Why you DON’T Need a Tilt-Shift Lens

March 3, 2011 | Mark Goldstein | Photography Techniques | 60 Comments |
Why you DON’T Need a Tilt-Shift Lens Image

Main image: Nine-image vertical panorama of The Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.

Professional architectural photographers often use Tilt-Shift lenses to photograph with as little distortion as possible. 

The problem for us mere mortals is this:  Tilt-Shift lenses are EXPENSIVE! 

A quick look for prices on Amazon.com showed me a range of anywhere between $1200 to $2500. Wow, that smarts, doesn’t it? I know I won’t be able to buy one of those anytime soon. 

However, whenever you take photos of Architectural interiors with a fairly wide to ultra-wide angle lens, you will find that as you tilt the camera further up toward the ceiling, you get severe distortion, also known as the Keystone Effect. 

For example, see one of my shots from a panorama of Washington, D.C.’s beautiful Library of Congress building (taken with the Pentax DA 12-24mm lens):

Why you DON'T Need a Tilt-Shift Lens

Note the way the columns are really bowed out towards the bottom two corners.

When I used Photoshop CS5 put together the vertical panorama of nine individual shots with all of that distortion, I got a very warped output file:

Why you DON'T Need a Tilt-Shift Lens

Ouch!  Can you imagine trying to straighten that? I did the best I could the first time around, with Photoshop CS4, but either I didn’t possess the skills (quite possible!) or having a certain brilliant new feature available to me in Photoshop CS5’s Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) made it so much easier. 

Why you DON'T Need a Tilt-Shift Lens

By simply opening up the nine images that would comprise my panorama of the Library of Congress in ACR CS5 and clicking on the Lens Correction menu button found to the right of the picture or pictures I wanted to correct, I could use any of the tools there to help in correcting the distortion in my RAW format image files. 

You can do these same corrections with jpegs, but it is a wise decision to shoot in whatever RAW format your dSLR offers, as you will have a lot more information to work with.

Entry Tags

wide-angle, lens, photography, wide angle, photoshop, architecture, wide, tilt-shift, wide angle lens, cs5, cs4, cs3, architectural, tilt shift

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#1 Chris

Interesting stuff Cynthia. I’ve only just upgraded to cs5 so will definitely have to give that a try. How long would you say the whole process took you from start to finish?

12:01 pm - Thursday, March 3, 2011

#2 Kari

Hugin is even better for perspective correction. You just specify straight lines and then Hugin calculates the rest. See http://hugin.sourceforge.net/tutorials/perspective/en.shtml
It is free.

12:13 pm - Thursday, March 3, 2011

#3 david

I second the use of hugin.  It’s an incredible software, built by an incredible and devoted team that has been going since 2003.  If you want to create easy panoramas, or fix distortion, use it.

Here’s a tutorial on how to use Hugin to fix perspective, and it would also work for distortion.
http://bit.ly/ikaltY

3:10 pm - Thursday, March 3, 2011

#4 Sergio Monai

Very good BUT:
1) with a shift lens you do the same in few seconds
2) the interpolations needed, above all in the corners, can reduce the already not very good resolution in that portion of the image.

if I’m not wrong you say: “horse for corse”
or something like that

best regards
Sergio Monai

3:51 pm - Thursday, March 3, 2011

#5 salim madjd

I’ve been using ptgui to get great distortion free panorama images for last few years. I’ve been arguing the same point here. I actually own two tilt-shift lenses, and I get much better image (sharper) when I use ptgui to stitch a panorama. Much simpler than this tutorial.

5:00 pm - Thursday, March 3, 2011

#6 PK

Sergio, her whole point was that Tilt-Shift lenses are EXPENSIVE for most consumers.

Stitching softwares these days are so good, you won’t be losing much resolution from interpolation as long as you have enough details from the large megapixel RAW files. In fact, you might get more detail from the stitched pics than the single tilt-shift image as that tilt-shift image would be limited to being that one-shot on whatever format you shot it on.

5:21 pm - Thursday, March 3, 2011

#7 Cynthia Farr-Weinfeld

Thanks everyone! 

@Chris: I can’t imagine it took me any longer than 5 minutes to do this, believe it or not.  Nice and simple! 

@Kari & David: Yes, I keep hearing about Hugin and will definitely go check it out—anything to help make better panoramas is worth investigating, thanks! 

@Sergio Monai:  You are quite correct on both of your points, yes!  Wish I could afford a $5,000+ lens, but for now, the 12-24mm suffices quite nicely, albeit introducing the aforementioned distortion.  ;-)  Also, you are correct in that if there is TOO much distortion, one can very easily ruin the corners and create lower-res portions of the composition by doing this technique too much.

However, this pano I used as an example was taken with the Pentax DA 12-24mm lens at 12mm and it had significant distortion, but the output file (after corrections described) is capable of being printed as large as one could humanly want to print it, even after those corrections, so the distortion would have to be pretty severe, in which case I probably wouldn’t want to continue one with making the panorama anyway.  I would consider it a failed attempt. . .

5:27 pm - Thursday, March 3, 2011

#8 John Grindle

Here at Flying Photos we usually use ortho correction techniques. I can see how having such a powerfull tool at your disposal might achieve a similar result to our time tested techniques.

7:01 pm - Thursday, March 3, 2011

#9 Cynthia Farr-Weinfeld

@John Grindle:  Is Ortho Correction a program?

7:06 pm - Thursday, March 3, 2011

#10 Nikhil Ramkarran

Good tutorial Cynthia, just the kind of clearly written, straightforward tutorial that I like to bookmark.

I don’t believe that this method will work for those very demanding architectural photographers who will spend many thousands of dollars for technical cameras to get ultimate image quality.

But for those of us mere mortals who can’t afford to spend the cost of a small BMW on camera gear I am sure this will be invaluable.

7:19 pm - Thursday, March 3, 2011

#11 Cynthia Farr-Weinfeld

@Nikhil Ramkarran—exactly!  Thanks Nik!  I agree—if Architectural Photography were my entire life as a photographer, I wouldn’t be wasting my time with the wrong equipment!  ;-)  But this works for “the rest of us!”

8:03 pm - Thursday, March 3, 2011

#12 Ertan

I agree with Sergio. “massaging” the picture decreases the resolution and sharpness a lot. If you are not very demanding, it may be OK.
And yes, tilt-shift lenses are very very expensive.

8:12 pm - Thursday, March 3, 2011

#13 Paul H

I’ve used both Hugin and Autopano Pro, and both do a very good job.  You can use it in situations where even a tilt-shift lens wouldn’t do (like not being able to move far enough back).

9:49 am - Friday, March 4, 2011

#14 Gianluca

Hi,
I’m also using Hugin.
I’d like to point out that CS5 costs about 900€ here in Europe, almost the price of a used T/S lens…

9:58 am - Friday, March 4, 2011

#15 Andy Merrett

Ahh, Gianluca, but you can’t pirate a lens :)

I don’t advocate stealing software, but I know plenty of people who’ll happily screw Adobe out of some cash (“they’re a big company, right, who cares?”) by getting knocked-off copies.

10:46 am - Friday, March 4, 2011

#16 Filipino Strobist

@ Ertan Agreed the picture quality of that photo will pixelated.

For me hugin is better and much stable than Autopano Pro though sometimes i used Autopano Pro.

10:47 am - Friday, March 4, 2011

#17 valthewu

one advice:

Buy a fullframe camera with good resolution and medium quality lenses with it, might all be used equipment, for casual, daily and paid shooting.

and, for doing paid architectural photography, rent a t/s lens if you need it.

that suits me.

11:14 am - Friday, March 4, 2011

#18 Sloaah

Or… get a 4x5” view camera. A used one plus a decent lens will go for about US$500 on ebay, and you’ll get far higher resolution (in the hundreds of MP) and more movements than your tilt and shift lens.

12:50 pm - Friday, March 4, 2011

#19 valthewu

analog workflow does not make any sense in commercial architectural photography any more.

clients rather like more pictures with sufficient mp than less pictures with excessive mp.

more movement is also not necessarily true.

1:43 pm - Friday, March 4, 2011

#20 Gianluca

I’m also a fan of Hugin.

I would like to point out that Photoshop CS5 costs here in Europe more than 900€, almost the price of a used T/S lens…

2:25 pm - Friday, March 4, 2011

#21 Cynthia Farr-Weinfeld

“valthewu

one advice:

Buy a fullframe camera with good resolution and medium quality lenses with it, might all be used equipment, for casual, daily and paid shooting.

and, for doing paid architectural photography, rent a t/s lens if you need it.

that suits me.” 

@Valthewu, the point that you have apparently missed about this tutorial is that this technique is for the “rest of us” poor schmoes who CAN’T afford to spend the $5,00-$10,000 it would take to take your suggestions.  While obviously the best case scenario to buy all the equipment you suggested, probably 99% of the readers here, myself included, have no ability or intention to do so.  Hence the tutorial for an easy fix. . .

4:20 pm - Friday, March 4, 2011

#22 valthewu

“valthewu

one advice:

Buy a fullframe camera with good resolution and medium quality lenses with it, might all be used equipment, for casual, daily and paid shooting.

and, for doing paid architectural photography, rent a t/s lens if you need it.

that suits me.”

@Valthewu, the point that you have apparently missed about this tutorial is that this technique is for the “rest of us” poor schmoes who CAN’T afford to spend the $5,00-$10,000 it would take to take your suggestions.  While obviously the best case scenario to buy all the equipment you suggested, probably 99% of the readers here, myself included, have no ability or intention to do so.  Hence the tutorial for an easy fix. . .

@ Cynthia Farr-Weinfeld  
i appreciate this tutorial, i just wanted to add that there is also the possibility of renting a special lens for a certain assignment (or for fun, anyway). ” While obviously the best case scenario to buy all the equipment you suggested, ...”: as i said, this is not always the case.

4:49 pm - Friday, March 4, 2011

#23 Cynthia Farr-Weinfeld

@Valthewu: true, yes!

7:26 pm - Friday, March 4, 2011

#24 Ranger 9

I don’t dispute that most people don’t need a tilt/shift lens.

However, your tutorial doesn’t provide a very good example, because your final image is still weirdly distorted! The columns converge toward the top, and the domed roof has been warped into a strange egg shape. As an impression of the scene it’s fine, but an architect would get the vapors.

Also not addressed is the other main use of a tilt/shift lens: extending depth-of-field by tilting the plane of best focus so it coincides with the subject plane (aka Scheimpflug effect.) Often, especially in close-up photography, it’s impossible to stop down the lens enough to keep an oblique subject in focus from front to back; that’s where tilt comes to the rescue.

10:06 pm - Monday, March 7, 2011

#25 John H. Maw

Not necessarily so expensive. I got a Hartblei 45mm Super-Rotator Tilt Shift Lens for around £400 on eBay. It can be used both on my Mamiya AFDII and with an adaptor on my EOS 5 MkII (the adaptor adds another 12mm of shift). On the MF system it is probably my most used lens, particularly in taking advantage of the Scheimpflug principal.

8:47 pm - Wednesday, March 9, 2011

#26 rob

The tutorial itself is fine. However, the cheapest solution is very rarely worth your while, if you are concerned with the quality of your result. And you really don’t have to be a professional photographer to appreciate quality.

12:37 am - Thursday, March 10, 2011

#27 Martyn

Sorry Cynthia, but you are totally wrong. It doesn’t matter what camera you use as long as you have decent lenses on the end of it.

12:11 pm - Friday, April 1, 2011

#28 Chad

Cynthia,
Although I completely agree with you that for the average person a tilt-shift lens is just out of our price range. What you showed us is a great amount of help too. I do argue that anytime you alter an image (even in RAW) there is always going to be problems with the compressing and stretching of the pixels within the image (although you may not be able to see them right away without zooming in.)

7:44 pm - Thursday, July 21, 2011

#29 Robert Gordon.

Hi
Great ideas and images. If you shoot raw images Capture One has a fantastic easy to use keystone tool.

4:32 pm - Thursday, January 5, 2012

#30 daniel

Interesting, I always thought I need those lenses.

8:41 am - Monday, March 5, 2012

#31 toronto boudoir photography

Nice trick indeed but Photomerge scares me for pro work.  Look at Google Street view.  Every so often some points of perspective have a big blurry or mis-aligned spot.  This is due to an error in the photo stitching.  CS5 Photoshop is great but not perfect.  It is also risky for hign end pro work. If your reputation is on the line, I’d rather spend the money to get a good lens or a rental lens to get the shot my Client needs.

4:45 pm - Thursday, March 22, 2012

#32 toronto product photography

Can you tell us about the different settings to merge the Panos?  Examle: Auto, Align, etc… when is the best time to use what settings in creating panos?

8:10 pm - Friday, March 23, 2012

#33 Marionco

To Cynthia Farr-Weinfeld

Hi Cynthia

It’s just lovely to see a woman giving such a well defined tutorial.  I am just reviewing what was once, a bit of a passion and suddenly am hit by the term tilt and shift!  Being a new one on me, I wondered - do I really need this?  The mix of aesthetism, technique and science is beginning to astound me and I was surprised the article was by a femal.

I loved your subject and approach.  It was great.

Thanks.
Marion

10:12 pm - Saturday, March 24, 2012

#34 Cynthia Farr-Weinfeld

Thanks so much Marion!  I hope you end up continuing with photography—it really is a wonderful form of art, isn’t it?  Cindy

9:11 pm - Sunday, March 25, 2012

#35 Marion

I agree, yes it is a wonderful form of art.

It’s unbelievable.  I have new ‘perspective’ of everything seen; then seen again..
and it’s awe inspiring just in attempting to absorb the more technical
aspects.  Shocking in fact.

So I really appreciate your effort completely
.. and thanks for the encouragement.

Marion

12:28 pm - Monday, March 26, 2012

#36 Cynthia Farr-Weinfeld

@toronto product photography: I am using Photoshop CS5 and I generally choose Auto in making the panorama, but I always check the three bottom boxes on the window that comes up where you choose which type of pano to make.  I find that CS5 makes the correct “choices” 99% of the time to put things together.  But in PTGui, another stitching software I use from time to time, it is best to look through all the options given when you put your individual images in to stitch, and decide by eyeballing it which output panorama will look the best.  Cindy

1:45 pm - Monday, March 26, 2012

#37 Key Studio

Great tutorial, and I’m glad to see you’re using the Pentax 12-24mm, a lens I’m contemplating for just this purpose.

@Ranger 9, I agree the shape of the dome looks weirdly off.

One way to avoid this might be using the Photoshop 5 feature Puppet Warp as the last step. Pinning a few of its warp “anchors” at the bottom of the shape will hold the circular shape while the upper dome is shifted inward horizontally.

4:43 pm - Friday, April 20, 2012

#38 Steve Jones

I’ve always liked the effect of tilt-shift photography but never been able to afford the lens.

Thanks for the great tutorial, I’ll give this a go.

4:31 pm - Tuesday, May 1, 2012

#39 Vito

This article as well as other researches I made (including seminars and conventions I attended relating to perspective correction) all the more proves that I have to invest in the right equipment, in this case a T/S lens, if my aspiration is to be relevant in architectural photography. I have wished that current software is mature enough to handle perspective correction but as shown in the posters example it is not there yet. The example is alright for “casual” architectural photography but not for paid “professional” work, IMHO. Hence, the title of Cynthia’s arcticle may need a minor revision so it is not all encompassing. Great and very helpful article, however.

4:29 pm - Monday, June 4, 2012

#40 Clayton Barry

Very nice, but just go purchase a lens.

4:26 am - Saturday, August 11, 2012

#41 Cynthia Farr-Weinfeld

@Clayton Barry: Great idea, as long as you have a spare $5k hanging around! ;-)

3:06 pm - Saturday, August 11, 2012

#42 Chuck Hoffman

I’d like to see an image that has been taken with a T/S lens juxtaposed with one that has been “Photoshopped.”

Perhaps I’m being picky but in the Photoshopped result the curvature of the dome appears elliptical rather than circular while the relative sizes of the arches under the dome do not appear symmetrical as they do in the source photo.

6:06 pm - Friday, November 23, 2012

#43 Beard of Oz

You don’t have to blow $5,000 on a tilt shift lens, you can get a 35mm one for under $700 and an 80mm one for under $400.

http://araxfoto.com/lenses/

4:57 am - Monday, February 18, 2013

#44 Martha

You can take excellent photo if you have knowledge about the technique and if you are creative. Professional photographer never tell their all secrets to you. If you want to take breathtaking photographs and amaze people with your skills, you need to learn and practice a lot. I learned almost everything to skip the amateur photographer stage with this website. You should take a look at the great information.
http://www.makeusknow.com/categories/arts&entertainment;/photography-tricks-and-techniques-learn-advanced-photography.html

3:00 pm - Monday, May 27, 2013

#45 Antonio Flores

What are the advantages of this system over the Filter > Distort > Lens correction > Vertical Perspective?

10:30 am - Friday, June 7, 2013

#46 Cynthia Farr-Weinfeld

The advantages are that this shot wouldn’t have been possible to get all of this in even with a fisheye lens.  It is an enormous interior.  If one could even fit it all in with a fisheye lens, then one would be faced with similar problems of trying to straighten out an incredibly distorted image.  But the option you mentioned is great and I often use it in regular architectural photography (ie: single shots and even smaller panos).

11:43 am - Friday, June 7, 2013

#47 Antonio Flores

Thank you, @Cynthia, for your answer. But there is something that I do not understand. If you cannot take all this information with a 12 mm, even less can you do that with an expensive tilt lens of 17 mm, the widest for Canon.

3:49 pm - Friday, June 7, 2013

#48 Cynthia Farr-Weinfeld

No, I don’t think you could capture it all with a tilt-shift lens either.  However, thanks to its properties, you would be able to take your panoram as I did and it would come out much straighter if not completely straight the first go, as opposed to having to do all the other things I listed in the article.

4:12 pm - Friday, June 7, 2013

#49 Antonio Flores

Congratulations for the article and for the blog!
I do not buy anything without looking your reviews.

4:19 pm - Friday, June 7, 2013

#50 Cynthia Farr-Weinfeld

Well, thanks!

5:27 pm - Friday, June 7, 2013

#51 Michael

Just bought a 24mm Nikkor PC-E Tilt+Shift. Yup, $2,200. Worth every penny and more. CAN’T BELIEVE the quality of this lens. Beautifully straight parallax correction. AMAZING (I mean AMAZING) depth of field control. Astounding creative effects. It will be a while before this lens comes off my camera. Save your shekels my friends. You’ll be glad you spent more time behind the camera and less time behind your computer monitor. Truly amazing. Wish I’d bought it 10 years ago. I’ve been shooting macros (yes, I said macros), landscapes, still-life(s), portraits, and architecture. THE MOST versatile of my 8 lenses—-bar none.

And Cynthia, with a T+S, you can shoot perfect panoramas with the shift function that align perfectly with no distortion. I know….you’re article was about not being able to afford a T+S…I get it. I was the PS guy doing this the hard way before I bought the lens. Having forked over for the lens, I have seen both sides and truly, “Now, I see the light.”

just sayin’

With kind regards and respect always.

10:42 pm - Monday, August 26, 2013

#52 Kevin Laracy

Spending more time on a computer to make a distorted image a bit better strikes me as a half assed approach.  Problem is you have an image with complex (non linear) distortion and jigging it about can’t fix that.  Look for a used shift lens and do yourself (and your clients) a big favour.

7:43 pm - Monday, October 7, 2013

#53 Gordo

A tilt shift lens is probably the BEST investment a photographer can make.  For landscapes, interiors, etc….And, as others have stated, for super easy panoramics.  Not only are the lenses versatile, they have such a large image circle the sharpness is unbeatable corner to corner…(when using as a standard lens).  The Canon 24 TSII can be had used for about $1500.00.  Worth every dollar!  The article is really a dis-service.  It should read, why you NEED a Tilt Shift lens…...And give the examples….

8:56 pm - Saturday, January 4, 2014

#54 Hans Vandenberg

great software.

4:18 am - Wednesday, March 19, 2014

#55 Neale SMith

I would say this article demonstrates quite clearly why you DO need a shift lens!

11:12 am - Saturday, April 12, 2014

#56 Zaph

Tilt-shift lenses can be expensive, for sure. Samyang have a nice 24mm for multiple mounts for under $1K now. Also, you don’t need a tilt-shift lens. You just need a *shift* lens, which can be had much cheaper. The tilt does the focus/DOF changes, rather than perspective/distortion changes.

12:49 pm - Wednesday, May 28, 2014

#57 Fine Art Abstract Photography

Zaph,

I own Samyang 14mm lens and its a great buy for the price (~$300 versus Canon 14mm ~$2300).  People were expecting Samyang 24mm T/S to be closer to $600 and it would make it a good buy.  At nearly $900 its almost 1/2 price of Canon 24mm T/S which is far superior optically. 

My 2 cents

12:53 pm - Thursday, May 29, 2014

#58 Greg

would save a lot of time to just use a tilt shift lens.

12:51 pm - Wednesday, June 11, 2014

#59 Mike

Definitely will be investing in a tilt shift lens for interiors and architecture. Yes, they’re expensive, but the quality is definitely worth it. I also prefer to do as much in camera as possible with only a brief amount of time in editing software.

Canon 17mm TS is around $2300, which in my opinion isn’t too bad.

8:25 pm - Saturday, June 28, 2014

#60 Fan

Hi,
can i do it without Photoshop? What should i do: buy 17mm lens or PS?
Best regards from: Perth Photographers

10:33 am - Wednesday, July 30, 2014