An Introduction To Tilt + Shift Photography

[Please note that an update to this Guide is being prepared for upload in late August 2012.]


1. Introduction
2. What is a Tilt+Shift Lens?
3. The Tilt Function
4. The Shift function
5. The Tilt and Shift Effect
6. The Rotation Function
7. Independent Tilt and Shift Functions
8. Who Makes Tilt+Shift Lenses?
9. Sample Images
10. Further Reading/References

1. Introduction

We’ve all seen them – ‘fake miniature’ photographs of city streets, country towns, trains and what not. They look pretty cool when done right. But you’ll also see their creators saying in their Description they used the “tilt-shift effect” to create them. Wrong. So so very wrong!

Fake miniature images are created firstly by taking a photograph that is focused throughout the focal range (ie foreground, midground and background are all in focus, or near enough!), and then selectively blurring parts of the image in Photoshop or similar program.

The effect seeks to replicate in reverse the result of using the tilt function of a Tilt+Shift lens, which allows selective focusing of a subject. The fact it has nothing whatsoever to do with the shift function of a Tilt+Shift lens is why I get a laugh at those “tilt-shift effect” comments. A Tilt+Shift lens is called a Tilt+Shift lens and not a Tilt-Shift lens because it can do both functions – there is no such thing as a “tilt-shift effect”. (I can, and do, take photographs using both the Tilt function and the Shift function simultaneously engaged, but unless I tell you, there is no way you can be sure I have done so. I’ll demonstrate this below.)

Sometimes, a photograph I have taken with one of my Tilt+Shift lenses is mistaken for a post-processed image (as in Awesome processing, Peter!), and this bugs me a little because the alternate creative results are quite different. Indeed, one is achieved in-camera and one is achieved after the event. For example, a Photoshopped tilt effect will have obvious transition edges between the focused and blurred portions of the image, whereas a true tilt shot will have a seamless transition. One is fake and obviously so. Guess which. In fact, if you have a look at some of the images here (I’m not meant to link to examples) you will notice no transition from blur to focus at all, compared to, say, this image which was created with a Tilt+Shift lens and without any post-processing:

Don’t get me wrong – I have nothing against the fake miniature look. Indeed, I bought my first Tilt+Shift lens with that creative result in mind. I’ve simply discovered that there is a whole lot more to these nifty little heavyweight lenses.

I’ve also been told that the (much cheaper) Lensbaby will achieve the same results as a Tilt+Shift lens and that bugs me too because it’s [deleted]. I use a Lensbaby Muse myself and there is a world of difference between what is achievable with it and what a Tilt+Shift lens does. I also know which one gives the most dramatic outcomes. I’ve also seen a [deleted] comment by an otherwise knowledgeable [deleted] that a Tilt+Shift lens is a “toy lens”, an assessment made in the absence of having actually used one. I wondered then if he knew about the Scheimpflug Principle and its application to Tilt+Shift lens technology, or that Canon made the first Tilt+Shift lenses for 35mm SLRs to replicate the long-lost functionality of a View Camera. I assumed not.

I say it’s time to reclaim knowledge and awareness of Tilt+Shift for what it actually is! I say owners of Tilt+Shift lenses should rise up and make their united creative voice heard across the wasteland of fake miniatures! I say … I should shut up now and get on with it.

Ahem, the purpose, therefore, of this Tutorial is to explain what true tilt photography is, what true shift photography is, and how either (or both) can change the way you approach the creation of many styles of images, including landscapes, architectural, portraits, macros, and still-lifes. You never know, if you read this you just might be inclined to try it out and never use a prime or zoom lens again! (Steady there, fella …)

A small fact: my most popular image on RB has had well over 10,000 views and 350+ favouritings. It is also in the Top 100 of all-time popular images on RB. It also happens to be a merge of 3 shots using a Tilt+Shift lens and shifting it for each shot at maximum shifts of -11mm, 0mm, and +11mm respectively:

A few more factoids about the above image:

  1. The legs of the tripod are a few millimetres from the roots at the bottom of the image.
  1. The image was created using the (original and 19 year old) Canon TS-E 24mm f3.5L Tilt+Shift Lens. On my full-frame Canon EOS 5D Mark II, using that lens gave me an effective and distortion-free focal length of 14.9mm with a 100.8 degree angle of vertical view. That is impossible to achieve with that camera with any other lens, no matter how expensive.
  1. You cannot discern the edges of the merge or overlap. It thus passes as a single image.

As you read this Tutorial, I hope you will come to agree with me that true tilt+shift photography is not actually about creating that fake miniature look. It is about so much more. (Note: an understanding of aperture and f stop is assumed. Here is some pre-reading on those topics if required.)

But for now, you may have noticed that whilst this Tutorial is about true Tilt+Shift photography, it is also all about a specific type of lens and how you can use it. It is not about a Photoshop, or any other, process. It is about creative photography in-camera, not creative clicking of a mouse. It may get a bit technical, but it’s all about creating enhanced visual styles through knowledge of changing the focal plane in relation to an aspect or feature of a composed shot.

For example, imagine trying to get a perfect focus of an object resting at a 45 degree angle to the camera. It’s not easy with a normal lens, given the slant to the camera’s focal plane, and requires stopping down to f22 or lower with no guarantee of success. And if your object is a ridge line, ie an outdoor shot, we’re now talking long exposure. Now imagine being able to rotate and tilt the lens so that the length of the object is lying on the focal plane. Perfect focus. No need to stop down to f22 and/or play with speed and ISO to compensate. That is one thing a Tilt+Shift lens can easily do for you, as demonstrated by the wristwatch image on the cover of a Canon paper here.

Which leads me to our first question ….

2. What is a Tilt+Shift Lens?

The first lenses designed to allow tilt and shift were released by Canon in 1991. (Lenses with shift-only capabilities have been available for some time longer, including a Canon 28mm version.) As I mentioned, these lenses were intended to replicate the front lens standard movements only possible with a view camera. The classic Tilt+Shift lens looks like a tube stuck on a square box. This is the Canon TS-E 24mm f3.5L Tilt+Shift Lens, one of the three 1991 originals:

The other 1991 originals are the TS-E 45mm f2.8 and the TS-E 90mm f2.8. These are still available new from Canon as they haven’t been improved, as in haven’t been upgraded.

The first thing to note about this original series of 3 Tilt+Shift lenses is that they were made for film SLRs but are just as home on a DSLR, full-frame or otherwise. This is the newer version of the original 24mm, released in 2009, the Canon TS-E 24mm f3.5L II Tilt Shift Lens:

The photos above are to scale, so you can see the design changes. However, 3 essential features remain the same. The big knob in the middle of the lens is used to tilt the front elements – you can see the curved line stretching across the lens. Note also the white line increments of one degree each, both – and +. The rear knobs control the shift element, one to perform the shift, the other to lock the lens into place. (The tilt knob also has a locking knob on the opposite side of the lens.). The actual shift movement is just noticeable below the words TS-E 24mm on both lenses. When engaged, you slide the whole lens along its back plate.

I show both functions below. But first, look again at the photos. Notice that the tilt function is left to right. The shift function is up and down. As with most tilt+shift lenses, any Canon Tilt+Shift lens can be rotated (in relation to the mounted camera position) 90 degrees left and 90 degrees right in 30 degree increments – a total available rotation of 180 degrees. Each increment is a detent position – you hear the click – but you can also rotate to any other degree for more precise shooting. Only the zero rotation position is lockable, so you need to take care with camera movements.

Rotation has the effect of altering the angle of either tilt or shift, if either or both functions are engaged. (Rotating the lens while using it as a prime achieves nothing.) The rotation lever is that tiny bit sticking out from the lens at the rear and is operated by pressing it down with one finger whilst turning the lens with the other hand. (Easy!) I discuss in detail the rotation function under the heading The Rotation Function.

Overall, the newer 24mm is a much bigger lens, with a filter diameter of 82mm, compared to the original’s 72mm. The newer version also has a significant improvement in overall functionality over the original, which is not obvious from the photos, and which I explain later in the Tutorial under the heading Independent Tilt and Shift Functions.

At the end of the Tutorial I also give a comprehensive guide to just about all the Tilt+Shift lenses on the market.

OK, enough of the preliminaries, let’s get into it.

3. The Tilt Function

In Photoshop, you take a perfectly good, focused, image and go and blur bits of it. You can selectively blur a background, for example, or particular subjects. There you go – a “tilt-effect image”. And, depending on your composition, POV, and focal length, the effect gives rise to that ‘fake miniature’ look.

But when you use a Tilt+Shift lens and engage the tilt function you are doing something quite different. You are changing the angle of the lens relative to the focal plane, so rather than selectively blurring the shot, you are instead selectively focusing it, something like this:

Another example:

Both the above images were shot with the original Canon TS-E 24mm f3.5L Tilt+Shift Lens. For the first, the lens was tilted to the left, and for the second, the camera was rotated on a tripod to Portrait, and the lens was tilted down -8 degrees, like so:

Here is what another Tilt+Shift lens looks like, tilted up to the maximum:

A way of imagining how it works is to think of focusing on a flat vertical surface in front of the lens. Keeping the centre of the surface still, if you tilt the surface down a bit you are bringing the top portion closer to the camera lens and hence out of focus, and you are taking the bottom portion further away from the lens but also out of focus, but the centre remains in the same position and thus remains in focus. The greater the degree of tilting that flat surface, the more pronounced the out-of-focus region of the image. Now imagine that instead of tilting the subject, you tilt the lens instead in the same fashion. Same result.

Now imagine that instead of a flat vertical surface, your subject is a landscape, with distinct foreground and background objects. By tilting the lens towards the ground, you can manipulate the degree of tilt to make the plane of focus run along the ground and thus achieve, in theory, an increased DOF, regardless of the aperture. This aspect of a Tilt+Shift lens is a vivid demonstration of the Scheimpflug Principle, which I mentioned earlier, and which is as follows: When the extended lines from the lens plane, the object plane and the film plane intersect at the same point, the entire subject plane is in focus.

You cannot do this with a normal lens because its axis is always in a fixed position perpendicular to the focal plane. When you use a Tilt+Shift lens, you can see through the camera viewfinder the effect tilting the lens has on the image. It is not easy to definitively select your field of focus (it’s harder to do with the (old) TS-E 24mm than with the 45mm) and part of the process should ideally involve focusing the lens on the midpoint of the frame before engaging the tilt, but you will notice that tilting the lens and thus the focal plane can require re-positioning the camera slightly for composition.

There are rules of thumb you can use to estimate the degree of tilt required to achieve focus throughout the frame depending on the distance from the object plane to the axis of the lens, but we’re not all Mensa-qualified mathematicians are we? However, I do reference and link to an excellent paper by photographer David Summerhayes below under the heading Further Reading/References, and he has kindly prepared tilt tables for the 4 Canon Tilt+shift lenses, for public use.

I have not yet been that disciplined, and normally max out the tilt just because it creates something special and because of the difficulty of discerning single degrees of tilt. But, as Summerhayes has pointed out: “The most common mistake I have seen is over estimating the amount of tilt needed. Just throwing in 5 degrees of tilt for a starting point to get a Scheimpflug effect on a normal landscape is usually way too much …”

For example, the image below is a crop of a shot which was tilted to the max, so whilst some of the image is in focus throughout the plane, most of it isn’t:

I discuss again the Tilt function under the heading The Rotation Function.

4. The Shift Function

Ever wondered how or why your camera produces a rectangular photograph when the lens is circular? The answer gives the basis of the shift function of a Tilt+Shift lens.

All lenses capture a circular image, whereas the sensor in the camera is only capturing the central rectangular portion of that image, thereby cropping the actual image coming through the lens. The sides of that rectangle have to fit within the diameter of that circle in order to have a complete, cropped, rectangular image. The image circle of a normal lens has a diameter that extends only a little bit from the sides of that rectangle. This is because there is no point making the image circle any larger.

In contrast, the image circle of a Tilt+Shift lens extends way beyond the sides of the rectangle. Thus, if you can imagine a Landscape image – which is a rectangle shape with the horizontal (top and bottom) sides being longer than the vertical (left and right) sides, by shifting a Tilt+Shift lens to the left to take a shot, you are shifting the rectangle crop of the sensor to the left whilst still being within the image circle. And if you then take another shot with the lens back in the normal position, without moving the camera, and then another shot after shifting the lens to the right (again, without moving camera), you have 3 different rectangles which can then be merged into one long rectangle – a panoramic image. As this is achieved without moving the camera (which needs to be on a tripod), the merge of the 3 images in Photoshop is done seamlessly. (Some programs, like Photostitch, are designed to remove the distortion inherent in panoramic images shot by moving the camera for each shot, and don’t recognise non-distorted images shot with a Tilt+Shift lens. The result of merging the images with such an a program is … an image that is hyper-distorted and disjointed.)

Let’s look at some numbers to get another idea of the image circle concept. To cover an APS-C Sensor, a standard lens’s image circle must have a diameter of 27.3mm (as do Canon EF-S lenses), whereas to cover a 24 × 36mm Full-Frame Sensor, a standard lens needs an image circle of 43.2mm (as do Canon EF lenses). (Thus, as an aside, using a lens designed for an APS-C Sensor on a Full-Frame camera will produce significant vignetting in the form of barrel distortion because the lens’s image circle isn’t wider than the camera’s sensor – a trap for young players, especially in relation to Sigma and Tamron lenses – look at their design specs before buying!)

On the other hand, Canon’s 1991 original set of Tilt+Shift lenses all have an image circle of 58.6mm, and the newer 17mm and 24mm versions each has an image circle of a staggering 67.2mm. An excellent interactive demonstration of the image circle concept with a Tilt+Shift lens is near the top of this page.

This is what the Canon TS-E 24mm f3.5L Tilt+Shift Lens looks like with the shift set to maximum in one direction (it also shifts to the right):

Here is another view of a Tilt+Shift lens shifted to the maximum:

As you can see, the shift function does what it says – it shifts the lens parallel to the sensor plane. When I look through the viewfinder and turn the Shift knob, I can be suddenly looking at the ground or sky. Sometimes I will then move the entire lens to bring the subject back into frame and this will result in perspective being changed.

As I mentioned earlier, the combined effect of creating a 3 shot panoramic image with the shift function and using the lens on my full-frame Canon EOS 5D Mark II gives me an effective and distortion-free focal length of 14.9mm with a 100.8 degree
angle of vertical view.

The following photographs demonstrate the creation of a panoramic image by using a Tilt+Shift lens to take 3 separate images of the same scene, respectively, at -11mm shift (maximum), 0mm shift (normal prime position), and +11mm shift (maximum).

And the full panoramic:

Some vignetting can be experienced at the extreme ends of a shift, as you can see, but one benefit of creating panoramic images in this way is the increase in resolution due to the dramatic increase in file size. A trap for young players, however, is not testing the composition of the total panoramic by shifting the lens throughout the 3 positions before settling on the camera/tripod position. Another trap is not taking particular care with getting the horizon straight.

Think about it. The 3 shot panoramic means the horizon is much longer. Thus, the degree of slant is increased at the edges if the horizon is not straight (because you do not move the camera between shots), which in turn creates the need for a much bigger crop than normal. Another tip is to let the camera “settle” after shifting the lens and before taking the shot. This is because the mere physical act of shifting (by turning the knob) will slightly bump the camera, which means the outer edges of your merged panoramic will never be perfectly aligned – but near enough!

Another use for the shift function of a Tilt+Shift lens is one favoured by architectural and interior photographers – engaging the shift can deal with the problem of converging vertical objects, in particular, buildings. Normally, to capture the height of a tall building, you need to point the camera up at an angle. This changes one side of the distance of the subject from the imaging plane, versus the other side and makes the building look as if it is leaning away from you. The effect is also known as keystoning. The wider the lens, the steeper the convergence effect, the less natural-looking is the image. The naked eye will do the same thing, but not to anywhere the same extent.

By engaging the shift function in an upward motion, however, you can keep the camera pointed directly at the building, rather than pointing the camera up, and as you do so, you can see the building in the viewfinder appear to lean towards you, allowing you to adjust for effect before taking the shot. And because of the effect of distance of the object from the lens, you don’t need too many millimetres of shift to achieve major alterations in convergence. Remember also, a Tilt+Shift lens has a huge image circle relative to a normal lens, and this helps enormously when shifting to correct converging lines.

5. The Tilt and Shift Effect

You can shoot an image with both the tilt function and the shift function engaged, like so:

I wanted to capture the scale of the middle section of Wentworth Falls in the Blue Mountains, hence the 3 shot pano using the shift function on the TS-E 24mm f3.5L Tilt+Shift lens, but I also couldn’t resist engaging the tilt function to focus on the water flow. But that’s the limit basically – 3 shot shift horizontal pano with vertical tilt. But the story is a little different with some lenses – see the discussion under the heading Independent Tilt and Shift Functions.

6. The Rotation Function

I have mentioned already the rotation function of a Tilt+Shift lens, and I have noted also that it can be engaged whilst using either or both the tilt and shift functions.

In relation to the tilt function, rotating the lens at the same time changes again the angle of the focal plane relative to the sensor. Why would you do this? Well, a commercial photographer shooting an interior shot of a car, for example, can place the model at a 45 degree angle to the camera for composition effect yet still obtain focus along the length of the car by using a Tilt+Shift lens, for example the 45mm, tilting it and then rotating the lens to move the tilt from being either horizontal or vertical to being on an angle. Simple, but highly effective.

The same technique can be applied when shooting, for example, the bridal party in an outdoor setting (especially given you don’t have to stop right down as with a normal lens and can shoot faster as a result), or a close landscape where a certain feature is at an angle. A perfect demonstration of this is a waterfall, which is often best shot at an angle, or simply best accessible from an angle. The following two photographs are obviously from the same shoot with the same settings and positions, but notice how the second one has a different focus. Can you see the angle of the focused area? (A diagonal line commencing from the bottom left and ending just above the middle right.) The second photograph is the result of engaging the tilt function on the 24mm f3.5L Tilt+Shift lens and rotating the lens 90 degrees. I wanted the focus line to run from the top of the waterfall to past that rock with the green moss.

I suppose you could try to replicate the effect of tilting and rotating in Photoshop or another process, but again I stress the transition from focus to no-focus. It’s pretty smooth.

In relation to the shift function, rotating the lens at the same time basically moves the captured area of the total scene in front of the lens by increments. To demonstrate, the following image is a merge of 21 separate photographs, each one taken without moving the camera, but instead by firstly rotating a TS-E 24mm f3.5L Tilt+Shift lens through the complete 180 degree range of 30 degree increments; secondly, taking three photographs at each rotation, each one in a different shift position, being -11mm, 0mm, and +11mm respectively; then merging the images in Photoshop. Naturally, the settings were unchanged for each shot.

As you can see, there is some cropping to do, but even so, the final result of such a shooting technique with a wide angle Tilt+Shift lens gives a rather full-bodied panoramic:

Finally, rotating a Tilt+Shift lens 90 degrees is also how you change either tilt or shift function from being up and down to left and right. Except of course if you are using one of the new Canon Tilt+Shift lenses …

7. Independent Tilt and Shift Functions

If the Canon set of 3 original Tilt+Shift lenses (1991) have one major limitation, it is the inability to engage either the tilt function or the shift function at a different angle to the other function. In practical terms, if you want to engage both functions for the one shot, the shift function will allow left and right movements, for example, whilst the tilt function will only be available either up or done. You can of course rotate the lens to change the shift to up and down, but this also change the tilt from left to right.

For example, the following image is a crop of a merge of 3 images shot with the shift function of the original 24mm engaged from left to right, at maximum shift. Because I was shooting a horizontal landscape, the tilt function could only be engaged up or down, thus creating a perfectly focused band stretching across the image from left to right, roughly in the middle:

I could not use the lens to have instead a perfectly focused vertical band running from the top fall to the bottom, for example. To do that, I have to rotate the lens 45 degrees, and shoot the 3 shot panoramic vertically so as to be able to use the tilt from left and right and thus achieve my vertical focus, as I attempted with this shot (of the same falls incidentally, but on a different day):

The only way I can align the tilt function with the shift function is to take the lens into a Canon service centre and get them to unscrew the tilt element, turn it 45 degrees, then put it back on the lens.

Hartblei was the first manufacturer to offer Tilt+Shift lenses which allowed independent angles to be applied when using both functions at the same time. They call their lenses “Super-Rotators”, and I give all their details below.

Interestingly, while Canon rectified the issue with their Tilt+Shift lenses in 2009 with the release of the 17mm and new 24mm Tilt+Shift lenses, they also claim they are a “world first”, ie ignoring Hartblei. Both those Tilt+Shift lenses also now allow total flexibility in the selection of the axis of engagement of both functions. This alone is, as I said earlier, a significant improvement in functionality, which is pretty hard to achieve given the lenses’ other capabilities.

I want one.

8. Who Makes Tilt+Shift lenses?

As you may have noticed, the most common ones are manufactured by Canon. In fact, Canon produced the first Tilt+Shift lenses way back in 1973. Less common ones are made by Nikkor, and Hartblei.

Canon’s Tilt+Shift (TS-E) Lenses

This is the current range of Tilt+Shift Lenses offered by Canon:

  1. TS-E 17mm f4L Tilt+Shift Lens (released in 2009). – Maximum Shift = 12mm in any direction. Maximum Tilt = 6.5 degrees in any direction.

  1. TS-E 24mm f3.5L II Tilt+Shift Lens (2009) – Maximum Shift = 12mm in any direction. Maximum Tilt = 8.5 degrees in any direction.

  1. TS-E 45mm f2.8 Tilt+Shift Lens (1991) – Maximum Shift = 11mm. Maximum Tilt = 8 degrees.

  1. TS-E 90mm f2.8 Tilt+Shift Lens (1991) – Maximum Shift = 11mm. Maximum Tilt = 8 degrees.

“TS-E” is short for Tilt Shift – EOS, ie a TS-E lens is designed for the EOS range, both film and digital. Canon’s original and now discontinued 24mm version is the TS-E 24mm f3.5L Tilt+Shift Lens, which was first released in 1991. It has a maximum shift of 11mm and a maximum tilt of 8 degrees (I own and use this particular lens. I also own the original 45mm f2.8 and would use it if I could get it out of the hands of my girlfriend.)

Given the 1991 originals have been around for a while, there is a solid second-hand market. Prices are variable. I bought my 24mm from an architectural photographer in the US and the 45mm from an RBer, both for AUS$1400. Amazon list a second-hand 24mm original at US$1500. New, the 45mm and 90mm will set you back about US$1200 and the newer 17mm and 24mm about US $2200 (B&H). This Australian retailer is selling the original 24mm for $2,294, the new version for $2,555, and the 17mm for a spectacular $2,972.75 (don’t forget the 75 cents). This is comparable pricing to other suppliers.

Nikkor’s Perspective Control (PC-E) Lenses

Perspective Control? Huh? Ken Rockwell explains:

“PC” stands for perspective control and “E” stands for electronic diaphragm. Actually, Perspective Control is a misnomer, since the only way to change perspective is to move the camera somewhere else. Nikon is trying to say that you can shift this lens to keep parallel lines from converging, not really change perspective. Nikon should call it tilt-shift, but Canon does that."

This is the current range of Tilt+Shift, sorry, Perspective Control Lenses offered by Nikkor:

  1. PC-E 24mm f3.5D ED Lens – Maximum Shift = 11.5mm. Maximum Tilt = 8.5 degrees:

  1. PC-E Micro 45mm f2.8D ED Lens – Maximum Shift = 11.5mm. Maximum Tilt = 8.5 degrees:

  1. PC-E Micro 85mm f2.8D Lens – Maximum Shift = 11.5mm. Maximum Tilt = 8.5 degrees:

Nikkor also has a discontinued (?) PC Micro 85mm f2.8D Lens (8.3 degree tilt, 12.4mm shift), and Nikon also released in 1980 a “shift only” lens, the 28mm f3.5 PC.

Nikkor released its PC-E range in 2008, whereas Canon first used electronic diaphragm technology in 1991 on the release of the original 24mm, 45mm and 90mm. Importantly, whilst the entire Canon TS-E range, is compatible with any Canon EOS (autofocus) camera (eg the new 2009 lenses can be used on the very first EOS camera – the film EOS 650 SLR, released in 1987), whereas the Nikkor lenses have major compatibility issues. For example, and to quote Ken Rockwell again, “Nikon excused itself from its usual fanatical and backwards compatibility with the 24mm f3.5 PC-E. The only camera with which the 24mm PC-E works properly is the D3.”

That was the least of his criticisms. Nikon don’t mention any of these issues on their lens website, confining the issue to “(w)ith the Nikon D3, D700 and D300, auto aperture control with electromagnetic diaphragm is possible.” So, if you own a Nikon camera and want to know if real tilt+shift photography is for you, I recommend a read of Rockwell’s compatibility paper at the link given above.

Interestingly, whilst Canon’s TS-E lenses range from a 58mm diameter (the 90mm) to 82mm (the new 24mm), Nikkor’s PC-E lenses are all at 77mm. (Note that the TS-E 17mm cannot take filters given its bulbous front element.)


Canon’s TS-E lenses are not cheap, but they are a fraction of the cost of Hartblei’s with the Zeiss glass. We are talking here about the Rolls Royces of tilt+shift lenses. Like a Rolls Royce, a Hartblei tilt+shift is (allegedly) hand-made. The following Hartblei lenses are designed for these mounts: Canon EOS, Canon FD, Nikon, Minolta Dynax / Maxxum / AF, Minolta MD, Pentax K, M42 Zenit / Praktica / Pentax M, and Leica R:

  1. MC PS-PC 35mm f2.8 Super-Rotator Tilt+Shift Lens – Maximum Shift = 10mm in any direction. Maximum Tilt = 8 degrees in any direction:

  1. MC PS-PC 65mm f3.5 Super-Rotator Tilt+Shift Lens – Maximum Shift = 10mm in any direction. Maximum Tilt = 8 degrees in any direction:

  1. MC PS-PC 80mm f2.8 Super-Rotator Tilt+Shift Lens – Maximum Shift = 10mm in any direction. Maximum Tilt = 8 degrees in any direction:

  1. MC PS-PC 120mm f2.8 Super-Rotator Tilt+Shift Lens – Maximum Shift = 10mm in any direction. Maximum Tilt = 8 degrees in any direction:

Hartblei also make a 45mm f3.5 Super-Rotator lens for medium format cameras with a maximum shift of 12mm in any direction and maximum tilt of 8 degrees in any direction:

But wait, there’s more. Hartblei also makes available the following Arsat tilt+shift lenses for the same mounts as above:

  1. MC TS 35mm f2.8 Tilt Shift
  1. MC TS 80mm f2.8 Tilt Shift

(I haven’t been able to find out any more information about these cheaper Tilt+Shift lenses.)

There’s only one problem with Hartblei Tilt Shift lenses – they are nigh impossible to get. According to the website they’ve been out of stock for some time. In fact, they’ve almost reached mythical status. I emailed the manufacturer about a year ago and was told they did not have an Australian distributor but would I like to be it? These lenses are, however, forever turning up on eBay as being available from a seller in the Ukraine, but be warned, there is negative feedback about non-delivery and refusal by the seller to use PayPal. I was tempted to procure the mouth-watering 120mm by this route but decided against it.

But if you want to really get serious about tilt+shift photography, buy a 4×5” View camera or check this out. O..M..G..

9. Sample Images

This is just a short selection of images I have shot with the Canon TS-E 24mmf3.5L Tilt+Shift lens, on the full-frame Canon EOS 5D Mark II, and which I particularly like:

Weeping Rock Falls

ISO 50, f6.3, 84 seconds, B+W 10-stop ND filter

Having to hold an umbrella over the camera and me the whole time was the only real challenge for this photograph, which is basically as shot. The lens was tilted 6 degrees in order to bring the falls themselves into focus, along with everything else along the same horizontal focal plane, such as the handrail on the left.


ISO 50, f3.5, 90 seconds, Hoya ND x400 and Lee 1.2 Hard Grad ND filters

Sorry, but it was the only title I could think of for this photograph. Again, minimal processing of this single RAW file. The challenges here were the mosquitoes. This particular area (Cumberland State Forest in suburban Sydney) is infested with them. This time a slightly lower tilt factor, to bring the part of the frame just below the middle into focus, and deliberately so. The hands were just a spur of the moment thing. The aim was the tree. On this occasion the lens had to be rotated 90 degrees to the left to bring the tilt function horizontal.

Pond Her

ISO 50, f6.3, 15 seconds, Hoya ND x400 filter and Lee 1.2 Hard Grad Nd and 0.9 Soft Grad ND filters

Again, the challenge here was the rain and holding an umbrella. On this occasion the tilt is engaged vertically, with the focal point being the plane on which the model sat.

Ancient Path

ISO 100, f8, 50 seconds, Hoya ND x400 filter

This is another example of a 3 shot panoramic using the shift engaged whilst also using the tilt function. I wanted to feature the steps, but also show them in the context of both the cliff wall and the drop on the other side, and not in isolation. You can see the focus area being a horizontal band midway through the frame. The final image was cropped and vignetting applied.

[Here is where I also wanted to give some links to other RBers who shoot with a Tilt+Shift lens so you could see some different creative outcomes – given my propensity to do long exposures – but my search just threw up mostly the fake miniature variety of results. So if you are one of those RBers, or you know someone who is, let me know and I’ll add the link in the next update.]

Hopefully, this Tutorial has given you the basics of how a Tilt+Shift lens works and how creative it allows you to be! There’s a lot I didn’t mention, so …..

10. Further Reading/References

Whilst much of the material in this Tutorial comes from my own experience of using Tilt+Shift lenses, the following sources were also referred to. They are also good for further reading, particularly for the technical aspects, and for some interactive examples (Note: all web links were checked on 10 August 2010 and working):

  1. Canon Europe, Tilt and shift lenses: smart moves, October 2008, published by the Canon Professional Network (short and basic but easy to read overview)
  1. Canon USA, Tilt-Shift Lenses – Basic Concepts, Date Unknown (This pdf has diagrams and explanations. It appears to have been written in Japanese some time ago then “translated” into English by a Japanese person who doesn’t speak much English, eg “Ideally you should be on a tripod to assure that you keep the camera parrellel to the subject.” Putting that aside, it’s a good, short, diagrammatic article.)
  1. Canon USA, An Introduction to Canon’s New Tilt-Shift Lenses, circa 2009, Canon Digital Learning Centre (This is more than just a blurb, it’s an eye-popping expose, with a link to the above Manglish document.)
  1. Canon USA, Tilt-Shift Lenses: Special Feature, Date unknown, Canon Digital Learning Centre (This is mainly 2 extensive interviews with Vincent Laforet and Norman McGrath about their Tilt+Shift work, with samples.)
  1. Carnathan, B Canon TS-E 17mm f/4 L Tilt-Shift Lens Review, circa 2009, published by (Simply the best Canon review site on the planet, with oodles of interactive comparisons – highly recommended)
  1. Carnathan, B Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5 L Tilt-Shift Lens Review, circa 2009, published by (Like I said, simply the best Canon review site on the planet, with oodles of interactive comparisons – highly recommended)
  1. Carnathan, B Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5 II Tilt-Shift Lens Review, circa 2009, published by (Just one more time: simply the best Canon review site on the planet, with oodles of interactive comparisons – highly recommended)
  1. Carnathan, B Canon TS-E 45mm f/2.8 Tilt-Shift Lens Review, circa 2009, published by (Have I mentioned this is simply the best Canon review site on the planet, with oodles of interactive comparisons?)
  1. Carnathan, B Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8 Tilt-Shift Lens Review, circa 2009, published by (Btw, this is simply the best Canon review site on the planet, with oodles of interactive comparisons – highly recommended)
  1. Conrad, J Image Controls: Tilt and Shift, v1.2b, September 2004, EOS Documentation Project. (Quite technical but also quite fascinating, with particular reference to the original Canon TS-E 24mm f3.5L Tilt+Shift lens)
  1. Cooper, K A Tilt and Shift lens on your digital SLR – The Canon TS-E 24mm lens – a review and discussion, Date unknown, published by Northlight Images (A bit all over the shop, as the article has been added to several times and updated here and there, but it remains a good overall introduction to Tilt+Shift photography.)
  1. Cooper, K Using tilt on your digital SLR, Date unknown, published by Northlight Images (A more technical article than the first, but with oodles of pictorial demonstrations.)
  1. McHugh, S Tilt Shift Lenses: Part 1 – Perspective Control and Tilt Shift Lenses: Part 2 – Depth of Field, Date unknown, published by (Excellent explanations with helpful interactive functions – recommended)
  1. Reichmann, M Canon TS/E 17mm F4 (sic), August 2009, published by (A first impressions review)
  1. Rockwell, K View Camera Movements: Why Tilt and Shift?, also known as Why and How to Use Tilt and Shift, April 2008, published by (A short easy-to-read primer on Tilt+Shift photography, with pretty pictures)
  1. Rockwell, K Nikon 24mm PC-E, April 2008, published by (An extensive, easy-to-read, review of all the lens’s functions, with comparative sample images)
  1. Rockwell, K Nikon 24mm PC-E Compatibility, April 2008, published by (A short but highly critical article)
  1. Sheeran, F How Shift Lenses Change Your Life, 1997, published by (Written in pre-digital days but the principles are unchanged. Focus [excuse the pun] is on the Canon TS-E 24mm f3.5L Tilt+Shift lens)
  1. Summerhayes, D Focusing the Tilt-Shift Lens, 2009, published by (This is an excellent article, with some great samples of the techniques. You can always tell the tilt+shift articles written by photographers as opposed to those written by technicians – the former is more practical and understandable than the latter!)

Well, that’s it for me. If you got this far with this Tutorial, you may find these of interest as well:

Serious but easy to follow stuff

  1. The concepts of Aperture and f stopexplained
  1. Orton Effecthow to do it
  1. Basic Photoshop tips, eg sharpening, straightening, cropping
  1. Creating artwork samples for your profile or public view page – how to
  1. Creating a linked samplehow to
  1. Creating linked text – just like this
  1. What is mirror lock-up and when to do it – a guide
  1. Motion blurhow to
  1. Adding clouds to an image – how to
  1. All your questions about shooting in RAW answered here
  1. The most comprehensive easy-on-the mind guide to Neutral Density filters on the planet
  1. Understanding ISO – explained here
  1. All your questions about converting a digital camera to infrared are answered here

Not-so-serious Stuff

  1. How (not) to shoot seascapes like a pro – an easy-to-follow guide (not) here
  1. An alternate use for Canon lenses (ouch!) shown here


Tutorials currently in progress:

  1. The Photographer’s Guide to Blue Mountains Waterfalls
  1. The Easy Guide to Composing a Photograph



  1. 11 August 2010 – Published
  2. 12 August 2010 – Some resizing of a few sample images, a link corrected, some typos removed, plus some minor edits for bold and italics.
  3. 20 August 2010 – More minor edits for typos, additional Tutorial link inserted

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