I’ve been a fan of the Lensbaby line of lenses for quite some time. If you’re unfamiliar with the brand, they have a wide collection of manual-focus lenses that introduce blur, distortion, and other elements into your photo. I would say that their main customer is a portrait photographer, but that should not stop any type of photographer from trying them out. They are definitely unique lenses, and worth looking into if you want to try something new.
Recently, Lensbaby recently let me play around with their new Velvet 56mm lens on my Fuji X-T1. The Velvet 56 is a 56mm manual focus lens, and when shot wide-open it has a sort of ethereal, glowy, soft look. It reminds me of the film version of putting Vaseline on the front of a lens for the same effect. I’ll admit, this lens is not for everyone. I’m not a portrait photographer, although I do photograph people from time to time (mostly for stock), and so I personally don’t find much use for the glowy look. Some could argue that the same effect could be done in post-processing, however there is always something to be said for getting it “right” in-camera. But if this look appeals to you, or if photograph weddings, newborns, children, boudoir, or even fashion, then you might want to check it out.
Lately I have been heavily using the Fuji X-T1. There are just so many things I love about this camera, and a Lensbaby paired with a mirrorless camera is the perfect combination. With mirrorless cameras you have an electronic viewfinder, which means that you see what the photo will create for its end-result. Your viewfinder will stay nice and bright, even when the aperture is stopped down, and you see your depth-of-field previewed live. With some Lensbaby lenses, such as the Composer series, there is a good learning curve on using the lenses, particularly with the focusing. With mirrorless cameras you can easily zoom in to your focus point, catch the focus, and even see what the final image will look like before you press the shutter.
This demonstrates the difference in f/stops from wide-open (f/1.6) to fully stopped down (f/16). Click on the images to see them full-screen:
This demonstrates the macro capabilities in the Lensbaby Velvet 56. Click on the images to see them full-screen:
Here is a short list of some of the pros and cons you’ll find with this lens:
Lensbaby Velvet 56 + Fuji X-T1 Pros:
- The build quality is excellent. It feels solid, almost like a film-camera lens.
- Macro functionality is ridiculous! You can get super close and get some really great detail shots with it.
- You can zoom in to your focal point in-camera and through the viewfinder to perfect your focus. It won’t make it much easier for fast-moving subjects, but it is a great way to ensure that you are focusing as accurately as possible.
Lensbaby Velvet 56 + Fuji X-T1 Cons:
- Manual focus only. This is not necessarily a “con”, as all of the Lensbaby lenses are manual focus, but it takes some getting used to
- It’s difficult to focus wide-open. Because of the soft-focus effect, it is tough to tell what is in focus and just a little glowy, and what is out of focus. The more you use it, the easier it becomes, but it’s still a little bit tricky even with practice.
- At 56mm on a Fuji X-T1 (crop-frame camera), this puts the effective focal range to around 84mm. For me, this is a “con”, as I like to have a lens that is a little bit wider for environmental portraits. However depending on your style, you may prefer this and it would make a great close-up focal length.
- The “glowy” look may not appeal to everyone.