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I am in the market for at least one wide-angle prime lens. I've focused most of my search on 50mm and 24mm prime lenses from Canon, Zeiss, and Sigma. Crossing paths with another avenue of research in large-format cameras and photography, I started looking at tilt-shift lenses. I've looked at the two Canon TS-E lenses, the 17mm and 24mm. The concept of tilt, shift, and rotation is amazing, and the focus, dof, and perspective effects and control possible with a TS lens, at least on paper, are simply amazing.

The cost of such a lens is pretty high...higher than any lens I have purchased to date by at least $500, topping a retail price of $2000 for the Canon variety. My questions are, have you used a tilt-shift lens? If so, which brands and lens models have you used? Are they worth the price? Do they really offer the amazing capabilities noted in the following reviews?

Many thanks!

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4 Answers 4

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Figured I'd follow up my comment with an actual answer since I have the opposite opinion of Matt :) I own 3 of the Canon tilt shift lenses (90mm, 45mm, 24mm II) and I owned the 17mm as will until last month. The vast majority of what I like shooting is cityscapes/buildings and landscapes so the 24 TSE II gets a lot of use and its use isn't limited to just fixing lines in cityscapes.

  • The ability to 'shift' the lens up to achieve a higher perspective w/out tilting elements in the foreground is very useful when shooting landscapes where you want a lot of sky in them and have tallish elements (trees, barns) in the foreground that you don't want to look funny.
  • As Matt mentioned its very useful to tilt the lens to the left and right to get 3 shots that are easy to stitch
  • Like Jrista and I were talking about its very useful to be able to tilt the plane of focus so that everything from your feet to the mountains are in focus even at f3.5 in case the light is low

  • Besides landscapes the 90mm has a very favorable magnification factor for pseudo-macro work with flowers and plants that have flower-heads or leaves on an off-plane of focus.

I find the 24L TSE II to be my go-to lens for photographing nature, I bring that and a 70-200L usually for 'nature/outdoors' photo treks. A note on the 17mm, I found it to be too wide, wider than 21mm is generally too wide for my taste. Also the front element of the 17mm is domed and fully exposed to the elements, no hood and its not inset (which is kind of scary).

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Good point about tilting down to get the foreground in focus, I'm used to the tilt being left/right but I guess for landscapes it makes much more sense to have it switched! –  Matt Grum Oct 30 '10 at 22:51
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+1 for a different point of view :) –  Matt Grum Oct 30 '10 at 23:48
    
Thanks for the info. It sounds like a TS-E lens does indeed bring the same basic capabilities of a large format view camera to smaller formats. Out of curiosity, why did you sell the 17mm, and keep the 24mm? I guess I would have thought that the 17mm would have been nicer for wide landscapes. How does the 24L TS-E do for landscapes? –  jrista Oct 31 '10 at 3:47
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I (personally) found 17mm to be too wide in the sense that you begin to get distortion at the corners where the 24mm has little to no distortion corner to corner. As a personal preference I like 21-24mm for 'landscape' photography, but thats just my opinion for my photos :) Its just as well, the more you use specific foca lengths the easier it is for you to 'see' what will look good before putting the camera to your face and 24mm is one of my 4 favs. –  Shizam Oct 31 '10 at 4:13
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17mm is also very wide in the sense that you will get an awful lot of foreground in, and the your background objects (mountains etc.) are going to be mighty small. It can work for some places, but in general I find the 24-35 range more useful. –  Matt Grum Oct 31 '10 at 13:47

You can buy adapters that provide either tilt or shift from Arax. They work with Pentacon Six mount medium format lenses (which can also be bought from Arax, or eBay). The shortest focal lengths available seem to be 30mm fisheye, or 45mm rectilinear.

They also sell a tilt adapter for use with EOS lenses, but it's less useful as its tilt angle is fixed and since it moves lens away from camera, it also acts as an extension tube. It has no contacts, so you'd need an aperture ring on your lens.

As noted in my answer to a question on architecture photography, shift effect can also be achieved by using a regular wider lens in portrait orientation and cropping.

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As mentioned before, tilt-shift lenses are very useful for landscape photography because of the ability to tilt the plane of focus. But be aware that internal metering tend to be inaccurate with more tilting/shifting, so use a light meter if you have one.

I personally prefer the 24mm over the 17mm, mainly because I still shoot film and the 24mm allows the use of filters. If you don't need that wide a focal length, Hartblei also makes an excellent 35mm tilt-shift lens: http://www.hartblei.com/lenses/lens_35mm.htm

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Thanks for the info. :) Very interesting point about the 17mm and filters. I've read a couple reviews, but the thought about filters never even crossed my mind. I am a fan of Lee filters, so I really wouldn't want to lose that capability. Guess thats why a few people have said they opted for the 24mm over the 17mm. –  jrista Oct 31 '10 at 3:50
    
Good point on light falloff I forgot about that, I found myself metering w/no tilt/shift first to get a correct reading before adjusting tilt/shift, or using a spot meter. –  Shizam Oct 31 '10 at 4:15
    
@Shizam: Yes, metering before tilting/shifting is a common workaround, but nothing quite beats a good spot meter :) @jrista: It's one of the reasons why I'm opting for the 24mm TS-E or the Zeiss 21mm :) For film users, filters are still a necessity. –  ctham Oct 31 '10 at 6:12

I don't think it's really worth the expense of the 17mm tilt-shift lens for landscapes.

Basically shifting allows you to capture more of your image without recomposing. For example if you wanted to capture more of the top of a building you could shift the lens down (which is effectively shifting the sensor up) and capture more of top of the image. Pointing the camera up would achieve a similar effect, but you would then get converging vertical lines which are undesirable in most architectural photography.

Ok, so you might want to do the same thing with a landscape photo in order to capture more sky. However, given there are no vertical lines in the sky to converge, you're not gaining anything compared to simply tilting the camera up.

As for tilting, you're effectively tilting the plane of focus, and thus DOF (which with a regular lens is always parrallel to the camera). So if you have a wall which is coming towards you, you can tilt the plane of focus to line up better with the wall and thus get more of it in focus.

Again, this isn't as much use in landscape photography where natural features rarely run in straight lines. Plus you have so much depth of field to begin with when using a wide angle lens DOF is rarely a problem. If you're going to use a tilt-shift lens to minimise DOF (for the fake miniature effect) you might as well do that in post.

One thing you can do with a T/S lens is keep the lens still and shift in order to capture a pair of images that will perfecty line up for stiching into a mini panorama, effectively making your camera sensor bigger. But this pales in comparison with what you can do with a multi-shot panorama and VR tripod head.

I'm sure people will point out that there are uses for T/S lenses in landscape (i.e. when you have buildings in shot, or trees you want to keep vertical) but they are relatively few, and IMO not nearly enough to justify the cost of a T/S lens. The TS-E 17 is a nieche lens primarily suited to shooting man made objects / close distances.

T/S lenses are a lot of fun, however unless you really need one they're hugely expensive. You can however make your own using a cheap MF lens and some plumbing supplies. Of course you wont get anything as nice as purpose built T/S, but you're talking about $100 vs. $2000 which is a no brainer if you're doing this for fun!

This is a good post on going the DIY route:

http://blog.cow.mooh.org/2009/07/plungercam-2-cheaper-and-more.html

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I'm not sure its just about lines and perspective. In landscape/nature, its more about focus plane (tilt). For example, you could tilt up just a tad to get foreground in clear focus without losing your distant focus (blurry foreground happens a lot.) There are also close-up or closer focal plane options where having more freedom with the focal plane allows greater creativity. I understand why large format view cameras (used heavily in pro landscape photography) have these types of movements...I am jot sure if a TS lens for a full-frame digital offers the same capabilities that justify cost. –  jrista Oct 30 '10 at 16:34
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@jrista +++. Tilt shift lenses are very helpful in landscape for the ability to tilt the plane of focus so everything from your feet to the mountains are in focus even at wide apertures. –  Shizam Oct 30 '10 at 17:13
    
@Shizam: Yeah, thats what I'd read when learning about large format view cameras. Have you used a TS lens on a DSLR? Any insight? –  jrista Oct 30 '10 at 20:07
    
@Matt: Regarding a DIY TS lens...what about image circle size? You need a larger image circle to accomodate the extra movement, and keep the sensor inside the circle. I can't tell exactly how that works from the article you linked. With the TS-E 17mm, the image circle is something like 62mm in size, which is quite a bit larger than 43.7mm of a normal image circle. –  jrista Oct 30 '10 at 20:11
    
The mod uses an old medium format lens so the size of the image circle isn't a problem. There are lots of good MF lenses for discontinued cameras available for very little money making it quite an attractive prospect. –  Matt Grum Oct 30 '10 at 22:47

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