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Usually, when you buy a new lens you are trying to get a wider angle or maybe more of a telephoto view, but with some lenses, you are trying to get more of a special effect. The Lensbaby Velvet 56 lens (price it out on Amazon.com or B&H Photo) is one of those. You can almost get normal images, but it is far better for giving you soft focus ones, not to mention some great blurred backgrounds, or to give you the bokeh effect.
If you look around at reviews you see it described everywhere more as a portrait lens, but it can be used for so much more. It is a 56mm fixed lens with manual focusing and you basically get a lens very similar to a 50mm, but with some differences.
There is a range of apertures from f/1.6 to f/16 and each one creates a different effect. When you use the widest, f/1.6, you get very soft images, and the more you close it down the sharper it gets. The wider settings help you get that soft focus and bokeh look.
It is reasonably compact, though made from metal it is heavier than other lenses in the same range. My Nikon 50mm f/1.8 lens is much lighter than the Velvet 56 f/1.6. You can tell when you are holding it that there is quite a bit of metal in it, as it ‘s cold to the touch. It is bigger than the Nikon lens, but not by much. It also has a very cool metal lens cap.
Without a doubt, this lens is known for its effects and one that is highly desirable is the painterly result. The wide apertures give images that look as though they were painted. Some say they can get the same type of image in Photoshop, but it would never have the same softness.
It is a lens for a full frame camera, but that doesn’t mean you can’t use it with your cropped sensor if that is what you have. If you do have the latter, in theory, you should be able to get closer to your subject as well.
It is also available for a number of different mounts, so whether you have a DSLR or a mirrorless camera you can find it for your model.
As stated, each aperture gives you a different effect to your image. Play around with those. As you start changing them and closing down the aperture, the image in the viewfinder does start to get darker. It is because not as much light is coming through, however, it doesn’t affect your final image, as long as you have the correct exposure.
Your camera won’t recognize the lens and you will have to change the aperture the old fashioned way, with the aperture ring on the lens. This also means that when you look at your metadata on your computer you will have no idea what setting you used. If it is important then you should record it as you take photos.
One of the aspects that a few people seem concerned about is that it’s a manual focus lens. Perhaps it is just the people that I hang around with, and as we are getting older our eyesight is affected. But having to manually focus is one thing that is (or seems) much harder.
It does take some getting used to, but it gets easier the more you do it. With most macro lenses you always seem to get the best results when you manually focus, though, so perhaps that shouldn’t be considered an issue.
When you are using wide apertures, even with macros, you are going to get very soft images which will mean you will never get very sharp images with this lens. In some ways, that can make it a lot easier to focus as the sharpness isn’t as important. This is how you get the painterly effect.
Doing distance shots can be tricky as everything can appear too blurry. You really need to play around with the aperture to get the best effect. However, as stated previously if you play around with them you can get more in focus. The downside is once you close it down you lose the special effect of the lens and the softness it creates.
In reality ,you wouldn’t really use this lens for landscapes or architecture. I would use it mostly for macro, it really shines for that. It is too soft for landscapes and architecture if you ask me. But people do it, and you get some great effects, but it is never going to work like a normal lens, which is the point I suppose.
For many, it is a great lens for portraits. Photographing people and getting great bokeh behind the subject is very desirable. As most portraits are done in an intimate environment, meaning the photographer is very close to the subject, the softness of the lens can enhance that and add an artistic feel to the images.
Like portraiture, macro photography is another great use for the Lensbaby Velvet 56. You can get very close to flowers and can create some very painterly images using different apertures. The lens is also suitable for attaching extension tubes and close-up filters to use with it. I’ve used the extension tubes on it. Plus, from time to time, I put on a 5+ close-up filter on to allow me to get even closer.
When you are focusing on a subject, if it is further away than 3-4 meters (9.8-13.1 feet) then the lens will be focused at infinity. So you don’t have to worry about focusing for landscape or architecture shots, just twist the focus ring all the way to the right so it is on infinity and shoot. It is only when your subject is closer that you need to start manually focusing the lens more critically.
It is good to use the soft focus look on subjects up close. But it doesn’t look as good when objects are further away, like large buildings, though that may be something that you like, so it’s your call.
One of the things I have found with architecture and city shots it that while it does a great blurred effect, it can make the images seem busier than normal. While some may not like that, you could make it work for you. If you keep trying you can get some interesting images. You might even get images that give everything a tilt-shift look, so the city looks miniature.
It is about experimenting, trying on different subjects to see what works best for you and which you like the best.
The price of most 50mm lenses are around two to three hundred dollars, whereas the Velvet 56mm is a bit more expensive, selling for around $500 USD. However, if you like the specific types of photography mentioned in this article, then the money spent on it would be worth it.
There is no doubt that you have to get used to it, but most people will fall in love with the lens straight away. It is good to play and experiment with and the more you do, the more you will discover. It could be a great way to add something new to your photography. I think it is amazing, and I love using it for macro photography.