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

Results of tests with a Tilt Lens

While shift lenses have a clear major advantage in architectural photography, perhaps tilt lenses are particularly useful in close-up work – although we shall see below the benefits of also being able to shift a tilt lens, and others have demonstrated the power of tilt lenses in general photography, both to increase and to decrease depth of field.

Three factors reduce the depth of field (the area of acceptable sharpness) of a lens:
  • the aperture: the larger the aperture (the smaller the aperture number), the shallower the depth of field;
  • the focussing distance: the closer a lens is focussed, the shallower the depth of field;
  • the focal length: the longer the focal length, the shallower the depth of field.

The 45mm Hartblei Super-Rotator Tilt/Shift lens has a very short focal length (for Medium Format), and therefore an inherently extended depth of field, so I decided to exploit the other two factors that give a shallow depth of field by taking some close-up pictures and using wide apertures, to see if using the tilt facility of this lens would increase the in-focus range for me.

Test 1: coins and notes

Here is the set-up for the first test.
Photographs shot on Fuji NPS 160, which also enabled me to use wider apertures than might have been possible with faster film.  Illumination was provided by natural daylight from a north-facing window on a bright day.

45mm Super-Rotator fully tilted
The first shot is with zero tilt and zero shift.  Because the subject is at approximately 45° to the camera back and we are working at maximum aperture, the area of sharp focus is extremely shallow.  As with all lenses, the sharpness decreases gradually in front of and behind the area of sharpest focus, which in this photograph is right in the middle of the photograph.  What is considered acceptable sharpness is principally dependent on two factors:
  • the intended degree of enlargement
  • the intended viewing distance.
In this photograph, approximately one quarter of the height of the image might in some circumstances be considered acceptably sharp.  That zone of acceptable sharpness extends across more than three-quarters of the width of the image at that point.  Why does it not extend across the whole of the width of the image in the plane of sharpest focus?

That is because there is of course another factor in the first two test shots here: they have been shot at maximum aperture, to enable the effect of tilting the lens to become obvious to the maximum.  No-one would normally shoot an image such as this one at maximum aperture.  In fact, the aperture that gives the sharpest image for the lens would normally be used.  This is normally between f/8 and f/16, depending on the lens.

With any lens, at maximum aperture there is a marked decrease in sharpness away from the centre of the image area, and this is inevitably obvious with this image, too, if we look to the left and right of the in-focus plane.  Note in particular the lack of sharpness of the right-hand part of the red banknote.

Incidentally, the fall-of in brightness at the bottom of the image is a consequence of the set-up and the ambient lighting, as will be observed from the top picture on this page.

Zero tilt, zero shift, maximum aperture: 1/125 f/3.5
When the lens is tilted down, the image moves up in the viewfinder and so it is necessary to change the angle of the camera on the tripod.  It is also necessary to re-focus.

In this image, even though the lens is still at its maximum aperture of f/3.5, the tilt has increased the depth of field tremendously, but much more in front of the point of focus than behind it.  I focussed on the central area of the blue banknote, just below the lady’s chin.  I need to re-try, with the focus set further back.  Naturally, the fall-off in resolution towards the edges of the image on each side of the area of acceptable focus has not been changed.

But note that the degree of vignetting that occurs when the lens is fully tilted is massive.  I need to re-run this test, adding an upward shift to see if the vignetting can be eliminated.  This where a tilt and shift lens should score over a lens that only offers a tilt facility.

Full tilt, zero shift, maximum aperture: 1/125 f/3.5
It is of course in any case not normal to shoot “still-life” or close-up pictures at full aperture – or most other pictures, either, unless differential focus is important.  Here I have stopped down the lens to a more normal aperture for such a subject.  This has, as expected, sharpened up the image across the full width of the frame, and has of course likewise extended the zone of acceptable focus further back (and further forward, though that was not needed), bringing the rear-most coins into acceptably sharp focus.  This sharpening of the edges of the image and increase in depth of field at smaller apertures is of course a normal feature of all lenses.  As is to be expected, the smaller aperture has also sharpened up the boundary of the vignetted area.

As a result of running these tests, I would recommend using the magnifier head (scroll down) on the camera, or the angle finder on the prism, as both of these give a magnified image than facilitates the evaluation of the area of sharpest focus.  I do not recommend the use of the “focussing telescope” (scroll down) for use with tilt lenses, as it only magnifies the central area of the image.

Full tilt, zero shift, smaller aperture: ¼ sec f/16


The quality achievable can be appreciated in this larger version of the final picture in the series, which has been rotated slightly.
With a natural crop that suits the composition, the vignetting disappears.

Test 2: food photography

Full tilt, zero shift 8 sec and a slightly larger aperture: f/11
Again, a crop appropriate to the subject matter has eliminated the vignetting completely.  I clearly need to focus further back when using the tilt feature, or to adjust the tilt angle more accurately.

Test 3: Toys

In 2019 I took some pictures of some small toys.  The standing adult figures in this scene are a little over 2" (5+ cm) tall.  For these tests I had Fuji NPH PRO400H film in a Pentacon Six.  The lens was the same Hartblei 45mm Super-Rotator lens as above and I did of course use a tripod (on this occasion the Benro tripod described here).

This lens focusses very close, and here it was at its closest focus setting.  No extension tubes or other close-up accessories were used.  The exposure for both shots was 1 second at f/22, using the camera’s Delayed Action lever to avoid any camera movement that might have been caused by my finger on the shutter release button.  Light was daylight from a window to the right.  We here show the full width of the negative, although the top and bottom of the frame have been cropped to suit the composition.  Printing at 300 pixels per inch, the print would be over 88 cm wide, and it would be easy to print larger than this, by selecting a slightly lower number of pixels per inch, without this being obvious to the viewer.

Zero shift, zero tilt

Zero shift, maximum tilt
As I tilted the lens down, this slightly changed the composition and the angle of the camera was changed slightly to compensate.  However, the tripod was not moved.

At the size on this page, the difference between the two images may not be very obvious, even if you are viewing this on a large monitor.  Clicking on the images gives access to a larger version of each image.  With some browsers, clicking a second time enlarges the image further.  However, we show some detailed sections of the image larger below.

First we will take a close-up look at the girl in the green dress just right of centre near the front of the scene, and some of the figures near or slightly behnd her.

Zero tilt
At this degree of enlargement, we begin to notice the grain of the film.
Clicking on the images gives access to a larger version of each image.

Full tilt
With the lens fully tilted down and the camera slightly raised to compensate, it appears that the point of shapest focus is now slightly behind the young lady, with the most obvious difference being her head and head decoration, which are of course the parts of her that are closest to the camera.  In spite of this, the result is within acceptable limits for normal degrees of enlargement.


Now we will look at the totem pole at the back of the scene, and some of the figures in front of it, extending to approximately the mid point between the nearest and the farthest figures in the scene.

Zero Tilt
Here we can see that the totem pole is significantly out of focus, as is the tepee on the left.  The horse behind the totem pole is of course also out of focus, but so is the figure standing in front of the totem pole.  We can see that sharp focus extends from the front of the image (not visible in this crop) as far back as the figures immediately behind the man with outstretched arms and the eagle costume.

Full tilt
Here the totem pole is absolutely sharp, and indeed so is the horse behind it.  Likewise, the tepee is sharp and so are all the figures in front of it, all the way to the man in the eagle costume and even the seated figure in front of him.

So we see from this section of each image that with maximum tilt everything is acceptably sharp.  In fact, we “wasted” some of our depth of field, as the focus extends to behind the horse that is behind the totem pole.  If we had corrected that, the girl in the green dress near the front of the scene (see images above) would have been sharper.

Again, clicking on the images gives access to a larger version of each image.


These side-by-side images do indeed confirm the significant increase in depth of field when using a tilt lens
for subjects that are in a plane that is different from the angle of the film plane.  This is particularly useful in macro work and what is sometimes called “tabletop work”, where depth of field is usually very shallow, although it also applies to other types of photography.  As we have seen in the page on view cameras (here), even lenses with a much longer focal length (and therefore less depth of field!) can be used tilted, on “technical bellows”.

Set-up for the toy pictures

To the right we can see the set-up used for these toy pictures, which gives an idea of the distance of the Pentacon Six from the subject.  Interestingly,
for this shot a 100mm Pentacon lens in M42 EDC mount for a Praktica 35mm camera was used, the 6-element Meyer-Optik Görlitz lens that previously had the name “Orestor”.  For this photo it was mounted via an adapter onto a “full frame” digital camera.  The aperture was between f/9.5 and f/11 and the camera was hand-held.  Even though the ISO was set high at 1600, the lighting required a shutter speed of 1/30 second, which was not fast enough to guarantee critical sharpness with a hand-held lens of this focal length.


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© TRA September 2009
Latest revision: November 2019