I’ll be honest, before I was able to play around with the Lensbaby Velvet 56, I didn’t know all that it had going for it — that it was actually three wonderfully artistic lenses in one beautiful package.
- CREATIVE EFFECTS – Shoot the Lensbaby Velvet 56 at large apertures (f/2.8, f/2, f/1.6) to create glowing, dreamy photos with beautiful bokeh and a hint of soft focus
- PORTRAIT – Stop the Velvet 56 down to f/4 and beyond to use as a traditional short telephoto portrait lens with no glowing effect
- MACRO – Manually focus the lens as close as 5 inches for incredibly detailed macro shots with a 1:2 reproduction ratio
Related: A Visit To Lensbaby Headquarters
Up until now, Lensbaby has been synonymous with lenses that you can push, pull, squeeze and turn to achieve focus and create effects in camera. While the Velvet 56 is a departure from that design, it holds true to Lensbaby’s core principle of “See In a New Way”.
Fashioned after mid 20th century portrait lenses, the build, look and feel of the Velvet 56 is exceptional. The lens has a 56mm focal length (equivalent to 112mm on micro four thirds bodies) and focuses manually from 5 inches (1:2 macro) to infinity. On the all metal body, turning the focus ring is tight and smooth, and really gives you a feel for how well crafted the lens is.
The Velvet 56 has a maximum aperture of f/1.6 and starting at f/2, moves in full stop increments down to f/16. Since the lens is fully manual, changing the aperture is done “old school” by turning a ring on the barrel of the lens, which is accompanied by a very satisfying click. Since you’re moving in full stops, it’s not that hard to remember aperture you’re shooting at.
The Velvet 56 is three wonderfully artistic lenses in one beautiful package
I really love this lens, and the PROs far outweigh the CONs, but there are a few things I wouldn’t mind seeing changed.
- 3 lenses in one – The Velvet 56 can do it all. It’s a stunning portrait lens at all apertures, a creative effects lens at large apertures (f/2.8, f/2, f/1.6) and a beautiful macro lens that can focus as close as 5 inches with a reproduction ratio of 2:1.
- Amazing build quality – Seriously, you’ll have talks with your friends about how solid the all metal body feels and how buttery smooth the focusing ring is.
- Easy to focus and tack sharp – Most micro four thirds cameras out there these days have focus peaking, which is a helpful aid when manually focusing, visually letting you know what portions of the scene are in focus. Even though the focus on the Velvet is fully manual, I didn’t have much of a problem locking it in and found the focus peaking on the Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II to be invaluable, especially with quick moving things like my 5 month old son 🙂
- A little heavy for micro four thirds – I’ve come around a bit on this one, after realizing what’s really packed inside this lens, but, if you’re used to the tiny Olympus primes, the Velvet 56 might feel a bit heavy or unbalanced on your smaller micro four thirds body.
- A little long on a micro four thirds body – Remember that on a micro four thirds body the Velvet 56 is a 112mm lens. This can feel a bit tight at times. There were a lot of wider shots that I would have liked to have taken, even shots that would have been fine at around 56mm, but by the time I backed up to get what I wanted in the scene, the composition was completely different and I had to abandon the shot.
- Focusing at large apertures is tough – The slim depth of field coupled with the creative affect can sometimes make focusing at larger apertures hard. Often I would lock my focus in at f/4, and then turn the aperture ring to my desired “creative effects aperture” to snap the shot.
- No Electronic Connection to Camera – This doesn’t bother me too much, except for the fact that I don’t have accurate metadata. If somehow the lens could transmit ONE piece of data back, which would be that it’s the Velvet, it would make sorting photos in Lightroom a whole lot easier. I guess I could also be more diligent about tagging the photos taken with the velvet. For now, I just have to sort on “Unknown lens”.
Lensbaby Velvet 56 Sample Shots
Here’s the same scene, just changing the aperture from f/4 –> f/1.6. At f/4 there’s no creative effect applied, and you can get a sharp scene, with a little bit of focus fall off in the back. At the larger apertures, there’s still sharpness, but it’s nicely enveloped by a glowing effect.
Experimenting with portraits is a lot of fun with the Velvet. It’s easy to start at f/4 and quickly move through the larger apertures to soften features to get a dreamy look to your photo.
One surprise that I found with the Velvet 56 is how is handled the light coming through colorful leaves at the larger apertures, giving them a glowing, glittery quality that can make mundane scenes look like they’re straight out of a fairly tale.
It’s almost easy to forget that the Velvet 56 is a macro lens as well, with a reproduction ratio of 1:2 and the ability to focus as close as 5 inches.
Like all of the lenses that Lensbaby makes, the Velvet is really fun to play around with. The ability to see a scene differently while you’re looking through the viewfinder opens up an entirely new creative world. You start making decisions about composition and framing that you wouldn’t have before, which makes you photograph things in a brand new light, accomplishing Lensbaby’s goal to help you “See in a New Way”. Personally, I wish I had more time to spend with this lens. I can imagine so many uses for portraits, macro and even landscapes.
Are you a fan of the Lensbaby Velvet 56? Do you own one? Has it been on your wish list for a while? Let me know in the comments!
If you’d like to pick up your own Lensbaby Velvet 56 for micro four thirds, you can get it through my Amazon link. Prices remain the same for you, but a small amount comes back to help out this site. Thanks!