Lensbaby Comparison – Velvet 56 vs Velvet 85

This week saw the arrival of a new Lensbaby, the Velvet 56! I’ve been sharing a lot of Velvet 85 images recently and so many people have asked how it compares to the 56 and whether it’s worth having both but until now I haven’t been able to offer any advice.

I’m going to be sharing a few blog posts comparing the lenses for different types of photography, and since it’s currently raining and miserable I’m starting indoors with some food and still life.

First and most obvious difference is the size and weight of the two lenses – and they are both lenses rather than optics – the Velvet 85 is larger and heavier than the 56, not to the point of feeling too heavy but for anyone who struggles with weight there is a noticeable difference.

Secondly both lenses have a different widest apertures and closest focusing distances. The Velvet 85 has a widest aperture of f1.8 and can focus at 9.5″, the Velvet 56 is f1.6 and 5″. Both lenses go to f16 and have macro capabilities of 1:2.

Initially the closest focus distances seem quite different, however the reality is that the difference in focal length means that there isn’t much visible difference in the images. In these images I focused as close as I could on the sticking out petals, the top image is the Velvet 56 and the bottom the 85.

You can see that being able to focus closer with the 56 makes very little difference to the size of the subject in the frame due to the longer focal length of the Velvet 85. Being further away from the subject can have it’s advantages, particularly in outdoor flower photography where it’s not always possible to get closer.

Lensbaby comparison, Velvet 85 vs Velvet 56

Lensbaby comparison, Velvet 85 vs Velvet 56

So what about the difference in widest aperture?

The first image below is taken with the 56 at f1.6, it should be focused on the cherries but I think I missed a little! The second is the 85 at f1.8. There’s very little difference in the backgrounds, if anything there is a little more detail in the edges of the tins with 56 but that may be due to my focus not being as accurate.

Lensbaby comparison, Velvet 85 vs Velvet 56

Lensbaby comparison, Velvet 85 vs Velvet 56

Below are a few more for comparison, the top pair are the Velvet 85 and the bottom are the Velvet 56.  In these it’s noticeable that there is more glow in the Velvet 56 images and although I’m still a little undecided about the glow effect it works quite well here and adds a painterly look to the images. There’s also a very slight swirl around the edges of the frame which is just a little more noticeable in the images from the Velvet 56.

Lensbaby comparison, Velvet 85 vs Velvet 56

Apart from the above differences between the two the lenses can be compared very much in the same way as standard (ie non Lensbaby) 50mm and 85mm lenses.

The Velvet 56 has a wider field of view than the 85 and objects will appear larger in the frame in the 85, for all the comparison images I’ve had to move backwards with the 85 to get a similar framing.

A longer focal length compresses the background making the distances between subject and background seem less, a longer focal length also adds more background blur than a shorter focal length.

All the comparisons below have been shot at f4 and each pair of images has been edited for consistency, in each pair the Velvet 56 image appears first.

Lensbaby comparison, Velvet 85 vs Velvet 56

Lensbaby comparison, Velvet 85 vs Velvet 56

Lensbaby comparison, Velvet 85 vs Velvet 56

Lensbaby comparison, Velvet 85 vs Velvet 56

In the top pair of images the compression of the 85mm lens can be seen if you study the tins in the background, in the second image they appear to be closer to the cherries and are larger in the frame. In the second pair you can spot a subtle difference in the pattern of the background, although both are shot at f4 the backdrop is more blurred in the Velvet 85 shot.

And finally, a set of images to show the difference in framing as well as compression. The top image is the Velvet 85, the second is the Velvet 56 without changing my position and we have things in the frame that we don’t want! The third is again with the 56 but moving so that I have a similar composition, notice how all the main elements appear to have slightly more space between them.

Lensbaby comparison, Velvet 85 vs Velvet 56

Lensbaby comparison, Velvet 85 vs Velvet 56

Lensbaby comparison, Velvet 85 vs Velvet 56

So which is better for still life photography?

Well that really depends on your own style of shooting and the space you are working in. I personally like the extra softness in the backgrounds from the Velvet 85 but you do need to have the space to move back from your subject, although I’m not working in a large space and I had enough room**.

The Velvet 56 is ideal if you want to fit more into your composition although if you are working with fairly narrow backdrops (I sometimes use wallpaper samples) they may not fill your frame. Of course you can crop the edges of your images but then you lose that lovely softness around edges.

Do you need both?

For still life I would say not, I could happily choose either one and work only with that but since I have them I will definitely be using both in future. I have however come across situations where I have felt it’s essential to have both but more of that in a future post!

**All of my images are taken on a full frame Sony A99, space would be even more of an issue using a crop sensor camera**



  • Karen White

    Very useful comparison post, thank you.

  • G Jones

    Great comparison. Although you compared by not moving any of the objects but just your field of view or distance (backing up with 85 to get same composition)…the thing I would consider, especially with your last example, is moving the objects themselves for composition. I have 56 and love it. If I had not purchased and had to choose, I would probably still choose the 56 as I like that extra width for still life, 5 inch focus ability, and the slight swirl vignette effect. Both are beautiful lenses.

    • Janet Broughton

      That was intentional, I approached the comparison from the point of view of how the identical image would look with the two different lenses, just to give people a general overview really. I think my own preference leans slightly towards the 85, but as you say both are beautiful lenses and it really depends on your own shooting style. Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment 🙂

  • Andy

    Awesome info, thanks

  • Margaryta Kenis

    I’m shooting a lots of portraits, and i’m really think to buy one. Leaning toward to 85 .Thank you for a great review

    • Janet Broughton

      Good to know you’ve found it useful!

  • Ken

    I just came across your blog as I was looking for some reviews that compared the 56 and the 85. First of all, love your blog and your style of photography!! Your reviews and comparisons on the two Velvet lenses is excellent! Best one I have seen so far.

    I am torn, wishing I had the money to just buy both!! Would you say, after more time has gone by, that for you, you still would choose the 85mm as your choice lens?

    I love compression from a 85mm and the extra bokeh is always my preference, but I for some reason am finding myself leaning towards the 56mm for more walkaround usage.

    Also, I already have a 35mm f/2.0 and a 85 f.1.8…so the 56 fits right in between those two lenses on my FF Canon.

    Do you think for the lenses that I have, 56mm would make more sense?

    • Ken

      Also, I do a lot of macro work in flower gardens….makes me think I know the answer, the 85, but I also have another secret weapon in my bag already, 100mm Canon L 2.8…

      Gosh, maybe I don’t need a new toy! 🙁

    • Janet Broughton

      Hi Ken,
      Thanks for your comments and kind words!
      Yes, now that more time has passed I would definitely still say that my preference leans towards the 85 BUT I would also say that it’s really down to personal style and I am drawn to a longer focal length generally.

      Yes I would agree that the 56 does fill a gap in the focal lengths you already own, and it does have the advantage of being a little less expensive than the 85 but I’m sure you will love whichever one you choose!