Sunday, February 17, 2013

Bending the Rules: Shooting with the Tilt Adapter

Visual allegory
I got a tilt adapter to gain additional control over depth of field (see this post).  In this follow up post, I show real world shots from the tilt adapter.

Yesterday I took our kids to visit my parents.  I got the chance to try out the tilt adapter for real world photos.

Using the tilt adapter poses several challenges for candid photos.  First, there is no autofocus.  That is hard enough as is with moving subjects, but to compound the focusing issue, the area in focus is intended in this case to be narrow therefore simply narrowing the aperture to get greater depth of field is not an option.  In addition, as the adapter is tilted and rotated, the focus will change even if the relative positions of the camera and subject remain the same.  Another issue when used with a D600 and some of the newer Nikon DSLRs is that using the focus trap technique doesn't work.  On the plus side, I get focus confirmation on the D600 but not the Fuji S5.

Getting a good exposure is also a challenge.  The tilt adapter is completely manual therefore the camera can't control the aperture.  On the D600 and S5, I can use manual exposure mode or aperture priority.  Yes, stop down metering is possible (assuming the lens has an aperture ring).  Moreover, I can activate Auto ISO.  However, I find that the metering is unpredictable and often unreliable when the lens is tilted.  The indicated metering also varies depending on whether I use Live View or not.  In addition, the exposure changes as the lens is tilted or rotated even if the amount of light in the scene doesn't change.

All I can say is, thank goodness for digital.

For now, I just set the tilt to the maximum and think only about the ideal rotation angle for the lens.  I simplify that decision further by usually choosing only between left or right tilt.  In the future I hope to be comfortable enough to adjust to any other angle or tilt.

The exposure changes too rapidly for me to use manual exposure.  I just had to roll the dice with Auto ISO, ride exposure compensation, and hope for the best.

With respect to focusing, I can get the focus close to the correct focus but it is almost never in perfect focus. Plus, the focus changes very rapidly due to subject movement and rotating the lens.  When I can, I try to do focus bracketing by taking several shots as I slowly adjust the focus.  For somewhat static subjects, I use live view to help me focus.

As a tool for getting an apparently shallow depth of field, the tilt adapter fulfilled my expectations.  When I first tried out the tilt adapter, I experimented with small objects, at fairly close range (see previous post).  Although I was impressed with the unique results made possible by a tilt adapter, in the back of my mind I was hoping for a shallower depth of field than what I observed.  However, when I took real-world shots, the shallow DOF was much more noticeable than I first thought.  That's because...

...The effects of a tilt adapter are most noticeable with farther objects.  Here's a shot of an orange tree:

As you can see the DOF appears to be shallow.  IIRC, I was shooting about 15 feet away from the tree.  At that distance, I don't think even a 50 1.4 wide open on a full frame camera will have such a blurred background.

The tilt adapter works best when I want two things in focus that are not on the same [normal] focal plane (i.e., parallel to the sensor).  In such a case using the tilt adapter makes the most sense.

without tilt -  faces on left picture frame not entirely in focus
with tilt - left picture frame is in focus while other objects are blurred

My dad and my daughter are in focus (or close enough) while everything else is blurred.  The lens was tilted to the right for this shot.

On the other hand, while I can tilt the adapter left or right to create the appearance of a very shallow depth of field, objects on the opposite side of the out-of-focus area have an increased depth of field that is sometimes distracting.  Here, I tilted the lens to the left (if I had tilted to the right, the field on the left would not look so out of focus).

However, because I tilted the lens to the left, the lens' focal plane extended to the right, thus bringing my son into focus.  As an alternative, I will try tilting up or down.

Despite the challenges, getting keepers is not as hard as I expected, as long as you keep your expectations realistic.

I saw my daughter running down this path and prefocused at the line on the path.  When she was crossing the line, I took several shots.

Overall, I would say that for an intermediate photographer, combined with a digital camera that has forgiving files, a tilt adapter is a practical, usable and accessible tool even for candid shots.

And it's fun to use!

UPDATE: B&H is now offering the Samyang 24mm f/3.5 tilt-shift.  As I feared, the price is indeed $1000. If you want a wider angle tilt, the Arax tilt adapter that I used here would not be a good choice because the only Pentacon 6 mount lens that's wider than the Mir26 I used would be a 30mm lens, which in medium format is a fisheye lens.  Instead, an alternative may be the Arax 35mm tilt shift lens which at this time costs $700, a little less than the Samyang although not as wide.  Another alternative may be to use a Micro 4/3 body, which can use a tilt adapter that works with Nikon F mount lenses.  You can then use the Sigma 10-20 or some similar lens to get an effective focal length of 20mm with tilt.

Pillow fight!

Can I have some?

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