Updated: Feb 16, 2020
I’ve had this lens just over a week now and if it wasn’t for the great people at Lensbaby I wouldn’t have it at all. Read on ...
Being a Pentax camera user is beginning to be made to feel like a second class citizen these days. Pentax lenses are way overpriced and the likes of Sigma and Tamron are tending to aim their new lenses solely at Canon, Nikon and Sony users.
I’ve known about Lensbaby as a lens manufacture for a few years but haven’t kept up-to-date with their product range so I still associated them with the “twisty turny” tilt-shift type lenses that made everything look like a scene from Postman Pat.
It it wasn’t until I did a short online painterly flower course at CreativeLive run by Cathleen Clemons that I became aware of a whole new world of creative possibilities. I’m not going to go into any more detail here but I’ll include the Lensbaby website link at the end of this article. Suffice to say I was attracted by the “Velvet 56”. The problem came why I tried to buy one with a Pentax K Mount. Amazon (UK) had one which was being imported from Germany and was ridiculously expensive. Wex had a Velvet 85 but when I asked them about getting a Velvet 56 with a Pentax mount they said that Lensbaby were no longer making them. At that point I contacted Lensbaby direct and was told they could do me a custom order while they still had some K mounts left. They contacted Wex for me and Wex gave me a price which was comparable with Canon or Nikon fit lenses.
This is not a technical review, in fact it's not even a review as such. You'll find plenty of those on the web and also on YouTube.
What Is The Velvet 56
Be warned, if you absolutely hate any kind of soft focus photographs then you probably aren't going to get the most from this lens.
This is a 56mm prime lens with manual focussing and aperture, so you'll need to be comfortable with sticking your camera on Manual and using the aperture ring on the lens. It has a maximum aperture of f/1.6. It's sometimes advertised as a Macro Lens but at 1:2 it isn't true macro. Nevertheless it can get you some good closeups.
You won't get any EXIF information regarding the lens make or model, nor the selected aperture so you'll have to invent something during or after importing into Lightroom or whatever processing software you use. Adding keywords at import time will help identify the lens but you will need to concoct some other system if you want a record of the aperture. Kathleen Clemons suggests taking a photo of your fingers before each shot or group of shots you are about to take at a given aperture. I've yet to do this whilst I'm still in the early stages of usage.
The build quality is excellent. Very solid. There is no lens hood but the lens glass is quite well recessed. I haven't checked if a hood is available. Filter size is 62mm. The aperture ring has well define click stops so you can feel what you're doing without the need to constantly check the ring. The focus ring is in front of the aperture ring and has a silky smooth feel to it. Minimum focus distance is 5 inches.
I had read several reviews before buying the lens. Most said it took some getting used to and I would agree with this, but so far it seems well worth persevering. Some of it possibly has to do with remembering you're not in a semi-automatic mode like Aperture Priority or Shutter Priority so you have to be OK with going back to basics. There are two other things which might make people. One is focussing and the other is controlling the aperture to get the effect you are looking for.
As for focussing, any king of macro or closeup shot at close range requires very precise focussing. I can't say that this was any more difficult than it is on my 100mm Macro lens which has a minimum focussing distance of 12 inches. Using a tripod helps and if you're into focus stacking then experiment with multiple shots, but this probably negates the effect that this lens was meant for.
The lens gives an in-focus area in the centre of the lens which falls off gently towards the edges to give a velvety soft glow. The size of the in-focus area depends on the aperture and, wide open at f/1.6 is hardly discernible. It is possible to get pin sharp results at f/8 or smaller so a deal of experimentation is required to get the desired effect. All this obviously also depends on the distance to the subject.
Most of my subjects have been flowers so far; it being spring and that being my current interest. I have taken a couple of quick portrait shots but I'm not publishing these. More practice required (and permission from daughter !).
A Selection Of Shots
There's no aperture information included here. By the time I write my next post on the Velvet 56 I hope to have adopted a method of recording the aperture for each group of shots. The first picture was probably about f/2.
The first four pictures were taken using my Pentax K-1 (full frame sensor) and the final one on my Pentax K-5 (APS-C sensor) which gives an equivalent full frame focal length of 84mm.
Lensbaby : https://lensbaby.com
CreativeLive : https://www.creativelive.com