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

Since it doesn't use internal focus, the lens extends from its minimum 3.4in/86mmlong to 4.4in/112mm heading from infinity to close up. The mirrorless-mount versions are even bigger, starting at 3.7in/94mm and reaching 4.7in/120mm long. Macro magnification is 2x, and all the versions take a 62mm filter. The dSLR version weighs 14.4oz/408g with both caps. The version for mirrorless ILCs will include a metal lens hood as well.

This shot was cropped from the inset photo. Note that the inline image will not look accurately sharp. (Canon EOS 5D Mark III, ISO 100, 1/1600 sec, aperture forgotten. Sadly, Lensbaby information isn't passed to the camera and therefore doesn't appear in the EXIF metadata.) Lori Grunin/CNET

While it's not a traditional Lensbaby selective-focus lens, the out-of-focus areas do have the same look as one of those lenses sans tilt. Wide-open shots that aren't quite properly focused display a very interesting glow at 100 percent, and close-ups have a very attractive soft-focus look. Narrower apertures produce reasonably sharp in-focus areas. And there's surprisingly little fringing.

At f4, your depth of field is quite shallow for macro shooting, at least handheld. Lori Grunin/CNET

Because of the seriously shallow depth of field at 56mm -- on a full-frame camera, at 10 inches you've got a whole 0.06 in to play with at f1.6, which increases a little to 0.4 in on a camera with an APS-C-size sensor -- for macro shooting you'll probably want to stick to f4 or narrower. (This is physics, not the lens.) That's plenty shallow.

Conclusion

It took a little getting used to, but once I did I fell in love with the Velvet 56. For a Lensbaby, which tends to run at most about $300 (£280, AU$475), the Velvet 56 enters new territory. Though it's still not a traditional lens, it's on the expensive side for enthusiasts; a typical 50mm macro runs less than $400, though those lenses tend to have less attractive bokeh than more expensive models. But the Velvet 56 is an elegantly constructed lens that's fun and creative to use for adding a little difference to portrait, product, street and similar standard-lens photography.

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