Fun with tilt-shift lenses – the Canon EF 90mm TSE for portraits

Written by Gary on December 17th, 2008

Many of my blogs tend to espouse the advantages of Olympus over Canon or Nikon dSLRs, so here is one to try to bring back some balance.

After all, each camera system has their strengths and weaknesses and I use whatever tool best suits my purposes irrespective of brand and what I have brought with me.

For those that are not aware, I have an extensive 35mm film outfit (Olympus OM primarily, with a Contax thrown in), an extensive Bronica SQAi 6×6 medium format film outfit with most of the lenses, a Mamiya C330f TLR medium format film camera with a couple of lenses, a Olympus E510, E330 dSLR with various lenses, and a Canon 1DMIII with various lenses.

I love each for different reasons, although I must admit, the 35mm film cameras are not getting much use at all as I prefer to use MF film if I am going to the trouble and cost of using film then scanning it, especially now that Kodak has stopped making their HIE infrared film.

So back to this blog where I thought I would demonstrate another beautiful Canon lens – the EF90mm TSE tilt shift – which I dearly love for artistic portraiture in particular. The effects may not be to everyone’s liking, but that doesn’t bother me – I like them and that’s all that matters.

Some may say you can recreate these in Photoshop – but you can’t – PS allows you to selectively blur, but you don’t get the same bokeh or quality of the out of focus highlights, and to get a selective plane of focus, you would need extreme depth of field in the initial image.

So let’s have a look at a couple of portraits I did for fun and experimentation to see what this EF 90mm TSE lens can do WITHOUT Photoshop:

Jess 1

Note in the above image, that by rotating the lens and tilting it, I have selected the plane of focus to pass through her left eye and her hair with all else being out of focus.

jess 2

Again, I have selected a plane of focus to pass through her right hand and her left eye with all else being out of focus creating the nice out of focus highlights on her shawl.

You can click on the above to see the images larger on my web photo album.

I have a prior blog showing similar effects using the Canon EF 45mm TSE tilt shift lens.

Of course, you can do this on your Nikon dSLR as Nikon have revamped their tilt shift lenses with improved models although very expensive.

Thus far, neither Sony, Pentax nor Olympus have tilt shift lenses in their line up – although you can buy the 3rd party option of Lensbaby lenses which provide some control, and of course, you can use the Nikon tilt-shift lenses or even Olympus OM shift lenses on Olympus although the 2x crop factor will modify their utility.

A critical aspect of using the rather complicated tilt functionality is having a camera with Live Preview where you can magnify the part of the image you want to be sharp and ensuring it is indeed in focus and then without moving the camera (you can’t just focus then recompose), take the shot.

Tilt shift lenses are a lot of fun, but require patience and experimentation.

If I had the money, I would have strongly considered buying the new Nikon 45mm tilt shift lens as then I could use it as a 90mm lens on my Olympus cameras and as a 60mm lens on my Canon 1DMIII – perhaps one day I will get the new Nikon 24mm ED tilt-shift lens if my wife lets me sell her car 🙂

Unfortunately, unlike Nikon lenses, Canon lenses cannot be used on other brands.

More information on perspective control lenses here..


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