you this lens was easy to use, I’d be lying.

This lens is the photographic equivalent of a very rocky relationship. At first, you’ll love the lens because it’s so different. Then you’ll hate the lens with a passion because it’s unforgiving. Then, you’ll pull off a fantastic shot and you’ll love on the lens because it’s forcing you to be creative. However, you’ll try to replicate the image and nothing will cooperate with you. You’ll never want to pick up a camera again. And so the journey begins.

lensbaby obscura 16

The Lensbaby Obscura 16mm can be a very challenging lens to learn how to use. You’ll have ups and downs … many, many downs. However, eventually, you stop trying to treat it like any other lens and you’ll listen to what it wants. It’s at this point that you’ll bond.

You can’t simply point, shoot and profit with this lens. No. You have to love it. You’ll need to caress it, and whisper sweet nothings in its ear. The lens will challenge you in ways you didn’t think possible.

You’ll have to completely rethink your approach to photography and this is what makes it brilliant. In no time, you’ll be having fun with your photography. You’ll be creating instead of just capturing. Put the time in with the Lensbaby Obscura 16mm and you’ll be rewarded.

Image quality

If you’re looking for, and expect to get tack sharp images with tons of detail, just walk away now. This is not the lens for you. This lens is not about image quality. It’s not about sharpness, color rendering or bokeh. No, the Lensbaby Obscura 16mm is about the journey it will take you on.

There’s so much more to image quality than the measures listed above. What is important, however, is how you create and compose your images to tell a story. This lens will let you get in touch with your creative side like no other lens.

Ultimately, you’re going to be shooting at very slow shutter speeds, or very high ISOs. Still, no matter what you do, you’ll never get sharp images. What you need to do is just create and embrace what’s delivered. Once you do that, once you let go of the idea of perfection, you’ll appreciate what you can create with this lens.

The Lensbaby Obscura 16mm can create surreal dream-like scenes and portraits. You can use the Obscura 16mm to create very painterly landscapes. You can get up close with objects and create fun scenes. You’re only bound by your imagination.

Should you buy it?

lensbaby obscura 16mm

The Lensbaby Obscura 16mm is a very unique lens that won’t appeal to everyone, but don’t write it off. I’ll be honest here. Had I not been sent a copy of this lens for review, I probably would have overlooked it. However, after trying it, falling in love with it, hating it and then embracing it, I can honestly say that this is an incredibly fun lens. It’s one that I will cherish.

The Lensbaby Obscura is not a lens that you’ll leave attached to your camera all the time. However, if you have it in your collection and you grow tired of the overly engineered, overly clinical lenses that we’re bombarded with today, the Lensbaby Obscura 16mm will hit you like a breath of fresh air. The Obscura is available for micro four -thirds, Sony E mount, Canon RF, Fujifilm X Mount, L mount and Nikon Z mount. It’s priced under $250.

Lensbaby Obscura 16mm

The Lensbaby Obscura 16mm is small, lightweight, well built and affordable. If you want to create incredibly unique dreamlike images with a mirrorless camera, this is the lens for you. This lens will most definitely help you become more creative, and a better storyteller.

lensbaby obscura 16mm