Before the rush

Before the rush
by evan-pak

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I am interested in experimenting with a Nikon PC-E lens (by renting NOT buying!) and I can pair it with an F100, D3100 or D70 body. According to Ken Rockwell's page Nikon 24mm PC-E Compatibility the lens should mount on the F100 and D70 but the rise will be limited to 6mm (I'd expect that the D3100 would be the same). Ken's page says that the only bodies where the rise can reach the full 11.5mm are the D3 and D300, and that he also suggests that non-full frame bodies won't make full use of the lens.

My main interest in experimenting is for some architectural shots, but I don't know how the limited rise will restrict my experimentation. Of course I could avoid this problem by using the camera upside down! So my questions are:

  1. What sort of restrictions could I expected with the limited rise? (or should I just get a bracket to mount the camera upside down?)

  2. What would I be missing out on by using the lens on a non-full frame body? (and while the F100 is full frame - using film to experiment with kind of defeats the purpose of wanting instant feedback)

  3. 24mm, 45mm or 85mm lens for all around learning?

While I am not endorsing Adorama (but I have been known to be a customer there!), I found this instructional video that compliments my question: Tilt-Shift Lens—AdoramaTV

OK While Oliver's answer also bares merit due to his experience with his D700, I gave Michael's answer the nod due to adding information that I hadn't even considered, and for pointing out that the Nikon product seems a bit deficient compared to the Canon in this area.

Update after using the TS-E for the first time

I just finished a weeks rental of

  • Canon EOS 5D mark III
  • Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5L II Ultra Wide Tilt-Shift Lens
  • Tamron 90mm f/2.8 SP Di Macro lens

The Tamron macro was partially to ease me into using a Canon (I have a cupboard full of Nikon gear), and partially to fulfill another project. But the main event was the Tilt/Shift lens.

All I can say is that I am in love with the TS-E, and feel a bit dirty that the Nikon equivalent isn't as flexible. I had some apprehension about understanding and using the Tilt/Shift capabilities, but after watching the Adorama video a couple of times and then playing around with the lens for only a very short time it all seemed to fall into place. I was blown away the first time I saw the Scheimpflug principle visibly come into play and now I know that I have to get me some of this action somehow. I also saw as per one of Michaels comments that you really do need both shift and tilt at the same time.

The only "complaint" I have with the 24mm lens I rented was that by the time I got close enough to tall subjects I sometimes ran out of shift and tilt adjustment. I suspect that with longer TS lenses, and being further away from the subject that this wouldn't be an issue - but that's for another time.

Finally, I haven't handled a Nikon camera of the same caliber as the EOS 5D, but it really didn't take me long to feel comfortable with the ergonomics and layout of the Canon compared to my old D70 or F100, and to see/appreciate a number of features that I really want in my next major camera purchase.

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For architectural shots you will want the relationship between the tilt and shift movement moved 90° from the factory standard configuration. Normally owners of this lens would send it to Nikon and pay them to take the lens apart and reassemble it this way. I'm not sure if anyone offers the Nikon PC-E lenses for rent modified to this orientation. – Michael Clark Jul 25 '13 at 18:01
@MichaelClark Yeah .. I am aware of that limitation. I was thinking in terms of only using the shift. – Peter M Jul 25 '13 at 18:40
up vote 1 down vote accepted

If you are interested in obtaining single shots, using the camera upside down to achieve movements not possible with the camera upright will work provided you can comfortably operate the camera in such a position.

Many photographers select a Perspective Control (PC) lens in order to use the shift feature in each direction and then stitch the resulting photos together to create a higher resolution shot than would result from using a wider angle lens and cropping a single image from it. If that is your intended use, then the restriction created by the overhang of the flash and prism housing that prevents the PC-E lenses from being able to move all the way up highly complicates your methodology. You would need to take half of your exposures with the entire camera rotated 180° yet pointed precisely in the same direction to gain all of the benefit of the PC-E lens for panoramic stitching (If you use a non-PC lens, pointing the camera in different directions creates distortion that must be corrected in post processing).

One of the things that make a Perspective Control lens more expensive is the larger image circle needed to accommodate the various movements. By using a PC lens on a crop-sensor body, you are not taking full advantage of the field of view the lens is capable of. In order to use the full image circle in a series of shots taken with an APS-C camera, you would need the movements to go 6mm further horizontally and a little over 4mm vertically than they do (17.5mm vs. 11.5mm shift, for example). By using a smaller sensor, you reduce the maximum effect of the movements compared to using the lens on a FF camera.

Beyond that, be aware that the process of using the lens is going to be very laborious. Metering on any body except the D3 (and presumably the newer D3s and D4) can only be done accurately with the lens centered and the diaphragm manually stopped down. You will then have to lock in exposure, open the diaphragm, make any movements, focus manually, and then manually stop down the diaphragm again before taking the shot.

Honestly, if you are really interested in what tilt/shift lenses are all about I would recommend renting a Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5 L II along with a Canon FF body. The Canon TS-E lenses are capable of fully automatic metering and aperture control. The newer 24mm and 17mm TS-E "L" lenses also allow for rotation of not only the entire lens in relation to the camera, but also rotation of the shift and tilt movements in relation to each other. This feature opens up infinitely more possibilities than the Nikon PC-E lenses offer.

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I was only thinking in terms of single shots and not panoramas, so mounting the camera upside down was not going to be a real limitation. However by pointing out the Cannon lens you are seriously tempting me to give up my allegiance if only for the rental period .. lol – Peter M Jul 25 '13 at 18:42
If you will just be playing around with a perspective control lens to see what they are capable of and don't plan on displaying any of the results publicly, another option would be to rent the new Samyang, Rokinon, Bower, Pro-Optic, Walimex, etc. (same lens sold under several brands) 24mm f3.5 Tilt-Shift lens. From my understanding of the reviews, it can accomplish all of the movements that Canon "L" lenses can. Unfortunately the Samyang appears to be a fatally soft lens. If you can live with that it should allow you to see the possibilities of tilt-shift rotation. Warning: you'll be addicted! – Michael Clark Jul 26 '13 at 19:13
I just took a look at Samyang lens and one place that is renting it, and while the "Buy cost" is much lower than the Cannon lens, the "Rent cost" is about the same. So if I am renting a Cannon body I might as well just rent the Cannon lens! – Peter M Jul 27 '13 at 18:36
If you are renting a Canon body that is true, but the Samyang also comes in a Nikon mount, or will soon if it is not yet available. I guess I didn't make that clear. You could get an idea of what all the variable relationships possible between shift and tilt are about without renting a Canon body. Note that any APS-C body or old film body with a built-in flash is likely to have issues regarding clearance with the shift movements of a Perspective Control/Tilt-Shift lens. – Michael Clark Jul 28 '13 at 7:28

For architectural shots you will want the relationship between the tilt and shift movement moved 90° from the factory standard configuration.

As an architectural photographer I can assure you that isn't necessary at all. The 24mm PC-E is a great lens and I find out of all the movements I use rise the most. Having used it on cropped frame DSLRs it is severely limited for architectural photography with this setup, not only because of the limitations for rise but also because it isn't wide enough on these cameras. On my D700 it is amazing though. I have been published in many magazines and calendars with shots taken on this lens, it's one of my favourites! Definitely pair it with the right camera though.

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The need for both tilt and shift for architectural work is dependent on the camera position relative to the subject. The best results for the classic example of the tall building shot from street level are obtained by combining shift to straighten the lines of the structure with tilt in the same direction to align the plane of focus with the face of the building. The writings of the world's most well known architectural photographers almost universally agree on this point. While tilt may not be necessary in every architectural photo you might want to take, it will be beneficial for many. – Michael Clark Jul 26 '13 at 19:01

True and on a 5x4 view camera or larger this is especailly important but personally I've found the difference in depth of field if already using a small aperture on a DSLR (especially if cropped sensor format) is unnoticeable even at actual pixels. For me it definitely doesn't warrant the extra cost of having the lens converted.

There are a lot of purists in this field and there are many who probably think my logic is strange here but it's all relative to the medium you're working with. I work at f11 - f16 most of the time for example because I've found that this particular lens is much sharper at these apertures than when stopped down to f32 for instance. Photographs are about perception and I find sometimes a sharper image gives the illusion of even more depth of field than a less defined image taken with the smallest aperture. Photography is also about personal preference. Using my DSLR I find that rise is mostly all I need for architecture. You can after all use focus stacking in post processing if you really need to obtain extensive DOF.

If focus and quality is really that critical to you and you want to employ the full techniques of the Scheimpflug principle in your everyday work then surely you'd be working with a digital large format of some sort not an SLR anyway.

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