During this whole lockdown situation of 2020 and 2021, I have spent a great deal of time trying to stay creative and inventive. I’ve spent a LOT of time shooting macro and still life. After spending quite a while fence-sitting, I finally decided to jump into Lensbaby lenses.
I already own the Omni Creative Filters and I honestly couldn’t decide on the Velvet or the Optics system. So … I decided to buy both! I do love the creative magic I can achieve with the Lensbaby Velvet 56.
What is a Velvet
A Velvet 56 is a macro lens that delivers a gorgeous soft-focus look when shot at wide-open apertures. Yet it can also be tack sharp on your chosen subject by stopping down the aperture.
This really is a one of a kind lens, offering a soft, ethereal glow effect for flowers, portraits and nature photography. There is also an 85mm version, but I chose the 56mm for the versatility.
How to use a Velvet
The Velvet 56 (or any of the Velvet series) is totally manual focus. There is a ring on the lens body to turn to change between macro (1:2 macro function), infinity and everything in-between. There is an aperture ring to set on the lens itself and you can shoot from f/1.6–16.
At the widest aperture (f/1.6) you will find your focal plane quite small, but the swirl and bokeh are divine. This gives you that ethereal glow — you have definition in your subject, but not tack sharp images. If you stop down to f/4 or even f/11 you will find more sharpness at your focal point.
Finding your focus
I have found the easiest way to find your focus is to set your aperture and distance and then slowly move yourself and /or the camera forward and backward until your desired subject is in focus. I use Peak Metering on my Sony a7R III and the focus magnification helps dramatically.
With the lens set to macro, you can focus as little as 5 inches from your subject. Wide-open offers more bokeh and blur, whereas if you step down to f/5.6 or more there is much more in focus and it becomes very detailed and focused.
Where to use your Velvet 56
I honestly believe the limits of this lens are your imagination. I am yet to try with portraits, as I am still not allowed to have models in the studio here. But I can’t wait to try it. What I have managed to capture with just my dog are truly gorgeous. But for nature shots and flowers it is superb. In the studio, in the park. Landscapes or even street photography could be really cool.
Why use it?
For that dreamy ethereal, halation glow effect. Seriously, there is something totally sublime in the photos you can capture, like nothing else. Duplicating this effect in post-processing just isn’t quite the same. With the Velvet, you are truly a creative artist, more on feeling your way through an image than focusing on technical specifications.
I’m not really a videographer, but it was fun being creative and putting this little video together in the backyard with the dogs, slowly adjusting the aperture and moving the focus in and out. I think with some practice it could be great for video too.
Who wants a Velvet lens?
Who doesn’t? If you are looking for a creative edge to your images, something more than just a mere photo, then perhaps the Velvet is for you. The Velvet is a unique lens allowing you to take a step away from the ordinary. I adore the Sweet 80 as well, but I’ll save that for another article.