This part of the review is likely to be as polarizing to readers as a Lensbaby is to photographers. Considering what the Tilt Transformer is designed to do, it offers fantastic performance. You can mount a Nikon lens to an Olympus E-PL1 and use it as a standard lens (keeping the tilt ball in the normal position) or you can use it like any other Lensbaby. Although my first reaction is to cringe when I look at the Tilt Transformer’s $250 price tag for what is essentially a modified $40 lens mount adapter, $250 is a small price to pay for converting any Nikon lens into a tilt-shift lens. The 85mm f/2.8 Nikon PC-E tilt-shift lens costs about $1,800 new, or you can buy the Tilt Transformer and a Nikon 85mm f/1.8D for less than $750 total.
The price/performance ratio really does depend on how you look at it. If you just want to attach Nikon lenses to an Olympus Pen camera, the Tilt Transformer is way too expensive. If you want to turn a quality Nikon lens into a tilt shift lens, the Tilt Transformer is the least expensive way to go.
As previously mentioned, the Lensbaby Tilt Transformer requires you to manually focus your lens regardless of whether you use a Nikon lens or the optional Lensbaby Composer. The focus ring on my Composer is fluid with just a bit of “grind” at the extreme ends of the focus range. The ring travels about 140 degrees between its closest focus point of 45cm and infinity. Although manual focus can be tough with a live view camera like the Olympus E-PL1, you can set the camera to magnify the image on the LCD screen to make it easier to manually focus the lens.
Once again, a common criticism of Lensbaby lenses has been that the edges of the frame lack “tack sharp” focus even when the lens is in a normal position. The real benefit of the Tilt Transformer is that you can transform optically excellent Nikon lenses into tilt-shift lenses. In that usage scenario, the Tilt Transformer delivers stunning image quality. The Tilt Transformer made it so easy to use Nikon lenses with the Olympus E-PL1 that I had to force myself NOT to use it as a “regular” lens adapter but rather as a true tilt-shift lens. Using the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 or 85mm f/1.8 as portrait lenses on the E-PL1 was great fun.
As far as the Composer goes, the lens is abundantly sharp when the focus point is near the center of the frame but you will certainly notice more distortion and softness at the edges of the frame even if that is where you moved the focus “sweet spot” when composing your image.
Contrast and color accuracy from the Composer are reasonably good, but if you’re going to judge your photos of technical perfection you’ll want to mount a good Nikon lens to the Tilt Transformer instead. Although the brighter apertures are fun to use, I found it ideal combination of “focus slice” size and usability in most lighting conditions was an aperture of f/4 indoors or f/5.6 outdoors. It’s very difficult to get critical focus (particularly with moving subjects) when you use a wider aperture of f/2.8 or f/2.