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I'm considering a used tilt-shift lens and I want to make sure I give it a good looking over before I decide whether to buy it or not. I've never used a tilt-shift lens before, and I think it takes some practice to learn how to use them well, so I have no idea whether I'd know a good lens from a bad one when I had it in my hand.

There's already a question about evaluating used lenses, and the accepted answer is excellent and really thorough for the general case. But I don't know if there are any potential problems or issues that are specific to these kinds of lenses that I should look for in addition to the list in that answer. I already know if I want a tilt-shift lens,1 and whether this particular model is one I'd like,2 but I don't know how to tell, when I show up to the List residence and Craig hands me his actual physical lens, whether the one I'm looking at is a lemon.

It seems pretty straightforward that I'd make sure the mechanisms all work smoothly and throughout their full ranges. Are there additional things I should be on the lookout for?


1Yes

2Maybe

1
  • The issue is mostly avoided by buying from a reputable purveyor of used lenses offering a warranty because they tend to evaluate lenses before acquiring them and are usually capable of servicing those with issues. It’s clear why they are selling the lens and they have a reputation to maintain. Even better they tend to be too busy to make scamming worth while. So a lemon is an honest mistake and the warranty remedies it. Jun 18 at 5:59
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Luckily for the buyer, tilt-shift lenses are manual-focus (at least, all the ones I've ever seen are), so checking focus is the same as any other old lens. That is, verify smooth focus and smooth aperture throughout both ranges.

Regarding the tilt and shift movements, you're basically just checking for range of motion (the limits of of both motions are usually marked on the lens), and for smoothness of motion. As long as the motions don't feel gritty or sticky, or at the opposite extreme, overly loose or sloppy, and as long as the tension locks keep the movements in place, there's not more to judge on a tilt-shift lens.

The dial knobs for the tilt and shift movements tend to be small diameter, and the gears driven by those knobs even smaller diameter. If the lens is configured or oriented for rise/fall shift movement, expect it to be difficult to rise the lens using the knob alone, and expect the lens to shift back down if you let got of the knob. Personally, I help the rise movement by lifting the lens body with my other hand while rotating the shift dial, and then lock the lens down.

Similarly, depending on the specific tilt-shift lens, something the tilt movement is hard to tilt the lens upwards with the knob alone; in that case, it's fine if you need to give it a little help.

A final check that is easy to forget is to double check the lens rotation movement(s) is (are) smooth, and that you get full 90° range of motion between portrait and landscape orientations, and still have full tilt/swing and shift movements in both orientations. Certain PC lens and body combinations work, but experience interference between the prism overhang (on DSLR bodies) and the fully-shifted lens. Luckily, those combinations are well known, so you can search the internet in advance for interference with your body and chosen lens combination.

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