I firmly believe that photographers fall into one of two camps. There are those who’ve never heard of Lensbaby. And there are those who have a suitcase full of Lensbaby lenses already.
Vagabondish is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Read our disclosure.
If you’re in the former camp and are new to the company, they offer an extensive line of purpose-built lenses for creating highly stylistic photos. One of their latest creations — the Velvet 56 — is a prime (fixed), manual focus lens designed for buttery (you might even say “velvety”) soft shots, be they macro, portrait, or even landscape.
The company was kind enough to send us one to test-drive and here’s what I found …
Lensbaby describes it as “the most versatile portrait lens you’ll ever use.” In their own words, the Velvet 56 provides:
… a vision of the world you’ve never seen before. With a buttery smooth, vintage glow at wide apertures, you’ll create rich, dreamy, and intricate images—perfect for everything from magical macro scenes to intimate, soulful portraits.
Check out this 90-second overview:
The Traveler’s Take
Straight out of the box, it’s easy to see why Lensbaby is a well-respected manufacturer. The Velvet 56 feels sturdy, heavy, and well-built like the lenses crafted in the mid-20th century (before everything went plastic). The all-metal construction includes a metal front lens cap and rear mount cap, all clearly designed to take a beating (though I wouldn’t recommend it). Naturally, as a prime lens, the form factor is incredibly compact making it a no-brainer to toss in your pack.
With a bright, maximum aperture of 1.6 and a minimum focusing distance of just five inches (!), the lens is purpose-built for bright, tack-sharp macro photos with ultra-precise detail. Like so:
… yet the versatile design also allows for stylized landscapes and portraits as well.
The look evokes some of the most “film-like” digital photos I’ve ever seen, particularly for portraiture.
It’s clear the lens isn’t for everyone. Purists who spend their careers chasing razor sharp images (which isn’t a bad thing) will pooh-pooh the out-of-focus vintage glow as too soft for their taste. One could also argue that these effects can be found in post-processing.
Me, I’m all about finding new, creative avenues to explore, especially when it comes to my travel photos. I appreciate the challenge! Besides, how many folks on Instagram boast photos like these? Sometimes it’s good to stray from the pack!