Does your inspiration take a dive as the cold weather sets in? Does your creativity need an added boost? I have found that a willingness to try new things, to experiment with different approaches, and to see the world in a new way keeps my creative spirit alive and well, even in the dead of winter. Sometimes it is as simple as putting a new lens on my camera and my passion is reignited.
I want to introduce you to two lenses that changed my photography – the Lensbaby Velvet 56mm and the Velvet 85mm.
I have been a Lensbaby enthusiast for many years. My previous articles on flower and macro photography have featured a number of images shot with Lensbaby lenses. It’s hard to play favorites when you love them all, but the Velvets are the lenses that are on my camera most often. When Velvet 56mm was released in 2015, I quickly fell in love with the lens. Fast forward to 2017 and the release of the Velvet 85mm, and it happened all over again. These lenses help me to take my love of selective focus to a new level and, most importantly, help me to beautifully capture my vision and how I feel about my subject.
What Makes Them Special?
So what makes the Velvet lenses special? The Velvets create an ethereal glow when shot in the brighter apertures. They have a sweet spot of sharpness in the center that increases as your aperture gets smaller. When shot wide open (f/1.6 in the 56mm and f/1.8 in the 85mm), the soft glow is predominant throughout the image. But as you move up in aperture, the sweet spot of sharpness increases.
Think of the Velvets this way – tack sharp detail is there, but at the brighter apertures, it has an overlay of glow. At f/8 – f/16 you lose the velvet glow and the lens functions more like a traditional lens. These are versatile lenses, popular for macro photography, portrait photography, and even landscape photography.
Velvet 85mm, more sharpness, glow dissipates but beautiful softness around edges at f/5.6
All Lensbaby lenses are manual focus, manual aperture lenses. You focus by turning the focus ring on the barrel of the lens and set your aperture on the aperture ring of the lens. Your camera does not do this for you. These lenses will not connect electronically with your camera, so lens information and aperture will not be recorded in your EXIF data. Depending on your camera brand, you will either need to shoot in Aperture Priority or Manual mode. In some camera models, you may need to go into your menu to disable the shutter lock by setting it to “Shoot Without a Lens.” Yes, old school, but that’s part of the fun. You are in complete control.
Which is Right For You?
Which lens is right for you? Besides focal length, the biggest difference in the two lenses is the minimum focusing distance – 5 inches in the Velvet 56mm and 9 inches in the Velvet 85mm. These lenses have 1:2 macro capability.
If you like to shoot close, the 56mm might be your better choice, although an extension tube will get you in closer with the 85mm. If you shoot with a full-frame camera, either lens is a great fit, but for crop-sensor cameras, the 56mm is probably a better fit for you. Although the 85mm works on a crop-sensor camera, you lose some of the effect.
Both these lenses create beautiful blur in your background but the 85mm, with its longer focal length and the compression that creates, makes that blur even more pronounced.
Some tips for using the Velvets:
- Establish your focus at f/4, the easiest aperture to see the focus. Then you can open it back up to take the shot if you wish a softer look. If on a tripod, use Live View to zoom in and fine tune your focus. If handholding, turn the focus ring until you think you are at your sharpest focus, then move the camera and your body toward and away from your subject a tiny bit – watching it come in and out of focus to fine-tune. Take a series of shots, making small adjustments to focus.
- Experiment with aperture; don’t limit yourself to shooting in one aperture. See how the glow increases or decreases with aperture. What you like when you get the images to your computer screen may be different than what your thought in the field looking at the back of your camera.
- Practice, practice, practice. Using a manual focus lens with a creative effect built-in can be hard to master the focus. With practice and patience, you will get it.
Landscapes or Small Scenes
Try the Velvets for landscape or small scenes to add a creative spin. I learned somewhat by accident that the Velvets can create magical, ethereal landscapes scenes.
I was shooting flowers up close with my Velvet 56mm when I encountered a magical scene in spring – the crab apple trees in full bloom along this beautiful curving path. Rather than change to a wide angle lens, I decided to try the scene with the Velvet. It magically captured this fairytale-like scene as I imagine it in my mind. Since then, I have continued to use it with landscapes and small garden scenes.
The Velvet lenses are a wonderful addition to your camera bag for a variety of ways of shooting, from macro to landscapes. The ethereal glow these lenses create cannot be replicated in post processing. They are sure to ignite your creativity and bring joy to your photography.