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Understanding Camera Movements

NewThis subject is featured in Issue #2 of  The Luminous Landscape Video Journal 

Understanding Tilts & Shifts

While a full explanation of camera movements is the appropriate subject matter of a whole book, the basics can be summarized quite simply. Many years ago I was the Product Manager for Sinar view cameras in Canada and I used to take a perverse pleasure in teaching college students in one day what many schools tried to turn into semester-long courses.

Camera Types

Full camera movements are available only with a view camera. Usually 4X5" or larger, such cameras provide a full range of movements; rise and fall as well as tilt and shift of both front and rear standards. Depending on whether the camera is of monorail design or a flatbed there may be compromises or limitations in movement.

Likely of more interest to readers of this tutorial are the various tilt / shift lenses available for 35mm as well as medium format cameras. Also there are some specialized medium format and smaller sheet film systems that have a limited range of movements such as Rise only. More on these later.


That's the key question, isn't it. Not only what are these things called Movements, but why do I need them?

The short answer is, so that you can take photographs which would otherwise be impossible with a fixed lens camera. These include:

Creating apparently infinite depth of field without closing down the aperture. 

Photographing buildings, trees and mountains so that they don't look like they're fall over.

Photographing a reflective surface, such as a mirror, without the camera appearing in the shot.

Rise & Fall & Shift

These three movements are really all the same thing. Rise and Fall are the movement of the lens upwards or downwards in relation to the film plane, and a Shift is the movement of the lens left or right relative to the film plane.

In the photograph below I used a small amount of front Rise. With the camera level, to avoid the trees tilting and looking like they were falling over, the trees at the bottom of the frame and the horizon would have been very high in the frame and thus the frame would have appeared too cluttered. The interesting clouds would also have been out of the frame.

By using a Rise of the lens I was able to include more of the sky yet keep the trees straight at the same time.

Clingmans Dome Forest. Great Smoky Mountains NP. September, 2000
Photographed with a Hasselblad ArcBody and 45mm Rodenstock lens on Provia 100F.

A Fall of the lens would have shown more of the lower vegetation while a left or right Shift would have been useful in keeping the sun hidden behind the tree. (I did this by moving the tripod, but sometimes one can't, and so a lens Shift can really come in handy for changing the field of view without moving the camera.

While it would appear that a few millimeters of lens movement wouldn't make much of a difference, it's astonishing to see how it can be the equivalent of standing on a 5 Ft ladder when the lens is raised just a bit.

Tilts and The Scheimflug Effect

This one seems like magic, and is similar in some ways to a free lunch. It was discovered in the 19th century by a fellow named Scheimflug

In a normal camera the lens plane, the film plane and the subject plane are parallel to each other. 

Yellow Strip Highway Yellow Stripe Hwy, outside Monument Valley, 1999

Taken with a Canon EOS3 and Canon 24mm L T/S f/3.5 lens on Provia 100 west of Monument Valley.

But, if you tilt the lens so that an imaginary line drawn through the film plane A, and similar imaginary lines drawn through the lens plane and the image plane (B and C respectively) meet at a single point, then everything along the image plane (C) will be in focus.

Here's the deal. With a subject like the one above, the road (plane C) will be in focus from the front of the lens to the distant mountains if the lens plane (B) is tilted so that the back of the camera ( A the film plane), the lens plane and the subject plane converge at that imaginary point.

Enough theory. Look through the lens and adjust the Tilt knob it so that the image appears sharp. Final adjustment is made by racking the focus back and forth while adjusting the Tilt knob. You've got it.

Cameras & Lenses

While view cameras have comprehensive movements, some 35mm and medium format users also have access to these effects via specialized tilt/sift lenses. Canon has 3 different models offering both tilt and shift capability for its EOS cameras. Nikon has a lens with Rise only, as does Contax. There are also some third party lenses available on the used market.

In medium format Rollei has a medium-wide tilt/shift lens for their 6000 series cameras and one was recently announced at Photokina 2000 by a third party German manufacturer for the new Contax 645.

Two unique cameras from Hasselblad offer both tilts and shifts; the FlexBody and the ArcBody.  Both take standard Hasselblad film backs and viewing accessories. The FlexBody takes regular Hasselblad lenses but is limited in its movements and won't focus to infinity with all lenses. The ArcBody only takes 3 specialized Rodenstock lenses but offers more comprehensive movements. 

Some medium format cameras like the Horseman SW612 Pro offer Shift capability and even the ultra-wide Noblex 150UX has 5mm of Shift.

If you'd like to learn more I recommend Steve Simmons' book, Using the View Camera.




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Concepts: View camera, Sinar, Camera, Photography, Single-lens reflex camera, Hasselblad, Twin-lens reflex camera, Fujifilm

Entities: Canon, Hasselblad, Sinar, Rollei, Nikon, Canada, Monument Valley, Smoky Mountains, Michael Reichmann, Rodenstock, Steve Simmons, Clingmans, Scheimflug

Tags: camera, film plane, medium format, lens plane, view camera, medium format cameras, camera movements, subject plane, fixed lens camera, image plane, comprehensive movements, lens shift, Tilt knob, Full camera movements, Rodenstock lens, Monument Valley, Hasselblad, subject plane converge, lens movement, Sinar view cameras, appropriate subject matter, regular hasselblad lenses, offer shift capability, Hasselblad film backs, smaller sheet film, Great Smoky Mountains, Yellow Stripe Hwy, medium format rollei, medium format users, camera level, Provia 100 west, normal camera, party german manufacturer, right shift, various tilt, Rodenstock lenses, Hasselblad ArcBody, EOS cameras, Hasselblad offer, semester-long courses