No matter how much gear we like to acquire, most photographers don’t have a tilt-shift lens in their collection. Many new (and even some experienced) photographers aren’t even aware of what a tilt-shift lens can do, but we’re here to help.
This type of lens is more popularly known for making life-sized things look like miniatures, but one of the biggest uses of these lenses is in architectural photography. They fix the dreaded converging of vertical lines in an image of a building, correct perspective, and help to emphasize or reduce depth of field in an image.
Tilt-shift lenses are also used to create panoramic photos by shifting the lens from left to right without moving the camera itself. They are called tilt-shift lenses because the optics in the lens can be tilted and shifted in relation to your camera sensor. Newer versions also rotate, which gives you tilt and shift in even more directions.
The tilt function creates a situation where the lens plane and image plane aren’t parallel. It basically boils down to being able to change your plane of sharp focus quite dramatically. When you shift, you are effectively photographing your subject from another camera position, and this feature allows you to photograph buildings without the vertical lines converging.
It can be frustrating to find the perfect lens if you don’t have a lot of experience, so we’ve saved you the trouble. We’ve created an in-depth look into the five best tilt-shift lenses that money can buy. Let’s take a look at what made the cut.
1. Canon TS-E 17mm f/4L (Overall Winner)
Canon is known for creating high-quality products that are worth every penny. The TSE-17mm manual focus lens immediately set itself apart from other lenses by the construction and design, as well as the massive front element. It also rotates 180 degrees, as well as tilts and shifts.
The TS-E 17mm lens is perfect for anyone looking for a tilt-shift lens that’s durable and will get the job done. It gives you a phenomenally wide viewing angle (the widest of its type), that’s perfect for shooting skyscrapers or landscapes. The lens is versatile enough to be used for interior architectural and landscape photography too. We also can’t praise the weather seals and engineering enough. This will keep the inner workings of your glass safe from things like dust, debris, and light exposure to water.
Another one of the best tilt-shift lenses that you may want in your arsenal is the Canon TS-E 24mm manual focus lens. This is an excellent lens for architectural, interior, and landscape photography, thanks to the wide viewing angle. The focal length is slightly different than that of the 17mm version. It has a tilt of +/-8.5 degrees, a shift of +/-12 degrees, and a rotation of +/-90 degrees.
One of the greatest things about this tilt-shift lens is that there’s a built-in attachment thread where you can easily place filters or hoods (the Canon TS-E 17mm doesn’t have an attachment for filters). Just like the other lenses we’ve looked at, it delivers incredibly sharp images at a fantastic quality. The Canon TS-E 24mm is equipped with Sub Wavelength Coating to reduce glare, and it helps to keep the interior and exterior of the lens safe from external elements.
What can we say? Canon makes another appearance on this list because their products are just that incredible. Most photographers have a nifty 50mm lens in their gear, but nothing quite like the tilt-shift manual focus lens macro version. It gives you a focal length that you’re used to but has features that are new and refreshing. This makes it easy to work with if you don’t have a lot of experience with tilt-shift lenses, and you can use it as an ordinary 50mm lens too.
If you’re a photographer who doesn’t usually find themselves cramped for space, this is a solid choice. The TS-E 50mm f/2.8L MACRO from Canon adds .5x magnification, which is an added bonus since most 50mm lenses are entirely fixed. There are two UD elements in the optical path that pair perfectly with things like the Air Sphere, which prevents unwanted flares and ghosting from light sources.
The Lensbaby Sol 45mm is an excellent choice for anyone looking for one of the best tilt-shift lenses but don’t have a ton of space to spare. It’s also another inexpensive option if you’re on a budget. Many photographers who use tilt-shift lenses regularly swear by the Lensbaby. This lens has selective focus and is entirely fixed, giving you 45mm to work with and an aperture of f/3.5.
If you’re nervous about trying a tilt-shift lens for the first time, this is a great option to go with for several reasons. For starters, it’s a compact and fun lens for anyone who loves to play with light and for adding Bokeh-like effects to your images. There is a tilt of +/- 8.5 degrees, and it has a precise center-focus locking ability to provide you with sharp final images. There are also 46mm filter threads built-in that make it easy to throw on a filter or hood if need be.
5. Rokinon Tilt-Shift 24mm f/3.5 (Budget Winner)
One thing all photographers can agree on is how expensive gear can be, and tilt-shift lenses often carry a hefty price tag. If you’re on a tight budget, consider the Rokinon 24mm lens. It has a tilt of +/-8.5 degrees, a shift of +/-12 degrees, and a rotation of +/-90 degrees. The biggest thing that sets this lens apart from others like it is the price tag. That means that you can get the quality of a high dollar lens for a reasonable price.
Another feature that makes this one of the best tilt-shift lenses is the wide variety of mounting options. It also has manual aperture and focusing controls built-in. A multi-layered coating is applied to every element, keeping it safe from things like dust and dirt. Lastly, you’re not going to have to sacrifice image quality just because of the low price tag. It sounds like a win to us!
Final Thoughts on Tilt-Shift Lenses
Tilt-shift lenses are the perfect tool to allow photographers to have more control over an image’s depth of field and perspective. Each of the products listed above will produce sharp, high-quality images. You won’t have to worry about durability or lacking any protective coating with the options outlined above.
Tilt-shift lenses are manual focus, so you may need to brush up on your manual focusing skills, but that’s not hard to learn. If you find yourself shooting landscapes, architecture, interiors, or city life a lot, you just might enjoy having a lens that can give you that extra edge and help your work to stand out.
You don’t have to break the bank to find a lens that will get the job done, though. If you want to experience a deeper depth of field, create great panoramas, and photograph buildings with straight lines, we highly suggest adding a tilt-shift lens to your gear bag for your next shoot.