Velvet 56 or Velvet 85 – having trouble making up your mind? Or maybe you already own one Velvet – but do you need the other? Take a deep dive into the differences between these two beautiful art lenses with photographer Janet Broughton.
I never fail to be surprised by the images from both of the Velvet lenses. That beautiful dreamy edge blur is what makes the Velvet lenses so special for me. It’s not so obvious on a camera screen but it adds that little bit of Lensbaby magic once you see the images larger. So my number 1 tip when using the Velvets is not to shoot with the aim of cropping later, you’ll just be cropping out the magic.
The 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.
Closest Focus Distance
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.
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.
Framing and Compression.
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. 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.
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.
*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
Do I have a favourite?
Well honestly, I love them both but at the moment I feel more drawn to the Velvet 85, I took it around this garden with me “just in case” and found myself swapping lenses a few times! But mostly, I think it’s down to your own personal preference and shooting style. I’ve always been drawn to a narrower simplified view and lots of blur in my backgrounds so the 85 just slightly has the edge.
Would I recommend owning both?
If you want to have the same velvety look and don’t want to run the risk of missing images there is definitely an advantage to having both. If you are a Velvet owner and have the Lensbaby bug and want to buy another lens, you need to stop and ask yourself what you want from your next Lensbaby. If you want something that is going to give you a very different look to your current Velvet then I would suggest looking at one of the other optics/lenses. But if you want to keep that Velvet look over a wide range of focal lengths then yes, get the other one!