Medium Format Lenses with the Pentacon Six Mount
A comparative test
by TRA

Shift lenses

The Problem

Here is a shot that I took recently in Berlin.  I wanted to frame the ruins of the Kaiser-Wilhelm Gedächtniskirche (Memorial Church) with the broken links of the chain, and also include the skyscraper at the right.

To achieve this, even using an extreme wideangle lens (the 45mm Mir 26 in Hartblei Super-Rotator mount), I had to tilt the camera up.  The result?  The buildings on the left and right appear to be tilting seriously inwards at the top.  To avoid this, the back of the camera has to be absolutely upright, i.e., normal hold – parallel to the buildings.  Here is the result:

Both pictures taken with the Hartblei 45mm Super-Rotator lens with zero shift onto Fuji NPH 400 negative film in a Pentacon Six TL 1/250 f/9.5

The “falling over buildings ” problem is solved, but another – bigger! –  problem has taken its place.  Not only have I lost the top of the skyscraper and even the top of the broken chain, I have gained a vast expanse of boring and unwanted foreground.

The Solution

One hundred years ago, this would have not presented a problem; the photographer merely slid upwards the lens board, which moved the lens up, cutting out the unwanted foreground and including the top of the building.  But how can one do that with an SLR camera?

When the new company Exakta GmbH announced the Exakta 66 in 1984, one of the top selling points was that it would be a vehicle for the outstanding lenses produced by Joseph Schneider of Bad Kreuznach, the quality of whose lenses was already well established.  At the time they were providing zoom lenses for the Hasselblad, and a range of lenses for Rollei and other cameras.

Among the lenses to be offered in the Exakta 66 mount was the Schneider PCS Super-Angulon f/4.5 55mm shift lens.

Users of 5 × 4 inch and larger cameras are used to the freedom of raising the front standard to include the tops of tall buildings without having to tilt the camera up, which would produce the classic “key-stoning” problem, where the building appears to be falling over backwards, with all the vertical lines converging towards the top of the image.  (To see another example of key-stoning, click here and scroll to near the bottom of the 250mm section.)  With a standard 35mm or Medium Format SLR this is not possible, although a very small number of manufacturers offer one or more shift lenses, which duplicate the effect of a rising (or falling) front.  Such shift lenses tend to have a wider than normal angle, as the need for them usually arises in situations where it is not possible to step back far enough to include the whole of the subject without tilting the camera.

The Super-Angulon is well known as an outstanding lens that has been available for many years in mounts for Rollei SLRs, and also for the Bronica ETRS.  The illustrations in the Exakta 66 literature seem to indicate that it was indeed produced in the Exakta 66 mount, although the list price of DM6,890 + sales tax in 1988 must have led to very few of them being sold!  At Photokina in Köln (Colgne, Germany) in 2002 I handled one of these lenses in the Rollei 6000-System mount.  It is of course beautifully engineered, although it is extremely heavy (1.65 kilograms in Exakta 66 mount, according to Exakta’s literature).  The recommended retail price, this time including German sales tax, was €8,400 (that’s eight thousand four hundred Euros – enough to pay for a good nearly new small family car!)
 


An unmasked image projected by a lens will be round, with a gradual fall-off in brightness and definition towards the edges.  Lenses and cameras are designed so that the part of the projected  image that is included within the exposed area (i.e., the image recorded on film) meets certain criteria as regards sharpness and does not have noticeable fall-off in light intensity (vignetting).

Of course, in order to cover the film area completely with acceptable sharpness and without vignetting – even when shifted to the maximum extent –  any shift lens has to have a much larger image circle than a non-shift lens, and this must increase the diameter of the lens elements and the mount that holds them and with it the weight and the manufacturing cost.

Given these factors, it is nothing less than amazing that users of Pentacon Six mount cameras have available to them – new! – a range of shift lenses, and at extremely modest prices!

Arsenal in Kiev have produced their own “Arsat” 55mm shift lens, which is reputedly one of the sharpest lenses available in the Pentacon Six mount.  Results in fact prove to be extremely satisfactory.  See examples at the bottom of this page.

Hartblei in Kiev realised that the image circle projected by the Arsenal 45mm Mir 26 and the 65mm Mir 38 wide-angle lenses is large enough to enable the optical components to be put in a mount with a shift facility.  They have designed some excellent mounts for these lenses, and also apply their own outstanding multi-coating to the optical elements.  Here are the details of these three shift lenses:
 

 
Hartblei 45mm
Shift
Arsat 55mm
Shift
Hartblei 65mm
Shift
Focal length
45mm
55mm
65mm
Maximum aperture
f/3.5
f/4.5
f/3.5
Minimum aperture
f/22
f/22
f/22
Elements/groups
8/7
9/7
6/5
Closest focus
0.35
0.5
0.5
Shift distance
12mm
12mm
10mm
Filter thread, mm
M 82 × 0.75
M 72 × 0.75
M 72 × 0.75
Weight, grams
750
900
610

Arsenal are now also producing 45mm & 65mm shift lenses, bearing their ARSAT brand name.


The three Arsat shift lenses (L to R: 45mm, 55mm, 65mm)
as illustrated on the Arax website (not to scale)

General requirements of shift lenses

Requirement 1

A shift lens does not need to be as wide as its non-shift counterpart.

Why is this?

Most shift lenses are used to increase coverage in a given direction while maintaning the back of the camera absolutely vertical.  The most common use is for architectural shots (pictures of buildings), as on this page: to avoid having to tilt the camera up in order to include in the picture the top of the building.  Tilting the camera up results in the famous "falling building syndrome", in which the building seems to be falling over backwards.

A wider lens may enable you to include the top of the building in the picture, without tilting the camera up.  However, it will also include at the bottom of the picture a lot of ground (pavement, grass, etc) that is probably not wanted and will have to be cut out of the final picture.

By shifting the lens up, you will get that coverage at the top of the scene, without the unwanted ground.

For this reason, in many circumstances, a 65mm shift lens may give as much coverage -- in the desired direction -- as a 55mm or 60mm non-shift lens,
a 55mm shift lens may give as much coverage in the desired direction as a 50mm non-shift lens

and a 45mm shift lens may give as much coverage in the desired direction as a 40mm non-shift lens.

Requirement 2

The most commonly-needed shift direction is up -- normally for architecture.  Of course, when using a camera that has a square format, like the Pentacon Six, it is possible to turn the camera on its side, or even up-side down, to get a shift in the required direction.  However, using the Pentacon Six on its side is less comfortable than the right way up, and using it upside down is decidedly difficult -- and how would you attach it to a tripod?!

All five lenses (the 45mm lenses from Hartblei and from Arsat, the 65mm lenses from Hartblei and Arsat, and the 55mm lens from Arsat only) are in mounts that rotate – so it is possible to shift down as well as up, sideways, or even in other diagonal directions if required.

For some landscape shots it may be desirable to shift the lens sideways.  In fact, for static subjects it is possible to take two pictures, one with the lens shifted to the left and the other with the lens shifted to the right, and then to combine the results in software, in order to obtain a medium format panoramic shot in which the dimensions of film used for the final image are 54mm high (the actual height of images in "6×6 cameras) × 78mm wide!!  You can see an example of this on the next page, here.

Range of movement of these shift lenses

The Hartblei 45mm and Arsat 55mm lenses offer a maximum shift range of 12mm.  However, the Hartblei 45mm lens has the 11 & 12mm shift positions marked in red, which means that with this degree of shift there is likely to be some vignetting on the opposite edge to the shift, and this extreme shift should only be used if the image is to be cropped, or the lens is mounted on a camera with a 6×4.5cm nominal film gate or film back.  The Hartblei 65mm lens has a maximum shift range of 10mm, with the 10mm position marked in red for the same reason.

C386-5A:  The Arsat 55mm shift lens fully shifted

C370-29A: The Hartblei 65mm shift lens fully shifted

Shift lens from Wiese

There is another shift version of the 45mm Mir lens, this one bearing the name of Richard Wiese of Hamburg, Germany.  You can read a report on this lens here.
You can visit the Wiese-Fototechnik website here.

C386-9A

To give an idea of scale, here is the 55mm Arsat shift lens next to the 50mm Flektogon.  A shift lens will normally be more bulky than a non-shift lens, because
  • larger optical elements are needed, to cover the frame with the lens shifted
  • the lens chassis has to hold these elements and have a shift mechanism incorporated.
C386-10A

Note that it is not practical to build an automatic aperture link into shift lenses, so all of these lenses have a manual pre-set aperture.  However, for the type of photography for which they are designed, which is careful and methodical and usually using a tripod, this is not a problem. 

The Arsat 55mm shift lens even has an easy-to-use stop down ring (labelled “A” in the image on the left) so that the pre-set aperture can be easily found without taking one’s eye from the viewfinder and it has a cable release socket on the lens (labelled “B”), to provide automatic stopping down of the lens via a double cable release. 

C386-11A

With a double cable release, pressing one plunger first stops down the lens and then fires the shutter.

Adjust the timing of the two cables by rotating and locking the rings marked “A” and “B” on the image to the left.

I have marked each cable with a paper collar (visible at the far end of each cable) marked “camera” and “lens”, respectively, so that I don’t inadvertently connect the cables the wrong way round.

These shift lenses are available new from Michael Fourman at www.kievcamera.net and from Gevorg Vartanyan at www.araxfoto.com

Never mind the width, what about the quality?

So what is the quality of the images produced by these lenses?

The 45mm and 65mm Hartblei shift lenses

For the non-shifted performance of the 45mm and 65mm lenses, I would refer you to the Wide-Angle lens tests section.  Of course, even apart from the shift capabilities, there are some major differences.

The standard 45mm Mir 26 lens has slight barrel distortion, noticeable if straight edges are in the image close to and parallel to the edge of the image.  This seems to be the last characteristic suitable for a lens that may be used for architectural shots.  As (I believe!) the same optical elements are used in the 45mm shift and tilt lenses, one might expect a problem.  However, in practice this minor barrel distortion is rarely observable in real-life images, perhaps in part because for compositional reasons it is unusual to have a straight line so near to the edge of the frame.

The following pictures are not really a fair test: taken late afternoon on a winter’s day, shot into the sun, which is actually within the picture area (!), just behind one of the palm trees, the hot spot on the right is not a lens fault but the lighting at the time.  Thus, the fall-off in lighting from this spot is not vignetting.  This side of the building was in the shadow, resulting in a lack of contrast and in particular a lack of shadow detail.  However, these two pictures do show the relative field of view of the 45mm and 65mm Hartblei shift lenses, both shifted up by 9mm.  With a steeply rising pavement, we couldn’t have got a shot of this house without tilting the camera up – if we hadn’t had a shift lens!  In spite of the adverse circumstances, we did get two shots with virtually no vertical keystoning, and no vignetting!

Hartblei 45mm Super-Rotator lens: 1/125 f/16 9mm shift up 0° tilt

Hartblei 65mm Shift lens: 1/125 f/16, 9mm shift up

The lamp post on the left in the 45mm picture reveals some barrel distortion, though I may have had the camera slightly tilted up, which makes it appear worse (no tripod and no spirit level used – I wanted to get the picture taken before the owner came out and asked me what I was up to!)  By the way, the tree stump just left of centre is twisted – that’s not a distortion introduced by the lens!

Finally, here is that problem Berlin view again, this time using the 45mm Hartblei Super-Rotator with the full 12mm shift.  I'm repeating the other two shots beside it, to enable you to make easy comparisons.  All shots taken from exactly the same position, with a Pentacon Six TL at 1/250 f/9.5 with Fuji NPH 400.
 


Hartblei 45mm Super-Rotator
Zero shift. Camera body tilted up

Hartblei 45mm Super-Rotator
12mm shift up  Camera body held upright (parallel to subject)

Hartblei 45mm Super-Rotator
Zero shift.  Camera body held upright (parallel to subject)
To see a larger copy of each image, click on the image.
All pictures taken without the lens hood – with wide-angle lenses, it is very difficult for any lens hood to shade the lens effectively.

In my opinion, the results really are excellent.

I am really impressed with the lens, and will now start using it regularly.

The 55mm Arsat shift lens

Here are two comparison shots taken with seconds of each other from the same spot with the 55mm Arsat shift lens, both with the Pentacon Six at 1/250 f/14 on Fuji NPH 400 negative film
 


Zero shift, but camera tilted up

Lens fully shifted up (12mm)  Camera (virtually) horizontal
Click on each image to see a larger copy

This looks like a truly great lens.  Straight lines right to the edges, no discernable vignetting, even at maximum shift, and virtually no visible chromatic aberrations even with enormous enlargements.  An ideal shift lens for the Pentacon Six – and coincidentally with the same focal length as the hyper-rare and hyper-expensive Schneider PCS Super-Angulon f/4.5 55mm shift lens!

To see more advantages of shift lenses, continue to the
Next section (Other advantages of shift lenses)

To go back to the section on Other Accessories, click here.

To go back to the beginning of the Lens Data section, click below and then choose the range of lenses that you want to read about.
Back to beginning of the Lens Data section
 

To go back to the beginning of the lens tests, click below and then choose the focal length that you want to read about.
Back to beginning of lens tests

Home

© TRA December 2005  Latest revision: April 2016