Landscape Photography and the need for Tilt Movements
If you know me, you know my passion for discussing the technical side of photography, and expressing my particularly biased opinions. One which I strongly believe in is that there are segments of photography where view / tech camera movements are absolutely essential to capture the highest quality images possible. Granted that imagery can be captured incredibly well without a view or tech camera, if you are a landscape or architectural photographer, then your photography can absolutely be improved by using the latest digital back, tech camera, and Rodenstock lenses available today. It is simply the combination of the highest quality photographic elements of sensor, optics, and camera to create the optimum capture system.
With today’s high end capture, our imaging sensors have improved past anything that film had the resolving power to deliver. While yes, this is a bold statement, it is agreed upon by nearly every 8×10 customer I’ve had over the years. Even the particularly “crusty” ones begrudgingly agreed after grumbling with me for a while… you know who you are.
However, new high resolving systems yield problems that have been previously addressed. Today, diffraction yields it ugly head at minimal apertures. Gone are the days of “f/45 and be there”! Hell, so are “f/16 and be there” for that matter! If you have not done a diffraction test on every lens you have in your system then I highly recommend it. In fact, you should do this test every single time you upgrade your sensor. Every optical / sensor system varies to a degree, but today’s high end capture systems are only allowing us to utilize f/11 at most. Anything past that will have diminishing returns of sharpness due to diffraction.
On top of the diffraction issue is the decreasing Depth of Field with every higher resolution sensor. If you have not read my blog about DOF then I unabashedly recommend reading that article first. But know going in, I am not holding back with more bias about the industry.
So, we can’t stop down due to severe diffraction issues; our systems are yielding a smaller and smaller depth of field than ever before. What are we to do? Our best option lies in a tool that has been with us for generations, but many of us either put on the side or forgotten about. By using systems like a view camera that allows us to employ Scheimpug’s Law of intersecting planes, and utilize tilt in the field, we can maximize the area sharpness in our images and thus create the highest quality image today.
If you want to get technical
and to be honest, I don’t… There are many factors to discuss if you want to delve deep. Are you using base, axis, or center tilt lenses? Does Scheimpug’s law override the Hinge Rule? There is great content online about all this and more written by optical scientists, but not by this camera nerd. If you want to learn more about the mathematical formulas and calculations based on focal length and subject distances, there are apps and websites that I can send you. In fact, our client David Chew just wrote a great article on movements, and it’s one of the best I have ever seen written about the subject. However, for our purposes here, we are just going to state principles in simplistic form and how it affects our industry:
The Plane of focus of a camera system can be modified by changing the tilt axis of the lens, thus maximizing or minimizing depth of field in the resulting image.
My goal of this blog and our testing is to show how quickly we can maximize the DOF in our imaging system with a simple tilt of our lens axis.
In the field
To illustrate how a very simple camera movement can enhance my DOF, I grabbed a Cambo RS 1600, Cambo RS Rodenstock 40mm HR T/S lens, and a Phase One IQ3 100. I set up on our neighborhood bridge and shot two images. One with no movements, and one with just 1° of tilt to the lens element. With compact, high resolution systems you will be surprised at how small of a movement can change our plane of focus dramatically. This point is illustrated even further in my next example.
Both the Phase One Digital Back and Capture One software allows you to add a focus mask to instantly show what is sharp in your image. When applying a tilt in the field, this tool is invaluable to illustrate how tilt has changed the sharpness in my image. From the above image, you can easily see how we have been able to achieve sharpness from the background all the way through the foliage and to the building in the foreground. The same exact exposure and aperture were used for both images.
You can see that we are focused at similar spots on the foreground of each image. Any difference in focus is only attributable to the refocusing process of adding a tilt.
The proof is in the pudding. The above image only further reinforces the importance tilt can play in our difficult subject matter. So much so, it seems like this should be impossible. Remember, both images were shot at f/11 and a 1.6 second exposure.
How much tilt do I need?
This I find to be the most surprising part; the answer is very very little. If you are old school like myself, you’ll remember often adding over 10° of movement to the front lens. When we had large mediums that we were capturing with, those movements were also large. We now are no longer capturing 5-10 inches of film with a 300mm lens. Instead, we are capturing 54mm of CMOS and a 40mm optic. Thus, while all the laws of physics have not changed, the scale has. To easily exhibit this, the following images are from right outside of our office in downtown Atlanta. Importantly, we are focused at near infinity, with the Mercedes Benz Dome 1 mile away. I use the term “near infinity,” as our testing shows that our system’s infinity focus is actually further than that mile of distance. Alas, for our needs, let’s say that we are keeping infinity sharp in our image as we would in our landscape shooting scenario. The dome takes the place of our mountain range or the distance subject matter that we want tack sharp.
As you can see in the final image, we needed 2.5° of tilt in order to achieve infinity sharpness all the way to 5′ in front of my lens. I think this last image displays perfectly the impacts small movements can make on a scene and that anything more than 2.5° is rarely needed.
T/S vs Tilt/Swing
What does this all mean? Very importantly, when I buy a tilt/shift lens I am limited. Please remember, that it is SHIFT and not Swing. The absolute first thing we should do when we set up an architectural or landscape image is correct for perspective. We should align our sensor plane to be parallel with our subject matter. This corrects immediately for the effects of keystone, parallax, and distortion. With a tilt/shift lens you then have the ability to shift in a SINGLE dimension up or down (rise or fall) in order to choose your desired shooting angle. Perspective can be adjusted to achieve the desired result, while the shooting angle is kept the same. However, if you want to shift right or left after changing your perspective, you are out of luck since you only had the single option of shift to begin with.
However, with a technical or view camera all options are open for creative commotion or creative capture.
There isn’t just a single option for shift. Instead there is a world of options of rise, fall, shift, swing, or tilt.
It does not restrict your creativity, but rather expands your possibilities.
Examples of Tilt on Tech Cameras
Cambo Tech cameras do not have tilt or swing built in to the body but actually have it built into the lens board itself. Lenses can be ordered as Tilt Swing lenses or can be ordered standard without movements.
- Tilt and Swing together at the same time.
- 5° in each moment and direction
Arca Swiss has designed Tilt into the body itself. If you need a swing instead, you can remove the lens insert and rotate it 90°.
- You can have movements on all lenses without the need to order special lenses.
Alpa uses an adapter to add tilt or Swing to a system. Short barrel lenses need to be utilized in conjunction with a 17 or 34 adapter. If the lens is a 34 short barrel, then you can add two 17 adapters and get tilt and swing together on one lens.
- A uniquely designed system that allows for both tilt and swing on the same lens.
- The body and the lens stay calibrated and pristine.
Phase One just released the first XT lens with tilt, the Rodenstock 40mm HR. New lenses with tilt will be added in the future.
- Simple elegant design
- Ease of use
Declaring My Bias
My first job out of college was at Sinar Bron Imaging. I have always loved the physics of a view camera. I have always opined for the sleek aluminum standards of an ALPA combined with the gorgeous rosewood handles. I have always believed that the best photographers use the finest camera technology available to them… so yes, I am 100% biased towards them. There is a reason I’ve ended up where I am in this industry. I love cameras. I love technology. And especially, I love combining the finest of both together to yield the ultimate photographic system.
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