First of all I have to say I’m massively grateful to the lovely Lensbaby people for giving me the opportunity to try this lens out before it launched. But’s it’s been sooooo frustrating not being able to share any images!!
I will confess that I’ve never been quite sure about the Velvet 56, it’s one of the very few Lensbaby products I don’t own and I’ve always had mixed feelings about the images I’ve seen from it, I’ve never been able to make my mind up whether the glow that it sometimes produces appealed or not. But still, I jumped at the chance to try out the Velvet 85.
I was ridiculously excited to see that glimpse of brown through the front door as the UPS driver pulled up with my delivery, and I couldn’t wait to open the package. My first two thoughts were that it looks like a “real” lens and that it’s heavy! It’s no heavier than something like a 24-70mm f2.8 lens so in reality it’s not heavy at all, but in comparison to one of the optics in the composer it seems heavy.
I promptly wandered around the house taking boring pictures of things that aren’t in the slightest interesting and I discovered that wide open (which is f1.8) focus peaking on my Sony A99 doesn’t work. I’m guessing this is because of the glow and softness, nothing is really focused enough for the indicators to flash, but it does make focusing tricky when you’ve come to rely on them.
Undeterred I headed out to a local garden to really test out the lens.
I probably should point out that I was recovering from iritis and my left eye had been dilated for five days, the drops were wearing off but my sight was still affected. And I’m left eyed, and even if I swapped to my right eye (have you ever tried that? It’s not easy!) I couldn’t see my screen clearly so I didn’t have much idea if things were in focus or not!
Needless to say I had far less “keepers” than I would normally have, I blame a combination of not knowing the lens and my poor eyesight. But I enjoyed using the lens, I liked that it focuses as close as 9.5″ but still focuses well on more distant subjects. But honestly, at this point I can’t really say that I was bowled over with it although I was happy with some of the results.
A few days later I was off wandering to an old graveyard and decided to take it with me.
My eye was fully recovered and I’m sure it made a massive difference, all of a sudden I got it, the lens made sense.
Focusing will always be a bit of a challenge at the widest apertures but I realised that the glow can indeed look beautiful in the right images, it can be sharp when it needs to but sometimes it doesn’t matter if it isn’t, there’s a lovely blur around the edges of the frame with more distant subjects and just look at those little bokeh sparkles on the grass in front of the gravestone!
Third outing, and it’s off to another garden but one with a lot more variety to shoot and I completely fell in love with the Velvet 85 this time out. I love the focal length but I’ve always been drawn to a longer rather than a wider lens. I don’t always love the glow, it suits some shots but not others, but a less wide aperture eliminates it anyway.
Mostly I’m just amazed by how versatile this lens is, you can have a lovely blur around the edges if you aren’t too close to your subject but you can shoot up close and have no edge blur. It can be perfectly sharp or soft and glowing. I’ve felt drawn to black and white with it but the colours it renders straight out of camera are amazing, take a look at the last flower, I’ve done nothing other than convert the raw file to a jpeg!
So far I haven’t had chance to shoot any portraits but I have a feeling it will be a perfect portrait lens, in fact I’m feeling quite inspired to start a portrait project that’s been on my mind for a while and just use the Velvet 85. I’m going to mull that idea over for a little while….
So would I recommend the Velvet 85?
Yes! Without hesitation. Although I had reservations about any Velvet lens its only taken me just over a week to decide that it might well be my favourite Lensbaby. Now I’ve got used to it I feel that the fact it doesn’t bend makes it an easier lens to use than any that go in the composer.