I have to admit I was pretty excited when I heard about the newly-announced Lensbaby Velvet 85. When the Velvet 56 was released in 2015, I was convinced that I didn’t know how to shoot with it so I set my expectations low. I ultimately decided it was my 2015 Gear of the Year, largely because it forced me to let go of some of my self-imposed creative and photographic rules and shoot in a different way.
With the Velvet 85, I already know the potential of the soft glow, balanced by pleasing sharpness at higher apertures when I need the satisfaction of crisp focus. And offering someone who favors longer primes the Velvet effects in an 85mm focal length? Yes, please.
The obvious thing to do with the Velvet 85 would be to go out and shoot a bunch of velvety soft portraits with lovely compression and smooth bokeh. I didn’t do that. I was in the midst of experimenting with soft focus macros of flowers, so that’s what I shot. And then I took it with me on a street photography photo walk.
Despite using the Velvet 85 in situations that might not be considered typical for a manual focus creative portrait lens, I like it. Quite a bit. I still struggle with shooting wide open, but stopping down just one stop to F2.0 is enough for me to find a balance between glowing edges and sharpness that I can work with. Using the whole range of apertures gives me an enormous amount of flexibility in shooting everything from ethereal flower petals to detailed freckles sprinkled across a child’s nose.
If you are still curious about how the Velvet 85 performs as a portrait lens, there are plenty of other photographers who are shooting portraits with it. In fact, Lensbaby partnered with photographer and educator Kevin Kubota to film a new video about shooting portraits with the Velvet 85 and other Lensbaby optics. (Note: You’ll need to register for Lensbaby University — it’s free — in order to watch the whole video.)
And don’t forget to check out our gallery and let us know what you think. But before you say that you could get the same effect with a filter smeared with Vaseline, know that I tried it. It’s not the same.