Archive for October, 2019

Lensbaby Goes Premium

Lensbaby spent the early part of its existence refining the original Lensbaby and some variants on that original theme. The original design featured a simple single element lens that created a “sweet spot” in the center that was sharp followed by a radial blur all around that sweet spot. The lens could be manipulated with its semi flexible barrel.

Lensbaby has come a long way since those early plastic bodied creator lenses. They still offer a variety of variants on the original themes but in the last few years they have put forth some very nice quality optics that still offer a creative alternative to traditional lens design but in a fantastic high quality product that looks and feels premium.

I purchased the Lensbaby Velvet 56mm f/1.6 which is just such a product. Many of you that follow this blog know that I have a healthy infatuation with so-called soft focus lenses. These lenses use deliberate spherical aberrations to create that glamorous glow. Most of those lenses utilize a form of lens element shift internally to induce the effect allowing the lens to perform as a standard lens as well. You can check out my previous posts on several of these that I have owned over the years.

These previous lenses had some form of switch or ring that was activated or turned to produce the soft focus usually with varying degrees of effect. I remember that years ago Pentax made an 85mm f/2.2 soft focus lens that had no such switch or dial but rather the effect was induced based on the aperture with wide open having the most soft effect and the stopped down past 5.6 nearly no effect at all. I never liked that style because you could not shoot the lens wide open with out the spherical aberrations, so it was a ‘one trick pony’.

This Lensbaby Velvet works just like that old Pentax, yet unlike the Asahi made lens of yesteryear I like this lens. What gives then? What is different about this Velvet? Two things immediately set this lens apart from any soft focus lens I have used, or read about. This lens has a super bright f/1.6 opening. By the time I stop down to f/2.8 at non-macro distances, most of the spherical aberration is gone. In effect I get the f/2.8 without the soft focus, more or less. The faster opening allows me to really throw the background way out of focus and even further enhance the delicious soft glow. Furthermore this is a bona fide macro lens capable of producing a 1:2 or 1/2 life reproduction ratio. The lens will focus down to 5″ which is four times closer than a typical 50mm lens.

I really like the polished finish which harkens back to the days of old school rangefinders and Exakta SLRs. It looks cool and it feels well made with all metal finishes. If you prefer a more subdued look they have a black anodized finish as well, but who wants to be subdued? I also noticed that they have a Velvet 85mm f/1.8 in the catalog as well and it too has very close focusing capability.

I find myself shooting this lens at f/2 – f/4 most of the time. That gives me a range of softness from very subtle to very strong but maintains a good sharp plan of focus. This Velvet 56 is pretty soft wide open.

Lensbaby is a local company at least from my perspective as they were founded in Portland, OR which is adjacent to my Vancouver USA. The company has a large line of clever and artistic products allowing for a wide range of effects to enhance your imaging experience, check out their website here.  I’m Jonesing for that 35/2.8 Burnside lens with the controllable swirly bokeh.

I love this Velvet 56 lens, below are some images I have made with it.

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