Incense

by Bart Arondson

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I'm considering renting a tilt-shift (TS-E 24mm f/3.5L) lens for about a week when I travel abroad to do some photography in the middle east. What's the learning curve like on those lenses? Can I get anything accomplished if I'm completely new to tilt-shift and only have a week to use it?

What creative/interesting things can you do with them? I'm probably looking to do architectural and those fun miniature faking stuff if I do end up taking one.

My other option is renting a standard ultra-wide zoom (EF 16-35mm f/2.8) for landscape shots, so I'm trying to find the best artistic value for money.

I guess I should add that I'm not very skilled at manual focusing.

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The first time I rented one it was for 4hours, that was tough but I still got a few fun shots. You shouldnt have a problem in a week of trials, just don't expect perfection or rely on them all turning out. –  dpollitt Feb 2 '12 at 3:00

2 Answers 2

up vote 8 down vote accepted

Shift is quick and easy to pick up; tilt (or swing, if the lens is set to pivot horizontally) a little less so. It helps a lot to know the theory behind what you're doing rather than reinventing the Scheimpflug rule every time you want to take a picture.

I'd suggest downloading Harold Merklinger's Focusing the View Camera (it's free) and getting familiar with the territory first. Yes, the book is written to deal with the movements as they're implemented on view camera, but everything translates easily to a tilt/shift lens once you account for the fact that you've only got one (variable) axis of freedom for each of the movements. A day or two of familiarizing yourself with the lens (how to set/break the locks and orient the axes of tilt and shift) should be all that you need if you understand what the movements do.

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1  
The book is shareware; you can download it for free, but are expected to pay $5 if you find it useful. –  Imre Feb 2 '12 at 15:59
    
How versatile is the tilt-shift? In addition to being able to take great architectural and landscape shots, how will it fair in general purpose use (i.e. indoors, people, etc...). I'll be using it on a APS-C sensor so I'll be getting a little more from the 24mm focal length (will be more like a standard prime). –  jp89 Feb 2 '12 at 16:00
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How versatile? Well, if you ignore the T/S functions, you have a 24mm f/3.5 manual focus lens. Luminous Landscape has a lovely round-up of "24 vs 24 vs 24" which you may find interesting as to versatility. I think that if you need the T/S functions for landscape, architecture, etc., this lens (or one of the others in the TS-E lineup) is essential for your kit. Otherwise, it's a great lens to rent from time to time. –  djangodude Feb 2 '12 at 16:14
    
@Imre -- good point. I bought both of Merklinger's books when they were still in print a number of times for myself and as give-aways in the early '90s (at Carsand Mosher in Halifax, where both he and I were living at the time), and was glad to see them turn up online after the dead tree version went away. The PDF illustrations aren't quite as clear as they were in the printed book, but both have the same denial→anger→test→acceptance value for photographers as the print version, and are well worth the cost if you decide to pay. –  user2719 Feb 2 '12 at 21:52

Impossible to answer what the learning curve will be for you, but as general advice: if you're not already very skilled at manual focus, rent the lens for a minimum of 1 week additional before your travels. Leave the lens on your camera full-time and shoot often during that week to aid in learning the particulars of the lens and T/S in general, and become more skilled with manual focus (in particular when you are tilting to reduce DOF, i.e. "those fun miniature faking stuff", where your margin of (focus) error is very thin.

You may also want to look into a different focusing screen (matte/ground glass) if your camera can accept them, and/or Live View if you have it. Oh, and a tripod will be handy if not indispensable.

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