Lensbaby Velvet 56mm f/1.6 Macro Review

Gary Wolstenholme reviews the new Lensbaby Velvet 56mm f/1.6 Macro portrait lens. With a bright aperture, creative effect and macro ability, find out how this unique lens performs.


|  Lensbaby Velvet 56mm f/1.6 1:2 Macro in Interchangeable Lenses
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Handling and Features
Performance
Verdict
Specification

Lensbaby Velvet 56mm F1 6 Black (1)

This manual focus standard macro lens, offers a fast f/1.6 maximum and metal build. Being a Lensbaby product, this isn't your run of the mill 56mm macro lens. The Velvet 56mm employs a unique optical design that promises to provide a velvety, glowing, ethereal look to images, whilst still providing decent levels of sharpness.

This lens is available to fit Canon, Nikon, Pentax and Sony SLRs with mirrorless versions to follow. In this review we'll take a look at the Nikon mount version and how it performs.

Lensbaby Velvet 56mm f/1.6 1:2 Macro Handling and Features

Lensbaby Velvet 56mm F1 6 Black (12)

Build quality is very good, reminiscent of Soligor / Panagor / Vivitar lenses from the 1980s, with a metal barrel finished in gloss black. The lens has a bit of weight to it, but isn't overly heavy at 400g, so it balances perfectly with the Nikon D600 used for testing.

The manual focusing ring is a pleasure to use, with damping that is smooth and neither too stiff, nor too light. Those who shoot video on a DSLR and tend to use manual focus anyway, may find this lens ideal due to its pleasant manual focusing action. Closest focus is 13cm, which provides magnification of 1:2. 62mm filters can be used with this lens and the filter thread does not rotate, which makes it ideal for use with graduated and polarising filters.

Lensbaby Velvet 56mm F1 6 Black (9)

This lens has no electronic or mechanical coupling with the camera, so stop down metering has to be used. Due to the nature of the lens, and the hazy effect it produces, the electronic focus confirmation feature of Nikon cameras does not work with this lens at fast apertures. In fact, even when using live view, confirming focus can be tricky with the aperture open beyond f/4.

Lensbaby Velvet 56mm F1 6 Black (8)

Lensbaby Velvet 56mm f/1.6 1:2 Macro Performance

Of all the things this lens was designed for, photographing test charts wasn't one of them. Imatest struggled with the haziness of the images and reported very low levels of sharpness at fast apertures. This isn't the whole story though, as images have much more detail within them than testing would have you believe. You may just have to take my word for it, for now. As the aperture is stopped down, the hazy effect is reduced, with it almost completely disappearing from the centre of the image at f/5.6 and beyond. Here sharpness approaches outstanding levels in the centre of the frame.


 

 
MTF
MTF

How to read our charts

The blue column represents readings from the centre of the picture frame at the various apertures and the green is from the edges. Averaging them out gives the red weighted column.

The scale on the left side is an indication of actual image resolution. The taller the column, the better the lens performance. Simple.

For this review, the lens was tested on a Nikon D600 using Imatest.

The hazy effect also messes with Imatest's ability to give accurate chromatic aberration readings. As you can see from the graph, Imatest reported fringing that is off the scale. To look at, actual chromatic fringing doesn't seem so bad.


 

 
CA
CA

How to read our charts

Chromatic aberration is the lens' inability to focus on the sensor or film all colours of visible light at the same point. Severe chromatic aberration gives a noticeable fringing or a halo effect around sharp edges within the picture. It can be cured in software.

Apochromatic lenses have special lens elements (aspheric, extra-low dispersion etc) to minimize the problem, hence they usually cost more.

For this review, the lens was tested on a Nikon D600 using Imatest.


Falloff of illumination towards the corners is typical for a fast standard lens. The corners are 1.78 stops darker than the image centre at f/1.6 and visually uniform illumination isn't achieved until the aperture is stopped down to f/4 or beyond.

Imatest detected 2.09% barrel distortion, which is a fairly typical for a wide aperture lens like this, but may still become visible in images with straight lines close to the edges. The distortion pattern is uniform across the frame, so should be relatively straightforward to correct in image editing software afterwards.

This lens is highly susceptible to flare, with only a bit of sunshine being required to create all sorts of crazy ghosting in images. Whether this is a drawback, or not, will depend largely on what you expect from the lens.

Lensbaby Velvet 56mm f/1.6 1:2 Macro Sample Photos

Value For Money

With a price at launch of £419, this lens seems reasonably priced for a macro lens with a fast maximum aperture, although it isn't straightforward to compare with other lenses, as there is no direct equivalent available at the moment.
 

Lensbaby Velvet 56mm f/1.6 1:2 Macro Verdict

As far as effects lenses go, this one seems to strike a good balance between blurring details for effect, and being able to produce usably sharp images. The hazy effect itself is quite pleasant. In some ways the effect is similar to what you'd expect from a soft focus filter, but in other ways the look it produces is more complex than that. The ability to focus close enough for 1:2 magnification is a huge bonus too, although the hazy effect may not be best suited for general macro photography.

Those who enjoy using Lensbaby's range of existing products will surely enjoy this lens and the effect it produces. Others after something different to add to their arsenal may also consider it. So long as the effect produced is accounted for, it can be a very versatile lens, although it will surely be better for photographing some subjects than others.

Lensbaby Velvet 56mm f/1.6 1:2 Macro Pros

Unique hazy effect
Decent sharpness in the centre, especially when stopped down
Smooth manual focus action
Metal build
Close macro focusing
Fast f/1.6 maximum aperture

Lensbaby Velvet 56mm f/1.6 1:2 Macro Cons

Hazy effect may limit the usefulness of this lens in some circumstances
Susceptible to flare and loss of contrast

FEATURES  
HANDLING  
PERFORMANCE  
VALUE FOR MONEY  
VERDICT  

 

Additional photos can be seen in the Equipment Database.

Lensbaby Velvet 56mm f/1.6 1:2 Macro Specifications

ManufacturerLensbaby
General
Lens Mounts
  • Nikon F
  • Canon EF
  • Sony A
  • Pentax K
Lens
Focal Length56mm
Angle of ViewNo Data
Max Aperturef/1.6
Min Aperturef/16
Filter Size62mm
StabilisedNo
35mm equivalentNo Data
Internal focusingNo
Maximum magnificationNo Data
Focusing
Min Focus13cm
Construction
Blades9
ElementsNo Data
GroupsNo Data
Box Contents
Box ContentsNo Data
Dimensions
Weight400g
Height86mm

View Full Product Details

 

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Comments


josa 8 25 Czech Republic
7 Apr 2015 8:05PM
Great lens for special effects!
NeilSchofield Plus
13 1.6k 1 United Kingdom
7 Apr 2015 11:52PM
For the price, or even without the price, I would have expected the MTF and CA chart to warrant a negative mention, it's certainly unusual in that respect but not in a good way
dannyr 11 46 United Kingdom
8 Apr 2015 11:11AM
No problem with lenses like this, but at that price far to high for an impulse buy.
ChrisV Plus
13 2.3k 26 United Kingdom
8 Apr 2015 3:39PM
Has Vaseline suddenly gone into short supply? You'd have to buy a few hundred jars of the stuff before you got up to the price of this lens.
9 Apr 2015 6:56AM
I dont really get it..
9 Apr 2015 7:44AM
Crazy price for a lens that exploits the optical properties of plenty of lenses made before it! And $100 for a silver barrel? Lensbaby will charge what the market supports, but there's nothing special or magical about this lens. That softness you see at wide apertures is a property (often considered a flaw) of plenty of much cheaper lenses. Here are four alternatives to the Velvet 56 for under $50 each: Lensbaby Velvet 56 - classic hype and four alternatives
ChrisV Plus
13 2.3k 26 United Kingdom
9 Apr 2015 12:02PM

Quote:Crazy price for a lens that exploits the optical properties of plenty of lenses made before it! And $100 for a silver barrel? Lensbaby will charge what the market supports, but there's nothing special or magical about this lens. That softness you see at wide apertures is a property (often considered a flaw) of plenty of much cheaper lenses. Here are four alternatives to the Velvet 56 for under $50 each: Lensbaby Velvet 56 - classic hype and four alternatives


I occasionally use an OM50/1.8 with a cheap adapter [cost for both less than 20] - they're fairly commonplace second hand. Bokeh on those is good, but they're also quite sharp, even wide open. Like the lensbaby though, contrast really suffers especially shooting into the light. I haven't really measured edge sharpness, but I expect as they're designed for a 35mm imaging area it's probably pretty good. Actually thinking about it you'd need some sort of cheap diffuser filter to get close to the 'look' of this lensbay [and stand back a little further to match the AoV]. Or use Vaseline...

Nice little article, btw.
themak 7 1.0k Scotland
9 Apr 2015 2:10PM
Glad you reminded me of the Vaseline thing - I was just about to set about a perfectly good 50mm lens with a hammer to attempt the same effect.
johnmiles 13 3 United Kingdom
14 Apr 2015 8:47AM
No sample pics for us or did I miss them?
joshwa Plus
10 923 1 United Kingdom
14 Apr 2015 5:19PM
Not sure why you can't see them? There are lots shown above, as well as here:
https://www.ephotozine.com/equipment/item/lensbaby-velvet-56mm-f-1-6-1-2-macro-5757/images

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