The Usefulness of a Tilt-Shift Lens for Panoramic Landscape Photos

Tilt-shift lenses are some of the more exotic hunks of glass out there, but they enable some very unique capabilities that simply can't be accomplished with normal lenses. This interesting video shows how their shift capabilities can be used to easily create panoramic images.

Coming to you from First Man Photography, this video shows him as he spends some time using the Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5L II Tilt-Shift Lens to shoot some panoramas. Tilt-shift lenses are traditionally used by people like architectural photographers to obviate the issue of converging parallels and related problems or by landscape photographers to get increased depth of field at the same aperture. You might have also seen them used to create "miniature" worlds. The shift function can also be used to create panoramas that stitch together almost effortlessly, so long as there aren't prominent foreground subjects. Technically, to completely avoid parallax error, the camera itself would have to be shifted while the lens remained stationary, thereby allowing the sensor to simply pick up more of the image circle without the projected image changing. However, for images like those shown in the video, a tilt-shift lens works very well without having to resort to a view camera. 

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Considering that there are no ultra wide ts lenses, just regular uwa is a more sensible choice than a ts in the standard range. At least for landscapes.

You'll have to define "sensible".

Usman Dawood's picture

A 17mm is pretty ultra wide in my view and shifting the lens allows you to get an even wider angle of view.

Just get something like a 12-24 or 16-35 if you're doing landscapes in my opinion. They will let you do long exposure, astro, and all with a lot less hassle.

Usman Dawood's picture

I guess it depends on what your requirements and preferences are. Tilt-shift lenses will much better for distortions. You also have the ability to control your DOF far more effectively. They also tend to be much sharper lenses too. Panoramas will also be almost perfect stitches with very little distortion allowing for very high resolution and detailed images because you don't need to crop as much. They also tend to be better for chromatic aberrations.

They might be more hassle but definitely worth it depending on what you need/want.

Ts lenses aren’t bad and I love them for the other things they do so well but they’re fairly limited for panoramic applications. Finding the nodal point of a given lens and rotating the camera around that point tends to be much more flexible.

Nodal point stitching lets you use any lens, let’s you use multiple rows, lets you go as wide as you want even with a 1200mm lens and really only requires a decent tripod, head and a long mounting plate to set the camera back from the rotational center.

Usman Dawood's picture

Finding the nodal point will prevent parallax distortions but not perspective distortion. As you rotate the lens you are still introducing distortions into the image giving an almost fisheye type look. For landscapes, it may not be as noticeable but very noticeable for cityscapes and architecture.

Don't get me wrong, finding the nodal point and shooting is a fantastic method, but, both have their respective limitations.

I’m very familiar with perspective distortion. Perspective distortion comes from the difference between the angle of view of capture and the display angle of view. It is not affected by the capture method. The fact that tilt shift stitching doesn’t distort as obviously is because it simply so limited compared to what is so easily possible with nodal point stitching.

Corné van Oosterhout's picture

You get even more advantage of this technique with a (p.e.) Agnos Jumbo bracket, which hold your lens so you can shift your camera. I have the Nikkor 24, 45 and 85 PC-E and use those brackets even for panoramic macrophoto's, as there is no parallax or perspective distortion at all. Minor thing about the 24 Nikkor is a lot of CA when shifted, and it is not correctable in one step, I have to correct this in three layers (left, mid, right part of the image) to get it gone. Example with the 85mm:

I looked up that bracket but don't understand what it does. Can you explain?

Corné van Oosterhout's picture

It fixes the lens on your tripod, instead of the camera. This enables you to shift the camera behind the lens, so you don't have any distortion and got 3 images which perfectly stitch together, even with objects very close or at macro level. With the D800 I can create a macroshot of about 60 megapixels, 5:2 ratio.

How is that different from, or better than, a nodal slide rail?
BTW, I love your photos!

Corné van Oosterhout's picture

Thanks! :-) For subjects far away it will not make such a difference, but within (let's say) a meter, you can perfectly stitch, I think that's not possible with a normal lens rotated along a nodal point. You can even use it in real macro, esp. with the 45 and 85mm.

Matthew Kirschner's picture

I regularly use this technique with my 24mm TS for interiors to get more of a room into a "single" image when I'd rather not have the distorted view an ultra wide creates. This is particularly useful in tight, multi-height rooms like an atrium, where, instead of creating a horizontal panorama, you can create a vertical panorama and stitch together multiple images.

Michael Yearout's picture

Good article Alex. I purchased a Canon 17mm TS-E about 6 months ago, mainly for architectural photography. I have found it to be indispensable. And when I need a 24mm I just add my 1.4x Extender. It has given me many more options and some abilities that were previously unavailable with "standard" lenses. Yes, it is an expensive investment, but one that opens new doors creatively.