Tilt-Shift Adapters and the ZEISS Otus lenses – A great addition to your camera bag
About a month ago, Sony Artisan Thibault Roland had a chance to test two of the best and most impressive lenses for full frame cameras, together with a new tilt/shift adapter meant to mount manual lenses on a mirrorless system. Namely, he tested the HCam Master Tilt Shift adapter together with a couple lenses from the Otus line from ZEISS: Otus 1.4/55 and the brand new Otus 1.4/28. The results are impressive.
The main purpose of the ZEISS Otus lenses is admittedly for high-resolution stills and video, I like to do things differently. This is why I spent a few weeks in France testing them, and I was especially interested in seeing how well they would perform with long exposures, or when they are shifted, tilted, and of course how sharp they are wide open.
Using the ZEISS Otus lenses and the HCam Master TS adapter on my Sony a7RII is the most exciting experience I’ve had with gear and artistically speaking in a very long time.
The purpose of this article is to share some of the images I shot with these lenses and some of my impressions. I am not sponsored nor have been paid by either ZEISS nor HCam for this test. Additionally, it is not meant to be a formal test with charts, or shooting a wall of bricks at different apertures to look at distortion and such. Its purpose is really to see how the adapter and lenses behave in the field, when used for fine art still photography. Unless mentioned otherwise, the images you will find below have been shot on a Sony a7RII in uncompressed RAW mode, imported in Camera RAW and Photoshop for minimal editing (curves, contrast etc). They have only been edited by applying minor white balance, curves, and contrast tweaks, and nothing more except for a B&W conversion with Silver Efex Pro2 for a few of them. Each image was eventually downsized for web browsing and saved as high-res jpgs files. The behind the scenes images were shot with a Sony RX100 IV.
About the gear used for this project
The HCam Master TS adapter
This very solid and precisely machined adapter is German-made. A detail worth mentioning as it sticks to the reputation, and is extremely well built and sturdy. It is meant to mount Canon EF lenses (or other adapters for medium format for that matter) on a Sony E mount mirrorless. Unfortunately, it does not have electronic connections, which means that you can only use fully manual lenses with it (unless you are willing to go through this route). For that reason, I was sent Nikon mount Otus lenses with an extra slim adapter, but I’ll get back to this later.
Unlike any other adapter though, the HCam Master TS allows the photographer to tilt and shift the lens with respect to the camera body. It allows for 10° tilt and up to 15mm shift in each direction if the image circle is large enough, which brings and incredible freedom of creation and control for the position of the focal plane and the perspectives, respectively.
Thanks to a very smart and secure system that can be locked in place when needed, it is possible to rotate both the lens and camera independently, and this allows for manipulating the direction in which the lens is shifted and tilted, as well as the orientation of the camera (landscape or portrait). The HCam Master TS system can therefore be used for either architectural, fine art, and/or portrait photography.
The Master TS system is meant to be used on a tripod: the foot can be securely tightened through a couple of screws onto an Arca/Swiss type plate (included in the box), and because both the lens and the camera can be rotated, it is no problem to orient, tilt and shift to the maximum amount the setup. Since the camera/lens setup is mounted on the tripod using the foot, it is good to note that it is the camera that shifts and tilts with respect to the lens, which is opposite and an advantage compared to modern FF T/S lenses. In some occasions during my trip to France however, the use of a tripod was forbidden, which forced me to use the system handheld. In some rare cases I ran into the issue of not being able to tilt all the way because the system would come into contact with the camera. Using the Otus lenses however was nice because I only had to open slightly more the aperture in order to “increase” the amount of blur in camera, so it was not a real issue.
Nikon F to Canon EF mount adapter
Because the HCam Master TS has no electronic connection and the Canon versions of the Otus lenses require it, I decided to test the Nikon F mount versions. Which means that I needed a slim, sturdy and secure Nikon F to Canon EF mount adapter in order to mount the lenses on the Master TS and keep infinity focus (the flange distance for Nikon being larger than Canon, one such adapter exists).
After reading a few reviews online, I settled for the FotodioX Pro adapter (without focus confirmation chip), which was well rated and allowed me to remove it in the field from one lens and put it on the other in a matter of seconds, with no need for extra tools.
ZEISS Otus 1.4/55 & 1.4/28 with Nikon mount
What to say besides these are two exceptional lenses?? They are solid, and they are things of beauty. The front and back lenses are amazing to look at, the focusing ring is smooth, precise and a pleasure to rotate, and the aperture ring (only for the Nikon mount versions) is precise, and lets you choose aperture with a 1/3rd stop precision on small f-stop numbers, and larger steps at smaller apertures (see picture below).
To address the elephant in the room, these lenses are BIG and HEAVY, especially the ZEISS Otus 1.4/28 it is bigger than the (ZEISS Otus 1.4/85). But this is exactly what you want in such fast lenses: a large front element (77mm filter thread for the 55mm, and 95mm diameter for the 28mm!!), huge image circle, especially if like me you want to tilt and shift them.
My setup for most of my shooting in France.
The results with the ZEISS Otus 1.4/28 ZF.2
The results with the ZEISS Otus 1.4/55 ZF.2
As you probably have noticed, I’m very excited about this particular setup: either 28 or 55mm Otus lens mounted on the HCam Master TS and a Sony a7RII mirrorless camera. The Otus lenses themselves are AMAZING and top quality, very pleasant to use and optically perfect. The HCam adapter is top notch, strongly built (which is a necessity when dealing with lenses like the Otus), and very precise and easy to adjust. As you have seen, paired together, you will be able to tilt the camera 10° with almost zero vignetting, unless you add a good amount of shift with it (about 5mm each way with the 28mm or 7mm each way with the 55mm). You have probably noticed that it’s also very easy to control the width and position of the focal plane, and that if pushed to the maximum (Master TS tilted at 10° aperture set to f1.4), you can make it extremely shallow!
As a conclusion, the Otus lenses are unique, because of course of their optical quality, but also because their wide image circle make them perfect tools for fine art still photography, and not only for video. They leave you quite a lot of freedom to unleash your artistic vision. Using the ZEISS Otus lenses and the HCam Master TS adapter on my Sony a7RII is the most exciting experience I’ve had with gear and artistically speaking in a very long time.
Thibault is originally from France and currently based in Boston MA, USA. He is a fine art B&W photographer specialized in long exposure seascapes and architectural work.
He was trained in physics and worked as a researcher at Cornell and Harvard University, where he studied fundamental biological mechanisms using optics and microscopy. He is a scientist at core, and uses his training as a basis for his artistic vision, for stepping away from reality, and for creating new, singular and unique fine art imagery.
Thibault’s work has been awarded internationally by recognized fine art organizations. He has also been published by international magazines and shown his work in galleries in the US, Canada and France. He also gives conferences and workshops and he is a Sony Artisans of Imagery.
To see more of Thibault’s work please visit www.thibaultroland.com