For the third entry in its soft focus Velvet lens series, Lensbaby has gone wide angle. The Velvet 28 ($549.95) captures a broader view than the Velvet 56 and 85 lenses, but copies their signature look. When shot at wide apertures images are rendered with a glowing, soft focus effect, and the lens delivers traditionally crisp photos when the iris is stopped down. It’s a manual focus optic, and is sold for most current systems. If you’re interested in its non-traditional, artistic rendering, you may want to make it your next lens.
All Manual, for SLRs and Mirrorless
The Velvet 28’s exterior is all metal, with the same piano black finish as the other Velvet lenses. Size varies a little depending on which camera you use; the edition for mirrorless cameras I received for review measures 3.3 by 3.0 inches (HD), but if you have an SLR you’ll get one that’s a little shorter, in order to maintain the same distance between the image sensor and optics.
That makes the mirrorless lens a little heavier too. At 1.3 pounds, it’s about 4 ounces more than the 1-pound SLR edition. A slip-on lens cap is included, and 67mm front filters are supported. Dust and splash protection are omitted, so take care when using the lens in inclement weather, even if your camera is sealed.
Sony a7R IV, 1/500-second, ISO 100
The Velvet is sold for most of today’s mainstream camera systems. These include Canon EF and Nikon F SLRs, and a swath of mirrorless mounts: Canon RF, Fujifilm X, Micro Four Thirds, Nikon Z, and Sony E.
There’s no edition for L-mount mirrorless systems, but you can always use the Canon or Nikon SLR mount edition along with an adapter if you use a full-frame mirrorless camera from Leica, Panasonic, or Sigma. Pentax SLRs, as well as legacy A-mount cameras from Sony and Minolta, are not supported.
Sony a7R IV, 1/1,600-second, ISO 100
Controls are totally manual. The aperture ring is toward the mount, and turns smoothly, clicking into place at each f-stop. The aperture range is f/2.2 through f/22, though Lensbaby considers the wide-open setting to be a bonus, and marks it with a plus sign, so the lowest position marked with a number is f/2.5.
The manual focus ring takes up most of the space on the barrel. It’s finished with a raised rectangular pattern for more comfortable operation, and turns smoothly, with enough resistance to make very precise adjustments to focus.
Sony a7R IV, 1/2,000-second, ISO 100
The throw is pretty extreme, needing almost a complete rotation to move from close-up to infinity, roughly 300 degrees. It’s more of a concern for video use, where you may want to rack from macro focus to a distant subject for a shot—it’s difficult to move across the entire range in one motion. It’s not something you’ll do often, though, it’s an extreme effect. The frame visibly adjusts angle of view—an effect called focus breathing—as focus changes, so it’s best suited for video shots without focus adjustments or with minor ones.
As a fully manual lens, the Velvet 28 doesn’t send any information to your camera, so you won’t know what f-stop you shot photos with when reviewing them. It also means that there’s no stabilization. If your camera has in-body stabilization you’ll net smoother handheld footage and can manage to use longer shutter speed for images.
Sony a7R IV, 1/50-second, ISO 100
You can focus on subjects very close to the front element, as close as two inches. It gives the Velvet a 1:2 macro capability. It’s a little short for detailed shots of insects and flowers, and you’ll need to be careful that you and the camera don’t cast a shadow on what you’re trying to photograph.
Soft or Sharp, Pick Your Look
As with others in the series, the Velvet 28 is very much two lenses in one. When paired with a full-frame camera, like the Sony a7R IV that I used it with, photos show an ethereal, glowing quality at f/2.8 and wider settings.
It lessens at f/4, though there’s still a slight soft effect visible. At f/5.6 and narrower, the Velvet 28 captures images that look like they were shot with nearly any other 28mm prime. The soft focus effect is gone. If you want to use the lens for long exposures or video, and retain the soft look, you’ll need to invest in neutral density filters.
Sony a7R IV, 1/200-second, ISO 100
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The other Velvet lenses, the 56mm f/1.6 and 85mm f/1.8, behave in much the same way. The difference here is in the angle of view and maximum aperture. The 28mm focal length doesn’t blur backgrounds as naturally as lenses with longer focal lengths, and the range of f-stops where you get truly soft results is greater. You’ll really want to keep the Velvet at f/2.8 or wider to get its signature look.
Sony a7R IV, f/2.5, 1/60-second, ISO 320
Manual focus can be tricky, especially when shooting a soft image. Even when coupled with a magnified preview of your frame in the EVF or on the rear display, it’s tough to tell exactly when you’ve properly set focus. Focusing at a narrower aperture, around f/4, and opening the iris back up works pretty well, though.
Sony a7R IV, f/4, 1/60-second, ISO 800
Out-of-focus highlights are worth noting. The Velvet 28 has a 12-blade internal aperture, so the shape of highlights remains circular, even when you narrow the aperture. This is true even at the edge of the frame—highlights stay circular off center, avoiding the ovular cat’s eye shape some lenses draw.
For the most part, backgrounds smooth out and become invisible, a pleasing effect. But you may note some distinct lines around specular highlights. When the light catches a defocused subject and creates a bokeh ball, you can see a bright, distinct ridge at the edges of the highlight. You won’t see it in every shot, but when it’s there, it can be distracting.
Sony a7R IV, 1/200-second, ISO 125
Wide, Soft, and Macro
There aren’t a lot of wide angle, soft focus, macro lenses out there. As far as I can tell, the Velvet 28 is the only one in production today, and I’m unable to think of a historical entry with the same trio of characteristics. They come together in the Velvet 28 to deliver a look that you’re not going to get from another lens. It’s a soft focus lens that can do landscapes, environmental portraits, and flower macros justice.
Sony a7R IV, 1/200-second, ISO 160
Still, it’s telling that the 28mm edition is the third edition of the lens. The 56mm and 85mm models lend themselves a bit better to the look, and give you a wider range of f-stops that get you the soft, ethereal effect you want from a soft focus lens.
If you use an APS-C or Micro Four Thirds sensor camera, the Velvet 28 has a bit more appeal. Its angle of view is less wide when paired with a smaller sensor. It works as a standard angle on those systems, a view that’s a little better suited for the type of portraiture where you isolate your subject, and still gets you a very good 1:2 macro rating.
Sony a7R IV, 1/800-second, ISO 100
For full-frame owners, I more strongly recommend the Velvet 56 or 85 if you’re after this type of look. They also do 1:2 macro, and let in more light when shot wide open. But if you prefer a wider lens, and want something in your bag that snaps shots with serious artistic flare, the Velvet 28 is worth a look.
Lensbaby Velvet 28 Specs
|Dimensions||3.3 by 3.0 inches|
|Filter Thread||67 mm|
|Mount||Canon EF, Canon RF, Fujifilm X, Micro Four Thirds, Nikon F, Nikon Z, Sony E|
|Focal Length (Wide)||28 mm|