Tilt-Shift lens on the cheap

So anybody who knows me well will tell you that I’m a huge tinkerer. Quite simply, I love to take things apart and learn how they work.

Lately, I’ve really been admiring the cool images people are cranking out using a specialized lens called a tilt-shift (or perspective control, if you’re using Nikon). It really gives such a dreamy look to the images, and it’s something you just can’t duplicate with software like Photoshop. For those that have no idea what this lens is, it’s most well known purpose is to shift your focal plane from one perpendicular to your line of sight to anywhere you want. This allows a landscape photographer to do things such as get a grassy field completely in focus from far to near. Impossible with regular lenses.

Well, not too long ago, some photographer, somewhere, got the crazy idea to use this lens in a completely unintended way. If you use it in a portrait, you can get what I would describe, as a hyper-real, 3D image, that just looks cool.

What does all this have to do with my affinity for ripping apart old electronics and mechanical devices? A while back I had come across an old Canon 50mm f/1.8 lens for $5. It’s fairly useless to most modern photographers, because this old style lens doesn’t fit the newer camera bodies, and it’s also manual focus. I also don’t use Canon currently… So, I decided to pull out my mini tools and take it apart. What you see next are the parts of this lens laid out in all their metal and plastic glory.


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Now, here’s the part I’m keeping. This is the whole enclosure that contains the lenses as well as the aperture blades. I need to put together a flexible bellows for it, as it leaks a lot of light into the camera, and I’m worried about dust getting onto the sensor.


lincoln nebraska photography, tilt-shift, diy


This is what you get when you hold it in front of your camera and move it around. It’s somewhat difficult, as you have to just keep moving it until the focus is exactly where you want it. Notice how everything from the foreground all the way to the background is in focus down the center of the image. Nice!


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Here’s a shot of the front yard. Not too interesting, but I didn’t have a portrait shoot to test it out on today. You can bet it’s going to get used on the next one though!!!


lincoln nebraska photography, tilt-shift, diy

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