Tilt-shift lenses and their uses are primarily for architecture, landscape and portraiture. Tilt-Shift Lenses can also be used creatively to create toy town effects and to increase depth of field in product photography. Nikon launched their current series of Tilt-shift Lenses in January 2008, that being the Nikon PC-E NIKKOR 24mm f/3.5D ED Tilt-Shift Lens, Nikon PC-E Micro-NIKKOR 45mm f/2.8D ED Tilt-Shift Lens and Nikon PC-E Micro-NIKKOR 85mm f/2.8D Tilt-Shift Lens. I currently own the Nikon PC-E NIKKOR 24mm f/3.5D ED Tilt-Shift Lens, Nikon PC-E Micro-NIKKOR 45mm f/2.8D ED Tilt-Shift Lens and Nikon PC-E Micro-NIKKOR 85mm f/2.8D Tilt-Shift Lens, which I use for landscape, portraiture and architectural shoots on both film and digital bodies. The Nikon series all offer a tilt of 8.5° and a shift of 11,5mm for all their lenses.
Canon’s range of tilt-shift lenses are very similar in range to Nikon, except that they have a 17mm wide angle. They sport the following lenses: Canon TS-E 17mm f/4L; Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5 LII Canon TS-E 45mm f/2.8; Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8. The Canon series all offer a tilt of 6.5° and 12mm shift on the 17mm; 8.5° and a shift of 12mm on the 24mm; 8° and a shift of 11mm on the 45mm and 90mm lenses. I have not had any experience with the Canon lenses.
Given the very wide angle images you can get with a 14mm or 16mm lens and the ease of correcting perspective in Photoshop, why bother with this manual focus lens and all the extra effort involved in using it? Tilt-shift photography is commonly misconstrued solely as producing miniature effects in your images. But tilt-shift photography is much more than producing toy towns. These are extremely versatile lenses, and used correctly can produce some really pleasing results.
The shallow depth of field effect available from using tilt-shift lenses has become their most popular use.
However, creating this ‘toy town’ look is not their only use. Tilt-shift lenses allow you to move the body of the lens in relation to the sensor.
The shift movement keeps the lens parallel to the sensor, but moves it up, down or from side to side, allowing you to control the perspective of your image.
Tilting the lens shifts the plane of focus, allowing you to increase or decrease the amount of the scene that is in focus.
If you want to get the best quality results without having to resort to any software tricks, a tilt-and-shift lens is the only option. Note that at present their are no lens correction profiles in Adode, DxO; I have however found that PTLens do have profiles for some of these lenses. Since the tilt-shift information is not stored in EXIF data, Lightroom or ACR (Adobe Camera RAW) will not correct issues that occur when the lens is tilted, swung or shifted. You would have to address those manually.
One of the main tools for an architectural photographer is the tilt-shift lens. The most important quality of this lens and what makes it so popular and needed in photographing buildings and interior spaces, is the fact that it can keep the verticals of a building parallel, thus presenting the object as we see it and not with the verticals converging, as a normal or wide lens would capture it.
In other words the use of tilt-shift lenses “removes” the wide angle lens distortion, or rather it does not introduce it in the first place. It removes the “keystone effect”, as the convergence of the verticals in case of tilting the camera is otherwise known.
Another important characteristic of this lens, a characteristic that makes it ideal for the architectural photographer, is its exceptional clarity, sharpness and lack of chromatic aberration, that are not equaled by the more common lenses. The superior sharpness and high quality image is one of the characteristics of the prime lenses, as all tilt-shift lenses are, and more specifically of the tilt-shift lenses, due to their construction and exceptional glass quality.
The classic use of the shift movement in tilt-shift photography is to avoid converging verticals in your images. To achieve this you start with the lens in its normal position and, making sure that the camera is level and the sensor is vertical, frame your basic image.
But at this stage the shot won’t include the top of the subject, and there will be too much foreground, so you shift the lens upwards, which will alter the framing of the shot to include the top of the subject while keeping everything straight in the frame. Only after my return to photography, did I discover my limitations of capturing cathedral interiors in Croatia with my Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8G ED Lens. This is when I discovered tilt-shift lenses and decided to invest in them on my return home. Had I had a tilt-shift lens for this purpose, I would have walked away with many more pleasing images than I currently did.
Using the shift movement you can produce a series of images that can easily be stitched together in software such as Photomerge in Photoshop, or any other that you may favour.
Once you have positioned the camera, all you need to do is to take three shots, one with the lens shifted left, one centred and one right.
This tilt-shift photography technique can’t produce the extremely wide panoramas that can be done by rotating the camera, but because the camera is in a fixed position they are easy to set up and stitch together. This eliminates the need for a panoramic head on your tripod and the loss of the image when cropping in post, as the camera has not moved from it’s position, rather that the lens has shifted in the case of a horizontal image; tilted in the case of a vertical image.
Sometimes it’s impossible to position the camera to avoid obstructions such as fences appearing in the frame. However, it’s often possible to use the shift movement to alter the viewpoint enough for the obstruction to be just out of the frame.
The shift can also be handy for avoiding including a reflection of yourself when shooting shiny surfaces.
This effect is usually achieved by pointing the camera down, and then tilting the lens up.
It’s often most successful when shooting from a high viewpoint, as this means that you can angle the camera more than when shooting at the same level as the subject.
Tilting the lens upwards means that the plane of focus moves in the opposite direction to the way that the subject is positioned, producing an extremely shallow area of sharp focus.
This tilt-shift photography effect is most pronounced when using wide apertures, and you will also need to refocus on the area that you want to be sharp, because tilting the lens completely alters the focus settings on the lens.
Similar to the toy town effect, this relies on the extremely shallow depth of field, but instead of tilting the lens up you rotate it and tilt it to one side.
This is perfect for shooting scenes where there are objects that are the same distance from the camera at either side of the frame.
By tilting the lens sideways you can then throw the subject on one side of the frame out of focus, while keeping the subject on the opposite side sharp. An example would be a shooting a row of shops, and all you want in focus is a single doorway.
This effect is one of the more subtle uses of the tilt movement. It can allow you to keep a subject sharp, which would otherwise be impossible even using extremely small apertures.
Once you have framed your shot, tilt the lens slowly towards the subject that you want to keep in focus.
This moves the plane of focus, so that instead of being parallel to the sensor, it corresponds to the surface of the subject that you want to keep in focus. This is great for product photography.
Focusing With A Tilt-Shift lens
You will only be able to focus manually, since the mechanics of the tilt-shift makes impossible the use of an auto-focus system in this lens.
By using the tilt function it allows front-to-back depth of field (DoF) meaning we can keep everything in focus, no matter the aperture, even at f/3.5 of f/2.8.
What you need to do to get a front-to-back depth of field is to use a “trial and error” method:
Metering Light And Setting The Exposure With A Tilt-Shift lens
When tilting or shifting the lens, the exposure the camera meters changes due to the light that leaks into the camera when the lens parts move relatively to each other, since the parts of a tilt-shift lens are not sealed between them and the fact that they are moving relatively to one another creates small openings that allow the light to enter the lens and confuse the light meter that indicates us the right exposure.
How to deal with this? It is not very difficult, just meter your scene before tilting or shifting the lens, while it still works like a normal lens from the point of view of the movements it makes.
At first glance, shooting long exposure with a tilt-shift lens is not different from doing it with any other regular lens.
There are though two aspects to take into account when shooting long exposure with this lens and that make it different from shooting long exposure with a regular lens:
The first aspect and issue is related to the way we will focus and meter the light so we can calculate the needed exposure. In the case the lens will be used tilted or shifted or both, just as in the case of short exposure, the light metering will be done before tilting or shifting the lens. This needs to be done so the light meter does not get confused by the light that may enter through the small openings created between the tilted or shifted parts and reach the sensor when tilting or shifting the lens.
The second aspect and issue is the light leakage that can occur in a tilt-shift lens during a long exposure. Just as in the case of metering light in a regular exposure with a tilt-shift lens where, if tilted or shifted, the lens allows the light to leak in and confuse the light meter, the same can happen in the case of a long exposure because of the extended time the lens is exposed to light while not being sealed properly and meant for use in long exposure photography.
It is not difficult to avoid light leakage. You will use the same principle you use so the light does not leak into the camera through the viewfinder: cover it. Thus, you will cover the lens in the case of a long exposure with a black cloth that will need to have the shape of a sleeve and be rather thick so it
does not let the light inside the lens. You can also cover the entire camera with a black cloth and just leave uncovered the opening of the tilt-shift lens.
Rotate the lens to a 45° angle, this will give you a diagonal blur through your plane of view in your image. Make sure your dioptre is calibrated for your vision. Since the tilt-shift lens is manual focus, you really need to make sure what you looking at is actually in focus. Shoot at f/5.6 for these shots, the out of focus areas will still produce pleasing results and a beautiful bokeh. When shooting at full length or 3/4, keep your subject close to their background, otherwise you may see distracting objects in your background come into focus. When shooting portraits, check your background is far away enough to be out of focus as in the full shot. Make sure to focus sharply on the eyes.
This 08:28 minute video clip visually explains the uses of a Samyang Tilt-Shift 24mm f/3.5.
The Nikon PC-E NIKKOR 24mm f/3.5D ED Tilt-Shift Lens can be a very powerful and valuable tool in a photographer’s bag. It has many different uses – the lens can act as a normal 24mm lens for wide-angle photography, can swing left and right or tilt up and down and can be shifted in different directions at the same time. The shifting capability gives photographers the ability to control converging lines, while tilting and swinging allow changing the lens plane to either bring everything in focus, or to selectively apply focus to certain parts of an image. These unique features make the Nikon PC-E NIKKOR 24mm f/3.5D ED Tilt-Shift Lens a very specialized lens. They also add to complexity of using such a lens. It took me several weeks to fully understand how to work with PC-E lenses and even after using them for a while, I still had occasional issues with focus and depth of field.
Nikon PC-E Micro-NIKKOR 45mm f/2.8D ED Tilt-Shift Lens is very much like a nifty-fifty for me, except that it is a tilt-shift lens.
Nikon PC-E Micro-NIKKOR 85mm f/2.8D Tilt-Shift Lens is very special portrait lens, and can give very pleasing results if used creatively.
One major annoyance with most tilt-shift lenses, including the Nikon PC-E NIKKOR 24mm f/3.5D ED Tilt-Shift Lens, is the factory default setting for tilt and shift movements. All Nikon PC-E lenses are shipped in such configuration, where you can swing the lens left and right, but you cannot simultaneously shift the lens in the same parallel direction. If you tilt the lens, you can only shift to the left and right sides and if you swing the lens, you can only shift it upwards or downwards. To fix this issue, you have to send your lens to a Nikon service center for reconfiguration. Nikon does not sell these in parallel configuration, but if you buy a used unit, it might be already configured for parallel movements. If you are a landscape photographer, definitely get yours adjusted. I have had my Nikon PC-E NIKKOR 24mm f/3.5D ED Tilt-Shift Lens done at Orms and it makes such a difference! The Nikon PC-E Micro-NIKKOR 45mm f/2.8D ED Tilt-Shift Lens and Nikon PC-E Micro-NIKKOR 45mm f/2.8D ED Tilt-Shift Lens cannot be converted as the electronic ribbon inside is too short to allow for this.
There is a high learning curve with these lenses, be sure to experiment with what works best for you, as well as a lot of creativity to be had with mastering these lenses.
Information sourced from various sources on the internet, as well as my personal experiences.
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