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Step into the world of miniature with David Clapp

Step into the world of miniature with David Clapp - David Clapp explains why the Scheimpflug effect can change your approach to imagery.

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One of the strangest and most confusing lenses that can be used in the 35mm lens line up is the tilt and shift lens. With a front element that slides up and down and tilts in different directions, it certainly raises some eyebrows at first glance. Loved by architectural and interior photographers alike, tilt shift lenses also have their place in the landscape. Shifting the lens can correct perspectives, keeping vertical lines vertical so that the lines do not converge unnaturally. Although it is fair to say that most photographers quickly understand the benefits of the shifting principle, it is the tilting operation that causes the most confusion. Photographers who own these lenses hardly ever use the tilt function and barely understand what it does. So let’s explore the wackiest lens operation with a fresh perspective, enter the Zork MFS (Multi Focus System) the most versatile tilt lens on the planet.
 
This system is the world's most versatile macro lens that can give an incredible 5:1 and still fit in your pocket. If that is not enough, it can miniaturise the world with hilarious results. So what is the point of tilting and how does it work?
 
How tilting the lens works - see the matchboxes below for this in full effect.

Scheimpflug what?

Tilting the lens is a unique concept that has some superb visual effects. Not only can tilting a lens be used to induce creative softness but also to bring images into focus without stopping the aperture down. This effect is known as the Scheimpflug Rule and is performed by tilting the camera lens along its axis in the direction of the subject plane. A conventional prime lens or zoom has glass elements that remain in parallel with each other, expanding or contracting the distances between these elements to focus the image onto your camera sensor. The lens always remains in parallel with the image plane and film or digital sensor, otherwise uneven image sharpness would occur. This is where the magic of tilt lenses becomes apparent. By tilting the lens at a different angle to the sensor plane, certain visual effects can be achieved, depending on the subject’s position.
 
Selective focus, projecting only a partly sharp image onto the sensor is one of these effects. The sharp area is placed within the focal plane by altering the focal length and it is this principle along with varying the depth of field that has some has some charming and useful characteristics. By using selective focus it is possible to bring everyday scenes into a completely different light. Careful positioning of this sharp area can highlight features and dismiss others, changing the emotional response of the image completely. By tilting the lens away from the subject plane, the top and bottom of the image are pushed selectively out of focus no matter where the lens is pointed, even at infinity.
A busy crossing in Tokyo, tilting minaiaturises this busy scene by forcing a selective focus, tilting the lens upwards.
 
The more tilt that you give the lens, the more the extreme the effect becomes. At infinity, this can create a ‘miniaturising’ effect on the world around, especially when images are taken from above or at a distance. The eye is fooled into perceiving a macro image, whereas in reality it’s all in the mind. People turn into models, cars and lorries become toys and the green leafy suburbs starts to look like a train set. It’s mind bending.

Tilting towards the Image Plane
 
Image at f/4, no tilt. Very little of the matchbox is in focus. Now tilt the lens towards the plane of the matchbox face and voila!
Selective focus is not the only effect that tilting can have on an image. By altering the tilt of a lens towards the subject plane, you can bring areas of the image into focus even at very wide apertures. This makes it possible to shoot images with an effective increase in depth of field, even with the lens set to f/4. By tilting the lens towards the inclined subject, it starts to come further into focus, all without touching the aperture. As the shutter speeds are higher at this wide aperture, it then becomes possible to hand hold and discard the tripod. Many close-up photographers use this approach to photograph jewellery or small products, as sharpness can be induced just where it is needed, creating a dreamy and exquisite look. It is easy to disregard soft or out of focus effects as post processing techniques, but think again as fashion and advertising photographers use tilt lenses to help us focus exactly on what they want us to buy.
 
Macro heaven, Zork MFS and the excellent Tamron 180mm f3.5.
Zork MFS 
So enter the Zork MFS, the most extreme tilt lens on the market. This stubby and somewhat suggestive looking lens will have most women in fits of giggles. The Zork is basically a rotational ‘tilt tube’ that uses a rather unconventional lens to give a staggering 20mm of tilt in any direction (most tilt lenses only give a maximum of 8mm locked on one axis). Not only is this useful for making miniaturising effects, but the Zork is a killer macro lens like no other.
 
The tilt tube uses dark room enlarging lenses, which are used with a 39-42mm adapter. Yes you did read that right, as they exhibit a far greater image circle than 35mm or even 645 medium format lenses. This allows the lens to be tilted to very extreme amounts without compromise. Favoured lens combinations are the Rodenstock APO Rodogon range, but there are others that fit, like the Schneider Componon S Range. These lenses are M42 mount. The aperture ring is the only moving part on the lens and the f-stop clutch can be engaged or disengaged. So how is the lens focused? Using the tilt tube itself, not the lens. Just grip the ring and turn.
 
So what focal lengths are available? Unlike the Canon and Nikon range of tilt shift lenses, the minimum focal length is a mere 80mm. This is simply because the lens cannot sit any closer to the camera without fouling the mirror inside the mirror box. Also, to get the best use from the Zork, the lens needs the ability to focus at infinity, something again that a wider angle would restrict. I chose a Rodenstock 90mm APO Rodagon, based upon its reputation as an incredible performer.
 
So let’s sum this up, what are the plus points of the Zork MFS over conventional tilt shift lenses and why choose a Rodenstock 90mm lens?
 
  1. 20mm of tilt in comparison to 8mm from Nikon/Canon line up
  2. Tilt the lens and image plane in any direction.
  3. Rodenstock lenses are staggeringly sharp (due to less glass elements as there are no moving parts) Componon S, although cheaper, are poor in comparison.
  4. Lenses exhibit no chromatic aberration whatsoever.
  5. Usable aperture range from f/4 to f/22 with no noticeable diffraction issues at all.
  6. Can be used with extension rings for very high magnification.
  7. System is very compact when stored, it’s only a few inches long and comes in a small case.
 
Used as a Macro Lens
The Zork excels like no other macro lens I have ever used. Firstly, using tilt on a macro lens is something I would never have considered. The ability to bring areas of the image in and out of focus by tilting the lens means unparalleled control of creativity.
 
  1. If two flowers are at different heights, the lens can be tilted to bring all the heads into focus at wider apertures. With a conventional macro lens the only option would be to stop the lens down as far as possible. This means slower shutter speeds, lens diffraction and the risk of movement blur.
  2. The ability to tilt the lens without the restrictions of an axis like the Canon / Nikon lenses makes the tilt function so much more versatile. The composition can be fully controlled rather than compromised.
  3. The ability to use tilt for selective focus at wide apertures gives far better control of the backgrounds. Distracting elements will remain out of focus at f/4, unlike the conventional macro approach which will reveal far too much background detail at f1/6.
  4. Using extension rings it is possible to get 3:1 and even 5:1 (five times life size) images when used with one and two sets full sets respectively. Although the Zork now sits a long way from the camera dropping the light levels somewhat, bright conditions or indoor setups can capture amazing images at very high magnification.
Weapon of choice.

Men - its no longer about size but whether it is multi rotational and extendable with tubes. Quarter of a flash card - Not a crop but a full frame 21Mp shot taken with the setup on the left, truly a remarkable macro lens.

 
Conclusions
Ok, lets talk cash and let’s think modular. The Zork, like all specialist photographic equipment, is not cheap. With today’s exchange rate leaving us pining for the giddy summers of 1.6 euros to the pound, the Zork will cost you around £300. Rodenstock lenses, regarded as the darkroom lens of choice, still fetch about £250 on the second hand market, so it’s going to cost double the price of the respected Tamron 90mm f/2.8 Macro, but it is still cheaper than the Canon 180mm f/3.5L, which is revered as the macro lens of choice for many. I don’t think it is fair to compare these systems too closely, as the Zork offers something far beyond convention. With such a huge degree of rotational tilt available, the ability to capture images at an incredible 5:1, and the compelling ‘toy town’ look thrown in for free, the MFS remains in a league of its own.
 
The Canon/Nikon tilt shift line up goes far wider, agreed, with both manufacturers offering 24mm at the widest end, but it is only the 90mm focal length that we should compare. Canons excellent TS-E 90mm f/2.8 costs many hundreds more than the MFS with Rodenstock attached, but photographers buy this lens primarily for shift, rarely tilt. It is also larger, a lot heavier and has none of the super macro capabilities the Zork can offer with extension rings, so it’s fair to conclude that the neither lens sees the other as a true competitor. But there is still an ace card for Zork to play; the PSA (Panoramic Shift Adapter) Matched with the MFS, this modular system supplies the necessary shift that has been missing all along. A staggering 20mm of shift and 20mm of tilt combined? Turn your DLSR into a 90mm view camera by combining the MFS and PSA together. Now consider this, detach the MFS and use your Canon 5D with the PSA exclusively. Fit a medium format 645 lens and stitch 39Mp large format images without stitching software, or 29Mp 3:1 stitched panoramas. Use polarisers, grads too… I can see another article coming on…

The Zork will remain for me the best macro setup I could have possibly imagined, once I had overcome the initial financial sting. Compact, lightweight and matched with the incredible Rodenstock 90mm, I cannot recommend it enough for adding versatility and fresh perspective to my photography.

Visit David Clapp's website for more details.
 
Using the camera hand held, with the focal plane adjusted to get the name of the boat and the girl in focus, lucky indeed. Just an example of how tilt photography can add new dimension to your photography.

 
A more extreme tilt makes these lunchtime meetings fly by. Tilt lenses make our cities into an imaginary world of fascination.

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Comments


Andy_Cundell 3 1.1k 5 England
8 Mar 2011 4:42PM
I love 'Tilt and Shift' photography, I hired the Nikon 24mm for a week and loved it, but at 1,300 for one, like you say, its expensive! Thankyou for the article!

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