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Sunday, June 1, 2008

Shoot Like Ansel Adams With 35mm D-SLRs

Today’s tilt-shift lenses offer unparalleled perspective control

This Article Features Photo Zoom

Ansel Adams
Ansel Adams was best known for his ultra-sharp landscapes, which he achieved through the use of a 4x5 view camera. The view camera allowed Adams to adjust the film plane and the lens plane so he could control the depth of field and the size relationships of objects in the frame with tilt and rise and fall movements. Using this technique, he was able to alter the perspective to his desire, whether he was trying to achieve perspective control through rise movements in Yosemite or increasing the depth of field by making the lens standard tilt down.

Today’s digital SLR with a tilt-shift lens can emulate the view camera in many ways. The film plane, or the camera’s image sensor, is always stationary and not adjustable like the 4x5 view camera; however, most of what Adams was able to achieve can be emulated with today’s modern high-tech gear by using these perspective-control lenses or tilt-shift lenses.

Ansel Adams
A hallmark of Ansel Adams’ photography was the absolute tack-sharpness of his images from near to far. To achieve that depth of field, Adams relied on two key elements— stopping his view camera down as far as he could and using the camera’s movements to take advantage of the Scheimpflug theory. In rigid D-SLRs, we usually only have the minimum ƒ-stop to assist us, but by using a lens with movements, we can have the same tool that Adams used.
Rising And Falling
A 4x5 view camera gave Adams the ability to control focus and parallel lines in some of his most famous pictures. In Half Dome, for example, he was able to achieve a tack-sharp foreground, background and middle ground and keep the granite face from appearing to fall backward by using rise and fall movements and stopping down.

Adams’ use of the tilt function on his 4x5 view camera played into the role of changing the depth of field—literally, the distance in front of and beyond the subject that appears to be in focus. By tilting the lens standard of his view camera, he could extend the depth of field from very close to infinity.

By shifting the lens standard of the view camera, Adams was able to shift horizontally for some of the landscapes so that he could make perfect parallel lines for his scenic images.

Typical digital lenses can’t achieve the same perspective control as a view camera because of physics. When the film plane and the lens plane are rigid and kept parallel to one another as in most D-SLR lenses, then we can have a measure of control over depth of field and perspective, but ultimately we’re still limited. When we tilt the camera with a regular lens on it, parallel lines converge, and trees and other elements in the frame can look like they’re falling backward. A view camera uses the rise and fall movements to combat this. Also, a rigid D-SLR setup is limited to the lens’ minimum aperture to control depth of field. With a view camera, Adams took advantage of tilt movements to get total control over depth of field (see The Scheimpflug Principle sidebar).

Tilt-Shift Or Perspective Control
The advancement of high-tech gear in digital SLRs has expanded the abilities of the outdoor photographer to replicate what Adams was capable of with his 4x5 view camera. When using a perspective-control or tilt-shift lens on a D-SLR, we can come close to the same leveling control.

Both Canon and Nikon offer such tilt-shift lenses that have the same rise and fall and tilt movements of Adams’ 4x5 view camera. Canon has had a stable of tilt-shift lenses since they were introduced for 35mm film cameras in 1991. Nikon has recently updated its repertoire to include a tilt-shift lens, the PC-E Nikkor 24mm ƒ/3.5D ED, plus the older PC Micro-Nikkor 85mm ƒ/2.8D. Canon’s selection of tilt-shift lenses work on all of its EOS D-SLRs, from sub-full-frame to full-frame models. Its three fixed-focal-length tilt-shift lenses are the TS-E 24mm ƒ/3.5L, TS-E 45mm ƒ/2.8 and TS-E 90mm ƒ/2.8.

As these lenses are made for a specific group of photographers who have the need for this sort of perspective control, the use of them is a manual experience devoid of autofocusing, metering and other functions.


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