Seven Advantages of Using Tilt-Shift Lenses

Below are seven reasons why we like to use tilt-shift lenses for nature and outdoor photography. If you want to learn exactly how to use a tilt-shift lens, be sure to come to check out our new eBook The Tilt-Shift Lens Advantage for Outdoor and Nature Photographers.

Reason 1: Center and Edge Sharpness is Incredible.

A tilt-shift lens projects a very large image circle compared to a regular lens (see photos below). The closer to the edges of the image circle, the less sharp the projected image. Any part of the sensor that captures pixels near the edge of the image circle will be softer than pixels captured from the centre of the image circle. When set to the ‘zero’ shift position, a tilt-shift lens projects a giant image circle so that even the edges and corners of the sensor are capturing the sweet spot of the image circle.

When you compare the edge sharpness of tilt-shift lenses with regular lenses of the same focal length, the regular lenses fall short. For us this sharpness advantage is huge! We love having files with corner-to-corner sharpness.

Corner sharpness of a regular 24mm lens at f8

Corner sharpness of a 24mm tilt-shift lens

Reason 2: Horizontal and Vertical Panoramas Are Easy

With a tilt-shift lens, panorama photography is super easy. For a horizontal pan, mount your camera in landscape mode on a tripod and make three images: one with the lens in center position, one with the lens shifted to the right and then one with the lens shifted to the left. All three images will overlap perfectly and merge seamlessly in software. For vertical panoramas, the camera is in portrait orientation and the lens is shifted up and down vertically. Small sensor cameras give 3:1 ratio panorama images while full-frame cameras come in at about a 2.42:1 ratio. We cover some of the finer points in making panos from tilt-shift lens in our talk including exposure and software concerns.

Some sample vertical panoramas

Reason 3: Shift for Megapixel Images

Wanna make giant megapixels images with your camera? Well then just shift the lens in the opposing orientation to your camera to make megapixel rectangular images. For example, if your camera is in landscape orientation but you shift your lens up and down, you’ll get a big rectangular image that will increase your megapixel count by almost 100% (more with small sensor cameras). Shifting with a wide angle tilt-shift lens will also give you the coverage of an extreme wide angle lens but without the extreme distortion. For example, in the photo below using a full frame body and a 17mm lens, I increased the pixel count by 92% and the coverage of 17mm has increased to something in the 10-12mm range on a full frame camera!

Megapixel, mega-wide captures!

Reason 4: Shift for Perspective Control

Any time you point a wide angle lens up or down, things will start to distort; building and trees will look like they are falling over. With the shift function, perspective control is super easy if you know how to do it!

No perspective control

Perspective control using shift

Reason 5: Tilt for Miniaturization

We see this one a lot. It seems most photographers think tilt is only for making things miniature-looking. You can use it for that but tilt is really about altering the plane of focus to where you want it in the photo. The miniature effect happens when the tilt is opposite of the subject plane.

Miniature effect using tilt

Reason 6: Tilt for Infinite Looking Focus

Sam and I love tilt best for matching the plane-of-focus to the subject plane so that we have photos that are super sharp from foreground to background. Tilt allows us to control the plane of focus independent of aperture. Tilt for plane of focus is the most useful feature of these lenses but it can be super tricky! We’ll be discussing at our talk the Most Common Mistakes photographers do when tilting for focus (are you guilty of it?)

Both photos were taken with a 45mm tilt-shift lens at f2.8; the left without tilt, the right with tilt into the plane of focus (notice how sharp the entire subject plane becomes once the lens is tilted so focus matches the subject plane)

Reason 7 – Tilt and Shift Together for the Ultimate in Image Control

In nature photography when we use tilt-shift lenses, we are almost always using the tilt and the shift together. We might use shift for perspective control while tilt is for control of the plane of focus. Or maybe we are using tilt for focus but shift to make a panorama. The combinations and benefits are truly astounding! These lenses, while offering incredible creative opportunities, may not be for everyone. If you own a tilt-shift lens but haven’t been satisfied with results, or if you are thinking of purchasing one (they’re not cheap!), then come out on March 10th. If you have a tilt-shift, bring it along (if you don’t, no need to fret as we’ll have ours there). We plan to release a new eBook on these lenses in May, but we find there is nothing like a hands-on, guided discussion for fast and easy learning!

Tilt and Shift together

About the Author

I am a Canadian landscape and outdoor photographer who loves long hikes in the woods, yummy food, hairy dogs, good company and a good guitar jam.

58 Comments

  1. Neil
    March 7, 2012

    Great article Darwin! Your example images really make it easy to understand.

    Reading this just made my wallet a whole lot lighter!

    Reply
  2. Evan Spellman
    March 7, 2012

    I really like the Vertical Pano’s !
    the lens is a really effective tool for Sure !

    Reply
  3. Lloyd Dykstra
    March 7, 2012

    I would like to purchase a Tilt/Shift lense and am wondering which on would be the best one to choose. I mostly do landscape photography and am thinking about getting the 24mm TSL from Canon, because with it I can still use my Z-prio filters. Also I would love to go to your workshop on Tilt Shift lenses but can not make it. Is it possible to purchase the PDF on Tilt Shift lenses that you mention about in the workshop description.

    Thanks
    Lloyd

    Reply
    • Darwin Wiggett
      March 7, 2012

      Lloyd,

      There is no right answer regarding which one is best to buy. It all depends. Are you a wide angle guy, or do you prefer the perspective of a normal lens or even a telephoto?

      The best way to find out which lens to buy is to find out which focal length of lens you use the most. If you have Lightroom you can easily sort your photos by focal length and see what focal length you use the most; buy the tilt-shift lens closest to your most used focal length.

      There are other important considerations for choosing a lens beyond what you use the most that we will cover in the talk and the upcoming eBook but for now I hope this information helps.

  4. Jack Johnson
    March 7, 2012

    I’m intrigued by the capabilities of these lenses, and I’ve started looking at the Gen 1 Canon TS-E lenses. I do all landscape, but not a ton of wide-open spaces around here – in the last year about half my shots have been 120mm or longer (just sorting by lens in Lightroom), and I’m betting a lot of the others have been >24mm.

    Darwin, I think you’ve used all the Canon TS-E lenses at one time or another – is that correct? Can you share your relative use of the different focal lengths, and any impressions you have of Gen 1 vs Gen 2?

    Thanks!

    — Jack

    Reply
    • Rakesh Malik
      March 7, 2012

      Jack,
      It doesn’t have to be a wide angle lens to be useful in tilt-shift. Back east, before I moved to Seattle, I did a lot of photography using a 720mm lens on my 4×5 (approximately equivalent angle of view to a 270mm lens on a 35mm). My most used lens was my 300mm (approximately equivalent to 100mm), and even here in the vastness of the Cascades and Olympics, I continue to use that one quite a bit.

    • Darwin Wiggett
      March 7, 2012

      I love the 90mm lens to get telephoto perspective but wide angle like DOF.

      For me I use the 24mm 50% of the time and the other three lenses (17, 45, and 90mm) the other 50% of the time in roughly equal amounts.

      Only the 24mm version I has been replaced with a version II. Version one had less shift capability (smaller image circle), was a little less sharp, had some fringing, and had the tilt and shift fixed in opposing orientations. The new lens is sharper, has a bigger image circle can shift and tilt to a greater degree, has no chromatic aberrations and the tilt and shift can rotate independent of each other. I think it is worth the extra money.

  5. Rakesh Malik
    March 7, 2012

    It’s nice to read articles about tilt-shift lenses, it seems as though most photographers these days don’t know anything about them, which is a bit sad since they’re potentially such a great asset for anyone who knows how to use them. They could open up some wonderful new options for videography as well, though the Schneider tilt-shifts for the Alpha mount aren’t going to be making their way into my toolkit anytime soon, due to their price tag. Sigh… maybe I’ll be able to find an Alpha adapter for my 4×5…

    Reply
  6. Steve Parr
    March 7, 2012

    Put me down for the e-book! Even though I’d love to join you Cochrane, I’m based in Mississauga :)

    Reply
  7. Bob Perry
    March 7, 2012

    Great article…looking forward to the talk on Saturday

    Reply
  8. David Dong
    March 7, 2012

    I have the new 24mm TSE II. It’s indeed an impressive lens, however I am new to TSE, getting right focus always takes me few mins. Sunset sometimes only few mins. I missed some great opportunities since I got the lens.

    It’ll be nice if your new e-book can discuss TSE focusing skills, tips and tricks in real world instead of pure technical stuffs.

    Reply
    • Darwin Wiggett
      March 8, 2012

      Hi David, the eBook and the talk will speak specifically on real world in-the-field tips on how to use both tilt and shift.

  9. chris roberts
    March 8, 2012

    Hi Darwin,
    Cant get there this weekend from Australia, otherwise would be there like a shot!
    Any chance for purchase of your ebook? Have the T-S 24, but am pretty new to it, so need some help!
    Hope the day goes well.
    Cheers Chris

    Reply
    • Darwin Wiggett
      March 8, 2012

      The tilt-shift eBook will be announced here on the blog but for fist dibs on it be sure to sign up for our newsletter.

  10. kent wilson
    March 8, 2012

    Any chance this talk may be turned into an eBook? I can’t make it to the talk (I live in Illiinois), but am very interested in the subject.

    Reply
    • kent wilson
      March 8, 2012

      I should have read more carefully! Looking forward to the eBook.

  11. Tom Nevesely
    March 8, 2012

    My 24mm TS-E is my oldest and my most used lens for landscape photography. I’d love to get the new version of the lens but that would mean that my “P sized” grad filters would be too small and I’d have to upgrade those too. :(

    Reply
  12. hiro
    March 8, 2012

    Darwin, I always like your vertical panoramas.

    Reply
  13. Lawrence I'Anson
    March 8, 2012

    For those of us who don’t leave nearby, it would be great if your talk was videoed so that we could experience first hand the knowledge that you will be sharing! Please sign me up for that. I look forward to purchasing your e-book, but I would like it even more if you were reading the book to me.

    Reply
    • Darwin Wiggett
      March 8, 2012

      The upcoming eBook will have video links embedded with us showing you how to use the lenses (just like being in the field with us!)

  14. Anne Jutras
    March 8, 2012

    WOW! Just amazing! You explain perfectly why I should buy one, now I just have to save money… ;)

    Reply
  15. Jack Johnson
    March 8, 2012

    Darwin, did you have any of your Series 1 TS-E lenses modified to tilt & shift in the same plane, a la the Series 2 24mm? If so, how did it turn out?

    Thanks!

    Jack

    Reply
    • Darwin Wiggett
      March 9, 2012

      Hi Jack, I had my old Canon 24mm TS-E modified so the shift and the tilt were in the same plane which I think is most useful for landscape photography.

      With the shift and tilt working together you can have the camera back level and then shift down to see the foreground (which is usual for a wide angle lens). Shift will keep trees and buildings and stuff in the background with straight lines. Then I would tilt to make the plane of focus match the subject plane (infinite looking focus).

  16. Sean A.J. Simmons
    March 9, 2012

    As always Darwin you are the great instructor, concise and accurate. However I wish you had published it last week. It would have been very helpful. I spent Sunday at Abraham and Nordegg with a nikon 24mm PC-E that I had rented. I researched it thoroughly and it still took some time to wrap my head around all the functions and abilities. I highly recommend the rent before purchase route if you have any concerns about a particular lens. I’ve done this a number of times and I’m now building a lens collection I know I’ll get the most out of. I will be adding this one as well in the near future. I think the creative and pro quality edge the T/S lens provides is well worth it if you are aspiring to be a pro. Looking forward to the ebook, thanks for all the work you do to help us wannabees.

    Reply
    • Darwin Wiggett
      March 9, 2012

      Renting is key! Too many people I know rush out and buy a lens, only to be frustrated by the workflow and then the lens sits around and is never used. Try before you buy to be sure this type of lens is for you! Good Advice Sean!

  17. Scott Viney
    March 11, 2012

    Do you use your filters with all this tilting and shifting going on? I have never seen one of these lenses before so am very interested in seeing how it all works.

    Reply
  18. Agnes
    April 21, 2012

    Hi Darwin:
    The Singh-ray Vari-ND is giving me “irregular patches” with the TSE-24mm +5D-MarkII combination. The filter and lens seem to work OK when used on the 7D.

    I am hoping to hear your experience on using the Vari-ND with the tilt lens on a FF camera. Will the same problem occur with the Mor-Slo-ND or the 4X6-4-stop-solid ND. Thanks

    Agnes

    Reply
    • Darwin Wiggett
      April 23, 2012

      Hi Agnes,

      I have not experienced this problem with either my Canon 1Ds Mark III or my Rebel T2i. I have heard this complaint from 5D users and also from some people using cameras with Sony sensors. It must be a sensor thingy… not sure if it will be a problem with the more slo and s4-stop solid.

      d

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  20. Agnes
    July 19, 2012

    Hi Darwin:
    Any more news on the ebook?
    Best
    Agnes

    Reply
  21. Chris roberts
    July 19, 2012

    Hi Darwin

    I too am very keen to purchase your tilt shift ebook.

    Please let us know when it will be available

    Thanks chris

    Reply
    • Darwin Wiggett
      July 20, 2012

      Official release date is August 3, 2012

  22. Mike MacDonald
    July 20, 2012

    From what I understand, when tilting the lens down (for instance) the front and back planes of focus form two sides of a triangle that come to a point somewhere under tripod. If I have this right, then the DOF distance between those two lines goes to zero at that point and the position right in front of the camera has a DOF that is very, very narrow. So, in a real world example of what I do everyday to photography a prairie landscape, wouldn’t it be very difficult to get good DOF with a TS lens if the prairie plants stand close to the lens/camera (like 12 to 18 inches) because they will be taller than DOF is at that point?

    Thanks for any help you can provide.

    Reply
    • Darwin Wiggett
      July 20, 2012

      Mike, in the real world it is not difficult to get get your scenario sharp using a tilt-shift lens, we do it all the time; those theoretical diagrams make things look different that they are in the real world — you can get way more sharpness using tilt than you ever could using aperture with a regular lens

  23. Jim Maloney
    July 20, 2012

    Count me in to the growing group looking forward to the T&S eBook. My lens portfolio was just altered by the sale of a 500mm and the acquisition of Nikon’s PC-E 24mm f/3.5. It arrived yesterday and I’m heading to the east side of the Sierra Nevada Range to test it out.

    Reply
  24. Agnes
    July 20, 2012

    Hi Darwin
    Great to know the ebook is coming soon.
    I bought both the TSE-24II and TSE-90mm. I have no problem getting the 24mm focus all the way very quickly, but not so for the 90mm. Curious to know why that is .
    Thanks
    Agnes

    Reply
  25. Velu
    July 23, 2012

    Darwin,

    Looking forward to buy your Tilt & Shift ebook.

    Do you have an estimate ? ( because I really NEED it !) :-)

    Reply
  26. Tilt-Shift Lens Advantage for Outdoor & Nature Photographers | oopoomoo
    August 3, 2012

    [...] Well… it’s finally here! We have just released our long awaited eBook, The Tilt-Shift Lens Advantage for Outdoor and Nature Photographers. For those of you who have no idea what these lenses are or why you might want to use them, we have summarized the reasons in our free article  Seven Advantages of Using Tilt-Shift Lenses. [...]

    Reply
  27. I'm selling my Canon 17mm tilt-shift lens | oopoomoo
    October 25, 2012

    [...] Yes, I am giving up my Canon 17mm f4L tilt-shift lens. For those of you who don’t know me well, I’m a preaching disciple of the Tilt-Shift lens because I believe they are the absolute best lenses for landscape photography – see why here. [...]

    Reply
  28. Canon 17mm Tilt-Shift & Sigma 150mm f2.8 Macro for sale | oopoomoo
    November 1, 2012

    [...] Yes, I am giving up my Canon 17mm f4L tilt-shift lens. For those of you who don’t know me well, I’m a preaching disciple of the Tilt-Shift lens because I believe they are the absolute best lenses for landscape photography – see why here. [...]

    Reply
  29. Twelve Favorite Images from 2012 - Winter Canadian Rockies | oopoomoo
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    Reply
  30. ravi kash
    January 17, 2013

    Very informative and very well explained in every way..
    I have been using the Sinar all these years and loved the sharpness distribution, always
    was overjoyed with the results.
    With this advent of digital cameras, pictures had lost the kind of awe that was before.
    This tilt and shift lens does fill in to make the normal digital camera picture look awesum once again, with ease of light weight equipment and quick picture taking. Okay it cant be compared to 100 % of the monorail cameras because it does not have Yaw control, but it does look different and it cant be replicated in Photoshop.

    Reply
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    Reply
  32. The Easiest Way to Make a Panorama is...
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    [...] The process is fast and easy. All you do is take a image in the center, then shift the lens one way, followed by shifting the lens the other way. Photographing each time you shift. This works for landscape as well as portrait orientation. Combine the three images in Photoshop and voila. Photoshop will actually stitch the image so easily you’ll barely have to do any cropping. If you combine this with a the tilt ability of the lens, you’ll have a masterful panorama without any distortion or loss of image quality. To learn more about the advantages of tilt shift lenses check out Darwin wWiggett’s post here. [...]

    Reply
  33. Seven Advantages to Tilt-Shift Lenses | Glasses
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    [...] Read more… [...]

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  34. Traveling In San Diego, CA - Michael Gibbons Media
    October 23, 2013

    […] This past May I headed out to California with the family to visit friends in San Diego for a few days. For the trip I brought along a Canon 7D and a Canon 5D mark iii, nothing too unusual however I also rented Canon’s fun little 24mm Tilt shift f/3.5L II. I have to say for the price tag of $2,199.00 it’s a little steep however for a rental it was worth every penny! I had been wanting to test out a tilt-shift for a long while and I was not disappointed. You may recognise the “tilt-shift effect” from many apps such as instagram where filters are used to make images look miniature or alter the image to create a selective focus, well this is the real deal. Although this can be fun to play with the real advantage is to have increased perceptive control, increased sharpness, creating a near infinite focus and much more! If you’d like to read more about tilt-shift lenses and there advantages over regular wide angle lenses click here. […]

    Reply
  35. Jean-Marc
    November 12, 2013

    Hi Darwin, I use a 24 tse Canon for arrond one year. I agree with you for a lot of thing, but something is disturb me.
    When you write “All three images will overlap perfectly and merge seamlessly in software” I believe that before using this objectiv but since I have it I never see that, there is always a little trouble to merge the image, they don’t overlap perfectly, why ? I don’t no.
    Can you confirm that for your experimentation your images perfectly overlap whitout any transformation before merging ?
    Thank.

    Reply
  36. Kiim Stavrum
    November 29, 2013

    I have been researching on tilt and shift and your article is great and gives alot of info and I want to thank you for that, my question is , there is a well known photographer out there that is taking photos W/O tilt shift , he is taking a photo of the foreground, one in the middle, and then infinity, then he BLENDS them all together, does this produce a better result than a tilt shift lens?? Thanks

    Reply
    • Darwin Wiggett
      November 30, 2013

      Exposure blending gives really good results in the right hands but often not as good as a Tilt Shift lens does. Exposure blending requires software manipulation and some aligning of layers that requires the software to alter the files. Anytime you alter the file you loose some information. A Tilt Shift lens is an optical effect and requires no software manipulation after the fact. In the end use what works for you. The artistic appeal of the photo is way more important than niggly little technical details.

  37. Kiim Stavrum
    December 1, 2013

    what is the closest you can get to the foreground subect with a T&S lens, this other guy says that he gets within inches , so that the illusion of DOF is larger, do you get that close with a tilt shift? Thanks for the above answer, I have not used either method but am getting ready to purchase hence the questions, thanks

    Reply
    • Darwin Wiggett
      December 1, 2013

      Tilt shift lenses focus super close and you can easily push within inches of a foreground subject and have it and a distant background tack sharp. Also you can combine the tilt with shift using the latter for perspective control (which needs to be corrected in software if you don’t use a shift lens). Also with shift you can do image stitches and cover areas wider than the focal length of the lens. There are way more functions and benefits to a tilt shift lens than just amazing looking depth-of-field.

  38. Kiim Stavrum
    December 1, 2013

    Wow, if the TS lenses do all that why would someone do it the other way and have to deal with software manipulation and layers, etc… I am going with the TS lenses, thanks for all of your knowledge and info I appreciate it!!

    Reply
  39. Margie
    December 10, 2013

    Thanks on your marvelous posting! I truly enjoyed reading it, you can be a
    great author.I will ensure that I bookmark your blog
    and may come back someday. I want to encourage one to continue your great posts, have a nice morning!

    Reply
  40. Kiim Stavrum
    January 1, 2014

    I have tried to find info on your webpage about the 90 TS-E, have you tried that lens for a different perspective? If you have reviewed it I would like to hear your opinion of it compared to the 24, thanks

    Reply
    • Samantha Chrysanthou
      January 3, 2014

      The 90mm is a good lens but it is old technology and will likely be replaced by a new version sometime this year by Canon. Hold on if you want the new one which will have independent tilt and shift rotation; the old one does not!

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