Tilt-shift on APS-C - Rob de Loe

Tilt-shift on APS-C

Updated May 12 2018

In 2017 I switched camera systems, moving from a Sony A7R "full frame" mirrorless camera to the Fuji X system, which uses a smaller APS-C sensor. Fuji's X-T2 is a very capable camera that fits my way of making photographs. However, I wasn't going to switch completely to Fuji if I couldn't have tilt-shift capabilities. On my Sony A7R, I had a very capable tilt-shift setup based on dual Mirex tilt-shift adapters and medium format lenses (SMC Pentax-A 645). This provided tilt-shift capabilities at the focal lengths I used the most (35mm, 55mm, 75mm, and 150mm). I use camera movements a lot in my photography, so I needed to replicate this tilt-shift capability on the smaller APS-C sensor.


This posting is a rolling review and report on how I'm using tilt-shift on APS-C. I'm updating it as I learn more, and try other lenses -- so check back for updates.


Why Tilt-Shift?

If you shoot landscape or architecture, you know that tilt-shift is an important and useful tool. In the digital world, you can correct verticals in post. Some have argued that this makes tilt-shift lenses irrelevant. I disagree. You can correct verticals with software, but this involves compromises because you are cropping your images. It's one thing to crop a 42 MP image, but the Fuji X-T2 is a 24 MP sensor. For the kind of printing I like to do, I need all those pixels. As for tilt, you can’t change where the plane of focus is in your image in post (not yet anyway). Focus stacking is another tool that has become available in the digital era. But focus stacking doesn’t replace precisely locating the area in focus with a tilt-able lens. Millions of people are doing fine without tilt-shift. If you’re reading this, chances are you already know why you need tilt-shift capability. Even if you have a full-blown tilt-shift setup on a full-frame or larger sensor camera, the information in this post might still be useful if you want to carry around an APS-C camera and would like to have at least one lens that can tilt and shift.


Dominion Square Building in sunlight, Montreal, OM 100/2.8, 8mm rise

Dominion Square Building in sunlight, Montreal

Why Tilt-Shift on APS-C?

There are many ways to get tilt-shift today, starting with a view camera and film. On "full frame" digital cameras, excellent options are available using Canon TS-E lenses (e.g., 24mm f/3.5L II and TS-E 17mm f/4L) or comparable Nikon lenses (e.g., Nikon PC NIKKOR 19mm f/4E ED). The Cambo Actus system is another interesting way to get a view camera-like experience in the digital world. The setup I described in the introduction (Sony full frame mirrorless camera, dual Mirex adapters, medium format lenses) is another good option. My goal was to build a light, small and high quality tilt-shift kit around my Fuji X-T2 that covered my favourite angles of view (54 degrees, 40 degrees, 27 degrees and 14 degrees). On the Fuji X APS-C sensor, that means I needed lenses with focal lengths in the neighbourhood of 24mm, 36mm, 50mm and 100mm. I wanted it simple (one adapter, and one lens family other than my Fuji X lenses, rather than a grab-bag of different lens brands and multiple adapters). In the end, I was mostly successful in sticking to one lens family.

What About Image quality?

Initially I thought my Fuji equipment would supplement my Sony A7R with its medium format lenses. After extensive testing and head-to-head comparison I discovered that with my Fuji setup I can do 95% of what I could do with my Sony setup, and because it’s smaller, lighter and more flexible, I can actually do a lot of things with the X-T2 that I couldn’t do with the Sony (which lived on a tripod due to the weight I had to add to tame the shutter shake). What sealed the deal for me was comparing print extracts from 24” x 36” sized final prints of the same scenes. I realized that I could make large prints from Fuji X-T2 files that were close enough to the quality I can achieve from A7R images made with my SMC Pentax-A lenses. On its face this might seem impossible. How can a 24 MP sensor produce images comparable to the ones from a 36 MP sensor. Surely more has to be better. Assuming good technique, a 36 MP or sensor with top quality modern lenses from the Zeiss Otus or Sigma Art lines will make sharper, more detailed images than an X-T2 and the best Fuji lenses, let alone the vintage lenses I used to get tilt-shift! However, I compared print extracts of 24”x36”-sized prints made with the equipment I had: Sony A7R and SMC Pentax-A 645 lenses compared to Fuji X-T2 with Fuji X and Olympus OM lenses. Test prints were made on Premier Art Smooth Fine Art 325 gsm paper using Eboni Variable Tone monochrome inks, and an Epson 3880 through Quadtone RIP. With nose pressed against the print, you can (just) tell which one is from the A7R. At anything like normal viewing distance, you can’t. That meets my standards given the huge personal benefits of small and light versus bigger, more clunky and less flexible.


Rushing the weir, OM 24/2.8, tilt

Rushing the weir

What do you need to make this all work?

Tilt-Shift Adapter

First, you need a tilt-shift adapter. Currently the best small, light, flexible and acceptable quality option at the moment for Fuji X is the Kipon Tilt-Shift line. Kipon is a Chinese clone of the German Mirex adapter, but Mirex doesn’t build adapters for Fuji and has no plans to do so. If you’ll only ever tilt, Kipon makes tilt-only adapters; ditto if you only ever shift. If at all possible, I’d get and adapter that does both in one unit.

Kipon currently offers tilt-shift adapters that fit Fuji X cameras and these lens mounts: M42, Nikon G, Olympus OM, Nikon F, and Leica R. Shift-only or tilt-only adapters are available for some other lens mounts (e.g., Contax/Yashica, Canon FD, Minolta MD, Pentax K). Kipon also makes adapters that fit the Sony NEX series, and other cameras. Adorama carries them all.

I’m currently using the original design of the Kipon OM-X tilt-shift adapter. In this version there is no locking mechanism to prevent rotation, like there is on the current one, but the rotation mechanism is already quite stiff so that’s not an issue for me. I owned but had to return a current version Kipon OM-X tilt-shift adapter; it didn’t fit on the Fuji camera due to a manufacturing defect. Hopefully that was a fluke.

Lens Collar (Novoflex ASTAT-NEX) -- Optional

You can use the Kipon adapter with the camera mounted directly to a tripod via an L-bracket or plate. This arrangement works quite well, except that you have to recompose after every tilt. An optional solution that works very well is to use a Novoflex ASTAT-NEX collar with the inner ring for Sony E-mount lenses. The Novoflex collar with the slimmer inner E-Mount ring fits perfectly on the lip on the front of the Kipon OM-X tilt-shift adapter. The mount release button is a bit hard to reach with the OM 90/2, but is readily accessible with most other OM lenses. With this combination, you can use heavier lenses because the Fuji lens mount is no longer carrying the weight of the adapter and lens. It's also easier to tilt; you still need to recompose after tilting, but not to the same extent. I highly recommend this combination

Lenses

To make tilt-shift work on a Fuji X camera (or other APS-C) you will need “full frame” lenses that have a generous image circle and aperture control on the lens itself. Usually this means "vintage" lenses designed for 35mm film. Some modern options also exist. For instance, Samyang/Rokinon, Voigtlander, Laowa and other vendors make modern manual focus, manual aperture lenses in various mounts that would probably work well too. I haven’t tried any. I also haven’t tried any rangefinder lenses or Cine lenses.

The whole point of the exercise for me was to build a small, light, good quality tilt-shift setup, so I wanted one adapter and one family of lenses that covered all the focal lengths I needed. I went with Olympus OM Zuiko lenses for a variety of reasons. There are of course many other options. 

* Zuikos tend to be tiny, are well made, and most of them produce high quality images even compared to the modern Fuji lenses.

* I liked that Fuji X and Olympus OM lenses have aperture rings that rotate the same way, and that you can set the Fuji X lenses to focus manually in the same direction as Olympus OM lenses. I didn’t want to have to think about what direction I need to turn the rings on a particular lens, so this was a big plus for me.

* I appreciated that you can get a useful set of excellent OM lenses that use the 49mm or 55mm filter thread sizes. This makes it economical to buy filters, and helps to keep a light kit.

If you have a nice set of lenses from another line that you want to use, or if you just prefer the drawing style or features of other lenses, keep in mind that you'll have to test them out yourself because you can’t know in advance if the image circle is large enough and if the shifted image quality is acceptable.

Some constraints to keep in mind

The Kipon (and Mirex) adapters do not allow tilt independent from shift (something you can do with a Canon TS-E 24mm Mark II). Using a single Kipon tilt-shift adapter, you can tilt up or down and shift sideways, or you can swing left or right and rise or fall. With a full frame mirrorless camera like the Sony A7R, you can use two tilt-shift adapters and medium format lenses to get tilt independent from shift. You could use two adapters and medium format lenses on an APS-C camera, but if you need that much movement you might as well go full frame with dual Mirex adapters, or use a Cambo Actus.

Kipon (and Mirex) adapters provide what is in effect a "base tilt" as opposed to an "axis tilt". In other words, when you tilt, the frame moves down. To get back to the original composition, you need to tilt the camera backwards. This tends to enlarge whatever is in the foreground (an effect also known as "looming"). You can mount a shift lens onto a tilt adapter, and then shift up after tilting (rather than leaning the camera backwards). This does allow a bit more control over the shape of objects in the foreground. I did try this with an Olympus shift lens (see below), but in the end decided to live with this limitation. If having axis-tilt is absolutely essential, I can recommend the Canon FD 35mm f/2.8 Tilt-Shift lens mounted on a Fotodiox shift adapter. This is an excellent combination (which I've described elsewhere).

Kipon and Mirex tilt-shift adapters are “dumb”, meaning that the lens and the camera body don’t communicate. One nice feature of Fuji X cameras is that you can specify the focal length of the lens you’re attaching in the camera, and that information gets written into the image file. I like keeping track so this is handy for me.

On APS-C sensors your full frame lenses don’t magically change focal length (because focal length is an inherent property of the lens). But, the APS-C sensor is smaller than a full frame sensor, so the 1.5x “crop factor” comes into play. In “equivalence” terms, this means that a 24mm lens on a Fuji APS-C sensor has roughly the field of view of a 36mm lens on full frame. This makes it tough, but not impossible, to get a good ultra-wide option (see below).

On the plus side, the same 1.5x crop factor applies to shifts. A 10mm shift on an APS-C sensor is equivalent to a 15mm shift on full frame. This is the key to making this all work. Remember that the outstanding Canon 24mm TS-E Mark II shifts to a maximum of 12mm on full frame. This means that 8mm on APS-C is a reasonable target maximum shift, with more mm a bonus. Lots of old 35mm lenses are capable of shifting 8mm (you just can’t know which ones in advance!)

Finally, heavy lenses don't work well if the camera is mounted to the tripod with a plate or bracket. The heaviest lens I'm using is the 550 gram OM 90/2, which is quite stubby except when fully extended. I was unable to use an otherwise excellent telephoto lens that weighed 876 grams and didn't have a tripod foot because it put too much pressure on the mount, and tended to drag the shift mechanism down even when in the locked position.

Olympus Lenses that Work Well for Tilt-Shift

I had to buy, try, and sell or return lots of lenses to find the ones that worked well. Along the way, I learned that you can’t go by general reviews from people who didn’t shift the lens. Some of the lenses I tested were as good unshifted as people who owned or tested them were saying, but fell apart once shifted. This section provides a summary of what I learned. Needless to say my “findings” are my opinions based on owning and/or testing between one and four copies of each lens. 

First, a few things to remember about Olympus lenses:

* All lenses have their own distinctive qualities. Most (but not all) Olympus OM lenses tend to lower contrast, cooler tones and a bit of an “egg tempura” look. Because of these properties I have no trouble at all telling which of my X-T2 RAW files were made with an Olympus lens versus a Fuji lens. This may be a bit bothersome for colour photographers, but I shoot for black and white so I can achieve a consistent look from RAW files made with the different lenses.

* Most Olympus OM lenses tend not to be “bitingly sharp” anywhere in the frame. (Two exceptions are OM 50/2 and OM 90/2, both of which are as sharp as many modern lenses.) If you like clinical sharpness and hyper realism in your images, then the less expensive Olympus OM lenses will probably not make you happy. Then again most vintage lenses won't make you happy if you are comparing to a modern Zeiss Otus lens.

* Some lens designs trade off centre sharpness for edge sharpness. In choosing lens for shifting, I was willing to trade off some centre sharpness for evenness across the frame -- which is of course essential when shifting. Many OM lenses have this quality.

* Distortion is a major concern on shift lenses because you're only using part of the image circle, and not the centre if you're shifting. An ideal shift lens has no field-significant distortion (barrel or pincushion), and if it has some distortion, it's simple rather than complex. My Zeiss Distagon 21/2.8 was much sharper across the whole frame at all apertures compared to my OM 21/3.5. But my Distagon had strong field curvature and complex mustache distortion that made it weak as a shift lens on APS-C. The OM lenses I use have low distortion, or easily corrected distortion. 

* Olympus OM lenses were made in single and multi-coated versions. Single coated OM lenses flare worse than multi-coated. However, even the multi-coated Olympus OM lenses will flare more than most good quality modern lenses. Some people say they prefer the look and tone of the single coated OM lenses for black and white. I use both single- and multi-coated OM lenses; assuming I controlled for flare, I can’t say I’ve seen much of a difference once I’m done processing the files. I buy the MC if I have a choice, but happily use my SC lenses.

* Olympus OM lenses on the used market are often a bit stiffer in the focus ring than other vintage lenses I’ve used (notably Takumars). You have to watch out because many used copies are extremely (as in unusably) stiff because the grease has dried up; these ones also often have a lot of play or wobble in the focus mechanism, which is a pain for critical focus. Make sure to ask questions when you’re buying because it’s usually not worth paying someone to fix these lenses (with a few rare exceptions). A good quality Zuiko will have a nice smooth focus ring that turns easily, and an aperture ring that clicks positively and firmly while turning easily.

* Not all OM lenses will fit or work on a Kipon t/s adapter without modification. Some have projections on the lens mount that prevent their being mounted, or reduce the shift range (e.g., see OM 28/2 and OM50/2). Others have baffles on the mount that are designed to manage flare, but which block part of the image circle when rotating the lens out of the position for which it was designed; this is the case for OM 100/2, which I didn’t test but which is reported to be a superb lens. For these lenses, you may need to modify or remove the baffle to allow shifting.

* Finally, as a general guideline for shifting, maximum image quality in the shifted zone is usually achieved by focusing in the shifted area when the subject is parallel to the sensor, rather than in the centre. For example, if you're photographing a building that is parallel to the sensor, instead of focusing in the centre of the frame, you may need to focus in the far shifted area. This is more important with some lenses (e.g., OM 28/3.5, OM 50/2) than others (e.g., OM 50/1.4). Slight changes in the point of focus can make a major difference. When sharpness is critical, I recommend making three frames, re-focusing each time.  For the first frame, I'll focus in the centre of the "in focus" zone. For the second, I focus at the near edge of the in focus zone, and for the third at the far edge. My usual practice is to focus at the widest usable aperture and then close down to the shooting aperture. This approach usually guarantees a critically sharp image.

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The following points are some notes on my experiences with specific OM Zuikos, and selected other brand lenses I used to fill gaps. Keep in mind that all my findings are based on testing one or at most four copies of each lens, and I’m only discussing the ones I’ve actually tested for their overall image quality and shift-ability. Many of the results were surprising to me based on what I’d read about these lenses before testing them.

Wide field of view

The wide field of view is extremely challenging on an APS-C sensor using film-era 35mm lenses. Film-era ultra-wide angle lenses are simply not up to modern standards.

OM 18/3.5 is a lovely ultra-wide lens, and very well regarded. However, it’s very expensive today, and proved to be almost completely unusable for shift. It vignettes strongly unshifted, and the more you shift the stronger the vignette on that side. Image quality also degrades a lot during shift. People who’ve owned this lens have raved about the quality, but I was underwhelmed with the copy I tested. I didn’t consider it usable for tilt-shift (which is a real shame because it’s the widest non-fisheye that Olympus made for OM).

Tamron SP 17mm f/3.5 has a good reputation. This is one of Tamron's Adaptall lenses, and a Tamron Adaptall OM mount is available. I tested a mint copy and found it to be totally unsatisfactory for shift on my Fuji X-T2. This is unfortunate because the focus and aperture rings on Tamron Adaptall lenses turn in the same direction as Olympus OM.

OM 21/3.5 is highly regarded and very tiny. I’ve owned three multi-coated copies. Two were good but not outstanding unshifted, while my latest copy was very good. On the plus side, it’s actually closer to a 20mm lens, so this is the widest Zuiko option I tried that actually works. If you absolutely need tiny and about 20mm, this is your lens. On my X-T2, my newest (third) copy shifted well out to 4mm, and satisfactorily out to 6mm (except that at the shifted side of the image, the top roughly 15-20% is going to be a bit softer). It is usable shifted to 8mm and beyond if you can locate something without a lot of detail in the shifted side (e.g., sky or clouds above a building). The best aperture is often f/8 (a bit softer than f/5.6, but better results shifted); f/11 shows diffraction, but is usable if depth of field is more important than sharpness. In the end I sold my last OM 21/3.5 because the image quality of OM 24/2.8 was so much better.

I have not tried the much more expensive OM 21/2.Testing by Modern Photography magazine noted strong moustache distortion and image quality that isn't much better than OM 21/3.5.

I haven't tried the Laowa 12mm f/2.8 Zero-D lens. However, I have read brief reports from people who have used it as a shift lens, and have been very happy. It's available in several mounts, including Nikon F and Pentax K, both of which have Kipon Tilt/Shift adapters for Fuji X and other APS-C mirrorless cameras. If I needed a super-wide shift lens, this is the first one I'd try (with a Nikon F mount). Another modern option is the Irix 15mm f/2.4, which also has an excellent reputation and comes in a Nikon F mount.

Wide-Normal field of view on APS-C

OM 24/2.8 is an excellent performer on my Kipon shift adapter. I tried four copies. Three were quite good, and one was excellent. Unshifted my best copy is noticeably sharper than OM 21/3.5. Extreme corners soft at f/2.8 and f/4, but very good at f/8. Vignetting is present wide open but not severe, and disappears as you stop down. Barrel distortion is modest, but not complex and tidies up nicely in post. Fuji 23/2 lens is an excellent lens, and OM 24/2.8 does very well in comparison. Most importantly, OM 24/2.8 shifts very well. At 6mm it’s simply excellent with a tiny loss of IQ only in the top 10-15% (a tiny bit of softening that is noticeable at high magnification). With careful focus placement it's possible to shift out to 10mm with  good results in the far shifted edge. Aperture set at f/8 provides a nice balance of coverage and sharpness, and f/11 is completely usable (only slightly softer due to diffraction).

This lens sealed the deal for me and led me to selling my Sony A7R and medium format lenses. The widest SMC Pentax-A 645 lens I could afford was the 35mm f/3.5, and the OM 24/2.8 covers that angle of view very well, produces comparably high quality images, and shifts almost as well.

There’s also an Olympus OM 24/2 lens. It’s rare, fairly expensive, and supposedly has even worse barrel distortion than the 24/2.8. I have not tested it.

Olympus made a 24mm f/3.5 shift lens that some people have raved about. I bought one and tested it on my A7R years ago; the image quality was terrible so I returned it. With the benefit of hindsight, I think I may have had a bad copy. It’s large and delicate (and expensive) so I didn’t buy another one to test on the X-T2. I doubt it would work better than the much less expensive OM 24/2.8. I’m also not sure you can take advantage of the additional shift range because the APS-C sensor is not designed to receive light that comes in at extreme angles. One reason to get one of these is if you simply must have shift in the same direction as tilt (e.g., if you need to tilt down and then shift back up to recompose without changing the sensor angle by tilting the camera back).

Normal field of view on APS-C

I like the “normal” angle of view (around 40 degrees) so I really wanted a 35mm Olympus lens to work. Olympus made a well-regarded 35mm f/2.8 shift lens which tested very well on the 16:9 site. I bought one in mint condition with high hopes. It was terrible. IQ was weak unshifted, and got much worse shifted (either using the lens’ shift mechanism, or the adapter’s shift mechanism). I returned it. Thinking that perhaps I had a bad copy, I tried again and bought a mint single-coated copy. It was better than my first version, but still an overall ordinary performer. I returned this one too.

The other Olympus 35mm lenses, OM 35/2.8 and OM 35/2have  a reputation as so-so in terms of IQ and flare behaviour. I bought and tested a spectacular copy of OM 35./2.8. It performed beautifully unshifted at f/8 and f/11. However, it was very weak wide open, and even at f/5.6 was not good. I liked how sharp and contrasty it was at f/8 and would have used it regularly if it had shifted well. Unfortunately, it's not consistently strong as a shift lens until f/11, where it was quite good; at f/8 it was only borderline acceptable for larger shifts.

OM 35/2 was also a disappointment. The copy I tested performed reasonably well unshifted at f/5.6, but was weak at wider apertures. Shift performance was poor at all apertures.

Several third-party lens companies offered prime lenses in the Olympus OM mount. The Vivitar 35mm f/1.9 Auto Wide Angle had a good reputation. The copy I tested performed fairly well in the centre but was weak into the edges and corners. It didn't shift well either.

Many Olympus Zuiko zooms have a poor reputation, and I prefer primes. However, there are a couple that provide a good 35mm focal length. Years ago I used to own an OM 35-70/3.6, a very nice standard zoom. Unfortunately, I sold it because even with the shade it flared like that was its main purpose in life.

To fill the 35mm gap in my lineup, I now use a relatively rare (but not very expensive) Olympus Zuiko zoom lens: OM 28-48/4. This is an odd little lens, with a limited zoom range, a slow maximum aperture, a very long minimum focus distance (0.65m), and a rotating front element (which is annoying when using circular polarizing filters). However, it's multi-coated, light (300g) and truly excellent at the 35mm position. Images are very usable wide open at f/4, and excellent by f/5.6. Diffraction sets in by f/11, but image quality is still very good. Distortion at 35mm is minimal (a bit of barrel). It's also an excellent shift lens. At 10mm the far shifted edge is a bit soft until f/11, but it shifts cleanly to 8mm. The lens is weaker at 28mm, and shows stronger distortion. At 48mm it's just a bit weaker than 35mm. To use this lens without constraints on a Kipon Tilt-Shift adapter, you have to trim a tiny bit off one of the plastic guards on the mount; OM 28-48/4 was sold as a "consumer" grade Zuiko, so this part of the mount is plastic rather than metal (which makes it easy to trim).

A non-Olympus option that works extremely well at 35mm is the Canon FD 35mm f/2.8 tilt-shift lens mounted on a Fotodiox shift adapter. I tried this setup for a while. It works extremely well, but it's large and heavy (at 700g with lens and adapter). I eventually sold it because I wanted to stay in the Olympus family. However, it's worth looking at if you don't mind mixing and matching. I've described this lens and adapter combination in detail elsewhere.

There are some other good OM options that still qualify as "normal" angle of view. OM 28/3.5 is an excellent and very inexpensive lens. Distortion is mild barrel and easily corrected and vignetting is modest at f/3.5 and largely gone by f/8. Corners and edges are excellent, especially at f/8. It's not as sharp as some of my other Zuikos, but at f/5.6 and f/8 it has extremely good image quality. All versions of OM 28/3.5 are single coated. Most importantly, OM 28/3.5 shifts even better than OM 24/2.8, and as long as you watch out for flare, it has excellent IQ.

I have read that the newer multi-coated OM 28/2.8 is to be avoided (but have not tested for myself). If you must have multi-coating it might be worth a try.

OM 28/2 is larger than OM 28/3.5, but has the same 49mm filter thread. It’s a multi-coated lens and bigger and more expensive than OM 28/3.5. Reviews suggested it would be excellent. Distortion seemed about the same as the 28/3.5 (mild barrel). OM 28/2 is interesting for its colour, which is warmer and more vibrant than the standard Olympus palette (almost Fuji-like). Unfortunately, it cannot be used on the Kipon tilt-shift adapter unless a baffle on the lens mount is removed or modified. I tested two copies of OM 28/2 and found that my copy of OM 28/3.5 had better overall image quality, especially in the corners, and OM 28/3.5 shifted much better; based on my testing, shift quality of OM 28/2 is weak.

A final option I tested in the 28mm focal length was the Vivitar 28mm f/2.8 Close Focus lens made by Komine. This lens has a very good reputation, but performance was disappointing both shifted and unshifted. OM 28/3.5 is significantly better than this Vivitar lens.

Narrow field of view on APS-C

The image circle tends to be larger on longer focal length lenses, especially in the telephoto range. Thus, shift quality improved substantially in this group.

While not a telephoto lens design, a 50mm lens designed for 35mm film provides a very useful narrow field of view. OM 50/1.8 is dirt cheap and performs very well. I have a multi-coated “Japan” version (not the much more desirable “made in Japan” version). It has oil on the blades, but still works great as a shift lens. Distortion and flare are minimal, and it shifts extremely well to 8mm, and is usable at 10mm of shift if you're careful to located the far shifted edge of the image in an area that doesn't have fine detail.

Many people report that OM 50/1.4 is not as sharp as OM 50/1.8. My copy of OM 50/1.4 is better in almost every way than my copy of OM 50/1.8. It’s a bit less sharp in the centre, but the corners are significantly better (which is crucial for shift applications). Vignetting is not a concern, flare is well controlled, and it shifts out to 10mm with very little loss of IQ; you can even shift beyond 10mm if you can deal with some loss of IQ in the extreme of the shifted end. It's not necessary to stop all the way down to f/11 to get a good image; f/8 is excellent.

OM 50/2 Macro is a magnificent lens. It’s larger, heavier at 320 grams, has a 55mm filter thread, and is much more expensive than the other 50s. If OM 50/1.4 is actually 50mm, then OM 50/2 Macro is closer to 51mm or 52mm. All the OM50/2 Macro lenses were multi-coated. One of the strengths of OM 50/2 Macro is that it's almost perfectly flat, meaning you don't have to worry about distortion issues during shifting. It's also an extremely sharp lens. At f/2, my copy is already strong in the centre, and quite usable even into the corners. It’s extremely sharp from corner to corner starting at f/5.6. Unlike some macro lenses, OM 50/2 Macro is as strong at maximum magnification (semi-macro 1:2) as it is at infinity. In fact, my copy of OM 50/2 is significantly better at infinity than my copy of OM 50/1.4. Colour and contrast are excellent in OM 50/2 – arguably even better than OM 50/1.4. OM 50/2 has a very deeply recessed front element, which provides a lot of protection from glare even without a hood.

Unshifted, OM 50/2 is noticeably sharper than OM 50/1.4 at both near and far distances. Comparing shift performance against a test chart, OM 50/2 and OM 501.4 are comparable at 5mm of shift in terms of image quality at the extreme shifted ended, whereas at 8mm of shift, OM 50/1.4 is a bit better; at 10mm of shift, OM 50/1.4 is clearly stronger than OM 50/2 at the extreme far-shifted end. Comparing the two lenses shifted at middle-distance (approximately 30 metres), at 5mm of shift, OM 50/1.4 already has very slightly better image quality in the shifted area. At 8mm of shift, OM 50/1.4 is better in the extreme shifted end. At 9mm of shift, OM 50/2 is still very usable, but is showing clear loss of image quality in the extreme shifted zone, while OM 50/1.4 remains strong. At 10mm of shift, OM 50/2 should be used only if the extreme shifted zone is located in an area where detail is not important (e.g., sky over a building); OM 50/1.4 remains very strong at 10mm of shift, with only a bit of image resolution loss at the extreme edge of the shifted zone.

One thing to keep in mind about OM 50/2 Macro is that it's one of the OM lenses that has a cowl on the mount side that interferes with the shift adapter. In “normal” orientation on the Kipon T/S adapter, it shifts right 6mm before the cowl hits the adapter. To shift 10mm, it’s necessary to rotate the entire adapter and shift with the lens upside down. You can also shorten the height of the cowl with a file by about 25% to allow it to slide under the adapter.

If you don’t need 1:2 magnification and value lighter weight and lower cost, stick with OM 50/1.4, or a 50/1.8 Made in Japan. However, if you like to focus close, and you need the very best overall image quality from 1:2 to infinity, then OM 50/2 Macro is an outstanding choice for the 50mm focal length. It's my favourite all-around lens and the one I'll always have with me.

Telephoto Lenses (Short and Long on APS-C)

I make a lot of use of longer focal lengths, including for tilting and shifting. Fortunately, there are many good options in this range.

The third iteration of OM 85/2 is very well regarded as a portrait and general short-telephoto lens. Unshifted, it’s a terrific lens. However, the copy I tested was useless as a shift lens. Past a few mm of shift, IQ was extremely poor. It's possible I had a problem copy of this lens, but I didn't bother trying another because there are other (better) options.

OM 90/2 Auto-Macro is in a league of its own. This lens is chunky and heavy at 550 grams. All versions are multi-coated. It’s already quite sharp wide open at f/2, and becomes incredibly sharp as it’s stopped down. In a head-to-head comparison I conducted with the superb Fuji XF 90/2, the Olympus outperforms the Fuji at all apertures at close to medium distances, and only falls a bit behind at or near infinity. At infinity, OM 90/2 easily bests OM 100/2.8 -- a remarkable performance for a macro lens.

On an APS-C sensor, OM 90/2 is completely flat across the field, with corner-to-corner sharpness. Best of all, it shifts 10mm with near-perfect image quality. Wide open it softens a bit at the far shifted side at 10mm, but stopped down to f/2.8 it’s already not possible to distinguish the unshifted image from the 10mm shifted image at 100%. This is an incredible performance. As a bonus, OM 90/2’s 9-bladed aperture makes for very pleasant out of focus areas.

Where OM 90/2 is large and chunky, OM 100/2.8 is incredibly small -- barely larger than OM 50/1.4. Even though it's not as strong overall as OM 90/2, OM 100/2.8 is a better choice for a small shift kit. On full frame I used my 150mm lens a lot in architectural and landscape applications, so I wanted the 100mm focal length to work on APS-C. My single coated OM 100/2.8 did not disappoint. It was very sharp, had almost no distortion, minimal vignetting, and shifted extremely well out to 8mm and reasonably well to 10mm. The multi-coated version that I now use is a bit sharper overall and has better flare resistance and contrast. OM 100/2 is supposed to be much better (unshifted) than OM 100/2.8, but it’s also considerably heavier (500 grams) and much more expensive so I haven’t tried it.

OM 135/3.5 is an inexpensive and very compact telephoto lens with a built in shade. It’s only available as single-coated, and it’s never described as spectacular. However, I’ve been  pleasantly surprised relative to the cost. It’s definitely not “bitingly sharp”, and contrast is a bit lower than the multi-coated version. However, distortion and vignetting are not a concern with OM 135/3.5, and it shifts extremely well out to 8mm with minimal loss of IQ, and well out to 10mm. Image quality is not in the same league as OM 100/2.8, but for low cost of this lens it's a decent performer if you need this focal length.

OM 135/2.8 is a better option at 135mm because it can be had in a multi-coated version, and it has much better contrast than OM 135/3.5. It's a bit heavier and larger than OM 135/3.5, and it uses 55mm filters. Shift performance is also excellent, with only a slight loss of image quality at the far shifted end at 10mm. The strongest overall performance of OM 135/2.8 is at f/5.6. This is the lens I'm using for 135mm now.

I also tried two third part 135mm lenses. Tamron 135/2.5 with an Adaptall-2 OM mount is a good lens. Image quality (resolution and contrast) was close to that of OM 135/2.8 and OM 135/3.5. However, the Olympus lenses had slightly better shift performance. Vivitar 135mm f/2.8 Close Focus made by Komine has a very good reputation, but did not perform as well as the Olympus 135mm lenses I tried. If you  need the ability to focus down to 1:2 at the 135mm focal length, then it's worth considering.

OM 200/5 is a remarkably tiny telephoto lens (weighing in at a svelte 380g). It’s a nicely proportioned and designed lens, with a built-in hood. It was only made in single-coated versions. At f/5 it's just a bit soft and can show strong purple fringing. It's sharpest at f/8. At f/11 it's a bit softer than f/8m yet but still quite acceptable, and f/16 is usable if you need the added depth of field and can deal with the softening due to diffraction. CA is strongest at f/5, and mostly gone by f/8 (although a bit is still evident at all apertures). It's less contrasty than the multi-coated OM 135/2.8. Shift performance is excellent to 8mm and very usable out to 10mm.

The larger sibling of this lens is OM 200/4, which some say is a bit sharper than OM 200/5, and should have better contrast. The copy of OM 200/4 that I tested did not perform consistently better than OM 200/5. Resolution was on par, and I didn't notice any dramatic improvements in contrast or flare resistance due to the multi-coating. It had the same amount of  chromatic aberration as OM 200/5. I would choose OM 200/5 over OM 200/4 simply because of the weight and size difference. OM 200/4 was too heavy to use with an L-bracket.

Another Olympus option in this focal length is OM 180/2.8, which is much heavier and suffers from extremely heavy chromatic aberration at large apertures. I have not tested OM 180/2.8 for shift performance, and likely won’t because there is a better option if you need 180mm specifically.

A non-Olympus telephoto lens I tested is Tamron 180mm f/2.5 SP (063B) with an Olympus Adaptall-2 mount. This lens is large and heavy (at 876 grams), and takes a 77mm filter. In reviewing this lens when it came onto the market, a UK photography magazine asked “Do you need a lens this good?” They weren’t kidding. This really is an excellent lens. It’s decently sharp across the frame wide-open, and is at its best at f/4. Images from f/5.6 through f/11 have slightly lower resolution than f/4, but are still excellent. Tamron 180/2.5 easily outperforms OM 200/5 at wide apertures; at f/8 and f/11 it’s stronger than OM 200/5, but not by a lot (which says a lot for the tiny Olympus telephoto). Shift performance is excellent out to 8mm and very good out to 10mm. Some of the other things I liked about this lens include internal focusing (so the front element does not turn); close focusing to 1.2 m; and aperture and focus rings that turn in the Olympus direction. In the end, I sold Tamron 180/2.5 because of one major problem: it doesn't have a tripod foot so the full weight of the lens plus adapter is carried by the camera mount. Not only does this arrangement make it cumbersome to compose precisely, especially on a tilt-shift adapter, but also on my X-T2, I could actually see the lens mount pulling away a bit from the camera; I think a lens of this weight is simply too heavy for the X-T2.

Summary

My goal was to assemble a small, lightweight and relatively inexpensive set of lenses that could tilt and shift. I now have a high quality set of Olympus OM lenses that provide core tilt-shift capabilities at my favourite angles of view on APS-C.

For the lightest possible load, I carry a Fuji X-T2 body, the Kipon T/S adapter, OM 24/2.8, and OM 50/2 Macro. As good as OM 50/1.4 is, I prefer OM 50/2 Macro for it's close focusing capabilities, its excellent sharpness from 1:2 to infinity, and its flat field.

If I need 35mm, OM 28-48/4 is excellent. When I need longer focal lengths, OM 90/2 Macro and OM 135/2.8 give me a lot of flexibility. I can add OM 200/5 when I need a long telephoto. OM 100/2.8 can replace OM 90/2 Macro if I need a lighter bag, but OM 90/2 Macro is so much better that I always seem to carry it instead.

If I need an ultra-wide, I pack the excellent Fuji XF 14/2.8. It doesn't tilt or shift, but I don't use very wide focal lengths often. The Fuji XF 14/2.8 is simply outstanding, and allows for enormous depth of field.

I still carry around a tripod or monopod a lot of the time, but tilting and shifting hand held with this setup is entirely do-able. A simply app on my phone calculates the tilt angle for me, making hand-held tilt work relatively straightforward.

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