The Lensbaby Velvet 56 Lens

I have owned the Lensbaby Velvet 56 lens for quite some time but have only recently been shooting with it and wow, I didn’t know what I was missing!

The velvety glow of the Lensbaby Velvet 56 lens on a Canon 80D. f/4 was the setting on the aperture ring.

The lens itself is intimidating to me because it is a manual focus and manual aperture meaning that you have to contend with two factors on the lens itself whilst also setting the camera correctly.

Nevertheless, it is easy once you get the hang of it. Here’s how.

About the Lens

The lens itself is a fixed focal length 56 mm, meaning it is not exactly wide angle, but not 1:1 magnification either. It is a “normal” lens and makes things a bit wider than the naked eye.

It is also a macro lens with a 1:2 capability meaning it can reproduce objects at half size. It also means you can get close to objects when focusing and setting up shots.

Macro capability – a sunflower head. f/5.6
Close-up of the macro shot above showing the detail. f/5.6

At the upper end, it is an f/1.6 aperture opening which is very fast (lets a lot of light in), but the ring overshoots the 1.6 marking a bit in practice so I would guess it is more like an f/1.4. None of this means a lot except that it produces a really nicely blurred (ethereal, some say) background and some velvety glow or fog at the wider apertures (lower f number). To me it really looks like whatever you shoot in the lower f-stops are in a true fog – but not blur, the items focused on are not blurred if the lens is properly focused.

This ethereal effect extends to the foreground as well when at the wider apertures (f/1.6 – f/4 (about)). At f/1.6 it looks as if everything is in the fog. But, it is a nice fog – zooming in you can see that everything is sharp but behind a light texture. It is not blur.

Effect of Aperture

Changing the aperture f number ring changes the effect on the image. At lower f numbers there is a noticeable glow (but not blur) on the images and the background is a velvety blur. At higher f numbers, the lens is tack sharp with no background blur at all.

If I had to categorize it subjectively it would be this:

f-stopForegroundBackground
1.6Everything is fogged – not blurredNicely blurred
2Very fogged (less where focused) – not blurredNicely blurred
2.8Fogged where not focused – not blurredMostly blurred
4Fogged where not focused (less) – not blurredSomewhat blurred
5.6Somewhat fogged – not blurredSomewhat blurred (less)
8Sharp – Tack sharp where focusedSlight blur far off
11Sharp – Most everything is in focusNo blur
16Sharp – Everything focused (maybe slightly soft)No blur

Another interesting thing is that the aperture ring does click into stops, but is also continuous in that you can move it to points between stops/detentes.

The best way to show the effect of the various apertures is through images – see below.

f/1.6
f/2
f/4 – f/5.6
f/5.6 – f/8
f/1.6
f/2 – f/2.8
f/4
f/5.6
f/8
f/16
f/2

Camera Set-up

I set my camera for aperture-priority and auto-ISO:

  1. Aperture priority allows the camera to choose the ISO and shutter speed. Because there is no feedback from the lens to the camera, the camera can only go by the light entering through the aperture – which is manual and that I am controlling by turning the aperture ring on the lens.
  2. Auto ISO allows the ISO to go up when the light is low. But, this would make a grainy image. You need not worry about that because this is a fast lens and lets a lot of light in. Also, with 3200 ISO, the images still look spectacular because of the ethereal effect of the lens.

I use back-button metering (not focusing, remember you have to do that manually on the lens), but it is only my personal preference for metering.

What to Shoot

What I like to shoot with this lens are tiny things. It really makes the little details in macro shots look very cool to me.

But the landscape shots look great also and have a bit of a velvety effect to them that can’t really be explained in words (by me anyway).

Focused on the near leaves. f/11.
Focused at infinity. f/16.
Focused on the second sunflower. f/8.

One type of shot I think would be a good fit for this lens would be black and white. Converting the color of the velvet glow may be interesting.

It would be great for portraits also but I don’t take portraits.

Note: All of the images in this post are as they came from the camera with no editing at all. The camera used was a Canon 80D.