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Based out of Portland, Lensbaby is a company specializing in creative DSLR lenses. Photographer Craig Strong started the company in 2004 after attaching a vacuum hose to a large format Speed Graphic lens to test the effect. This innovation inspired the first Lensbaby lens, and the company now offers a whole host of different products to help you take weirder digital photos.
They sent us their Velvet 56, a Manual Focus Portrait Lens, and told us to give it a whirl.
With a focal length of 56mm, this lens has a minimum focusing distance of five inches. Lensbaby describes its effect as “soft and velvety,” and they’re not wrong. Although this lens is perfect for macro shots, it also takes interestingly textured, artfully unfocused portraits.
We gave it to Format team members who are avid photographers in their spare time. Keep scrolling to read their positive and negative reviews of Lensbaby’s Velvet 56 Manual Focus Portrait Lens, plus see some of the shots they captured.
Lauren Barless, Designer
The Lensbaby Velvet lens is perfect for taking dreamy portraits and macro shots, producing a radial tilt-shift effect that isolates the subject at the centre of the image and creates a gauzy blur around the edges of the frame. The image that results almost looks like a flashback scene from a film—shimmery, soft, and glowing.
The Velvet really shines when shooting very close up, with a wide-open aperture. It stops down to 1.6, allowing for extremely shallow depth-of-field that creates a delicate haze around the subject, not unlike a pictorialist photograph from the turn of the century.
The downside of this lens is that it’s not especially versatile. It’s fixed at 56mm, and the fully-manual focusing mechanism takes a bit of practice to master, making it unsuitable for candid photos or action shots. However, it’s well worth adding to your kit if you’re a romantic at heart who wants to experiment with some truly magical lens effects.
Mohammed Asaduallah, Product Manager
Lensbaby Velvet 56 is cool, but I personally wouldn’t buy it as my first lens, or even my third lens.
The good folks at Lensbaby have created a lens that gives your vision a soft, dream-like feel—especially at wide apertures—with Velvet 56. The build quality feels sturdy and the focus ring is smooth, but firm. If you shoot weddings, portraits and macro, Lensbaby Velvet 56 may be a lens you want to consider.
However, if you shoot events, architecture and travel, as I do, then this may not be a lens for you. The same effect that makes this a fun lens is the same reason why I wouldn’t get it. I don’t want to lose the details—I prefer my images to be sharp, especially in low-light where I’m at a wider aperture.
Jill Blackmore Evans, Editorial Assistant
I’m obsessed with shooting close-ups of flowers now. Whenever I see a halfway-nice-looking garden I start wondering which plants would look best in a macro photo.
Seriously, though, this lens has almost convinced me to drop everything and become a stock photographer. I’m really not used to lenses that require any kind of technical knowledge, so I was a bit scared of the Lensbaby Velvet at first. But once you figure it out, you’ll be taking gorgeous macro photos without too much practice.
With an aperture stretching from 1.6 to 16, the Velvet works surprisingly well in low light without flash. The image of marigolds below here was taken at dusk, but I was still able to get a lot of light in the picture without using flash.
Although this lens can produce interesting blurred effects, I really preferred using it for macro shots. Full disclosure: this might be due to my limited experience with macro lenses. I wasn’t too excited about the results I got from trying intentionally blurry shots, but the macro results were so nice that I just wanted to keep shooting plants. This is definitely a great lens to add to your kit if you like nature photography.
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