PHOTOOG Photography writings by Olivier Giroux

23Apr/0813

Photographers rise: demand affordable tilt/shift lenses!


A beautiful tilt/shift lens priced as high as Nikon could get away with.

What is a tilt/shift lens?

A lens with mechanical bending and shearing movements in the barrel. The bending of the lens rotates the plane of focus following a complex principle (see: Scheimpflug Principle), allowing you to accurately focus (or creatively mis-focus) using a plane that isn’t parallel to the film/sensor. The shearing movement offsets the lens from the center of the lens mount, allowing you to photograph objects at an angle while keeping the camera flat and level, preserving the more attractive level perspective.

A tilt/shift lens restores some of the capabilities that SLRs lost when they split off from view cameras half a century ago. View cameras can tilt and shift by design, as can some rangefinders. For a hundred years tilt and shift were essential variables of photography; focus was the combination of three variables, not one.

Hence the purpose of a tilt/shift lens is to focus correctly when a traditional lens would not.


An unusual-looking tilt/shift lens by Zeiss/Hartblei, priced so they don’t need to make too many.

What is it used for and by whom?

Primarily nature, architectural and commercial product photography. These are the photographic subjects that either are the most at odds with a fixed vertical plane of focus, or that require extremely precise focus or perspective control. More recently they’ve become popular for portraiture, and miscellaneous creative works, pulitzer-winner Vincent Laforet used them to shoot sports for example.

Today they are used almost exclusively by professionals and well-fed photo artists. They haven’t really penetrated the mindshare of advanced amateurs, and they’ll probably never appeal to the wider public who would probably regard them as too hard to use. Mostly I suspect that they haven’t entered the consciousness of many more amateur photographers because they’re priced so horribly out of reach.

Some amateur photographers feel as I do however, that they are an essential tool in your bag!


An ugly expensive tilt/shift lens that doesn’t perform very well, the best kind, made by Canon.

Who makes tilt/shift lenses?

Mainly Canon (>$1K), Nikon (<$2K), and Zeiss/Hartblei (~$6K). There is an unknown company in Ukraine that ships a 35mm TS lens anywhere in the world, Arax ($700), and Novoflex will sell you bellows that offer a similar effect if you don’t like wide angles too much.

Most notably, none of Sigma, Tokina or Tamron have ever offered tilt/shift lenses. These are the usual suspects for alternatives to “Canikon”, but they’re staying out of this market for fear that they couldn’t sell well enough to pay for the design.

I emailed Sigma yesterday to beseech them to offer a tilt-shift alternative to the overpriced Nikon/Canon offerings. Quickly I got a very nice reply from a real person, who also wished they made one, and forwarded my request to the Japan office.

So rise fellow photographers and demand tilt/shift lenses be offered for reasonable prices!

A cute tilt/shift made in Ukraine for $650. You won't find it in stores.


Comments (13) Trackbacks (0)
  1. Olivier

    Hartblei has been making the “affordable” Russian Version TS lenses with prices around 250-max 700 $US for about ten years. Quality was quite good, but the market has demanded more image quality, which simply spoken can only be done with more and bigger-means expensive quality glass. Hartblei did this most consequent, Nikon has moved there too, Canon may follow. A Sigma, Tamron or Tokina lens with according quality will also cost over 1000 €/$ at least. Making it cheaper will suffer in Quality-and then you can for most purposes get there as a compromise doing it with 20mm wideangles,Photoshop and/or stitching software. Face it, these lenses are for the Pros or people who know why they need the extra quality- there will never be a run on the cheap TS lenses. Or what do you think why the arax lenses don´t sell like crazy ??? Sorry for ruining your idea, as much as I would like to help you realizing it, I think this will stay a wish.

    Greetings from Munich
    Stefan Steib CEO Hartblei Kiev/Munich

    • Thank you for the comment Stefan. I agree it’s very unlikely that we’ll see a run on the cheap TS lens idea. The internet gives a voice to all manners of niche arguments with equal presence, and I know I am in the margin here.

      If you’ll let me, I have 2 questions/suggestions in response for you.

      First, could we relax other parameters to achieve a cost-effective TS lens? For example, what if the TS lens was a 35mm f/4, would it help – does it get easier for smaller maximum apertures?

      Second, couldn’t someone build a tilt/shift adapter to mount classic SLR lenses (e.g. Nikon F) on short-flange systems like the Micro-4/3? Notice how the first Micro-4/3 on the market, the Panasonic G1, can alreadt mount Leica M lenses – previously an unthinkable feat for a TTL-viewing camera. With more than 1 inch of space between the flanges of a Nikon F lens and micro4/3 body, isn’t there enough room to insert a shift slide and a tilt hinge?

      Happy new year from Boston,

      Olivier

  2. Olivier

    There is a company who wants to supply cheap TS stuff to the people.
    This is lensbaby. They do have some effort-for the creative part it is a nice idea.
    But take a look: they also start improving their gear they started with the simple
    One lens design and the bare minimum to use for150$ now they have arrived
    at 300+ $ and with combinations and additional exchangeable lenses they are
    already at 400$ but still only for a “creative lens” that cannot be used for any classical TS work.

    About the Adapter for 4/3 :well maybe in the future when this system has some volume.
    Technically – why not ? Financially – when , with a big maybe ?

    Greetings from Munich

    Stefan Steib

  3. Hi Olivier and Stefan,

    Here’s my take on this – I would love some tilt/shift optics for use on 35mm SLRs, but I hate the idea in buying new glass, when I have already a collection of perfectly usable Zeiss glass – namely hasselblad CF lenses. These lenses are retrofocus, and the adapter for use on 35mm SLRs is about 30mm deep- PLENTY of room to fit in a tilt/shift mechanism along the lines of those sold by Arax for the Pentacon Six mount. That way I can use my existing lenses, and I simply buy ONE tilt/shift adapter for the whole system. Is there a reason nobody has done this?

    -Rodrick.

    • Rodrick, somebody has done this. Look for Zörk (http://www.zoerk.com/).

      Note that your Zeiss glass for medium format when used on DSLRs isn’t quite as sharp as Zeiss glass for DSLRs proper. It`s also very hard to get a wide-angle this way because of the focal lengths available on medium format.

  4. Hi Olivier,

    Yes, I understand the limitations for wide angle. My ideal focal lengths are the 80mm planar, 120mm makro-planar and 150mm sonnar.

    I’ve had a few conversations with Zörk and they do not allow mounting of medium format lenses to their multifocus system, it’s designed to use barrel lenses from rodenstock which do not have a shutter or focusing mechanism from what I understand.

  5. Hi Oliver,

    I too have been looking for a good wide angle shift lens. I have a Nikon 28mm which is great on an APS size sensor, but awful on a full frame 35mm DSLR. I have a Canon 90mm tilt shift and it is a beautiful lens, but not wide. From examples that I have seen from the current Canon 24mm TS lens, it’s not perfect once you start to shift and tilt it. I assume that the new version that is coming out next month will correct some of those issues. At a price just over $2000, it better.

    Good luck on your quest,

    Dan

  6. If you check out my web site, there are some view cameras shown–not all that expensive. Compared to view camera movements TS lenses are pretty limited.

    High marks for Canon’s 24mm f/3.5L TSE (now updated to version II). Images are quite respectable, and it solves the big problem of converging lines. The tilts are also nice to have, and it’s good glass. Like other entries, light falloff is substantial across the image area, and there is mild distortion. Using tilt and shift at the same time is problematic, but I like the rotation feature. The lens is built like a tank–in limited production runs–so the price is not bad at all. Precision movements, by themselves are an expensive proposition.

    For my Pentax 67II, I have a 75mm shift lens. No tilts. From an engineering point of view, it’s a work of art–originally costing twice as much as my Canon lens. This lens also has rotation. My very good fortune to find one in new condition, or half price. The lens is sharp, sharp, sharp! Also, 75mm is equivalent to about 37mm in small format–I detect no distortion at all, and mild light falloff near the edges of the image circle.

    I’m all in favor of rebellion, but for the right reasons! These lenses are expensive to build and have a small following–people can make them cheaper in Ukraine because wages and materials cost less. (The lens you’ve shown has a good reputation). In my opinion, the Canon lens is better because it gives information to the CPU in my camera.

    I don’t Pentax is getting rich on lenses. They discontinued their entire medium format line, and film cameras. Same for Canon–we’re lucky they go the trouble of making TSE series lenses, which are not exactly a profit center for Canon. Canon does well on DSLRs and premium super telephoto lenses.

    Fellow artists are encouraged to try out the real thing–view cameras. Nothing comes close to this experience in quality or perspective control.

  7. I have been looking at the Mirex adapter so that i can use my Hasselblad lenses on my Canon 5D MK11 . Sorry no urls at hand.

    Regards
    Terence

  8. Found this post quite randomly, and just thought I’d post a comment to say “I agree!” and to share this link to a Micro Four-Thirds tilt-shift adapter: http://43rumors.com/tilt-lens-adapter-for-microfourthirds/

    🙂

  9. I’m posting here to place my vote for an affordable tilt-shift offering from the third party lens manufacturers! Please please make one!

  10. would LOVE a tilt shift at an affordable part…im just an amateur but i love to take photographs, and could take some even better ones with tilt shift!

  11. With the possible demise of Kodak, and its NC 160 film, I am looking for an alternative for my 4×5 inch Arca Swiss view camera. Shift, and tilt to a lesser degree, are essential for me. I would love to see a reasonably priced digital alternative for my set-up, possibly an SD-1 with a tilt-shift lens. I am convinced that I am not alone with this problem, and that a good system for the price of a 4×5 inch view camera would be very much appreciated.


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