Value of Tilt-Shift

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Today’s Question: What is your opinion on the use of Tilt-Shift wide-angle lens to reduce (eliminate) perspective distortion?

Tim’s Quick Answer: I think a tilt-shift lens can be incredibly helpful for correcting (and often eliminating) perspective distortion. The key question is whether it makes sense for an individual photographer to add a tilt-shift lens to their camera bag.

More Detail: A tilt-shift lens enables you to move lens elements relative to each other, which makes it possible to correct for perspective distortion as well as to alter the alignment of the depth of field. While a tilt-shift lens is especially valuable for correcting perspective in architectural photography, there are a wide variety of other situations where such a lens can be helpful.

If you were photographing a building from ground level at a relatively close distance, there will always be a degree of perspective distortion, where the building seems to be leaning away from you. In that situation, I would absolutely recommend using a tilt-shift lens if you had one in your bag.

As a result, the real question to me isn’t whether a tilt-shift lens could be helpful, but whether it might be worthwhile to add a tilt-shift lens to your camera bag.

If you frequently photograph subjects (such as architecture) where your photos would benefit from perspective correction, a tilt-shift lens might absolutely be a worthwhile addition to your collection of gear. But if you only need this type of perspective correction (or to apply other creative possibilities) on a somewhat infrequent basis, it might not be worth spending extra money for a tilt-shift lens (or to carry the extra weight of that lens).

Keep in mind that some of the effects you can achieve with a tilt-shift lens can also be accomplished in processing after the capture, although the quality might not be equivalent. This is why in general I consider a tilt-shift lens to only be a worthwhile investment for photographers who will take advantage of its unique benefits on a somewhat frequent basis.