Time for an update: I still use film, though. Not vast quantities, but I have a darkroom, and I'm not afraid to use it.

I enjoy every image I take: I hope you'll enjoy looking at them.
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30 Apr 2020 10:12AM   Views : 412 Unique : 255


In many ways, the three Velvet Lensbaby optics are the most conventional kit the company sells. They look like old-fashioned lenses, with a focus ring (and distance scales) and an aperture ring. Manual focus, of course, but also all-metal.

The first lens in the series was the Velvet 56: 56mm focal length and f/1.6 maximum aperture. A year or two later, the 85mm f/1.8 followed, and the company has recently released a 28mm f/2.5. I own both of the longer lenses: the wideangle is, perhaps, of less use to me for portraits and nudes than the longer pair. Mind you, I’d love to try it out, and I may well be tempted when I come face-to-face with one, post-lockdown.

If you used a Velvet at medium to small apertures, and on a normal, average sort of a subject, you might never know the difference from a host of older lenses. They perform very decently, in every way.


But as you open up the aperture, they gradually change character. If you look at the Ephotozine review of the Velvet 56 from five years ago, you may wonder if you want anything to do with one of these: the sharpness graph starts incredibly low, though from f/5.6 the results are decent. The summary of pros and cons reflects a conventional view that lenses should be sharp and free from flare, distortion and other aberrations.

That’s not the point of these lenses. For real addicts, using them wide open is the challenge: picking up on yesterday’s blog, maximum aperture, with maximum difficulty of focussing and the highest levels of flare and veiling, is precisely where we want to be, because the results, in the right lighting conditions, are ethereal, other-worldly, stunning.


Stop down by one or two stops, and there’s still as strong glow to the highlights, but there’s less need for extreme accuracy of focus, and all the effects are toned down a bit. If full aperture is a Subaru WRX STi, f/4 is a Golf GTi…

So do you want one? Might you even need one? If you aspire to maximum sharpness, all the time, and at any price, no. If you enjoy quirky character, love to express yourself with selective use of sharpness, and find that a bit of imperfection gives character, try one out. WEX Photo Video stock them, and the Lensbaby/WEX stand is always busy at the NEC show, currently scheduled for September. The man behind the company, Craig Strong, is often to be found there – so say hello, and thank you, if you find positives in these out-of-the-rut optics.


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Irishkate Avatar
Irishkate Plus
13 45 123 United Kingdom
30 Apr 2020 11:34AM
Thanks for the article John.
Having learned my photography through camera clubs
where sharpness is key - I have found it hard to understand the value
of these lenses especially with so many variants.
I do however like selective focus - is the Sweet my best option?
Mrserenesunrise Avatar
30 Apr 2020 11:40AM
I love my Velvet 56mm.
I will look at the wide angle lens when lock down allows.

dark_lord Avatar
dark_lord Plus
19 3.0k 836 England
30 Apr 2020 12:38PM
I'm thinking the wideangle would be good for dreamy mysterious lanscapes.
dudler Avatar
dudler Plus
20 2.1k 2048 England
30 Apr 2020 3:42PM
Hi, Kate -

The answer is really difficult to provide: it depnds partly on the look that you find most attractive, the budget you want to put into it, and - crucially - how the lenses operate on your camera, the ergonomics of it. I found the Muse quite hard work on my Aplha 900, but when I moved to mirrorless, things got much easier.

As I recall, you shoot with an APS-C Canon DSLR, so focussing will be harder for you than it is for me, especially stopped down. If you have the chance to try a Lensbaby or two after lockdown, that may be sensible. The Photo Show is due to happen at the NEC in September: if you can make that, Craig Strong and the WEX people will make yo uvery welcome on the Lensbaby stand.

Having said that, if you like the idea of a small area of sharpness that you can move around the frame, the Sweet 35 is a good option for yoru camera, I'd say. Adn you actually have two options in terms of mounting.

The 'approved' way is with a Composer Pro mount, and that bundled with a Sweet 35 will cost you a little over £280. However, although it's not genrally recommended, you could mount the Sweet in the body of a Spark, with a combined price of £238. Thsi leaves you with a semi-redundant f/5.6 lens (which comes ready fitted in the Spark) and with a flexible mount, rather than the more mechanical Composer.

And that opens up another way to approach things. You could just buy a Spark, for £79, and get a feel, literally, for whether a Lensbaby is for you. And then upgrade the optics, or the mount, depending on how it goes. A Spark is still pretty saleable secondhand...

The downside is that the Spark is rather less durable than the Composer: but I wouldn't see that as a great problem if you are as careful with kit as most people are.

And the two mounts have utterly different 'feel' - that matters a lot to me, and I generally feel much more at ease with either the Spark or the Muse (no longer made, but essentially a Spark on steroids). It's like surfing compared with a steamboat.

Have a look at these two YouTube pages to see them in action, and maybe get an idea of how they work:

It's worth noting that the Composer has morphed into the Composer Pro and now the Pro 2. Tehre are differences, but they aren't enormous, and not worth worrying about for now.

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