Traveling with and Using Tilt Shift Lenses
by Felipe Rodriguez
I am a photographer based in Seville, Spain, producing mostly architectural and travel imagery, but I have a wide experience in other fields, like professional sports (mostly soccer), bullfighting, weddings or macro.
For my current main subject, travel and architecture (both are many times the same thing), I always use tilt and shift lenses, because I find compulsory correcting perspective and avoiding the keystone effect. TS lenses got somehow popular in the last years for producing that “model effect” by tilting the focal plane. But, even if I’ve done that many times just for fun, in my opinion TS lenses are a completely necessary tool for any serious architectural work.
If you look around when you are travelling, you will notice that not many people carry tilt and shift lenses, but I definitely do, for the exposed reasons. I see that most people get intrigued about the “strange” tool that I’m using to take pictures, with all those screws and knobs as a kind of Frankenstein’s monster lens… Only a few photographers seem to recognize the “monster”!
As we usually travel by air (I do love hitting the road with my car and a bunch of photo gear inside the trunk, but you cannot go too far in a few days), and, of course I would never check in any camera or lens, I just pick a wide TS lens and a fast normal or tele prime for my short trips.
My favorite TS lenses are the Canon 17mm and 24mm (Mark II). I’ve also used some Nikon PC lenses like the 24mm (fine, but not as much as its Canon counterpart), and the 45mm (stellar, IMHO), but currently I only have Canon TS lenses (the above mentioned, plus the old 35mm FD), that I use on my Sony A7RII. Curiously, I find much easier using those Canon lenses on the Sony than it used to be on the Canon DSLR bodies (the 5D Mark III was the last I had). In fact, the Sony’s fast and accurate focus check features and IBIS may even release you from the tripod that, otherwise, was almost compulsory to use (I swear I have no other link to Sony than being a satisfied user).
Many people may think that carrying a bulky, slow to operate and manual focus lens isn’t a very good idea. However, once you get used to them, you are able to work quickly and the results, if buildings or cityscapes are involved, are unique and much more rewarding than those you can get with a standard lens, no matter how fast it can focus…
But I wouldn’t like to bore you with my words, so let’s the pictures speak for themselves!
CLICK IMAGES FOR LARGER and BETTER VERSIONS!
Image 1: Canon EOS 5D Mark II, ISO200, Canon 17mm TS-E, f/8.0, Exposure 1/200. Hotel Lagorce, Vannes, Brittany, France.
Image 2: Canon EOS 5D Mark II, Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5 (Mark I), ISO 200, f/8, Exposure 1/500. Cathedral of Berlin, Germany.
Image 3: Sony A7R II, Canon 17mm TS-E, ISO 100, Exposure 1/200, f/9. Louvre, Paris, France.
Image 4: Sony A7R II, Canon 17mm TS-E, ISO 4000, Exposure 1/30, f/4. Sainte-Chapelle, Paris, France.
Image 5: Sony A7R II, Canon 24mm TS-E (Mark II), ISO 100, Exposure 10 sec., f/11, ND 10 filter. Dom Luís I Bridge, Porto, Portugal.
Image 6: Nikon D810, PC-Nikkor 35mm, ISO 64, Exposure 20 sec., f/11 (guessed), ND 10 filter, panorama out of two shots. Ville Close (medieval town) of Concarneau, Brittany, France.
Image 7: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5 (Mark II), ISO 200, f/9, Exposure 1/250. Beach, Le Havre, Normandy, France.
Image 8: Canon EOS 5D Mark II, ISO200, Canon 17mm TS-E, f/9.0, Exposure 1/400. Grand Canal, Venice, Italy.
Image 9: Sony A7R II, Canon 17mm TS-E, ISO 16000, Exposure 1/30, f/5. Seine River, Paris, France.
Image 10: Canon EOS 5D Mark II, Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5 (Mark I), ISO 200, f/8, Exposure 1/80. Victorian houses in red brick, Pont street, Kensington, London, England, United Kingdom.
Image 11: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Canon 17mm TS-E, ISO 1250, f/5, Exposure 1/40. Visitor inside Plaza de España building, Seville, Spain.
Image 12: Canon EOS 5D Mark II, Canon 17mm TS-E, ISO 400, f/8, Exposure 1/25. Square panorama (two shots). AVE trains, Atocha Railway Station, Madrid, Spain.
I join you with the excitement for the 17mm TS-E, Felipe 🙂
years ago on my Nikon DSLR I used the 24 T/S lens almost all the time, most shots even hand held. And looked jealous at the Canon shooters with there 17mm T/S lens. After switching to mirrorless I bought the 17mm TS-E and in the beginning I even used it on the Leica M9 (a bit tricky, no live view!). When I got the Sony A7R I used it very much for architecture like you do, but most of the images are stitched for a wider view, like you did on image 12. My only critique on your images is the color, for my personal taste this HDR like effect is overdone, sorry.
One comment was mentioning the possibility to correct the verticals in post. I do this all the time and as you wrote, with a very wide 17mm you never get it perfect and need some post.
With the Sony A7RII with 42 MPix I have so many pixels, that some correction for the Keystone with normal wide lenses is no problem. And it is very easy with Lightroom. LR has a function and can do it perfectly with one click! You will find it under ‘transformations’ (if this is the correct term in an english version) and I use it on most of my architecture and landscapes.
In 2/2014 I posted an article about the use of the 17mm TS-E here at Steve Huff:
Most of the pictures are stitched. You will find some cathedral shots too, also stitched.
Oh those lovely verticals! – I’m green with envy. And for once I liked the HDR drawing-like effect which I think suits architectural shots very well. To me your fourth picture is a gem. I wonder if there are T&S lenses for the Sony NEX and a6000+ series or Pentax APS-C?
Hi John, thanks for commenting!
I agree that most HDR is awful, but it uses to work (in my opinion) for architectural subjects. Anyway, I’m trying to restrain myself lately with that strong saturation and micro-contrast that tone mapping can produce…
I’m pretty sure you can use the same TS lenses on APS-C Sony bodies (or Pentax if adapters are available), but, of course, then the 17mm will become a 24mm and the 24mm a 35mm (angle of view wise).
Thanks for sharing, Felipe. I use a shift lens to shoot mirrors sometimes. I wonder if I would get a better result with film, as most digital cameras don’t play well with these kinds of lenses. You do have to stop them down, that’s for sure.
Or, perhaps a normal lens on a higher resolution sensor, using only half the frame, would work better. (If that makes any sense).
Thanks for commenting, Karim. I’m afraid I’m not fully understanding your last statement. Do you mean heavily cropping for having room to edit perspective by software? Well, that’s a waste of resolution, IMHO… 🙂
How refreshing it is to look at your photos Felipe – after seeing all those snapshots everywhere with falling buildings, trees, chimneys and street lanterns. Nice work!
Many thanks, Krysztof! I also hate that kind of falling… 🙂
The colors and use lines of balance are outstanding. Thanks for sharing.
I’m glad you liked my pictures. Many thanks!
Stunning photographs !
Nice work and reminds me that my local camera dealer had a used Canon 24mm TS lens that I let go. I doubt they still have it, but I’m going to check, and if they have it I’m buying it! One hard thing moving back to digital from a proper view camera is losing the ability to control perspective and plane of focus, so it seems like a no-brainer to have at least one TS lens in the quiver.
Yes, you’re right. It’s a must, IMHO. Actually, when I check my pictures previous to TS lenses, I get hurt by that keystone effect… 🙂
Hi Felipe, what are the pros/cons vs. using software correction? Are there advantages that the tilt/shift lens has over the digital method?
I do some (minor) software correction, for example when I had not the chance to use a tripod and then a slight correction is always needed (the Sony built-in digital level gauge is really helpful, but it is very tricky to nail the levelling hand held, and it gets trickier when you go with wider focal lengths), but there is a BIG difference between correcting, say, a couple of degrees, and trying to get parallel lines from trapezoid ones. Any heavy tweaking will give you lousy files with much lesser sharpness, not to mention the cropped areas that you will lose from your picture. Believe me, there is a big difference (not always, but mostly).
Calm down with those clarity and HDR sliders.
What’s with 4th picture sharpness?!? Is it the T-S lens pushed to its limit?
You’re right. I’m considering to apply a more neutral (natural) edition. The fourth picture shows what the Canon 17mm is capable of when you shift it seriously… 🙂
I’m lately obsessed with getting perfect verticals. But at last, do we really see things that way?
Those shots seem to me unnatural, maybe the postprocess.
Postprocess is intended to enhance saturation and microcontrast, so it’s not “natural” in that sense. However, perfect verticals are natural, keystone effect isn’t (do the test with your own eyes). But then again wide angle lenses are also unnatural… 🙂 What a mess! That’s the reason I liked the TS 45mm, although I haven’t included any sample here…