Taking a Closer Look at Instagram’s Crystal Ball
Is the ball taking over Instagram a gimmick or here to stay?
About a month ago I decided to pick up a Lensball. I’d seen photos of photographers using them around the internet, and I wanted to see for myself if it was just a fun little gimmick or something that would stay in my camera bag for years to come. I’ve shot using the Lensball a few times now, and feel like I’ve used it enough to give some insight on the product and come to a conclusion on whether it is worth picking up. I’d like to share that with you today.
So What Is It?
For those of you who don’t know. A Lensball is a physical sphere made out of the same crystal companies use to make their camera lenses. The purpose of it is to shoot your images through the ball to get an interesting effect and perspective in your photos.
Packaging and Shipping
First off, the packaging the Lensball came in was great. The ball comes well protected and didn’t leave any worry that it might be damaged once I got it open. The actual product box is nice. It’s a clean design that looks like the product could have been released by Instagram, which is entirely intentional as that is where Lensball has made a name for themselves.
Aside from the looks, the packaging holds the ball in its carrying case nicely, so that when it isn’t in my camera bag I have an easy way to store it on my shelf until its next use. The carrying case case the ball comes with is nice. It’s a microfiber bag which is great for when the ball gets smudgy with fingerprints (which it inevitably will being entirely crystal). When the ball did get smudgy, I simply put it back in the the bag and rubbed it around. When I took it back out it was shiny and ready to go. This makes keeping the ball in the best condition for photos incredibly simple and easy.
The Shooting Experience
All that being said, the packaging and carrying case don’t mean much in terms of actually using this thing to shoot. So how is that? In terms of actually using the Lensball to get photos, it’s definitely unique. I think when people think of or see these things they’re probably going to see it as a gimmick, and think you can only get one type of photo out of them, but after using it in multiple locations in different types of light I can confidently say that just isn’t the case.
In just the few times I’ve used it I’ve been able to play with the way the light bends through the ball to get multiple effects. Holding things close to the ball gives off a more fish eye effect, while holding it to the side of the frame to capture an image bends the objects in focus in a completely different way.
Due to the way the light is refracting through the ball, when you look or shoot through it everything appears upside down. This provides a unique opportunity to get creative with the images you create. And when you don’t want things to appear upside down, a quick rotation in Lightroom after the fact fixes that for you.
If you’ve seen photos shot using this thing on Instagram, you’ve definitely seen the myriad of ways people have used it. I bought the 80mm version, but there is also a smaller 60mm one as well. So I don’t need to sit here and list out all the possibilities. One thing I can give you insight on though how it is to actually hold and use it.
The ball has just enough weight to it, which makes it a bit cumbersome to both hold out and shoot through your camera at the same time. While this isn’t a big deal, it does take away your attention from trying to get the shot you’re going for. In all of my testing and in all of the shots I’ve taken with the ball I did not have my camera on a tripod. That being said I think using it would be much easier if one did. Another easy fix, and one that provides you with a lot more opportunities for shots is to have someone else hold the ball and let you focus on shooting.
Other than the weird physical complications, actually shooting through the ball is easy. Focus pulls tight and quick and varying your aperture will make more of the world around the ball come into focus like you’d expect.
Taking the Ball on the Go
The lens ball is small enough so that you can easily throw it in most bags or backpacks. If you leave your bag behind it won’t fit in your pants but can be easily tucked away in a jacket pocket.
The only bump I hit in the road when traveling with this thing was going through TSA security. I flew with the Lensball from Austin, Texas to Paris, France and each checkpoint I went through in the US looked through my bag to investigate it. They let me pass through just fine, and the international security coming from Paris didn’t bat an eye, but it is something to be aware of in case the same happens to you. In the future I’ll just make sure to take it out of my bag even if going through TSA Pre.
Overall, I felt like I was able to get a wide variety of shots with the Lensball. The quality of the crystal it’s made of is of the standard that it doesn’t hurt image quality at all. It’s a unique tool to get a variety of different shots. I won’t be taking it with me on every shoot, but you can do enough with it to justify both the price and giving it a slot in your bag. At the end of the day it’s a great tool to exercise your creativity in photography, and is versatile enough to not get mundane.