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Lens Reviews How-to's

Perspective Control Tilt/Shift Lenses

Jon Nadelberg (jnadelberg)


Keywords: tilt, shift, architecture, theory, practice, tips_and_tricks, guides

There are a lot of different lens types out there: prime, zoom, wide angle, telephoto, macro and others.  Another type of lens is tilt/shift (TS), which Nikon calls “Perspective Control”  (PC). These lenses are not as generally well known, but they do a lot of different and interesting things that may appeal to you. In this article, we’ll be discussing tilt/shift lenses, what they do, which to get and why you might want one.

 

The idea of a TS lens derives from view cameras. A view camera is one of those old-timey looking things with a large back and a bellows connecting to the lens that is up front. It’s not really old-timey, though.  These cameras are still very much in use for large format images.  Figure 1 shows a diagram of a view camera.

In a view camera, the film plane is located in the rear standard, and the lens plane is located in the front standard.  The front standard can rotate the lens around the lens horizontal axis (up and down, or tilt), and rotate around the vertical axis (left and right, or swing). It can move in parallel to the sensor or film plane, allowing you to move the lens in a rise and fall motion (up and down), or shift it (left and right).  It can also do combinations of these moves.  For example, the lens can shift upwards, while also swung to the left.  At the same time, it could also be tilted downwards. The rear standard can also tilt and swing.  These abilities in a large format camera give great creative control over perspective, plane of focus, and depth of field.  Note that in DSLRs, the terms “tilt” and “swing” are usually combined into just “tilt” with “rise and fall” and “shift” just called “shift”. 

DSLRs do not have this ability to physically make these movements as the lens is typically connected directly to the camera body through an immovable mount.  In 1961, Nikon built the first PC lens manufactured for an SLR camera, the 35 mm  f/3.5 PC-Nikkor  shift lens.  It took Canon 12 years to come out with a lens that both tilted and shifted in 1973.  Today we have available three Nikon PC lenses: 24mm f/3.5D ED PC-E, 45mm f/2.8D ED PC-E and 85mm f/2.8D ED PC-E tilt-shift lenses.  In addition to these manufacturers, you can now find this type of lens from Schneider Optics, Samyang and others.

 

TS lenses are able to shift by projecting a very large image circle onto the sensor plane of the camera, and allowing the front of the lens to be moved about in parallel with the sensor plane.  All lenses project a circular image towards the sensor plane, which is easily seen when putting a DX type cropped lens onto an FX full frame body, as shown in figure 2.  

TS lenses project an even larger circle onto the sensor plane, as shown in figure 3.

View camera from the side

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18 comments

Jon Nadelberg (jnadelberg) on November 8, 2016

Ribbon awarded for his multiple contributions to the Articles section

Thank you, Miguel. I'm glad you enjoyed it. I had a lot of fun with this.

Bo Stahlbrandt (bgs) on October 29, 2016

One of the two c-founders, expert in several areas Awarded for his valuable Nikon product reviews at the Resources

@Miguel, very happy to hear that Jon's article has been helpful to you.

Miguel Lecuona (miguellecuona) on October 25, 2016

Awarded for his generous contributions to Nikonians Articles

Bumping this after reading, to say thank you. This was worth the price to join Nikonians and gain access to this kind of straight-forward overview. I pre-ordered the new Nikkor 19mm PC lens this week and am ready to put it to work on a D810 on the job.

Christopher Plourde (ChristopherP) on August 19, 2015

Solid treatment of the subject. Thanks for putting this out. You found a way to deal with the issues and complexities in a way which is easily understood. Appreciate the details on the various lenses. Concur with the others comments, a good read.

Russ Sprouse (rsprouse) on August 17, 2015

I am a big fan of tilt-shift lenses and have several of them. The first one I got was the old PC-Nikkor 28mm f/3.5, which as Jon says in his excellent article, is shift-only. I really wanted a T/S lens, so I then obtained a Canon 35mm f/2.8 TS lens and had it modified to fit the Nikon F lens mount. I found that particularly for architectural work, especially on digital crop-frame bodies (which is all I had at the time) 35mm is frustratingly long, so when Nikon came out with the Nikkor 24mm f/3.5 PC-E ED lens, I jumped for joy (and for my wallet). About this time, I also bought my first full-frame digital body, a D3, and I was in heaven. Finally, I added the Nikkor 85mm f/2.8 PC lens to my kit. I must say, these lenses are quite fiddly to work with, and if you are not a patient sort, you may not enjoy using them as much as I do. But they do the job they are designed to do, and they are incredibly sharp, especially if you don't adjust the tilt and/or shift to their extremes. I can't wait to try these on a D810 or whatever high-resolution successor Nikon comes up with.

CHARLES THURBER (CHUCK_THURBER) on August 8, 2015

I have been using my Nikon PCE lens for several years now. I always read various PCE write-ups to see if someone has developed a way that explains (simple first, then more complex as the users understand the basics) these lens and their usage. This is, by far the best as it uses many examples, with both photos and the "side views" of the lens & subjects. Congratulations Jon, on an excellent write-up that can be used for years to explain these interesting lens and their applications. I have found many uses of these, and you have covered the most popular ones. Even just understanding why some Yosemite photos always look strange is now better understood. And if photographers wish they can buy a variety of lens to get a taste of the various forms of corrections.

Neil Arnold (vespista) on August 6, 2015

Thanks Jon, your article answered a lot of questions I had. Great work!

Franz Seidl (seidlf) on August 5, 2015

Excellent article, thank you for sharing it with us, Jon.

Donald E Patterson (stentdoc) on August 3, 2015

Donor Ribbon awarded for his very generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2014

Great article Jon, I have always wondered about these lenses and your article explains them well and gives some guidance about the different types. A very good read indeed!

Richard Luse (DaddySS) on August 3, 2015

Ribbon awarded for his generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2014 Ribbon awarded for his generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2015 Ribbon awarded for  his generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2017 Ribbon awarded for his generous contribution to the 2019 Fundraising campaign

Excellent article Jon, clear, concise, and good examples of use. Thanks very much for taking the time to share it with us.

Don Menges (dmenges) on August 2, 2015

Thank you Jon for a very well written article. I have the Nikon 24mm PC-E lens as I make a lot of architectural images. Please allow me to add some anecdotal comments, not necessarily in any order. Due to the very large image circle, this lens takes extremely sharp images even if you don't shift or tilt. Early on I thought it absolutely necessary to use this lens on a tripod. Not so. I managed to use it quite effectively off tripod while in Italy recently. It's a manual focus lens. That's no big deal because you can use the indicator in the view finder, BUT focus before you shift. Likewise, it's best to set shutter speed and aperture before you shift. Prior to shooting a scene I put my camera in aperture mode and focus and set my aperture and look at the shutter speed the camera suggests. Then I switch to manual mode and lock in that aperture and shutter speed combination. At least that works best for me. I suppose a light meter would be the better way to do that. The little knobs on the Nikon lens for setting your tilt and/or shift are way too small and located awkwardly. Especially if you try to shoot a shifted vertical image. Finally, if you shift too far you might experience some vignetting in the corners.

John D. Roach (jdroach) on August 2, 2015

Fellow Ribbon awarded. John exhibits true Nikonian spirit by frequently posting images and requesting comments and critique, which he graciously accepts. He is an inspiration to all of us through constant improvement in his own work, keen observations and excellent commentary on images posted by others. Donor Ribbon. Awarded for his very generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2014 Donor Ribbon awarded for his most generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2015 Ribbon awarded for his generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2017 Ribbon awarded for his generous contribution to the 2019 Fundraising campaign Awarded for winning in The Best of Nikonians 2019 Photo Contest

Very nice article. Thanks for doing this for our organization.

John Hernlund (Tokyo_John) on August 2, 2015

I think the most interesting aspect of PC lenses is the ability to tilt the focal plane into 3 dimensions. You can do wild manipulations with the depth of field, and produce very interesting images with out-of-focus areas changing depending on their distance from the camera...very cool.

Jon Nadelberg (jnadelberg) on August 1, 2015

Ribbon awarded for his multiple contributions to the Articles section

Thank you. I really wanted to buy a Nikon PC-E lens, to replace my older Nikon PC lens, but because it did not have independent tilt and shift functions, it was simply not flexible enough to do the things I might have wanted to do with regards to the various types of photos possible. I was actually rather surprised at this sort of half-way offering. The older PC lens is constructed very well, but until Nikon decides to up their game on this type of lens, I'll stick with the Rokinon, which for the price does a wonderful job.

Ron Smith (earlyrizer) on August 1, 2015

Great contribution Jon! Excellent food for thought. This article answers many of my questions about the PC-E lens and it moves me closer to ownership.

Bob Brewer (rebrewer) on July 30, 2015

Great article, thanks. I have the PC-E micro 85mm but would really like something much wider for architectural images. This may inspire me to open the wallet...

Jon Nadelberg (jnadelberg) on July 30, 2015

Ribbon awarded for his multiple contributions to the Articles section

Thank you! These types of lenses are not always intuitive, but if you learn how to use them, they can do a lot for you. If you have an iPhone, I really suggest that app I mention. It makes things very clear and easy to deal with. As to Photoshop, the thing is with doing stuff in software is that you are damaging or losing some of the image data that you created. A lot of times trying to fix stuff in software can create other issues as you mention. The best thing, always, to do is to get it right in the camera, as best you can. You are already spending the time to take the photo in the first place. If you get it correct there, then you don't have to spend extra time fiddling with it in Photoshop. That is wasted time and effort that could have been avoided by using the right tool for the right job. Of course, there are some situations that simply need photoshop, but I think it's best to avoid it as much as possible, if you can. It's just a time killer.

Frederic Hore (voyageurfred) on July 30, 2015

Superb article and overview of the Nikon and other brands of tilt-shift lenses. I have been looking at these lenses for some time, even renting the Nikkor 24mm f/3.5D ED on a trip to 5 day Las Vgas last year. I did not know how to use it correctly (your article would have been helpful!) so I did not make use of its full potential. Have the tilt and shift locked together was cumbersome, as you wrote. I have been doing some perspective correction digitally in the Adobe PS-CS6 RAW converter, but of course, with some buildings on a horizontal plane, you can get a "squashed" look. Do you use PC correction in PS, and what are your thoughts of in camera on-site PC correction vs doing it with software? Thank you for taking the time and effort to write it, with the very helpful graphics. Cheers, Frederic in Montréal

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