Why you DON’T Need a Tilt-Shift Lens

March 3, 2011 | Mark Goldstein | Photography Techniques | Comment |

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.

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