Holiday 2012: Tilt-Shift Lenses

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Tilt-shift lenses for SLRs are an interesting breed of glass. Originally designed to mimic the rise, fall, tilt and shift capabilities of larger, heavier, though technically superior large format view cameras, these tilt-shift lenses have come a long way since their earliest, soft edged, rise-and-fall-only predecessors.

Today’s tilt-shift optics from Canon, Nikon and Schneider are amazingly complex and have all but replaced their large-format forebears in the field of architecture and product photography, especially when used with the top end full-frame DSLRs from Canon, Nikon and Sony.

Engineered with detailed markings and detents for tilt, shift and swing adjustments, today’s tilt-shift lenses (all of which are manual focus only) allow for precise adjustments that enable you to seemingly extend (or shorten) the depth of focus of the scene you’re photographing. Tilt-shift lenses are also inherently adept at straightening the vertical lines of buildings that tend to look as if they’re falling backwards in photographs made with non-tilt-shift optics.

Starting with a level camera, the lens’s tilt movement enables you to alter the angle of the plane of focus between the film/sensor plane and the lens, which allows you to extend or foreshorten the depth of field of the scene. The shift movement allows you to slide the lens’s optical axis along the film/sensor plane, which then allows you to reposition the building or cereal box you’re photographing within the frame up, down, left, right or diagonally.

As a result, tall buildings and cereal boxes alike can be photographed with nary a hint of keystoning and other optical distortions common to architectural and product photography. And these same optical corrections can be used creatively, when creative opportunities arise.

Interestingly, the Miniature and Toy capture modes found on many point-and-shoot cameras are, in fact, down-and-dirty digital emulations of the look you get when you knock a tilt-shift lens (or the front standard of a view camera) out of axis to the focus plane of your subject, which results in narrow slivers of focus and blurred foreground and background detail.

Nikon PC-E Tilt-Shift Lenses

Nikon’s original PC (perspective control) lenses made their debut back in the 1960s, in the form of a 35mm f/3.5 and a 28mm f/4.0, both of which were later replaced by slightly faster (and slightly sharper) 35mm f/2.8 and a 28mm f/3.5 models. As handy as these lenses were—especially for lower-level architectural and product assignments— their latter-day replacements technically blow these predecessors out of the water.

Nikon currently offers a choice of three PC-E-series tilt-shift lenses; a wide-angle PC-E Nikkor 24mm f/3.5D ED, a PC-E Micro Nikkor 45mm f/2.8D normal lens and a short-telephoto PC-E Micro Nikkor 85mm f/2.8D. As their name suggests, Nikon’s 45mm and 85mm PC-E lenses are also flat field macro lenses with close focusing down to half life size. Though not technically a macro lens, the 24mm PC-E Nikkor can focus down to a comparably close 1:2.7 magnification ratio.

In addition to tilt-shift movements, each of these optics features glare and ghost-reducing Nano coatings and can be rotated from the base of the lens +/- 90° for optimal positioning. Once set, all movements can be locked in place, and all movements have engraved scales and/or detents that allow exacting alignment as well as the ability to replicate the lens settings after the fact.

Nikon's PC-E  Nikkor 24mm f/3.5D ED, PC-E Micro Nikkor 45mm f/2.8D and PC-E Micro Nikkor 85mm f/2.8D can be used with all Nikon DSLRs (full-frame and APS-C) as well as all Nikon film cameras. Auto aperture control for Nikkor PC-E optics is only available when used with Nikon’s D3-series, D300-series, D7000, D600, D700, D800, D800E, D90, D5100, D5000, D3100 and D3000 DSLRs.

Format Coverage

Max. Mag.

AOV

Min. Focus

Tilt/Shift

Filter Size

Nikon PC-E 24/3.5D ED

Full-frame / APS-C

1:2.7

84° (56°)

0.7" (0.21 m)

Shift +/-11.5mm
Tilt +/- 8.5°

77mm

Nikon PC-E Micro Nikkor 45/2.8D ED

Full-frame / APS-C

1:2

51° (35°) 

0.83' (0.25 m)

Shift +/-11.5mm
Tilt +/- 8.5°

77mm

Nikon PC-E Micro-Nikkor 85/2.8

Full-frame / APS-C

1:2

28° (18°) 

1.3' (0.37 m)

Shift +/-11.5mm
Tilt +/- 8.5   

77mm

Canon TS-E Tilt-Shift Lenses

Canon offers the widest selection of tilt-shift optics. While Nikon and Schneider offer a choice of three tilt-shift options, Canon offers four, not to mention the widest of the bunch, the Canon TS-E 17mm f/4L, which with a whopping 104-degree AOV, allows you the ability to photograph tall buildings in the middle of midtown Manhattan, tight interiors and dramatic tabletop imagery. The Canon TS-E 17mm f/4L also sports an “L” designation, which signifies its membership in Canon’s highest level lens category in terms of image quality, lens construction and weatherproofing. Other members of Canon’s TS-E tilt-shift club include the wide-angle Canon TS-E 24 f/3.5L II, which is also a card-carrying member of Canon’s “L” series lens lineup, the Canon TS-E 45mm f/2.8 normal lens, and the short-telephoto Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8, which in addition to architectural and studio still-life applications, can be used rather creatively for portraits, too.

As with Nikon’s tilt-shift optics, Canon’s tilt-shift offerings feature extensive calibration marks and indents that allow for precise and repeatable lens-movement control.

Each of Canon’s four tilt-shift lenses can be used with any of Canon’s full-frame and APS-C format DSLRs, as well as all Canon EOS film cameras.

Format Coverage

Max. Mag.

AOV

Min. Focus

Tilt/Shift

Filter Size

Canon TS-E 17/4L

Full-Frame
APS-H / APS-C

0.14x

104° (80°/65°) 

0.82'
(0.25 m)

Shift  +/-12mm
Tilt +/-6.5°

None

Canon TS-E 24/3.5L II

Full-Frame
APS-H / APS-C 

0.34x

84°
(64.6°/52.5°)

0.69'
(0.21 m)

Shift  +/-12mm
Tilt +/- 8.5°

82mm

Canon TS-E 45/2.8

Full-Frame
APS-H / APS-C 

1:6.25

51° (39°/32°)

1.3'
(0.39 m)

Shift  +/-11mm
Tilt +/- 8°

72mm

Canon TS-E 90/2.8 

Full-Frame
APS-H / APS-C 

1:3.4 

27° (21°/16°)

 1.6'
(0.49 m)

Shift  +/-11mm
Tilt +/- 8°

58mm

Schneider PC TS Tilt-Shift Lenses

Schneider optics are among the finest in the world. Manufactured in Germany and usable with both full-frame and APS-C format DSLRs, Schneider’s trio of tilt-shift lenses includes a wide-angle 28mm f/2.8 PC Super-Angulon, which was originally developed for use with Leica R (reflex) cameras and is now available with Nikon and Canon lens mounts, as well as one version that accepts a wide range of other lens mounts. The Schneider 28mm f/2.8 PC TS Super-Angulon allows for up to 11mm of shift vertically and horizontally, and up to 9.5mm diagonally. In addition to extensive scale markers for all movements, the Schneider 28mm f/2.8 PC Super-Angulon features detented click-stops at every 45° of rotation.

The middle normal lens in Schneider’s tilt-shift lineup is the Schneider 50mm f/2.8 PC TS Super-Angulon, which is available in dedicated lens mounts for Canon, Nikon, Pentax and Sony DSLRs and film SLRs. Along with 12mm of shift range and 8° of tilt range, the Schneider 50mm f/2.8 PC TS features a built-in rotating tripod collar that allows for better balance and reduced strain on the camera’s tripod socket (it weighs more than three pounds, or about the same weight as a 70-200mm f/2.8 zoom lens). The Schneider 50mm f/2.8 PC TS also features engraved scales for all adjustments as well as click-stop detents for every 30° of lens-barrel rotation.

The short-telephoto member of Schneider’s tilt-shift lens collection is the Schneider 90mm f/4.5 PC TS Super-Angulon, which like Schneider’s 50mm PC TS, features a built-in tripod collar, 12mm of shift range and 8° of tilt range, engraved scales for all adjustments and click-stop detents for every 30° of lens barrel rotation. Schneider’s 90mm f/4.5 PC TS Super-Angulon is available in Nikon, Canon, Sony and Pentax lens mounts, and like its short-telephoto counterparts from Nikon and Canon, can also be used creatively for portrait applications.

Format Coverage

Max. Mag.

AOV

Min. Focus

Tilt/Shift

Filter Size

Schneider 28mm f/2.8 PC Super Angulon

Full-Frame  / APS-C

1:5.88

75° / 50°

0.9' (0.3 m) 

Shift  +/-11mm

67mm

Schneider
90mm f/4.5 PC TS Super Angulon 

Full-Frame  / APS-C

1:4

NA

22.44"
(57 cm)

Shift  +/-12mm
Tilt +/- 8°

M95 / Bayonet VIII

Schneider
50mm f/2.8 PC TS Super Angulon

Full-Frame  / APS-C

1:9.2

NA

25.59"
(65 cm)

Shift  +/-12mm
Tilt +/- 8°

M95 / Bayonet VIII