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Earlier this year, I wrote an article How do you know if you need a new lens?.
Seriously, I didn't need a new lens but I had been wanting to get my hands on the Lensbaby Velvet 56mm for some time. Well, I finally caved! I bit the bullet and purchased this ‘baby.'
One of my first subjects? A delicate, pink camellia in Savannah, Georgia.
The Velvet 56mm initially caught my attention after seeing various flower photographs using the Velvet 56. The unique images from other Lensbaby lenses also piqued my interest. I explored Lensbaby's website to see the galleries of images produced with their other lenses.
In the end, I opted to go with the Velvet 56.
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What is the Lensbaby Velvet 56mm lens?
The 56mm ƒ/1.6 is a versatile portrait and art lens known for velvety, soft and dreamy images at large apertures. As you step down, images become crisp and sharp. The pink camellia above was taken at a larger, bright aperture. The red camellia below shows the sharpness that emerges when stepping down a couple of f/stops.
For portraits, the soft glow adds a beautiful touch to the lovely young lady working in an artists' gallery. Minimal post processing on this image!
I'll share my first images along with overall experiences using the Velvet 56. This also includes their customer service from the Portland, Oregon-based company. We'll highlight:
1) Lens build quality,
2) Versatility and image creation
3) Learning and ease of use.
1. Lens Quality & Overall Feel
The Velvet 56 build quality is solid. When I initially took it out of the box it felt sturdy in my hand. The Velvet 56 attaches to my Nikon 810 with a snug and tight, but not-too-tight connection.
The focus ring moves smoothly without feeling too loose or resistant. The aperture ring is also easy to use.
When the ring is rotated you can feel the gentle click when it's moved to a different f/stop. The aperture ring's placement is very close to where the lens attaches to the camera. I have slender fingers and do not have any issues maneuvering the ring.
The weight of the lens is 14.46 ounces (my Nikon 50mm 1.8G is 6.5 ounces) and features 9 blades. The Velvet 56 also has 1:2 macro capabilities. Every aspect of this lens is manual.
2. Lens Versatility and Image Creation
The Velvet 56mm produces smooth, ethereal and buttery imagery. When working with large apertures, there is vintage-like quality. Some images glow and have a dreamy flow. When stepped down, features are nice and sharp.
When working with larger scenes at big apertures, I've been able to create the spin blur effect that reminds me of images captured with a Petzval lens.
3. Learning & Ease of Use
The Velvet 56mm has been a departure from my normal photography. As a bird and wildlife photographer, I strive for sharp, crisp images of the bird and animals.
I've always had autofocus lenses and I shoot using Aperture Priority and in Manual depending on the situation. There is a learning curve beyond the manual aspects of the lens. That learning curve includes exploring another dimension of your own photography style.
Images – look and feel
I've had the lens for just a few shoots so far. Learning the look and feel of the images has been both enjoyable and a challenge. There are a few images that I feel look blurry (my husband who's my best critic will say “I don't get it”) versus artistic.
Then there are other images that are very interesting and artistic (my husband agrees with this too). This lens encourages me to get out of my comfort zone.
100% Manual Shooting
The Lensbaby Velvet 56 is a manual lens. To change your aperture setting, you rotate the aperture dial. To focus on a subject, you rotate the focus ring.
To adjust the shutter speed and ISO, you use your normal camera buttons and dials to make needed adjustments. When focusing on your subject, you use the center point of the lens and rotate the dial. The in-focus indicator in your viewfinder works as usual.
Setup & Use
When you first put your Lensbaby on your camera, it will not recognize your lens. The simple setup step requires you to go into the camera menu and select (Nikon menu). You will be asked to enter the focal length and maximum aperture.
When using the Lensbaby, you will need to shift to manual shooting mode and manual focusing on your camera. As there are subtle differences with Canon and others, the manual does provide straightforward instructions.
Lensbaby's Customer Service
I had a couple of user questions as it related to setup. The customer service of the company was outstanding. She was pleasant, responsive and I had my answers within a few minutes after the conversation. She took the initiative to confirm one of her responses with the technicians.
In post processing, you will not be able to review the settings used when photographing your subject. This is due to the all manual nature of the lens.
When processing your images, use this as an opportunity to continue exploring creative approaches. Turn your flower sideways or upside down.
Convert to black and white. Apply an artistic plug-in from Topaz, Google Nik Software or Photoshop's filter gallery.
Can't these effects be created in Photoshop?
The filter gallery and third party plugins are available to beautifully enhance images similar to that of Lensbaby. However, I have not been able to create Lensbaby's buttery brightness and glow that is produced in camera.
Would I recommend the Lensbaby Velvet 56?
I added this lens after I had the basic lenses. This included a wide angle lens, my zoom lenses, a telephoto lens and a macro lens. I still recommend investing in your basics first.
If you want to add that ‘little something extra' to your arsenal, I would definitely say yes! There are many creative uses including wedding, food, portrait, street and vintage architecture to name a few.