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Lensbaby Velvet 56 review: Dreamy or bold, this lens has it covered

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The Good The Lensbaby Velvet 56 is well constructed with a strongly dampened focusing ring, and it produces lovely, soft out-of-focus areas with round highlights.

The Bad It's manual focus only, which may put some people off.

The Bottom Line An excellent lens for portrait, product, street and similar standard-lens photography uses where you want to inject a little creative twist, the Lensbaby Velvet 56 adds that bit of something extra.

8.0 Overall

Lensbaby, a company known for its special-effects lenses, such as selective focus and fisheye models, gets a little more serious with its new Velvet 56, a 56mm f1.6 manual-focus macro lens that produces a bit more stylistic look than other standard macro lenses.

The Velvet 56 will be available for $500 in Canon, Nikon, Sony A and Pentax mounts in mid-April; there will also be a $600 Velvet SE version in silver. Mirrorless Micro Four Thirds, Sony E, Samsung NX and Fuji X mount versions will follow in May. Directly converted, those are £335 and AU$655.

The lens is very nicely constructed. It's completely metal with a clicky aperture ring on the body side. Apertures run from f1.6 - f16 in whole stops (except for the first step, which is 2/3 of a stop). There's also a knurled, strongly dampened focusing ring. The distance range runs from 5 in/13cm, the closest it's able to focus from the front element, up to 21 ft/7m before making the jump to infinity; a full rotation of the lens takes it to 12 in/0.3 m.

The lens' clicky aperture ring and changing field of view during focusing means it's not suited for some types of video shooting. Sarah Tew/CNET

On one hand, the long rotation makes it easy (and necessary) to get very granular focus adjustments at small distances. However, it also means that from beginning to end requires 1.5 rotations, which can be frustrating if you accidentally turn the lens the wrong direction while you're getting used to it.

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