Lensbaby has been producing lenses that create interesting effects since 2004. During that time people have been experimenting and trying out different ways of using them. In the spring of 2015, they introduced the Velvet 56 to the joy of many photographers, especially those doing macro. This year, their newest lens in the line-up was released, the Lensbaby Velvet 85.
The Velvet 85 promises to be a great lens for portraiture creating impressionist-like portraits of people. It does indeed do that, but you can use it for so much more. It is a great lens for photographers who like images with mood and which concentrate more on the subject with a lot of bokeh.
The lens is very well made and when you hold it in your hand you can feel the coolness of the metal it is made from. It is not an overly heavy lens, but it’s also not light. It is bigger than the Velvet 56, which is to be expected, though not a lot heavier. They are both very well made, high-quality lenses.
Using the Lensbaby Velvet 85
Like most lenses that are available on the market today, the Velvet 85 can be used for many different types of photography. I use it mainly for macro photography and find it really good. However, you can also use it for portraiture, city photography, and landscapes. It doesn’t work the same as other lenses as you get a really soft-focus effect with it, but for most people, that is exactly why they buy it.
The lens is completely manual and you cannot use your camera to control it, as you can with other lenses. You need to change the aperture and focus it yourself. You will not be able to see what aperture you used when you download the images to your computer either.
Focusing is also manual and you need to adjust it as you take your photos. It does turn a long way and you have to twist the focusing ring a lot. Some cameras can tell you when the image is in focus, for example, Nikon does. When you are at that spot of good clarification, then the round dot in the viewfinder appears. However, as you get used to the lens you will need to rely on that less.
For macro photography, most people tend to use manual focus anyway and it is easier with this lens. You can focus where you want and then move yourself and the camera to a spot where the image will be in focus.
For landscape photography, you can set it to infinity and you should get images that are sharp, depending on your aperture. For objects in between macro and infinity, you will have to practice and see it goes. That is probably the area I found the hardest, though as I did it more, it became easier.
Controlling the Lens
With many lenses now you can change the aperture with the camera, however, the Velvet 85 is more like a vintage lens from older style cameras. It does not communicate with your camera and you need to control the aperture yourself. To change it there is an aperture ring on the lens which you turn to adjust it to the setting you want.
Unlike other sorts of dedicated macro lenses, the Velvet 85 doesn’t use aperture in the same way. You can take photos of flowers at f/2.8 and get a fairly decent image. If you tried doing that with, say a Nikon macro lens, you will find the photo would almost be an abstract version of the flower with very little in focus.
The aperture starts at f/1.8 on the Velvet 85 and goes up to f/16. At the latter, you will get the greatest depth of field and if using the lens for landscape photography it is a good one to choose. If you are taking macro images of flowers then the wider end is much better.
One thing the lens is really good for is the soft-focus effect that is possible. You can control how much of it you want by using different apertures. The wider it is the more of the effect appears, and the opposite happens as you close it down.
If you like to get different effects with your lens then the Velvet 85 will be fantastic for you. You can get interesting results for portraits, though I don’t do them if you go to the Lensbaby website you can see some good examples. If you want to give your clients images that are not the same as what others are doing then you should consider adding this lens to your kit. Click here for images.
Without a doubt one of the most special and addictive aspects of the Velvet lenses, and perhaps more so with the 85, is the blurring you can do with it. You won’t find any other lenses available that will give you the same effects. You can play around with the aperture to change how much blur you achieve in your images.
Whether you are photographing a landscape or a macro image you can use the aperture and blurring effect to highlight your subject. The Velvet 85 is fantastic for this. You can change the aperture to different widths and that will determine how much blur you will get. From that, you can decide what level of blurring you want in your image.
This was a popular effect a few years ago, though, there is no reason it can’t be again. This is where you use blurring effects to make objects in your image look like they are miniature or toy-like. By controlling the aperture and giving the images a lot more of the blur you can get images that look as though your subject is miniature. The lens does not do it all, but it gives you a good starting point.
Using blurring effects is a great tool for giving your images a moody feel. You can apply it to most types of photography and get those sorts of images that people love. You can use it for most types of photography, try it out if you can.
Comparing the Velvet 85 with the Velvet 56
There is an obvious difference between the size of the two lenses, which you can see in the image below. However, you will find the same with most fixed or prime lenses.
If you change the focus to point so that you can get as close as you can to what you are photographing, they both seem to capture the same image.
However, if you are trying to photograph something from a fixed point, then the Velvet 85 will allow you to get closer images. This is great if you are taking photos in a location like a garden, you can photograph those flowers that are at the back and harder to get to.
If I had to choose between the two lenses, I think I would want the Velvet 85. The longer reach is appealing, and the soft-focus effect is really interesting. There isn’t a great deal of difference in the price, so it would be my choice.
Adding the lens to your kit
It is not an overly expensive lens, Lensbaby sells the Velvet 85 for $499. It is available for most cameras on the market today. You can get a full list on the website.
If you are looking for a lens that is capable of macro photography, then this is a good alternative to the more expensive macro lenses that many companies make. It would also suit a portrait photographer, however, don’t forget street photography and landscape. It is a versatile lens which you will enjoy, but don’t expect to get the same results that you’d achieve with normal lenses.