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A quick guide to understand the “Shift” in Tilt-Shift lenses

January 6, 2014

My landscape kit is comprised of Canon Tilt-Shift lenses. I find these lens incredibly powerful and I abandoned my wide angle zoom lens years ago. I think the most important feature of these lenses is the Tilt ability which can be used to create images with both the foreground and background elements in focus without having to stop down beyond the optimum aperture setting for the lens.  That means super sharp focus across the entire image at f8! There is no comparison to the soft focus that f16 or f22 can produce in an attempt to use Depth of Field to achieve the same range of focus. The tilt feature has other creative uses but today I want to focus on the second most important feature of these lenses. Shift is a sometime under appreciated or mis-understood feature. This blog posting quickly shows you what Shift can do.

Here are two slides taken from the  “HDR and Panoramic Techniques for Landscape Photography” workshop I present now and then. They show the images that can be taken by these types of lenses using the shift feature.  In this case, the 24mm TS-E was used. Without moving the camera, the lens can be shifted left or right or if reoriented, shifted up or down.

TS Hort

TS Vert

To understand what “shifting” means, here is an image of the 24mm TS-E being shifted left, no shift and shifted right:

24mm TS-E being shifted. Copyright © The Digital Picture

Depending on the camera’s orientation (portrait or landscape) this creates 4 different options for taking additional images all without the camera moving. By using software to stitch the three resultant images, a much wider image results than that focal length would have produce without shifting. You can think of this as a mini panoramic image.

My favourite use is to set the camera in portrait orientation and using a tripod, shift the lens left and then right. The resultant image created from the three is much larger (60% on a full frame camera or 100% on a cropped sensor) but it is similar to the single image I would have created by having the camera in landscape orientation using a wider lens. I have effectively increased the resolution of my camera and produced a much higher resolution image with much more detail. And combined with the sharpness achieved by using tilt, it is a unbeatable combination.

So instead of just getting this:


with virtually no extra effort in the field and just a quick software stitch in post, I get this:


You may have to click on the two above images to see a fair comparison due to the blog resizing the images.

Like tilt, there are many other uses of shift including maintaining perspective control but these topics are beyond the scope of this quick blog posting. If you want to learn more about Tilt-Shift lenses and whether they may be right for you, the best resource I know of is this eBook available at

Cheers, Scott   

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