Tilt-shift on APS-C - Rob de Loe

Tilt-shift on APS-C

Updated September 15,  2018

Camera movements (tilt, shift) are important in my photography. I used them a lot when I worked with a view camera and film. When I switched to digital and smaller formats, I needed a way to have some of those movements. Dedicated tilt-shift lens are available for various "full frame" camera systems. I wanted lighter weight and lower cost. My first solution was medium format lenses (SMC Pentax-A 645) on a Sony A7R camera using Mirex tilt-shift adapters. in early 2017 I started building an even lighter and more flexible system using a Fuji X-T2 with its APS-C sensor, and Olympus OM lenses.

This page 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. While my focus is Fuji and Olympus OM lenses, the same approach can be used on other mirrorless APS-C systems using other lens families. For example, it should be possible to do what I've done on Sony NEX cameras, or using other lens brands.

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 photographers think this makes tilt-shift lenses irrelevant. I prefer to get it right in the camera, and that means having shift capabilities. I also don't want to lose the resolution that you have to give away to correct verticals in post. 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 isn't a substitute for precisely locating the area in focus with a tilt-able lens.

Plenty 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 used to use (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. 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 built a tilt-shift kit using primarily Olympus OM lenses. 

What About Image quality?

Whether or not the image quality you can get from an APS-C sensor and film-era lenses is good enough is an entirely personal decision. It's plenty good for my purposes, which include printing up to 17"x25". In fact, when I compared prints of the same subject made using my Sony A7R and SMC Pentax-A 645 medium format lenses to prints made using my Fuji X-T2 and Olympus OM lenses, it was almost too close to call. I switched to the smaller sensor and haven't regretted my decision.


Rushing the weir, OM 24/2.8, tilt

Rushing the weir

What do you need to make this all work?

Tilt-Shift Adapter

Currently the best small, light, flexible and acceptable quality tilt-shift adapter 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: Olympus OM, M42, Nikon F and G, 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.

As is the case with almost any adapter, it’s a good idea to flock the interior surfaces you can reach using telescope flocking paper.

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 on your camera. This arrangement works quite well, except that you have to recompose after every tilt, and it’s a bit awkward to switch camera orientations. An optional solution that works extremely well is a Novoflex ASTAT-NEX collar with the supplied inner ring for Sony E-mount lenses. The Novoflex collar with the slimmer inner E-Mount ring mounts perfectly around the lip on the front of the Kipon OM-X tilt-shift adapter.

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.

Using the Novoflex ASTAT-NEX lens collar makes things a bit snug around the lens mount. For most lenses it’s not a problem. However, the mount release button is a bit hard to reach with the OM 90/2. I highly recommend this combination when using the Kipon OM-X adapter; I do not know if the collar will fit on other Kipon tilt-shift adapters, e.g., for Nikon F to Fuji X.

Novoflex ASTAT-NEX Lens Collar with Kipton OM-FX adapter

OM 90/2 (fully extended) mounted via ASTAT-NEX collar (note tight access to lens mount button)

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 chose the Olympus OM lens mount for a variety of reasons:

* 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.

There are of course many other vintage lens options that could be used with a tilt-shift adapter, including Leica R, Nikon F, and any other mount that converts to one of these. For example, using the outstanding Leitax adapters you can convert Contax Carl Zeiss lenses to the Nikon F mount and use a Nikon F to Fuji X adapter.

If you have a nice set of lenses from another line that you want to use, or if you just prefer the rendering or design 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. As you’ll see from my experiences, which are described in the next section, there is no way to know in advance how a particular lens will perform as a shift lens.

Some additional 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 Mirex 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 a very flexible (but large and heavy) combination.

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'd use this way is the 550 gram OM 90/2, which is quite stubby except when fully extended (see picture above). Before I bought the Novoflex lens collar, 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. With the Novoflex ASTAT-NEX collar I described above, heavier lenses like this can easily be used.

Lenses for Olympus OM 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. 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. Many 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. 

* 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. The OM lenses I'm using tend to be good performers across the frame. 

* 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 best multi-coated Olympus OM lenses will flare more than 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 stiff due to dried up grease in the focusing helical; 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 tilt-shift adapter without modification. Some have projections on the lens mount that prevent their being mounted, or reduce the shift range (e.g., OM 28/2 and OM50/2). Others have baffles on the mount that are designed to manage flare, but which could 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.

My Current Preferred Lenses

I'm currently using the following Olympus OM Zuiko and third party lenses as my shift kit. These are all excellent performers.

* RMC Tokina 17mm f/3.5

* OM Zuiko 24mm f/2.8

* OM Zuiko 35mm f/2.8

* OM Zuiko 50mm f/2 macro

* OM Zuiko 90mm f/2 macro

* OM Zuiko 100mm f/2.8

* OM Zuiko 135mm f/2.8

* OM Zuiko 200mm f/5

Other options I tried are discussed in the next main section. Some of these other options are as good or better than the ones in this list, so don't ignore them. For instance, OM 50/1.4 and OM 50/1.8 are excellent (and cheap) options in this focal length if you don't feel like paying what OM 50/2 costs. However, many of the other options I tested were poor performers, and are not recommended.

Wide Angle of View on APS-C

RMC Tokina 17/3.5 is a high quality third-party lens that is available in the Olympus OM mount. It's also available as the Vivitar MC Wide-Angle 17mm f/3.5; it’s exactly the same lens, made for Vivitar by Tokina. The focus and aperture rings on my Tokina turn in the same direction as OM lenses, something that is important to me. RMC Tokina 17/3.5 is a very strong performer on my Fuji X-T2. It’s soft and glowy at f/3.5, but it has excellent contrast and sharpness across the frame at f/5.6, and remains sharp and contrasty at f/8. Diffraction starts to show at f/11, but the image is still very good. It’s not usable at f/16 due to diffraction. Colours are comparable to my Zuikos. Flare and ghosting are well controlled, and there’s little or no field-relevant vignetting starting at f/5.6. There is moderate barrel distortion on APS-C (about the same as OM 24/2.8 unshifted). On a full frame camera, the lens actually has complex, moustache distortion, which means the nature of the distortion on APS-C changes depending on how much shift is used. Shift performance is remarkably good for a vintage lens of this focal length. Actually, it’s just remarkably good, period. Shifts out to 10mm produce excellent results over most of the frame, except for the last 10% or so of the furthest shifted edge, which becomes a bit soft. Shifts to 8mm are excellent, with only a tiny bit of softening at the farthest shifted edge. I judge this lens to be easily as good unshifted and shifted as my OM 24/2.8, which also is an excellent performer. For people who like wide angle lenses and need shift capability, RMC Tokina 17/3.5 is an excellent and relatively inexpensive choice.

Wide-Normal Angle of View on APS-C

OM 24/2.8 is an excellent performer on my Kipon shift adapter. I tried four multi-coated copies. Three were very good, and one was excellent. Extreme corners are soft at f/2.8 and f/4, but very good at f/8. Vignetting is present wide open, but is not severe; it disappears as you stop down. Flare and ghosting were well controlled. 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 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).

Normal Angle of View on APS-C

OM 35/2.8 has a reputation as being an average, under-performing lens. I tested three multi-coated copies. The first one had a serial number in the 264xxx range. It lived up to its poor reputation. Unshifted, at f/2.8 and f/4, it was quite sharp and contrasty in the centre, but weak and soft everywhere else. It improved somewhat at f/5.6, became decent at f/8 and quite good at f/11. Distortion was minimal (a bit of easily-corrected barrel) and flare was well controlled. However, shifted to 8mm my 264xxx copy was not even acceptable until f/11. The second and third copies I tested had a serial number in the 295xxx range, and date codes suggesting they were among the last ones made in this model. Both of the 295xxx serial number copies were excellent. Unshifted, they were too soft for my taste at f/2.8, improved nicely at f/4 and very good across nearly the whole frame by f/5.6. However, they became very good to excellent at f/8 and are still very good at f/11. At f/16, distortion is apparent, but images are still quite usable. Better still, shift performance was very good on these 295xxx series lenses. At f/11, where this lens does the best overall, it can shift to 10mm with noticeable image quality degradation only in the 5% of the picture at the far edge of the image circle. Shifts to 8mm are excellent at f/8 and f/11.

For context, I compared test chart results for OM 35/2.8 unshifted to Fuji XF 35/2, which is a very nice modern lens. The Fuji lens is very good to excellent at f/2 through f/4 in the centre and middle zones, but soft in the corners, whereas OM 35/2.8 is weak at those apertures. However, the Fuji XF 35/2 stays soft in the extreme corners at all apertures, whereas OM 35/2.8 is almost evenly sharp across the whole frame starting at f/8. At f/11, OM 35/2.8 is better overall than Fuji XF 35/2 at f/11.

Narrow (Short Telephoto) Angle of View on APS-C

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 Zuiko 50s. All the OM50/2 Macro lenses were multi-coated. One of the strengths of OM 50/2 Macro is that its field is 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 was significantly better at infinity than my copy of OM 50/1.4. Colour and contrast are excellent in OM 50/2. This lens has a very deeply recessed front element, which provides a lot of protection from glare even without a hood. Shift performance is excellent overall. At 5mm it's excellent. At 8mm there's some loss of image quality in the farthest shifted edge, but the rest of the frame is excellent. At 10mm the far shifted edge is weak. Other 50mm Zuikos shift better to 10mm, but I prefer OM 50/2 for the overall package.

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 one of my favourite all-around lenses.

Telephoto 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. These are the three I use.

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.

OM 100/2.8 is an incredibly small telephoto lens -- barely larger than OM 50/1.4. Even though it's not as strong overall as OM 90/2, OM 100/2.8 is an excellent choice for an ultra-light and small shift kit. It comes in both single- and multi-coated versions, and I've tested both. 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 I used was a tiny bit sharper overall and had better flare resistance and contrast. This is the telephoto lens I'll carry if weight is a concern.

OM 135/2.8 is a good option at 135mm because it is compact, light and available in a multi-coated edition. It uses 55mm filters. Unshifted, image quality is good to very good starting around f/5.6. Shift performance is also very good, 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.

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/8 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. Chromatic aberration 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.

Frozen, OM 90/2 with tilt

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Other Lenses (Tested or Considered)

I tested many other Zuiko and third-party OM-mount lenses. Some were excellent performers, but did not suit me as much as the ones I'm currently using. Others were simply not usable, but are listed here for the record.

Ultra-wide angle

Sigma made a 14mm f/3.5 lens in various mounts. This was a remarkably wide lens for its time. I tried a copy of Sigma 14/3.5 in the OM mount. The rings rotated in the Olympus direction. Mechanically my copy was not up to Zuiko standards (not even close), but it was usable. The lens is heavy but compact, and comes with a fixed petal hood and a slip on lens cap. The front lens element is huge and bulbous. Distortion is (remarkably) just moderate barrel. Unfortunately the copy of Sigma 14/3.5 I tested had severe  damage on the internal elements that destroyed contrast and sharpness. Nonetheless, I was able to determine that sharpness across the frame unshifted would be very good at f/5.6, and that shift performance out to 5mm was very good. In some orientations it was possible to shift further, but the petal hood caused hard vignetting in others. Had the optics been clean and clear I might have kept this lens, except that its reputation for being notoriously bad at controlling flare and ghosting is well deserved. Any stray light hitting the front element causes massive flare and ghosting. I do not recommend this lens unless you absolutely need this angle of view and are prepared to manage the flare and ghosting. Any shifting beyond 5mm would require trimming off the petal hood and building some kind of a custom shade.

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  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. Being a modern lens, it's not available in the old Olympus OM mount. If I really needed an ultra-wide shift lens, this is the first one I'd try (with a Nikon F mount).

Wide angle

OM 18/3.5 is a compact 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. Fortunately, RMC Tokina 17/3.5 is an excellent alternative (and about 25% of the cost of OM 18/3.5).

Tamron SP 17/3.5 also has a good reputation. This is one of Tamron's Adaptall lenses; a Tamron Adaptall OM mount is available. On Tamron Adaptall lenses the focus and aperture rings turn in the same direction as Olympus OM lenses, which is a nice bonus. I tested a mint copy of Tamron SP 17/3.5 and found it to be totally unsatisfactory for shift on my Fuji X-T2. It was very weak shifted and unshifted. This is unfortunate because the focus and aperture rings on Tamron Adaptall lenses turn in the same direction as Olympus OM. It's entirely possible that despite its pristine condition there was something wrong with the lens because people consider it to be a bit better than RMC Tokina 17/3.5. I did not test a second copy.

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 OM 21/2, which has a good reputation and a high price tag. Testing by Modern Photography magazine noted strong moustache distortion and image quality that isn't much better than OM 21/3.5.

Wide-normal

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

Olympus also made a 24mm f/3.5 shift lens that some people have raved about. I bought a copy of OM 24/3.5 Shift 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 also don't think 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

In this category I include 28mm and 35mm lenses, of which I tested many options.

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. Even f/3.5 is very good and absolutely usable. All versions of OM 28/3.5 are single coated. Most importantly, OM 28/3.5 shifts better than OM 24/2.8, and as long as you watch out for flares and ghosting, it has very good IQ. I used OM 28/3.5 as my "normal" lens until I found a good copy of OM 35/2.8, which I now prefer.

I have read that the newer multi-coated OM 28/2.8 is not as strong across the whole frame as OM 28/3.5, but have not tested for myself. If you must have multi-coating in a 28mm lens, 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). 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. I do not recommend this lens. Also, if OM 28/2 cannot be used on the Kipon tilt-shift adapter unless a baffle on the lens mount is removed or modified.

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.

OM 35/2 was a major 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.

Olympus made another shift lens that has a decent reputation, OM 35/2.8 Shift. I really wanted this lens to be good because it would have provided shift in two different directions at the same time, or tilt independent from the direction of shift. I tested two, and both were poor performers. The first was one of the rare multi-coated copies in mint condition. It was terrible. IQ was weak unshifted, and got much worse shifted; I tested using the shift mechanism of the lens and the shift mechanism on the Kipon adapter; results were the same (poor). I bought a mint single-coated copy to see if my first lens was a dud. The second copy was better than the first version, but still an overall weak performer. I would not recommend this lens.

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 on the Internet. 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.

Until I found my good OM 35/2.8, I used 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 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 (much more strongly than for OM 35/2.8, which is still very good at f/11), but image quality is still usable. 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).

Finally, a non-Olympus option that works 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 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, and because I found 35mm OMs that performed as well or better as shift lenses. However, it's worth looking at if you don't mind mixing and matching.

Short telephoto

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 had a multi-coated “Japan” version (not the much more desirable “made in Japan” version). It had oil on the blades (a common problem with the "Japan" series), but still worked great as a shift lens. Distortion and flare were minimal, and it shifted extremely well to 8mm, and was usable at 10mm of shift if the far shifted edge of the image in an area that doesn't have fine detail.

Many people report in magazines and forums that OM 50/1.4 is not as sharp as OM 50/1.8. My copy of OM 50/1.4 was better in almost every way than my copy of OM 50/1.8. It was a bit less sharp in the centre, but the corners were 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. This is the 50mm lens I would be using if I didn't have OM 50/2.

Telephoto

The third iteration of OM 85/2 was very well regarded as a portrait and general short-telephoto lens. Unshifted, it’s a terrific lens, even on a digital full frame sensor. 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  OM 90/2 is such a stellar lens.

OM 100/2.8 is an incredibly small telephoto lens -- barely larger than OM 50/1.4. Even though it's not as strong overall as OM 90/2, OM 100/2.8 is an excellent choice for an ultra-light and small shift kit. It comes in both single- and multi-coated versions, and I've tested both. 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 I used was a tiny bit sharper overall and had 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. The shield on the lens mount side that is designed to manage flare might be a problem when rotating the lens on the Kipon adapter.

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.

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. Otherwise, get one of the OM 135 lenses.

OM 200/4 is the the larger sibling of my OM 200/5. Some users suggest OM 200/4 is a bit sharper than OM 200/5, and that the multi-coated version has 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 telephoto option 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. However, 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. A lens of this weight is simply too heavy if the camera is mounted to the tripod directly or using a bracket or L-plate. I didn't have my Novoflex ASTAT-NEX collar at the same time as I had this lens; I expect it would have worked fine with the lens collar.

Sideways Light, OM 50/2, 3mm rise

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-mount 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. For wider than 24mm, my RMC Tokina 17/3.5 is an excellent performer starting at f/5.6. 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 ultra-wide focal lengths often. The Fuji XF 14/2.8 is simply outstanding, and allows for enormous depth of field.

I now have an OM 35/2.8 prime that I like (a late serial number 295xxx copy) when I need something between 24mm and 50mm. 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.

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. On the tripod, the Novoflex ASTAT-NEX lens collar is an excellent tool that makes tilting and shifting a lot easier.


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