MASTERING LIGHT ONLINE WORKSHOP
Nature photography classes empowering you to master light in the field and in post-processing.
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In April Lensbaby announced the arrival of a new camera lens to the Velvet line – the Lensbaby Velvet 28mm. The popular predecessors, the Velvet 56mm and the Velvet 85mm now have a companion that is perfect for the landscape, urban and travel photographer. But wait, there’s more; it also has macro photography capability with an ability to focus as close as two inches from your subject. It’s rare to find a lens well-suited for both landscape photography and macro photography.
NOTE: Please note that all images for this review were captured on a full frame mirrorless camera. The images were all photographed during the pandemic, with no ability to travel for more interesting landscape photographs. All images were photographed within a few miles of my home and the landscape images were captured once the Chicago Botanic Garden reopened in June.
Like all Lensbaby camera lenses, the Velvet 28mm is a manual focus, manual aperture lens. 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. The lens does 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.
The Velvet 28mm gives the same velvety ethereal glow of the previous Velvet lenses when shot in the lower apertures (f/2.2 – f/4). The glow will predominate throughout the image when shot wide open, but as you move up the aperture scale you will have increasing areas of sharpness. For example, if you want glow throughout, shoot wide open; if you want a small area of sharpness, surrounded by softness and some glow, an aperture of f/2.8 or f/4 may be more pleasing to your eye. The glow disappears at f/5.6 and the area of focus and sharpness will increase as you continue up the aperture scale. This lens has a range of apertures from f/2.2 to f/22. Unlike the other Velvet lenses that only go to f/16 and still have some softness around the edges, this lens is tack sharp with edge to edge detail at the highest apertures.
It’s helpful to think of the glow in a Velvet lens as an overlay. Detail and sharpness are present underneath the glow, but the glow gives the image a soft, ethereal feel. When shot wide open, that glow will predominate through the entire image, but as you close down the aperture each stop you will get a larger and larger area of sharpness and a lessening of glow and softness.
The visible glow in your viewfinder can make focusing this manual focus lens challenging. I recommend establishing your focus in f/4 or f/5.6 where the glow is less obvious, and then to open up the lens again to shoot if you want more glow in your image. Trying to focus the lens in those wide open apertures will be very challenging. If you are on a tripod use Live View and zoom in on the most essential area of focus to fine tune your focus, again using f/4 or f/5.6 to focus. If you are handholding your camera and photographing your subject up close, I recommend turning the focus ring until you think your focus is at its sharpest and then moving your body in and out slightly to watch the area of focus come in and out of focus, taking a series of shots as you move. Alternatively, you can focus bracket by making small adjustments to the focus ring and taking a series of shots. Your rate of success will likely be higher the more images you take. If your camera has focusing peaking technology, this is the perfect time to use it to help you focus. I have found focus peaking to be a game changer in my ability to focus more effectively while handholding my Lensbabies.
For wider views and landscapes you are most often going to be focusing at the infinity mark. I typically use my Velvets for larger scenes to create magical ethereal landscapes and, in that case, I will be shooting wide open at f/2.2 or f/2.5 to get that look. If you prefer more in focus, close down your aperture. You have a lot of creative choices with this lens – choose as much glow as you like by shooting in the wider open apertures, or close down the aperture to create more sharpness.
One of the unique and wonderful aspects of this lens is its ability to focus as close as 2 inches. To have a lens that is capable of shooting landscapes and have that 1:2 macro capability all in one lens makes it a versatile lens. You can go from capturing wide landscape scenes to photographing a macro close-up of a flower with the turn of the focusing ring and no changing lenses. That versatility in a lens makes it perfect for travel, when you might want to shoot in different ways but not carry a lot of equipment. I will definitely take this lens on landscape or urban photography adventures, where I always have my eyes open for small scenes or macro subjects, as well as larger landscapes.
How does a 28mm lens function as a macro lens? Although you see I have captured a variety of macro images here, I found that this lens gave such a wide view of my macro subjects that it didn’t work well for all macro subjects, especially smaller subjects where I might want to fill the frame with my subject. I found that too much background was visible with some subjects, even at the 2 inch focusing distance. For subjects like the magnolia images and the tulip, where I could fill the frame with my subject, it was perfect. The lens does a beautiful job of blurring backgrounds at the lower apertures, however it doesn’t have the background blur power of the longer focal length Velvets, especially the Velvet 85mm. It will not replace my much-loved Velvet 56mm and Velvet 85mm for my flower and botanical photography or macro subjects, but like all Lensbaby lenses it brings a new way of seeing the world and capturing my subjects.
I think this is the perfect lens for someone who favors a wider view of the world but also likes to move in close to capture details without having to change a lens. In addition, the versatility of being able to shoot creatively with the ethereal glow to create magical landscapes, and having the option of shooting with tack sharp detail in the higher apertures give you lots of options to spread your creative wings and shoot in different ways.
The ability to shoot landscapes, close-up, tack sharp and ethereal all in one lens is so appealing. I am normally carrying a full backpack of lenses, changing among a wide angle, macro and many of my Lensbaby lenses all in one shoot. This simplifies photographing, especially during travel, or even when I want to explore my neighborhood or an urban area without carrying a lot of gear. I find that simplifying my photography helps me enjoy the process and be more creative in my photography.
As a nature photographer specializing in flower photography, Anne’s passion lies in capturing the beauty of flowers and other botanical subjects up-close. It is the small, often unnoticed details that draw Anne to her subjects. It is her belief that if we slow down and look at nature in a more contemplative way, we will find subjects that convey impact and emotion, causing the eye to linger a little longer. A life-long involvement in the arts and a first career as an art therapist have shaped the way that she views art and the creative process and have reinforced her belief in the healing power of both art and nature in our lives.