The amazing turn-around of Sony cameras

I was reading through some of my earliest photography articles on this very blog - some of the oldest ones go back to 2004 - and one of the articles I stumbled across was 'how to choose a compact camera'. In it, I'm making a bold claim: "Choose Canon, Nikon, or Olympus, and you can't really go wrong. If I were you, I'd stay away from Sony, however". My argument - made about seven years ago, mind you - is as follows: 'Would you rather go with a camera manufacturer who's turned to electronics, or an electronics manufacturer who's having a go at creating cameras'? Well, let me be the first to announce that I'm currently eating those words, with a nice side-helping of humble pie. 

One of the best portraits I think I've taken this year... Taken with my A7, at a live gig.

You see, exactly a year ago today, I took delivery of my Sony A7, and a Sony/Zeiss 55mm f/1.8 lens. At first, I was worried. Then, I was elated. And then... I sold all my Canon photography gear. The true fact is that the Sony A7 is one of the best cameras I've ever used - for my particular uses. Yes, there's better cameras for sports, concert, and fashion work... but I rarely shoot any of those. Instead, I'm a frequent traveller, and unless I have a light camera that's capable of taking awesome photographs, I'm in for a disappointment.

In my Travel Photography book, I'm excited about the Canon 550D (the newest entry-level Canon at the time) and Canon's 50mm f/1.4. In fact, in that book, I think I'm making a compelling case for travel photographers shooting with that very combo. If I were writing the book today, I'd have recommended my current setup. The A7 has a full-frame sensor - which doesn't matter nearly as much as you'd think. It also is incredibly good in low light - which does matter - and once you get used to its quirks, it's a fantastic travel camera all-rounder, that is capable of delivering photos that are more than good enough to publish in a book.

With proper lighting, the A7 and 55mm f/1.8 combo creates ludicrously crisp images. I'm a little bit in love.

Anyway, I'm getting off topic. My point is this: Seven years ago, I wouldn't have dreamed of recommending any Sony camera to anyone. Today, they have created my main, go-to camera for pretty much everything (including video!). Think about that for a second: If that much can change in seven years... What is going to happen in the next seven years?

It's an exciting time to be a photographer, that's for damn sure.

The great Photokina 2014 round-up

Keeping track of everything new that's announced at Photokina can feel like something of a labour of Sisyphus. So rather than cover every new product with an individual article and drive everyone to distraction, we've opted to summarise as many as we can in one place. This is Photokina 2014. Enjoy!


After what amounts to years of speculation, Canon has finally announced the EOS 7D mark II. The basic spec: APS-C, 20 megapixel sensor; ISO 100 to 16,000 but expandable to 51,200; dual DIGIC 6 processors; 65-point auto-focus; top shooting speed of 10 frames-per-second; and built-in GPS. All for $1,800, body-only.

The Canon EOS 7D mark II. At last.

Three new lenses have joined the line-up, too: an EF-S 24mm ƒ/2.8 STM for $149.00; an EF 24-105mm ƒ/4.0L IS STM for $599; and the EF 400mm ƒ/4.0L DO-IS II (USM) at $6,899.

There are also three new compact cameras. The premium G7X with its 1", 20 megapixel sensor and DIGIC 6 processor; top sensitivity of ISO 12,800; and a 24 to 100mm lens with a maximum aperture of ƒ/1.8 at its widest and ƒ/2.8 at the telephoto end, for $700. The SX60 superzoom with its 65× optical zoom for $550. And the N2, which, like the Powershot N, leaves me baffled.

The G7X


Fujifilm announced an update to its much-loved X100-series; the X100T. This one comes with an improved hybrid viewfinder, enhanced controls, and faster shuttre speeds. All for $1,300, in either black or silver.

The X100T with a silver finish

The X20 has been upgraded to the X30. The improvements to Fuji's point-and-shoot focus on a new viewfinder and a tilting 3" high-res LCD. You can order one for £600.

Fujifilm X30 compact

There were also two new lenses: the X-F 56mm ƒ/1.2 R APD (85mm quivalent in 35mm format) for $1,500. (APD is apodisation. It is designed to give even smoother bokeh than the normal XF56. Great for portrait work.) And the weather resistant 50-140mm ƒ/2.8 R LM OIS WR at £1,600.

And don't forget the graphite-look X-T1 for $1,500 body-only.


Roll-up, roll-up, get your suction cups from Joby! Adding to its range of twisty, bendy, go-anywhere camera support devices, Joby has unveiled two suction cups, designed to provide industrial-strength hold on all types of smooth, clean, and non-porous surfaces. One has a locking arm, that's best for use in vibration-prone situations, such as in cars or on board boats (£33). The other has a Gorilla-pod arm, a quick-twist, flexible option that's better for windows, walls, and inside cars (£25).

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There's also the Pro Sling Strap, designed for dSLRs, to keep your camera close to your body but easy to pull up to your eye (£57); the GorillaPod Focus + Ballhead X is the strongest and largest GorillaPod to date (£140); and the Flash Clamp and Locking Arm, which helps to transform everyday objects into lighting assistants with the two articulating ball joints that let you position your flash at any angle (£35).

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Leica announced a laundry list of new cameras at Photokina:

  • Leica M 60 Edition - an LCD-less camera, limited to 600 units, and costing $18,500 with a 35 Summilux stainless steel lens
  • M-A
  • X - Type 113; and X-E
  • S - Type 007; and S-E
  • V-Lux - Type 114
  • D-Lux - Type 109, basically a Panasonic LX100

And a goodly selection of lenses, too. Leica enthusiasts couldn't have known which way to look first!


Nikon's big announcement was the D750: an FX-format camera with 24 megapixel sensor and EXPEED 4 processor, 51-point autofocus system, sensitivity ranging from ISO 100 to 12,800, a tilting LCD, built-in wi-fi, all crammed into a smaller-than-expected body. For $2,300, body-only.

Nikon's new D750

There was also the new Nikkor AF-S 20mm ƒ/1.8G ED and the SB-500 Speedlight.


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As well as announcing the E-PL7, Olympus brought out its E-M1 in silver (body-only for $1,400) and a new 40-150mm ƒ/2.8 lens for $1,500.


Panasonic came up with two new cameras and a new lens, together with the re-branded Leica cameras under the V-Lux and D-Lux badges.

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The new LX100 camera is available for $900. It has a Micro Four Thirds sensor, a 4-75mm Leica DC lens (ƒ/1.7-2.8), and comes with an external flash. The GM5 mirror-less camera comes in black or red, with a 12-32mm lens, for $900.

And there's also the Panasonic G Vario 35-100mm ƒ/4.0-5.6 ASPH lens for G-series cameras, costing about $400.


Samsung let loose a new camera, lens, grip, battery, and charger on the public in Köln. The camera is the 4K-video-enabled 28 megapixel NX1 for $1,500 body-only and the lens the 50-150mm S.

4K-video-enabled, for under $1,500


As well as the 50 mm T1.5 AS UMC cine lens, Samyang also announced its 12 mm ƒ/2.8 ED AS NCS fish-eye lens, which has been designed for full-frame cameras. We don't have a price or release date yet for it, but I am looking forward to seeing it.

There's no price or release date yet for Samyang's full-frame fish-eye


Sigma announced its dp1 Quattro camera, with a Foveon direct image sensor that is similar to traditional colour film in that its multiple layers capture all of the information that visible light transmits. It also announced two different versions of the same lens: the 150-600mm F/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Sports and the 150-600mm F/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary. The sports version is, probably quite obviously aimed at sports and wildlife photographers. The contemporary label is more compact and portable.

Both 150-600mm, one bigger, one smaller

There was also the 18-300mm F/3.5-6.3 DC Macro OS HSM Contemporary lens.

A new macro lens from Sigma


Just before Photokina, Sony announced two new lens units, to attach to smartphones. These were the QX1 and QX30. During Photokina, a slew of camcorders, video cameras, and accessories were unveiled, too. The things that caught my eye was the flash unit, the HVL-F32M for $300.

Sony's A5100 is available to pre-order from Adorama

Sony announced its A5100 yesterday. It has been referred to as both a replacement for the NEX-5T and as a camera sitting between the A6000 and the A5000. It has a 24.3 mepagixel CMOS sensor, auto-focus that's been described as 'lightning fast' (although not quite as fast as the A6000), upper sensitivity of ISO 25,600, a pop-up flash, wi-fi, and a touchscreen. But there's no EVF. ILCE-5100_wSELP1650_pop_up_black-1200

It'll come in black or white and Adorama has them available for pre-order. Body-only, it'll cost $550; if you'd prefer an A5100 with the 16-50mm lens, that'll be $700.

Thoughts on the Sony World Photography exhibition

After my slightly disappointing press view of the Sony World Photography Awards exhibition, when I didn't have the opportunity to take in the photos, I made a return trip to Somerset House yesterday to rectify this situation. I had much more time to wander through both the East and West Wings, admiring the images and pontificating on the judges' choices. Visiting an exhibition that has cherry-picked from vast numbers of photos submitted from across the globe by both amateur and professional photographers gives you the chance to look for trends and fashions, garner some inspiration, and importantly, look through a window into other people's worlds. I enjoyed my saunter through the rooms and Sara Naomi Lewkowicz's l'Irs d'Or winning series Shane and Maggie stands out a mile. I loved Sophie Gamand's wet dogs, which won the portrait prize, Guy Martin's photos from the Gezi Square protests told a defiant story, and I was drawn to the deep and dark photos in Salvatore Di Gregorio's series An Old Fight, which won the sport prize.

Winner of l'Iris d'Or: Sara Naomi Lewkowicz for her series 'Shane and Maggie'. 'Shane and Maggie' attempts to show domestic vilence as a process, as opposed to a single incident.  (Sara Naomi Lewkowicz (USA) Finalist, Contemporary Issues Professional Competition 2014 Sony World Photography Awards)

What, though, were my overwhelming thoughts and questions as I left the exhibition?

The professional category was dominated by black and white images. That is a comment made as neither praise nor criticism, merely as an observation. It is worth noting, however, that l'Iris d'Or winning series comprised colour images and that the photos that have stuck with me are those shot in colour. Maybe it is because they were my preferred shots, or perhaps it is because their colour makes them stand out amongst the monochrome, but it does pay to be different.

Protesters against the government of Tayip Erdogan and his plans for a shopping mall and pedestrianised area in the centre of Instanbul - Guy Martin (UK) Current Affairs Professional Competition, 2014 Sony World Photography Awards

Writing of daring to be different, I think I might've reached Indonesian cow-racing photo saturation point. It's a stunning spectacle that produces stunning images, but there have been examples in the professional or open categories for at least the last three years. It's almost as if their inclusion has become obligatory. I'd appreciate being able to gaze upon something new in future years.

Salvatore Di Gregorio, Italy, Winner, Sport, Professional Competition, 2014 Sony World Photography Awards

Finally, I was surprised by the profusion of manipulated images in the open category. From HDR, to composites, to painterly-type blending, it had it all, and this extended beyond the 'Enhanced' division, which is devoted to manipulated images. As the author of a book on surreal photography, this might be regarded as an unusual comment, but it does present some important questions. First, how much manipulation is too much manipulation? Second, to what degree is photo-manipulation now regarded as an acceptable element of photography? And consequently, at which point does a comeptition become one of photo-manipulation rather than photography? All of these are questions for another day, but ones to ponder.

Wet Dog 2, Sophie Gamand (France) Portraiture Competition, 2014 Sony World Photography Awards

The exhibition runs until Sunday (18 May), and if you have to be in London or its environs, it's worth an hour or so to take it in. I'd love to know what you think.

Sony World Photography Awards exhibition, Somerset House, London, until 18 May 2014.

The Sony World Photography Awards 2014 - the winners

The winners of the Sony World Photography Awards were announced at a rather swanky awards dinner on Wednesday evening. There were lots of speechless speeches, some very dapper men in black tie, a delicious Cabernet Sauvignon, and a ludicrously chocolately chocolate dessert. I did try to live tweet the winners, I promise. My attempts were rather frustratingly thwarted by a complete lack of signal at the venue. And you can't vouch for the fact that I picked out the winner of l'Iris d'Or, either. Ah well. I've put together a selection of winning images. Tell me what you think. Winner of l'Iris d'Or: Sara Naomi Lewkowicz for her series 'Shane and Maggie'. 'Shane and Maggie' attempts to show domestic vilence as a process, as opposed to a single incident.  (Sara Naomi Lewkowicz (USA) Finalist, Contemporary Issues Professional Competition 2014 Sony World Photography Awards)

The press view of the awards exhibition was something of a whirlwind (I think the words I used in my feedback were 'I feel as if I've been put through a blender.') but Lewkowicz's series stood out by a mile. The images are extremely powerful, in some cases you can feel the fear seeping out of them, but she's accomplished something wonderful in being able to capture them.

Winner of the Open Category: Chen Li for his 'Rain in an Ancient Town' (Chen Li (China) Winner Open Travel 2014 Sony World Photography Awards)

I don't think that I've any desire to attempt to cross a pillared bridge in the pouring rain, but this photo does make me want to try it, all the same.

Winner of the Youth category: Paulina Metzscher (Paulina Metzscher (Germany) Winner Youth Portraits 2014 Sony World Photography Awards)

The three finalists in the Youth category all submitted very strong images. If they're the future, I think the medium's safe.

Light Projection 18 - Thomas Brummett (USA) Conceptual, Professional Competition, 2014 Sony World Photography Awards

Protesters against the government of Tayip Erdogan and his plans for a shopping mall and pedestrianised area in the centre of Instanbul - Guy Martin (UK) Current Affairs Professional Competition, 2014 Sony World Photography Awards

Wet Dog 2, Sophie Gamand (France) Portraiture Competition, 2014 Sony World Photography Awards

The Cold Pony, Gert van den Bosch (Netherlands) Winner Open Nature&Wildlife, 2014 Sony World Photography Awards

Winners - the Sony World Photography Awards Open Competition

In the run-up to the gala awards ceremony in London at the end of April, the ten category winners of the Sony World Photography Awards Open division have been announced, selected from over 70,000 entries made by amateur photographers. Each of them wins a new Sony A6000 camera and they're up with a chance of winning the $5,000 prize that accompanies the title Overall Open Photographer of the Year. 'Muddy Smile' ©Alpay Erdem, Turkey Winner, Open Smile, 2014 Sony World Photography Awards

  • Architecture – Holger Schmidtke, Germany
  • Arts and Culture – Valerie Prudon, Australia
  • Enhanced – Kylli Sparre, Estonia
  • Low Light - Vlad Eftenie, Romania
  • Nature & Wildlife – Gert van den Bosch, Netherlands
  • Panoramic – Ivan Pedretti, Italy
  • People - Arup Ghosh, India
  • Smile - Alpay Erdem, Turkey
  • Split Second - Hairul Azizi Harun, Malaysia
  • Travel - Li Chen, China

'Under the Staircase', ©Holger Schmidtke, Germany, Winner, Open Architecture, 2014 Sony World Photography Awards

As well as their new cameras, all of them will have their images exhibited at Somerset House, London between 1 and 18 May 2014, and the winner of the Overall Open Photographer of the Year title will be flown to London to collect her or his prize at the ceremony.

'The cold pony', ©Gert van den Bosch, Netherlands  Winner, Open Nature & Wildlife, 2014 Sony World Photography Award

Nigel Atherton, the jury chair commented: 'Nigel Atherton, Jury Chair, comments: 'Photography is a language that transcends national borders and cultures, race, gender and social background....No two of this year’s Open category winners are from the same country but all share the ability to visually interpret the world around them in a unique and captivating way. The winning and shortlisted images demonstrate this gift with aplomb.'

'Rain in an ancient town', © Chen Li , China Winner, Open Travel, 2014 Sony World Photography Awards

Improvements are coming to the Sony QX10 and QX100 lens units

Sony is set to release a firmware upgrade for its QX10 and QX100 smartphone lens attachments in January. If you need a quick reminder the QX10 and QX100 are lens units that you operate from your smartphone via Sony's PlayMemories app, bringing higher quality images and more control to your smartphone shooting. The upgrade is intended to improve their low-light functionality and bring more control to the QX100. The cheaper, less well specced QX10 will have a new maximum sensitivity of ISO 3,200; the QX100 will be able to hit ISO 12,800. The QX100 will be getting a shutter priority mode in addition to its aperture priority, programme mode, and auto modes.

Sony's QX10 in white

At £399 for the QX100 or £179 (although I've seen them on special offer for £150) for the QX10, I'm still not convinced that they're worth it, but Sony seems to want to make them work.

(Headsup to Engadget)

TIPA 2013 - who won what

logo-tipa-2013 Once a year the Technical Press Imaging Association, or TIPA, meets in a desirable location—this year it was Hong Kong, last year in was Cape Town—to settle on which manufacturers have produced the best easy-to-use compact cameras, most innovative tripods, and the swishest top-end dSLRs over the past 12 months.

There are in fact 40 different categories that are decided on by representatives from TIPA's 27 member magazines, as well as the Camera Journal Press Club of Japan.

Canon took most of the dSLR spoils, winning best entry-level with the 100D, best expert with the 6D, and best video dSLR with the 1D C; Nikon, however, won the advanced category with its D7100.

When it came to compact system cameras, or mirror-less cameras, or EVIL cameras, Fujifilm, Olympus, Panasonic, and Samsung all had a look-in. Fujifilm's X-E1 won the best expert CSC award; Olympus took the entry level CSC honours with the PEN E-PL5; the professional CSC prize went to Panasonic for its GH3; and finally the advanced prize was won by the Samsung Smart Camera NX300. If you can wade your through the difference between 'professional', 'advanced' and 'expert', then you're a better woman than I am.

The compact camera categories were split between Nikon and Panasonic. Nikon walked off with awards for its Coolpix S01 in the 'easy' class and its P520 superzoom. The rugged camera was Panasonic's prize, though, for the FT5 (or TS5, depending on where you are).

Canon, Fujinon, Nikon, Sigma, and Sony all won prizes for their lenses, ranging from 'best CSC prime' (the Fujinon XF 14mm ƒ/2.8 R) to 'best professional lens' (Canon's EF 24-70mm ƒ/2.8L II USM), via best entry-level dSLR lens (the Sigma 17-70mm ƒ/2.8-4 DC MACRO OS HSM).

As for best premium camera, that was the Sony RX1; best professional camera was the Leica M; and best imaging innovation was awarded to Samsung for its 45mm ƒ/1.8 (2D/3D) lens.

If you want to check out the rest of the winners, which includes best media storage, imaging monitor, and photo TV, you can see the whole list on TIPA's website.

I can't help but feel that with a carousel of categories where the differences in criteria aren't necessarily discernible, it's more a case of 'These were all really good products and we need to find some way of showing that.' I can't say that the awards will encourage me to buy a Nikon superzoom, but it must be gratifying for the manufacturers to receive a pat on the back.

Masterclasses from Sony

As part of the World Photography Awards, Sony is laying on a series of photography masterclasses at London's Somerset House on Friday 26, Saturday 27, and Sunday 28 April. Michael Wayne Plant will be demystifying photography, there will be session aimed at students looking to make photography their careers led by Magdi Fernandes, and the team from What Digital Camera are looking at the past, present, and future of full-frame photography. Sessions cost £5, but that's redeemable against the cost of entry into the Sony World Photography Awards exhibition.

Full details about timings and booking are on the WPO website.

Lensbaby goes mirror-less

Lensbaby Composer Pro

If mirror-less camera owners were a bit peeved that it was dSLR users who were getting all the fun with Lensbaby lenses, they need feel hard done-by no longer. Lensbaby Composer Pro lenses are now available with a heap of mirror-less camera-compatible mounts. From Lumix G-series cameras to Olympus PENs, via Sony NEX and Samsung NX, they can all enjoy some tasty tilt-shift-tasticness.

The Composer Pro ships with the 50mm Double Glass Optic installed; it creates a sweet spot that's in sharp focus, and you get to decide where by playing around with the tilting and swivelling lens body. However, the Composer Pro is compatible with all of the optics in the Lensbaby Optics Swap System, including the Edge 80, the Sweet 35, and the Fisheye, so opportunities abound for getting creative with your images.

If you're wondering about the aperture on a Lensbaby lens, the Double Glass Optic has a maximum aperture of f/2.0. By removing and inserting different sized aperture disks, you can change to f/2.8, f/4.0, f/5.6, f/8.0. f/11, f/16, and f/22.

Time to go buy one? They're retailing around $300 and are available from authorised Lensbaby retailers and their own online store.

Sony's range of video marketi... ahem... tutorials

Screen Shot 2011-08-11 at 14.31.57

Oh Sony, you get my hopes up, and then you dash them. Actually, you’ve done more than dash my hopes, you’ve disappointed me. I was so excited by the prospect of the Sony HowTo videos that you released today. People seem to love video tutorials and I really thought that you were on to a winner with your series of four minute shorts to help people get the most out of their cameras. ‘Aha!’ I naively thought, ‘Somewhere I can direct newbies to help them out a bit!’ But I’m hanging my head here.

You see, I don’t want to watch a four minute advertisement for a Sony product. And I can pretty much guarantee that people who already own the product – and are looking to make the most out of it – really don’t need any adverts for it. No, if I watch a four minute video called Learn to shoot in low light, I’m expecting a quick fire session in shutter speed, aperture, ISO, and the benefits of using a tripod. I don’t want to be preached at about the benefits of Sony lenses and sensors and the Auto HDR mode on some its cameras.

Get better results from your digital camera shows me how to shoot large or small resolution images, obviously on a Sony camera. Is that the best that you can manage in four minutes? Really?

There are more, but I can’t face wading through any more Sony adverts.

You’ve missed a trick here, Sony, and made fools of yourselves. Shame on you for calling them tutorial videos. That would be about helping people to become better photographers. These are self-promotional guff. Educate people for education’s sake, not for advertisement. It’ll serve you far, far better in the long run.

The mobile megapixel battle continues


Oh heavens make it stop, please. We don’t need 17 megapixels of resolution on our mobile phones. The lenses are terrible, the lighting is rarely sufficient, and… urgh. Can someone please send a memo to Sony? Maybe even Samsung, too? Until a few of the basics in taking pictures have caught up with the sensor size in mobile phones, it looks just as if they’re embarking on a pointless megapixel escalation battle.

The rumours are the Sony has come up with a 17.7mp CMOS sensor for use in mobile phones. It might even have 120fps video. When it’ll be available, or how, isn’t known yet. Are they planning on using it in digital cameras as well as phones? Maybe.

Yes, it is awesome that they can squidge going on 18 million pixels of sensitivity into something so tiny. That really is a fabulous engineering feat. But right now they’re not especially useful because so much else about mobile phones is well below the spec that they need. Stop. Take a breath. Let everything catch up with itself. Then perhaps we really will be impressed.

Still, I’m waiting for Samsung to up the ante.

(Headsup to Engadget.)

(And that’s a picture of Sony’s 16mp sensor, announced in October.)

World's first 16 megapixel mobile phone sensor


The megapixel race among camera phones continues as Sony just announced the world’s first 16.41 megapixel back-illuminated CMOS sensor for mobile phones. While the sensor’s specs may rival, and exceed, those of some point and shoot cameras, it remains to be seen if it will actually result in higher quality images.

Keep in mind that a high megapixel count isn’t the only ingredient in the recipe for a crisp photo. If the small sensor doesn’t retain high light sensitivity or benefit from a proper lens module, the only thing those 16 megapixels will capture is an unaware public obsessed with pixel count.

However, Sony claims to have improved on high sensitivity and low noise in developing this new sensor. New and improved technology, or marketing ploy? We shall see next year as Sony plans on shipping these sensors in January of 2011.

Read Sony’s press release for more details.

Lensbaby gets adaptive

Picture 2

You might think that we’d planned our 10 titillating tilt-shifts to co-incide with Lensbaby’s most recent announcement, but I can promise you that we didn’t. It’s just a happy coincidence that if you’re so inspired to have a go at tilt-shift photography with your Micro Four Thirds camera or your Sony α NEX camera, you can do so with Lensbaby’s Tilt Transformer and Composer.

The Tilt Transformer will allow you to attach any Nikon mount lens onto your Micro Four Thirds or Sony α NEX camera. Whether you want to have a go with a prime, a macro, or a fisheye lens, the Tilt Transformer will be your friend.

The Lensbaby Tilt Transformer for all your Nikon glass

If you don’t happen to have a box of Nikon glass lying around ready to attach to the adapter, you can attach the Composer to the Tilt Transformer and play around producing tilt-shift pictures until your heart is content.

The Lensbaby Composer + Tilt Transformer

The Tilt Transformer is available for $250 from Lensbaby or Amazon US, whilst the Composer and Tilt Transformer together costs $350, also from Lensbaby or Amazon US.