Re-evaluating the Schneider 120mm T/S for P1/Mamiya 645
When the Schneider 120mm T/S lens was introduced in early 2011, there was a lot of initial enthusiasm for this lens – especially with tabletop shooters, food photographers, product photographers, etc. While a tilt/shift lens does not provide the same flexibility as a full fledged view camera, the ability to correct perspective, and expand or alter depth of field is a critical advantage for a food or product photographer. There were high hopes for the Schneider 120mm T/S among this group of photographers, but that initial enthusiasm faded a bit after it was learned that the lens was not a macro lens at all, not even close (contrarily, as 120mm is a common focal length for medium format macro lens). Ah, what a shame! This did not detract from the lens being a very effective lens for landscape photography. It is extremely sharp and – especially give the tilt and shift capabilities – very valuable as a telephoto landscape lens.
However, as someone who has dabbled with the close up, I have for some time been curious about the possibility of extension tubes with this lens and whether the optical array of the Schneider 120mm T/S Lens would effectively accept extension tubes or if the image quality would decline. Adding extension tubes to a lens doesn’t always mean the performance of the lens is duplicated closer to the subject. Every lens is different and optimized for different subject to lens distances, with resulting performance differences as well. So with this said, Friday it was off to the races – with a rare moment of time allotted for a quick test.
I compared the Schneider 120mm T/S Lens to the Phase One 120mm/4 Macro D Lens, with and without extension tubes. My conclusion is that even adding up to 3 extension tubes does not seem to alter the performance of the Schneider 120mm T/S Lens, or at least it compares quite well with the Phase One 120mm Macro Lens (one of the sharpest macro lenses available). With the 3 Extension Tubes, the Schneider 120mm T/S does not not quite produce a 1-1 macro, as the Phase One 120mm Macro Lens does, but it is pretty close to it. And the sharpness remains superb.
Now, there are some testing quibbles to be addressed up front – the subject magnification is not exactly the same for both lenses, the lighting is different (mainly as a result of the depth of the lens facing down with the respective extensions, shades, etc, and the actual focus points are not a dead match. However, this was not designed to be a test to see which lens was sharper, it was designed to be a test to see if the renowned Phase One/Mamiya 120mm Macro D Lens could be matched in sharpness with the Schneider 120mm T/S with 3 Extension Tubes. For me, I see enough evidence to say yes.
With these results, I now am strongly recommending the Schneider 120mm T/S Lens to anyone who wants a very sharp lens in the 120mm focal length that includes movements not just for landscapes, but also for table top product or any close up photography. Just don’t forget those Extension Tubes.