Creating a miniature effect – filmmaking technique (Lensbaby Edge 35)

Creating a miniature film effect is a lot of fun and can be done with a tilt shift lens or in post by applying blur masks.

The most effective way to create a toy world or miniature look is to shoot from above. It’s best to capture people or cars moving by going as high as possible. I am shooting from a platform of a tower to get as much space between the lens and the subject. Playing around with the center of focus is important to see which area of the image needs to be out of focus to create this effect.

Depending on the distance and the speed of the scene it can make sense to shoot video instead of a photo timelapse. The reason for this is that the toy effect works best if you can clearly see what is moving. If cars or people move to fast or are only visible in one frame and gone in the next one it simply won’t look pleasant.

When recording video in real-time the footage can be sped up in post to achieve the best results. Changing the speed from 100% to 300% often gives the wanted result but this also depends on the motion in the captured scene. The further you are away from the scene the faster it should be played back. If you are very close to a subject that is moving don’t speed it up too fast.

I tend to record each sequence for 5-10 minutes in real-time to have a bigger variety of what’s happening in the frame.

Composer Pro + Edge 35 drop-in optic

The lens I am using is the Lensbaby Edge 35 and is completely manual. The Edge 35 is actually just an add-on to the so-called Composer Pro. This part of the lens is more like a lens mount that can be connected with different effect optics from Lensbaby. The middle part can be moved around by loosening the grey ring that is closed to the camera to change the angle.

The Composer Pro also has a ring to adjust focus. The Edge 35 can be plugged-in and has a max. aperture of F/3.5.

The ergonomics and the design are not only funny looking but also impractical to adjust.

When moving around the Composer element and trying to lock it the framing will often change due to the heavy weight of the front. The Edge 35 optic also still slightly moves even though it’s plugged-in properly.

Unusual lens design

For video work it’s also not ideal because it doesn’t have a filter thread to mount an ND filter. This means the shutter speed needs to be adjusted according to the brightness. At night this shouldn’t be an issue but on a sunny day it’s not ideal.

Most of the time I keep the lens at F/3.5 to get the most dramatic effect. This of course depends on the framing and how far the captured scenery is away.

Double-checking the framing & center of focus

6 years ago I shot a similar project with the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera and the Edge 50 which creates the same effect but has a focal length of 50mm. Back then I noticed that on an APS-C camera the framing was often too close to the subject when shooting from the ground.

Having the 35mm focal length is certainly an advantage because the image is wider which makes it easier to create a miniature world. An even wider lens would be even better.

In the beginning I already mentioned that it’s possible to achieve a similar in post.

You could simply use any type of lens and then apply blur while editing the video. But the results won’t always look as realistic as when using a dedicated lens. The challenge is to fake the bokeh, the out of focus areas and the bokeh balls. But also the transition between the blurry parts and the part that is in focus. This is less noticeable in daylight shots but certainly at night where a lot of artificial light is visible. This is where tilt-shift lenses or even this lens come in handy because they do capture a bokeh and bokeh balls.

Not affordable for anyone but fun to use: The Edge 35 from Lensbaby

While this lens is certainly a niche product, far from perfect and maybe a bit overpriced it’s fun to create the miniature effect in-camera instead of spending hours in front of the computer.

Written by filmmaker Moritz Janisch on July 12, 2021

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