When using a tilt shift lens I find myself using the two features of tilting and shifting for separate photos. If I want to control the depth of field such as in a portrait or macro shot I will tilt the lens. If I want to control the perspective such as in architecture I will shift the lens. That brought me to thinking, they both seem like very complex movements of the lens, so why not separate them into their own dedicated pieces. This would seemingly save on costs and simplify the design significantly. I might be missing a key feature of combining the two features together, but I have not encountered that so the question still perplexes me.


Well, to begin with, a tilt-shift lens is a rather limited substitute for a proper bellows setup with free movement of the front lens. Offering only shift or only tilt makes that even worse. That said, shift-only SLR lenses have been made, such as the 35mm Nikkor PC "Perspective Control" from the early sixties. Canon answered with a tilt-shift lens in 1973, says Wikipedia, and after that the marketplace hath spoken - yes, we'd like both tilt and shift in one lens, please. Anyway, a T/S lens is in principle just a medium-format lens on a purely mechanical tilt/shift mounting, it's not exactly rocket science to design and manufacture this.

The high price has more to do with very limited demand and correspondingly small production volumes (plus that the Canon versions at least are absurdly well-built, similar in feel to early EOS L lenses before they started to use plastic), dividing it up into separate tilt and shift versions could only make this worse.

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    There are, however, entire cameras built around the shift-only principle, like the Alpa STC, a rather expensive way of using a (rather expensive in its own right) digital medium-format back. You give up Scheimpflug, but gain ruggedness. The main use would be panoramic, I'd guess, rather than perspective control; you can effectively cut the focal length of a given lens in half without suffering the consequences (vignetting or degrading filters, barrel distortion, field curvature, flare, etc.).
    – user2719
    Aug 12 '12 at 14:34

All the SLR tilt-shift lenses I've used have had a tilt action that shifts the tilted lens elements relative to the centerline of the untilted lens, resulting in a noticeable and significant shift of viewpoint when tilted. Including a shift mechanism (that can be rotated to act parallel to the tilt mechanism) provides a simple way to compensate for that shift when positioning the camera to accommodate it is not feasible.


Sounds like you really want a view camera. They are great for controlling dept of field during product shots. or for hard core macro shots. I'm a bit confused how you'd use it for portraits, most of the time, you want the eyes in focus. View cameras are a PITA to use, but they can tilt separately from shifting, tilt in two axis, etc.

Used view cameras are cheap. Some bloggers, such as Alex Koloskov, use a FF digital camera as the back. There are, of course, medium format digital backs, but they are wicked expensive.

  • There are "mini-views" available (and no, they're not cheap) designed specifically to use 35mm-type (full-frame or crop) cameras as the back. This isn't ideal, of course, since the distance between the mount and the sensor (and the resulting mechanical vignetting), along with the restricted acceptance angle of the sensor's microlens array, means that back swing and tilt (and rise and shift both front and back) are severely limited compared to film. As for view camera portraits, well, this idea of small DoF is relatively new, and a small aperture/CoC and little enlagement solves that problem.
    – user2719
    Aug 12 '12 at 14:19
  • @stan, the good news is that with a view camera, you can adjust the bellows and correct any flange to sensor distance changes. Which means that in addition to being not cheap, they are complex. Aug 14 '12 at 18:23
  • it's not the flange-to-sensor distance that's the problem, it's the mechanical vignetting of the lens mount opening, combined with the acceptance angle at the sensor (oblique light doesn't strike the sensor directly; there's a small lens over each sensel in almost all 35mm and APS-C sensor assemblies). Even a bag bellows (the friend of the wide-angle large format architectural photographer) can't make up for those restrictions.
    – user2719
    Aug 15 '12 at 0:06

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