17 February 2020
Often favoured by urban or architectural photographers, tilt-shift lenses enable you to achieve a high level of image perspective control. They can however be something that are tricky to understand fully when you are starting out, so we thought we would give you a brief overview of what makes them so interesting.
When I was first getting to grips with photography, I just couldn’t get my head around tilt-shift lenses and what they were for. I thought it was worth making a quick video, to give an overview of why they prove so popular among certain groups of shooters – for instance architectural, interior and urban photographers.
If you see a tilt-shift lens alongside its conventional counterpart, you will quickly notice that the main differentiating factors are the (often) larger size and the small assortment of control knobs and levers. These controls allow you to manipulate the overall shape of the lens barrel, and thus the path of the light reaching the camera’s sensor.
The ‘shift’ function moves the whole body of the lens in a linear motion from one side to another – or up and down depending on the lens’ orientation which can be changed with a small release lever. The effect of this movement is the ability to combat the perspective distortion you get when photographing tall buildings from the ground, allowing you to maintain its vertical lines for a more accurate representation of the overall form. To get an idea of what this means, do take a look at the video for some examples, the end result is rather impressive.
‘Tilt’ changes the direction that the front of the lens is facing with respect to the camera’s sensor. Similarly to how you control the ‘shift’ axis, you can either ‘tilt’ the lens up and down or left to right depending on whether you choose to rotate the lens barrel or not. The purpose of ‘tilt’ is to give you control over the position and orientation of your plane-of-focus. The plane-of-focus is the area in your field of view in which everything will be sharp and with a normal lens this will be parallel to the sensor. With a tilt-shift lens, you can choose to move this area of sharp focus within a 3D space leading to some great creative opportunities. If for instance you want two objects at different distances away from you to be in focus, you can achieve this by having the plane-of-focus stretch from the foreground to the far distance, rather than across your frame. This is useful for situations where you don’t want to open up your aperture due to the lighting conditions, or if you want to stay within your lens’ quality sweet spot, because you can be wide open and still have a deep depth of field. The other common way you will see ‘tilt’ being used is to create an especially narrow depth of field across the frame, lending a miniaturised quality to your images. Once again you can see examples of this in the video.
So, tilt-shift lenses can offer you a great deal of creative flexibility and are a great choice for shooting architecture. The only slight issue is that their versatility commands a high purchase price, which could put people off if it’s something they may not use every day. Of course, the answer to this problem is to hire a tilt-shift lens for those occasions when you need it, which you can do with us. Simply search for ‘tilt shift’ on our website and get browsing, alternatively, you can click HERE for the full range!