TGIFridays: How to use tilt/shift lenses for architecture and watch macros

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Before we go into the review of the two Fujinon tilt/shift lenses, we first take a closer look at what they are, why they are useful for shooting architecture and watch macros and how to use these specialist lenses.

TGIFridays: What are tilt/shift lenses and how to use them for architecture and watch macros

Recently, we received two tilt/shift lenses as loaners courtesy of Fujifilm Singapore. These are the recently released Fujinon GF 30mm/f5.6 T/S lens and the GF 110mm/f5.6 T/S lens. This lens duo has allowed us to delve into the world of specialist lenses and look at tilt/shift lenses, specifically in our use case of shooting architecture and watch macros.

Left: Fujifilm GFX 100 II with GF 30 T/S. Right: GFX 50S II with GF 110 T/S Macro. Photo taken with Hasselblad X2D with XCD 45P.

What are tilt/shift lenses

Firstly, what are tilt/shift lenses? And why do they look so complicated with additional knobs and switches. A tilt/shift lens does exactly what it says on the can…it allows for the lens to tilt to select a different plane of focus, and also to shift the sensor within a suitably large image circle to be able to do stitching or to move the point of view.

Fujifilm GFX 100 II with GF 30 T/S mounted via its own tripod foot to the tripod head. Photographed with the Hasselblad X2D with XCD 45P.

This is similar to what is afforded by the Hasselblad HTS 1.5 that we covered some years ago, but with the tilt and shift mechanism built in. The same tilt shift capability is also found in large format view cameras like my Sinar X.

Why is tilt necessary?

Tilting the lens exploits the Scheimpflug principle and the Hinge Law of optics. This allows the plane of focus to be moved as desired as long as the geometry obeys both these two tenets. In a normal lens the plane of the optical center of the lens, the sensor and the plane of focus are parallel to each other. The thickness of this plane of focus is dependent on the aperture chosen. The wider the aperture (smaller f-stop), the thinner this plane is, and the narrower the aperture (larger f-stop), the deeper this plane is. When the optical center and the sensor is not parallel with each other, like when tilt (or swing, as horizontal tilt is known) is applied, the plane of focus becomes a wedge, but the center of this wedge follows the Scheimpflug and Hinge principles, allowing the lens to focus on both near and far points at the same time without having to adjust the aperture. This is particularly useful for table top and macro photography. And very small tilts are useful in landscape for bringing both foreground objects and distant mountains in focus using a modest aperture.

The tilt element of the GF 110 T/S used to photograph this lens is rotated to match the angle where the Leica Summilux 35/f1.4 lens lies such that the entire lens is sharp. The point of critical focus is set in the middle of the m markings on the distance scale of the lens. Without tilt, some part of the left where the lens cap (especially where the “Leica” logo is embossed) and the aperture ring will be in bokeh.

Tilts can also be used to select less of the object to be in critical focus. This effect looks like a landscape or cityscape is a miniature, with only a small part of the image in focus, and the rest in bokeh.

Why is shift necessary?

Shift is essential in architecture photography. When a lens is set up so that the sensor is parallel to a building, will usually result in the tops of buildings being cut off, and quite a bit of sensor real estate being used to photograph the ground between the camera and building. The tops of the subject building can be brought into the frame by tilting the camera up, but in doing so the parallel lines of the building sides converge at the top. This effect looks like the building is falling over backwards.

Correction can also be applied in Capture One, Lightroom or Photoshop, but this will result in loss of pixels as this is a digitally calculated resultant image. A better way is to make the image correctly in camera. Instead of tilting the sensor plane, the sensor is shifted downwards. As the image on the sensor is actually upside down, this can be shifted such that the top of the building can be captured without it looking like the building is falling over backwards. This will require a lens with sufficient coverage of the image circle. Imagine the lens casting an image much larger than the sensor. The shift mechanism can be used to position the sensor anywhere within this image circle. And as the sensor is parallel to the building, converging lines do not appear.

Kallang Riverside condominium. Photographed with the Fujifilm GFX 100 II with GF 30 T/S. Note the vertical edges of the building are parallel to each other, and the building does not appear to fall over backwards with converging verticals. This is achieved with about 10mm of rear fall.

The shift mechanism can be also used to stitch images for panorama.

Three panel stitch of the cityscape of Singapore from Marina Bay Sands. Fujifilm GFX 100 II with GF 30.

The shift functionality is similar to the technical cameras like the Alpa 12 STC and the Alpa 12 Plus or the Phase One XT, where shifts are available in two axis. However, tilt/shift lenses like the Fujinon GF T/S lenses allow only shifts in one axis. Either the x or y axis can be selected by rotating the shift element on the lens. Although this rotation can be placed at any angle, simultaneously shifting x and y axis is not possible with the T/S lens, though possible with technical cameras. However, for these technical cameras to have tilts, an additional tilt plate is required, while on the T/S lenses, this is in-built into the lens.

The Fujifilm/Fujinon GF 30mm/f5.6 T/S and the GF 110mm/f5.6 T/S Macro

On the both these lenses are two additional knobs to allow for tilt and shifting. These knobs are geared for precision, and the sides of the lens is marked accordingly. Both knows have detent positions and can be locked in place once set. On GFX camera bodies, including the new GFX 100 II and my GFX 50S II, the amount of shift is transmitted and recorded on the EXIF. Curiously, tilt information is either not measured, not sent to the back, or not recorded or just not displayed in the current latest firmware. Shift information is useful for vignette correction, but these two lens are so excellent, that there is hardly any vignette across the field of view. What little vignette is visible very gradually darkens to the edge with no colour shifts. Currently, Capture One 23 automatically detects the lens and corrects for it. The correction is not available in Lightroom or Adobe Camera Raw, which does not have this lens profile. At least not yet.

An LCC frame exposed on a white perspex sheet using the GFX 50S II with the GF30 at full 15mm shift. Note the relatively even exposure from left to right. There is some natural vignetting, but that is due to the physics – inverse square law of light falloff mandates that the light reaching the far edge travels a further distance than the center, and thus appears to be darker. What is remarkable is that there is no colour cast, even at this extreme shift. I tested with the GFX 50S II because as it has an FSI sensor, it tends to exhibit more pronounced colour shifts than the BSI GFX 100 II.

The GF30 T/S lens exhibited superb optical properties in the two weeks it was with me. I shot various architectural projects and the lens has proven its worth in this use case. The 30mm focal length is also quite good for interior as this translates to roughly 24mm in full frame equivalent. However, for very cramped interior photography, a wider lens will be more useful. For a wider field of view, an adapted Canon or Nikon 17mm T/S lens may be a better fit for these situations, albeit with optics which are less than ideal compared to the GF30.

The GF 30mm/f5.6 T/S comes with a tripod foot. Photographed with GFX 100 II with GF110 T/S. The tilt element is rotated to match the angle of the lens lay on the table, and tilted to keep the entire near side of the lens in focus. Note the serial number nearer to the camera is sharp all the way through the tilt scale and locks through to the tip of the lens which is further away.

The GF110 T/S also exhibited excellent optics in the two weeks of use. With the lens, I managed to photograph many of the (still under embargo, to be released in two weeks at Watches & Wonders Geneva) watches, and a few which are already been released for public.

The GF 110 T/S with full 10 degrees of tilt and 15mm of shift applied. The lens looks funky, like it is broken, but this is the nature of tilt-shift lenses. The plane of the optical focus is tilted 10 degrees out of parallel with the sensor plane. And the sensor is further shifted 15mm down from the center of the optical center of the lens. Even with this extreme position, the lens performed admirably with minimal vignette and no colour shift.

The GF110 T/S is marked as a Macro lens by Fujifilm, but as with the brand’s other nomenclature, this falls short of what is accepted the definition of macro as 1x magnification, and is perhaps better defined as a close focus lens. Without the use of extension tubes, the GF110 T/S goes to 0.5x magnification, but it does get higher magnification with the use of either the short 18mm tube to achieve 0.7x or long 45mm extension tube for 1.01x. We also note that Fujifilm also labels the GF120, their dedicated close focus lens as Macro, and it too has a maximum magnification of 0.5x without tubes. I used the 18mm tube for almost all of my macro work with watches, and this proved sufficient. Especially with the 100Mp available on the GFX 100 II, though even with the GFX 50S II, it works well.

The Louis Erard x Alain Silberstein Le Régulateur Tourbillon. Photographed with the GFX 100 II and GF 110 T/S with 18mm extension. This image is partially cropped. The tilt element is rotated to match the angle of the watch dial, and tilted at 5degrees to ensure the entire dial from 6 o’clock to 12 o’clock is in the sharp plane of focus. The selected aperture is f/16, and at this close focus distance, normally only the point of critical focus – the Louis Erard logo will be in sharp focus, with the indices at 6 and 12 falling off into bokeh. Note at 9 o’clock, the focus does falls off, as the plane of sharp focus is a wedge shape.

Concluding thoughts

Tilt/ Shift lenses offer an additional level of control to the photographer to exercise creativity over the images he produces. The tilt can be used to control the plane of focus, either to bring more objects into focus, or to select a very limited plane of focus for the miniature effect.

Shift is important in architecture and interiors to ensure that building or wall verticals remain so, and not appear to be tipping over backwards. Shift can also be used to stitch panoramas.

Tilt requires shift, as when the lens is tilted, the image may go outside the field of view of the sensor and needs to be corrected by an appropriate amount of shift. While shift can be used independently.

More on the Fujinon GF 30 T/S and GF 110 T/S, as we review the two lenses in combination with the GFX 100 II and GFX 50S II in the coming weeks. But probably after our coverage of Watches & Wonders Geneva 2024, which will begin on April 9.


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