What Is a Tilt Shift Lens? (When and How to Use Tilt-Shift Lens)

If you are new to photography, one of the first few things you will come to realize is that the quality of images is heavily dependent on lenses. An average photographer with a good knowledge of lenses can produce amazing images. One such lens is the tilt-shift lens. So, what exactly is it?

Tilt shift lenses are designed to maximize the optimal movement of the lens relative to the sensor of the camera as well as parallel to the image plane, hence the term tilt and shift respectively. 

The above definition does little justice to the capabilities of the tilt-shift lenses. There is a lot to them. So,  in this article, you shall be learning all you need to know about tilt-shift lenses. Areas discussed include tilt-shift lenses, the difference between tilt and shift, and the history of the lens.

Other important aspects also discussed include the reasons why you should use a tilt-shift lens, the difference between using one and Photoshop, and the pros and cons of a tilt-shift lens.

What Is A Tilt Shift Lens?

A Tilt-Shift lens is one of out of the 2 primary tools used for tilt-shift photography which encompasses the movement between the lens and the sensor or film of a camera. The second tool used in achieving images that are products of this movement with a lens and a photograph is editing software like photoshop.

The movement of the lens relative to the sensor is used to create large depth of field and other interesting image characteristics. Another name for tilt-shift lenses is perspective control lenses.

Note that tilt-shift lenses either refer to a lens that is capable of both a tilt movement and a shift movement, or individual lenses that are either capable of a tilt or a shift. Irrespective, these lenses create amazing images that would otherwise have distorted perspectives if taken with other types of lenses.

What Are The Differences Between Tilt And Shift?

Tilting In Photography

Tilting is the rotation of the lens relative to the position of the image. In simpler terms, tilting is moving the focal plane of the sharpest part of a subject in relation to the sensor plane of the camera. In essence, you are able to capture a wider, and different angle of the subject in focus. This is based on the Scheimpflug principle.

Tilting is also used to create an extreme depth of focus by aligning the point of focus in the direction of the subject’s plane. This brings the subject’s plane to extreme focus, which is responsible for the extreme sharpness of the picture produced. 

Shifting in Photography

Shifting in photography is the movement of the lens such that it is parallel to the image plane. This helps in the framing of your shot. With shifting, you can manipulate the position of the subject within the image without moving your camera. 

To achieve the above with a normal lens, you would have to physically move the camera to the required angle to shoot the subject which in essence would warp the perspective of the subject. 

With shifting, distortion is decreased especially when you are shooting with wide-angle lenses. Shifting is extremely important when you have to shoot from either a low or high angle as it corrects the convergence line.

History Of Tilt-Shift Lenses

It is normal to assume that the technology behind tilt-shift lenses is new. However, the ability to orientate lenses has been around since the early days of photography, as early as the 1960s, on smaller-format cameras. However, they were made possible through adapters and special lenses.

One of the first brands to produce a lens with shift movement is Nikon, with its 35mm SLR camera as far back as 1962. Canon, however, was the first to produce a lens with both tilt and shift capabilities in I973. With time other brands began producing them too. Today, both Canon and Nikon have four lenses with tilt-shift capabilities.  

What Are The Uses Of A Tilt-Shift Lens?

So, what’s the use of a tilt-shift lens and what makes them so special?  We are going to be answering these questions in this section.

01. They Are Useful For Architectural Photography

In architectural photography, pictures are often taken of high-rise buildings. To achieve this, you would have to physically tilt the camera upwards or downwards thereby tilting the sensor plane of the camera. The resulting effect is distortion in the image, also called perspective distortion.

However, using a shift lens, you can orientate the angle of the lens either up or down (depending on how you are taking the picture), without changing the plane of your sensor camera. This helps eliminate any perspective distortion.

02. They Are Useful For Landscape Photography

When it comes to landscape photography, the wide-angle lens is the preferred lens. Their ability to capture wide angles(as the name suggests) makes them perfect for landscape photography.

However, distortion is often a major problem with landscape pictures and this can be solved by using a shift control if you are using a tilt-shift lens. A sideways lens shift(which is the opposite of and down lens shift needed for architectural pictures) cancels out the distortion in the horizon for landscape photography.

03. They Are Useful For Shooting Portrait Pictures From Multiple Angles

Even though the tilt-shift lens is better used for landscape and architectural photography, some pretty amazing portrait pictures can be taken with these lenses. The picture is often surreal to viewers who are used to the more common picture. 

With the tilt change of the lens, you can take portrait pictures in which the area of focus on the subject is sharp, while also including the surrounding environment in such a way that presents the picture in context. 

04. They Are Useful For Panoramic Pictures

Panoramic photography involves taking pictures with an elongated horizontal point of view. It is a style frequently used in landscape photography. They are often very distorted. And usually, to correct them, photographers have to take multiple pictures to piece them together on editing software to eliminate the distortion.

However, with a tilt-shift lens and the ability to simply orientate the position of the lens without having to change the sensor plane, you can achieve a panoramic picture with the subjects at an equal distance from the lens. 

05. They Are Useful For Avoiding Cameras When Shooting A Mirror

With a tilt-shift lens, you can shift the lens of the camera sideways while standing in the opposite direction when you are shooting a mirror. This way, you and the camera will not show in the picture and the picture would still look like you stood in front of a mirror.

Difference Between Using  A Tilt-Shift Lens And Using Photoshop

At the beginning of this article, we established that in a case where you might not want to use a tilt-shift lens, perspective distortion can be corrected using editing software like photoshop. This is done more often, usually because tilt-shift lenses are expensive,

However, both processes produce different qualities of the picture. Below are some of the differences.

  • A tilt-shift camera produces the best quality pictures. Meanwhile having to use editing software adversely affects the image quality of a picture you edit in a bid to cancel out perspective distortion.
  • Shooting with a tilt-shift lens is easier and you can almost use your picture immediately or send it to the client. Using editing software is tasking. Your clients would have to wait for you to finish editing.
  • Pictures shot with tilt-shift lenses are original representations with the right composition. Using the software, the best you can do is guess the position of the subjects.

Drawbacks Of A Tilt-Shift Lens

The pro of the tilt-shift lens far outweighs the cons. When it comes to the quality of the pictures taken, there is no doubt that you will get the best. However, below are some of the cons of the tilt-shift lens.

  • Tilt-shift lenses are pretty expensive. You would need between $1,200 to $1,600 for new ones.
  • They are larger and heavier, which limits where you can use them.
  • All tilt-shift lenses are prime lenses.
  • They are quite complicated to use, and so will require a lot of learning

To Conclude

A Tilt-Shit lens is an important accessory for landscape and architectural photographers for its unique characteristic. The quality of the picture taken consistently overwhelm the cost of getting one. Irrespective, its use also can be extended to other forms of photography.