The Lensbaby Velvet 85mm is the company’s newest addition to their specialized lineup. It features an aperture range of F1.8 to F16 and full manual control rings for both focus and aperture since it does not have an electronic connection. Retailing for $499 it is an affordable full frame portrait style lens that doubles as a good macro photography lens with it’s close focusing distance of 9.5”. Before diving into the optical performance let’s go over the build quality and usability of the lens.
This is my first time using a Lensbaby product and honestly just off first impressions I am blown away by the incredible build quality. It features a good amount of heft to it at 18.7oz. Which is far from the heaviest 85mm out there, but still provides excellent usability. The construction is solid metal down to the lens cap and has held up nicely despite being tossed around in my camera bag or bumped when carrying my 5D IV. Honestly, the only gripe I have about the build is the mount portion. The lens comes in various mounts including Nikon, Sony E and A mounts, Fuji X, Micro 4/3, Olympus DSLR, and Samsung’s NX series. It’s also available in the Canon EF mount which I have. My issue is on the current variant that I have is that it seems to have a little give when locked on the camera mount. Although, it’s not drastically noticeable when using it on native EF mount cameras. When using it with a Metabones adapter such as the EF to Micro 4/3 version I use on my GH5, its nearly impossible to pull off a focus pull when shooting video due to the give. With that being said, the focus ring itself is a pleasure to use. It features a dampening system to keep movements easy to perform and extremely fluid. The best way to describe it is like using a good fluid head on a tripod. The aperture ring is not a click less dial, which makes sense considering this is aimed at photographers over cinematographers. The clicks are easy to adjust and they provide a low audible sound when going into place. The lens element does slide back and forth when adjusting the focus, so just bare that in mind to reduce the risk of dust getting caught in the lens. Filters can be mounted on the front using the 67mm threads. All in all I have to say compared to lenses from some other third party manufactures the Lensbaby Velvet 85mm definitely has an edge with build and ease of use.
Inside the solid constructed body you will find a total of 12 diaphragm blades and 3 groups of 4 lens elements. When combined with the F1.8 aperture you can get some interesting effects. I tried it on several cameras including my 5D IV, RED Weapon, RED Epic-W, and GH5. The results were fairly consistent across the board. In terms of color, I personally feel it’s excellent. It doesn’t give you a super contrasty look but rather more of a neutral image. This gave me a bit more flexibility in post to add my own style to the image. If your looking for edge to edge sharpness at the entire aperture range you need to look else where. Lensbaby specifically states that the creative effect for this lens is to produce soft, velvety, and dreamy looks. At F1.8 the image is extremely blurry to the point where it looks out of focus. In fact, up to about F2.8 you will see this blur effect. The lens really starts to sharpen up at about F4 and by 5.6 it is incredibly sharp while still giving you a decent amount of bokeh. The effect that Lensbaby was going for with this lens is definitely achieved at the brighter aperture values. Giving a luminescent glow to the highlights while softening the image. Even on the lower end, the bokeh remains soft and as Lensbaby would say, “velvety” by reducing the highlight glow but still softening the out of focus areas. In terms of optical performance, I am going to give this lens a win. Is it the best 85mm on the market? No, but every lens has a different purpose and I personally feel the speciality this lens offers was achieved especially at the price point this lens is being sold at.
"Is it the best 85mm on the market?"
To wrap this up, if you’re looking to step up your photo game or even add some spice to your videos this lens can definitely do it. Keep in mind though that if your more video focused you will want to shoot at F4 and above to ensure the image is crisp.