All Photographers Need a Tilt-Shift Lens: Here's Why

One of the biggest misconceptions I have come across in the industry is that tilt-shift lenses are just for people who shoot architecture. Once you understand how these specialist lenses work, you'll realize how big of a deal they can be for almost any genre of photography.

I have to hold my hands up and say that for many years, I thought tilt-shift lenses were just for people who shot buildings. That was until I delved into how these lenses worked. Once I managed to grasp the concepts behind the workings of these lenses, I began to see their potential for things more than just architecture. If you are still trying to get your head around tilt-shift lenses, I would highly recommend watching technologist Joseph Thio's latest video on this very subject. In just over 10 minutes, he shows both the uses for tilting and shifting a lens and how this all relates to your focal plane and the sensor of your camera. For the visual learners out there, Thio includes some handy animations showing exactly what happens when the controls on these specialist lenses are adjusted.

I really like how Thio manages to illustrate what is a complicated subject into an easy-to-understand video. He even talks about the Scheimpflug Principle, which is a geometric rule related to tilt-shift lenses, without boring the viewer to tears.

While I appreciate that tilt-shift lenses are expensive and specialized, I still think all photographers should try to take advantage of them from time to time. To be able to control your focus plane in a very different way to a regular lens really does open up a world of both technical and creative possibilities, from landscape shooters who wanted to make better-stitched panoramas, to portrait, wedding, or street photographers who want to get more creative in their work. A tilt-shift lens may just be what you were looking for to give your work a little something extra.

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17 Comments

Run and gun event photographers fully agree...

One of the more egocentric uses being, cameras are so ubiquitous these days, nobody really pays much attention to what you're doing; but when you start fiddling with a tilt-shift lens, people stop and stare; you suddenly become a "serious" photographer. :-)

Blake Aghili's picture

A case for a tilt shift in portrait photography: Lookup Time cover of Michael Phelps by Greg Heisler and lookup the YouTube video that he explains how they did it.

Articles about tilt shift lenses rarely mention the Samyang TS 24mm lens which is much cheaper than Nikon and Canon, the adjustment controls are a bit fiddly but the optics are really sharp. It is also available for several mounts. It’s all manual but that’s not a problem as with TS lenses you have to focus manually anyway and action is very smooth.

Stuart Carver's picture

My Samyang 12mm f2 is a great lens so I can well believe it that this tilt shift is decent.

Tim Foster's picture

I have a whole set of Samyang/Rokinons, but the last thing I would call that 24mm T/S is sharp.

Ben Preece's picture

Mine is definitely sharp, it 100% needs focus peaking to help it get there but it’s sharper than my zeiss 16-35

Tim Foster's picture

Maybe I got a bad copy. I always focus with live view punched into 100% and all my other Samyangs are extremely sharp.

Edward Blake's picture

"All photographers..."

Dude.

jim hughes's picture

I hate videos. But this one is excellent! I have tilt-shift adapter and have used it for building photos, but never realized the other things it can do.

I have a 24 TS-E I am using for an architecture project. It is the original and it barely resolves enough detail to match my measly EOS RP. I have tried to use it for more creative uses, which the focus peaking is great for. Can't wait to sell it and buy lenses for my Mamiya TLR instead. And film.

That's odd. I've always, only heard good things about that lens.

The mark ii version is supposed to be amazing. The mk I is not. It was a crapshoot for me to either get that or a new samyang. I went with the Canon. I don't regret it for the project I bought it for, and I will get a good resale on it.

Tom Reichner's picture

You should not have said that ALL photographers should have a tilt/shift lens. You can not possibly know every single photographer in the world and what they shoot and how they shoot it. This is a good article that most unfortunately has a foolish, manipulative, click-bait title. You cheapen your content when you write titles that are brash, blanket statements.

For example, underwater photographers...

I would like to comment on TJ's parting comment about being unfamiliar with tilt-shift adapters:

There are t/s adapters available for Nikon, Canon and Sony. Nikon has the most restricted selection because the market for them is limited by the fact that the hood flash integral to most Nikon bodies blocks an upward tilt (which I use the workaround of holding the camera upside down then rotating the images in post-).

The advantage of a t/s adapter is hard to underestimate when compared a dedicated lens for creative and artistic purposes, excluding serious architectural ones.

I'll discuss my specific case. I have one camera, a Nikon D610. When I bought my adapter, a Fotodiox Pro TLT ROKR, it was the only brand for Nikon that I could find at the time of purchase. It was then $125 USD. I have since learned that there's a much more expensive Kipon adapter that adapts Hasselblad 6x6 lenses to Nikon.

My adapter adapts Pentax 67 lenses to my camera body. They're cheap. Hasselblad lenses are more expensive. Better yet: I have a Pentax 67 2.4/105 and a 2.8/165. Those are fast lenses. The fastest dedicated t/s lens for Nikon is, I think, f/3.5.

I have six focal lengths for my adapter: 45mm, 55mm, 75mm, 105mm, 165mm & 200mm. I bought all those focal lengths and the adapter for less $ than a used dedicated lens.

The 105mm & 165mm are my favorite lenses of the bunch because of their fast apertures. They really give a strong bokeh for scene miniaturization images.