Review: Lensbaby Velvet 56mm f1.6 (Sony A Mount)

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Lensbaby Velvet 55mm f1.6 product images (1 of 6)ISO 4001-140 sec at f - 2.0

Lensbaby’s Velvet 56mm f1.6 is a pretty new lens, and one that many of us didn’t necessarily expect. In the past couple of years, the company has been working on alternative lenses for various systems, and the first sample images look really cool in a lo-fi type of way. Indeed, Lensbaby has always been about seeing the world in a new way, and their newest lenses seem to make you do that, just in a more vintage style.

That’s not to say that these lenses have plastic optics at all, but if you’re a film lover then the Lensbaby Velvet 56mm f1.6 lens will give you quite a treat.

Pros and Cons

Pros

– Very sharp when stopped down

– Beautiful metallic build quality

– Nice clicked aperture

– Buttery smooth manual focus

– Great colors, especially for skin tones

– Small sizes that reminds me of very vintage lenses

Cons

– Only full stop aperture settings

– No effective depth of field scale

– Very, very soft wide open to the point of sometimes not knowing if something is in focus or not

– Not too sure about the $499.95 price point.

Gear Used

We tested the Lensbaby 56mm f1.6 Velvet with the Sony A7 and the A mount to E mount Adapter. No glass was in between the camera and the lens during the tests.

Tech Specs

Taken from the B&H Photo listing

Focal Length 56mm
Comparable 35mm Equivalent on APS-C Format Focal Length: 84mm
Aperture Maximum: f/1.6
Minimum: f/16
Mount Type Sony A
Format Compatibility Full-frame or APS-C
Minimum Focus Distance 5″ / 12.7 cm (working distance, from front of lens)
Maximum Magnification 1:2
Elements/Groups 4 elements in 3 groups
Autofocus No
Filter Thread 62 mm
Dimensions (Ø x L) 3.4 x 2.8″ / 86 x 72 mm
Weight 14.1 oz / 400 g

Ergonomics

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Lensbaby Velvet 55mm f1.6 product images (6 of 6)ISO 4001-40 sec at f - 2.2

Lensbaby’s Velvet 56mm f1.6 could easily be mistaken for something from the 1990s or even before due to its ergonomics. With an all metal body and an aperture ring that only works in full stops along with a beautiful manual focusing ring, there isn’t much that would make you think otherwise.

The Lensbaby Velvet 56mm f1.6 features a three grooved manual focusing ring, an aperture ring, a distance meter and its own branding on the front of the lens.

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Move to the front and you’ll see pretty much no labels. This is very much unlike other lens manufacturers where putting a label on the front makes it easier for the photographer to tell what lens they’re using. The fact that the front lens element is so deep into the body also makes up for the lack of a lens hood.

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When focusing at its closest distance of 5 inches, the Velvet extends out quite a bit. The extension isn’t doubling the size of the lens, but instead around half of the lens being added to the length overall.

Build Quality

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The Lensbaby Velvet 56mm f1.6 is a beautifully built lens in terms of nostalgia. With every buttery smooth turn of the focusing ring, it’ll feel as if you’ve got a vintage lens attached to your camera. The aperture ring is also quite solid in its feel as is the overall exterior–which is metal but doesn’t feel as high end as something Sigma or Zeiss makes.

In addition, this lens isn’t weather sealed, so make sure that whatever camera you’re using it with is in dry weather.

Focusing

Wide open at f1.6, trying to focus on the plants; it's quite tough to do.

Wide open at f1.6, trying to focus on the plants; it’s quite tough to do.

To get the best focusing with this lens, we purposely called in the Sony version because there are no electronic contacts on the lens. We had to resort to focus peaking and due to how soft it is wide open combined with the fact that the lens is a focal length on the longer side, focusing wasn’t exactly a walk in the park. When stopped down to f4 though, focusing because very simple and extremely straight forward. At f2.8, it requires some work but it won’t be that difficult.

Image Quality

EXIF DATA IS IN TACT WITH THE IMAGES. SIMPLY CLICK THEN AND THE INFO WILL BE IN THE URL.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Lensbaby Velvet 55mm f1.6 review images samples (14 of 25)ISO 1001-200 sec

Despite the lens being tough to use wide open, there aren’t very many complaints with the image quality as far as we go–and because we understand that we’re purchasing a flawed lens to embrace said flaws.

What flaws are we talking about?

Well, let’s start with the good stuff first. The colors on this lens and the way it handled skin tones and skin in general is absolutely incredible. If I didn’t want to do a lot of skin softening in post-production or if I simply wanted something that works great with skin in general this would be my go-to lens. The Sony E mount doesn’t have such a great portrait optic offering that we’ve tested yet, though the A mount has lots. Additionally, while there is a lot of old-time softness to the lens there is zero color fringing. At least you don’t need to worry about that.

Additionally, the bokeh is actually really nice–but we say this when the lens is stopped down quite a bit. Otherwise, the scene can look very much like the world without the strong eyeglass prescription that you need in order to see–or an underwater world for those of you with more blessed vision.

The lens’s sharpness isn’t there at all when shooting wide open and it stays this way up until f2.8 for the most part. But when stopped down to f4 this lens is pretty much as sharp as most other optics out there. In fact, we were quite surprised at how different it looks.

Bokeh

f2

f2

The Velvet 56mm f1.6’s bokeh is a combination of creamy and hazy and it varies at different apertures. In the zones of f1.6-f2.8 it will look extremely creamy and smooth, more so than competing lenses. When at f4 and beyond, it will be like many other modern lenses.

Sharpness

f4

f4

Wide open, you’re not getting much. Stopped down–totally different story. The sweet spot is around f4 to 5.6–but we lean more towards f4. Here’s what we’re talking about.

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f1.6, wide open

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Lensbaby Velvet 55mm f1.6 review images samples (8 of 25)ISO 1001-640 sec

f16, stopped down entirely

Not enough for you? Check this out.

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f1.6

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f8

Color Rendition

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This lens offers some beautiful colors with everything being vibrant in general but still playing well and not making skin tones too look red in the cheeks or too yellow overall. When combined with modern day sensors, the colors will become even better. The images in this post are a combination of a Kodak Ektachrome rendering and Sony’s Vivid color profile. Either one will give you beautiful results even with Ektachrome being very saturated–which really shouldn’t be a problem unless you’re shooting portraits.

Color Fringing

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Lensbaby Velvet 55mm f1.6 review images extras (7 of 9)ISO 1601-2000 sec

In our tests, we couldn’t find any purple fringing issues really worth talking about. Again though, we also think that this issue is largely resolved with post-production.

Extra Image Samples

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Conclusions

Likes

– Fun look that you can embrace creatively with the option of going very sharp when needed

– Excellent build quality

– Great skin tones

– DSLR mount options mean that the lenses can be easily adapted to mirrorless cameras

Dislikes

– Full stop apertures only

– A bit pricey

The Lensbaby Velvet 56mm f1.6 lens can be said to have its quirks if you look at it from a very traditional point of view, but otherwise you’ll be happy to embrace what it can do. So who would make the best use of this lens? We personally think that lifestyle photographers, wedding photographers and portrait shooters will really fancy this lens. Landscape shooters will want to go for something sharper and street photographers will want something wider and with an actual depth of field scale built in. But for the newer types of photographers that have been popping up in recent years that fully embrace this latest iteration of the digital age, you’ll want to be all over this.

four-star-Phoblographer-Star-rating

We award the Lensbaby Velvet 56mm f1.6 lens four out of five stars. Want one? Check B&H Photo’s listings for more.

Recommended Cameras

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Lensbaby Velvet 55mm f1.6 product images (2 of 6)ISO 4001-60 sec at f - 2.8

Sony A99: The A99 is the flagship Sony alpha camera at the time of publishing this piece. You’ll want to use this one the most.

Sony A7 Mk II: The A7 Mk II has the best focus peaking of any of the A7 cameras so far, so go for this one.

Nikon Df: The vintage look of this camera will mostly appeal to this type of photographer.

Canon 6D: We chose the 6D because of who the photographers are that will use this lens. Shoot a photo and send it right over to the web with the built in WiFi feature.