Photography / Hands-on Review

3 Photographers Test-Drive the Lensbaby Velvet 85mm f/1.8

3Share

The latest addition to the Lensbaby Velvet family is the Velvet 85mm f/1.8 lens, available for Canon EF, Nikon F, Pentax K, Sony A, Sony E, Fujifilm X, Samsung NX and Micro Four Thirds-mount cameras. Like its stablemate, the Lensbaby Velvet 56mm f/1.6, the mission of the Velvet is to serve as a versatile lens that renders an ethereal glow to images when shot wide open, yet provides sharpness when needed as it is stopped down. Designed for portraiture and still-life images, the Velvet 85mm and the Velvet 56mm both deliver a unique aesthetic to a photographer’s vision.

Like the Velvet 56mm, the longer focal length version features silky smooth focusing action, a 1:2 magnification for close-up work, and an all-metal barrel design. The 85mm focuses down to 9.5".

Lensbaby Velvet 85mm f/1.8 Lens

For our reviews of the Velvet 56mm, check out this link and this link.

We received a Sony A-mount version of the new Velvet 85mm, and the three Sony shooters on the Explora staff took it for a spin. Here are their images and thoughts.

LensbabyCory Rice

Cory Rice

This lens adds a surreal softness to images, most noticeable the closer you get to shooting wide open; not unlike putting beer goggles on your camera or entering a hazy dream world. Establishing focus when shooting wide open is difficult but becomes easier as depth of field is increased. Once you hit f/2.8, things become considerably more manageable—but the dreamy effect starts to fade. I appreciate the metal construction of the lens; it feels like it is built to last.

Cory Rice

Jill Waterman

Since the 85mm focal length is generally considered to be an ideal portrait lens, and soft-focus portraits can often be flattering, I decided to try the lens during the visit of a friend’s daughter. I had previously used the Lensbaby Velvet 56mm for floral close-ups in the garden and had really enjoyed exploring the soft, shallow depth of field and pinpoint focus effects of that lens when shooting wide open. Right off the bat, I found the 85mm to be more challenging than the Velvet 56 to work with, and the range of effects from wide aperture soft focus to smaller aperture sharpness seemed much less satisfying, at least in terms of the given portrait subject matter. Since I was not using a tripod, I definitely found it challenging to maintain the sweet spot of focus when shooting wide open. The 85mm Velvet is a good bit heavier than its 56mm counterpart, so I’d highly recommend using a tripod for best results. Accurate focusing seemed to be much less of an issue with the pictures made at this closer distance.

Jill Waterman

Allan Weitz

The lens is solid-feeling and feels balanced when mounted on a Sony A7-series camera. Focus travel seems excessive, and depending on the contrast levels of your subject, the lens can be difficult to focus when shooting wide open. Despite my frustrations with wide-aperture focusing I did manage to assemble a group of photographs that showcase the imaging abilities of the newest Lensbaby.

Rather than portraits or flowers, I chose to photograph a selection of classic motorcycles that belong to a friend who collects and restores these beautiful machines. With a minimum focusing distance of 9.5" (half life-size) the lens was particularly interesting for shooting details of the bikes. I photographed many of these details at different apertures and it was particularly interesting to see how the choice of aperture changed the visual and aesthetic dynamics of each photograph.

Allan Weitz

Are you a Lensbaby aficionado? Are you a fan of the new 85mm offering? Let us know in the Comments section, below!

Discussion 3

Add new comment

Add comment Cancel

Hi!  I have a solidly built vintage m42 CZJ 85/2 that imho outperforms this LB on all counts. cs

A lens that is really soft wide open shoud be very cheap.

I loved the LensBaby Velvet 56mm this one I am not too sure off 

Close

Close

Close