Tilt And Shift Lenses for Landscape Photography?
Today I want to talk about a very underrated tool for landscape photography and as the title of this article says, it will be all about Tilt and Shift Lenses. You have probably seen those weird looking lenses on the internet or at your local camera store and are probably wondering what they are used for… Why would someone need such a lens? And why would someone need one for landscape photography, right?
I personally have been using Tilt and Shift Lenses for a long time and still am using them today mostly for architecture photography or even food photography. To be honest with you, these lenses are truly fun to use. There are Pros and Cons of using them so keep reading below if you want to learn more about these oddly looking pieces of camera equipment.
BACK IN TIME
Back in the early 1900s, cameras were huge and for the most part made of a bunch of exotic hard wood and fancy metal hardware such as polished brass or stainless steel. The most advanced use of bellows was to allow camera movements: rise and fall, left and right shift, tilt and swing. These movements allowed for advanced control of the plane of focus, and of perspective. Again, camera movements were most frequently a feature of view cameras. It is the mechanical systems associated with the lens standard and/or the back-plate that achieve the camera movements. Tilt and Shift movements were both used for technical purposes to correct perspective and improve depth of field. It could also be used as a creative tool to purposely throw a big part of the image out of focus.
LENS TILT MOVEMENT
The lens front element will normally be parallel with the sensor. One must keep in mind that a camera lens can provide sharp focus on only a single plane. Without tilt, the image plane (containing the film or image sensor), the lens plane, and the plane of focus are parallel, and are perpendicular to the lens axis; objects in sharp focus are all at the same distance from the camera. When the lens plane is tilted relative to the image plane, the plane of focus (PoF) is at an angle to the image plane, and objects at different distances from the camera can all be sharply focused if they lie in the same plane. With the lens tilted, the image plane, lens plane, and PoF intersect at a common line; this behavior has become known as the Scheimpflug Principle. In easier to understand words, Tilting the lens by 1 or 2 degrees will have a great impact on Depth of Field and can potentially help you to use techniques such as Focus Stacking described in my Blog Post The Art of Focus Stacking here. Lens Tilt Movement is very often used in culinary photography to reduce depth of field even more…in Landscape Photography, we want as much Depth of Field as possible so we will use the Tilt Movement in such a way that we will gain Depth of Field.
LENS SHIFT MOVEMENT
Tilt and Shift lens have a much bigger image circle than any conventional lenses. The image circle is much bigger than what a 24mm x 36mm sensor requires. In fact, the image circle is so big that they could even work on medium format cameras with bigger sensors. Now, what does shift mean… The Shift is a displacement of the lens parallel to the image plane that allows adjusting the position of the subject in the image area without changing the camera angle; in effect the camera can be aimed with the shift movement. This can come in really handy if you want to keep vertical lines of one specific element in your frame perfectly paralleled. The best example here would be architecture and buildings. You don’t want the buildings to lean in-ward or out-ward right? A Shift Movement would allow you to correct those vertical lines in-camera and the results will always be more pleasing to the eyes than correcting those lines in a software.
You are probably going to ask me: Can I capture panoramic images with a Tilt and Shift Lens? And the answer to this question is: Yes, you can! It is so easy to do so! By using the Shift Movement of the lens to the left and to the right, you will automatically allow yourself to unveil details that weren’t visible when the lens was centered. The three resulting images (Left, Center and Right images) will very easy to stitch flawlessly together using Photoshop. The end result will give you images with an aspect ratio near 2.5:1 which is very pleasing to our eyes.
WHY NOT USING A PANORAMIC HEAD?
Since the three images from the said Tilt and Shift lens were captured on the same focus plane, there will be little to no distortion in comparison with similar images captured with a Panoramic Tripod Head. In some situations, distortion might not be an issue…but in other situations where you would need to do a distortion free Panoramic Image, you should definitely consider using a Tilt and Shift Lens. See example below for reference.
PROS AND CONS
There is no such thing as the perfect lens…every lens I own have good qualities but also have some faults. And Tilt and Shift Lenses are no exception! Lets start with the PROS. I already mentioned a few above such as better control over depth of field, in camera correction of perspective, capturing panoramic images in a breeze…
And now with the CONS…since they are very specialized lenses, they come with a hefty price tag. These lenses are Manual Focus only and are considered as prime lenses since they only cover one focal length. They are for the most part heavy and not necessarily well sealed for weather and the elements… And they most likely require the use of a tripod for easier use.
I don’t necessarily recommend that you jump the gun and purchase a Tilt and Shift right away…but if you want to have a good time with a very unusual piece of equipment, rent one for a couple days and I guarantee that you will enjoy it!