Velvet Lensbaby Lenses create glowing ethereal effects in camera, which are often difficult to reproduce in Photoshop. By changing the aperture the effect can be controlled from pin sharp to very soft.
Lensbaby was started in 2004 by Craig Strong & Sam Price in Portland, Oregon. The Lensbaby Velvet 56 arrived on the market in 2015, followed by the Velvet 85 and the Velvet 28. The series is available for multiple camera mounts: Nikon, Canon, Sony, Pentax, and Fuji cameras.
Lensbaby Velvet Soft Focus
Soft focus was once considered a technical flaw. However, it has now become a creative tool for photographers. In the past, it was only possible to achieve this by putting Vaseline on a UV filter! Lensbaby changed all that.
Many photographers also experiment with vintage lenses to attain a charming dreamy look. Velvet lenses do the same thing. The more you open the aperture the dreamier the effect becomes. Starting at the edges and working into the centre, the blur becomes more exaggerated with each aperture ring click. As the aperture is opened, the depth of focus also decreases and at ƒ/2.8, the whole image is a gentle mist.
At these wide apertures, it can look as though the image was painted. Lensbaby advocates insist this look cannot be created in Photoshop. However competent you are with layers and Gaussian blur. This unique effect may be down to the glow the lens will impart in some lighting conditions.
These are some examples collated on this Pinterest board.
Practicalities When Using a Lensbaby
When using a Lensbaby lens it is back to basics, because your camera will not recognize the lens. The lens has no electronic coupling. As a result, the aperture cannot be changed using the aperture control on the camera. To change the aperture it is back to using the aperture ring on the lens.
The lens works best in manual mode, although aperture priority can work on some cameras.
The focus is also manual. This is easiest with a mirrorless camera or using live view on a traditional DSLR. Note that the camera will not store camera settings with the metadata.
The Velvet also does not have an automatic diaphragm, which on modern cameras opens the aperture to its widest setting once the lens is mounted on the camera. As a result, the lens aperture closes as you stop down, and the view gets increasingly dark.
Which Velvet Lensbaby to Choose
Lensbaby Velvet 56
Although this is primarily a portraiture lens, the lens is a ‘nifty fifty’ with glowing ethereal characteristics. It has a 1:2 macro ratio, making it perfect for misty flower photography.
Lensbaby Velvet 85
A short telephoto portrait lens, capable of 1:2 macro photography with a minimum focusing distance of just 24cm. So ideal for nature close ups.
Lensbaby Velvet 28
A wide angle lens ideal for landscapes and travel, but with a 1:2 macro facility.
Why Buy a Lensbaby Velvet
There is a movement back to simpler photography. Creating effects that can be created in camera, and which do not need layers of Photoshop in post production. Techniques like ICM, multiple exposure and vintage lenses.
The Lensbaby range is right on trend. If occasionally we do not always want to see our world with hard, sharp, twenty twenty vision, then the Velvet Lensbaby takes us back to a more gentle era.