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The View Camera Aesthetic in the Digital Realm part 4

(Editor’s note: Guest contributor Steve Inglima concludes his series of posts about the view camera and how its aesthetic informs digital photography. This article offers ways to add view camera functions to DSLRs. Read part 1, part 2 & part 3.)

With an understanding of the benefits of having independent controls over front and rear standard movement, What can we do to bring that utility, capability, set of sensibilities to the digital realm and the size of the silicon sensor used for most digital capture?

Miniaturizing the view camera comes with a price

When digital backs for medium format cameras appeared as one of the first high resolution option for digital capture, several view camera manufacturers devised small versions of their larger offerings to accept these backs to duplicate the utility of the larger view camera. The small sensors, initially 24x36mm, required nearly micro metric controls over tilt, rise, shift etc as the magnification factor on the 35mm sized sensor drastically decreased the amount of movement to achieve a large effect on the image plane. The Linhof Techno Digital Field Camera, and the Horseman Axella View Camera are still available. These small view cameras, due to the very small distance between standards, have limited wide angle capability. Yet for table top product work with short to mid range telephoto lenses, these are the perfect solution. They both offer view camera movements to small format digital cameras. Click the links to see the precision photographic tools. They are versatile and expensive.

Horseman View Camera Converter
Photo courtesy of Horseman

Additionally, the less expensive Horseman View Camera Converter for DSLRs, to attach both Canon and Nikon cameras to a fixed rear stage of a miniature view camera, and offer an articulating front standard. This device, called the “View Camera Converter”, offers the swing, tilt, rise and fall of the lens stage with the caveat that, once again, the bellows even at its most collapsed must add the flange to focal plane distance of the DSLR body itself for its closest focus capability. This limits the shortest focal length to around 80mm, to which a 24x36mm sensor is slightly telephoto. This precludes infinity capture and wide angle, but nicely offers the movements needed for table top product photography. If the application is matched to the capability of the converter, it’s a fairly compact and cost effective option, particularly with your own camera body!

Thinking about the extended facility of DSLRs, we can fully take advantage of the capability of the LCD viewing screens of DSLRs and the camera’s “live view” option. Establishing accurate focus when varying the subject plane-of-focus is now nearly effortless, because we can view the sensor’s actual conveyed image rather than a ground glass or reflex screen. When combining the live view with most DSLR’s image magnification feature on the LCD, it’s easy to reposition the magnified area to examine in detail all of the crucial points along the intended plane of focus, which can guarantee the required tilt, and keep Mr. Scheimpflug happy. No loupe is required nor needed.

A view camera perspective on making panoramas

In addition to plane-of-focus control, and image shape control, we also have the ability to re-position the capture area within the full image circle, allows us to assemble a multiple  image panorama of the same scene, without moving the camera. Using the full image circle of the lens, we can expand the capture area by stitching an even wider field of view. Stitching three images together for a horizontal pan, or larger vertical pan, it is possible to achieve a striking panoramic image not possible any other way.

Keep in mind that assembling a multiple image panorama taken from separate photographs by turning the camera means somehow addressing perspective control adjustments done in postproduction. While postproduction imaging does offer the ability to change each image’s shape to conform these to a single panoramic rectangle, it does so at a price. The squeezing and expanding of those affected pixels introduces artifacts, in order to conform to our desired perspective. The information created in this process is essentially not real. It is however possible to stitch several images together taken in sequence using shift, as the complete image circle is already corrected! Any given subject plane parallel to the lens and image plane is being rendered optically correct by the the characteristics of the lens itself, and our stitch is effectively one large image, albeit taken with three separate exposures.

Tilt / Shift lenses

We know that stand alone DSLRs can’t flex or articulate for view camera movement, but…there are tilt and shift flexible lenses! This allows us virtually the same motion as actively controlling the front standard of a view camera. Several different DSLR manufacturers make offerings of tilt shift lenses, as well as some third party lens manufacturers for Nikon and Canon, such as the Schneider Kreuznach 28mm PC-TS – Perspective Control Tilt/Shift, or the Samyang T-S 24mm f/3.5 ED AS UMC. Nikons four tilt-shift lenses, PC NIKKOR 19mm f/4E ED,  PC-E NIKKOR 24mm f/3.5D ED, PC-E Micro NIKKOR 45mm f/2.8D ED, and the PC-E Micro NIKKOR 85mm f/2.8D offer a large range of possibilities, from architectural to product and controlled macro work. Canon also has four prime tilt shift lenses. The TS-E 17mm f/4L, TS-E 24mm f/3.5L II, TS-E 45mm f/2.8, and TS-E 90mm f/2.8. I have used all of Canon’s Tilt/Shift lenses with DSLRs.

Tilt / Shift in the days of film

My personal experience with the Nikon offerings was back in the day of the 28mm PC, which I used with an F2AS and film!  I have used all of their Tilt/Shift lenses with DSLRs. I’ve also used medium format SLRs with a tilt/shift lens, namely the Schneider Super Angulon 55mm PCS on the Bronica ETRS camera, which was also made for the Hasselblad series as well.

Using shifts vertical & lateral

Here are some real world examples of the challenges of photographing a large building and the view camera solution.

The photographs above are of a building taken from ground level looking up with the The TS-E 17mm f/4 Canon Tilt Shift lens. The one on the left is with the tilt / shift in the zero or normal position. I applied front rise to increase magnification of the top of the building on the image. Taking this one step further, I added some lateral shift to increase the size of the building on the left. Lateral shift does the same job horizontally that rise does vertically. Of course, I would not photograph a building from this position if I were shooting a job. This series illustrates how much these movements can affect an image.

Above, is a photograph of a theater taken straight forward, with all planes parallel. The image is orthogonally correct, but doesn’t feature the marquis! (At least we can read the dates…) Tilting the camera up captures the marquis, but because it’s now positioned obliquely to the marquis, the expected perspective, converging lines, happens. Using front rise to reposition the image on the sensor, and by increasing the magnification of the top of the marquis, makes building’s verticals parallel. Note that I have not changed my position in regard to height, yet I’m able to preserve the marquis’ rectilinearity!

In this example, the rectangular face of a building is distorted by looking up or pointing the camera up at it. Instead of pointing the camera up, in the photo on the right, I used the front rise of a 24mm TS-E to reposition the image and render the wall orthogonally correct. I’ve not moved my position at all, just the front of the lens!

Essentially, with these fantastic tools, we now can combine both the the best of the traditional view camera utility and aesthetic, and the ease of digital capture. While we can approximate this look in postproduction software, using these camera and optical tools for the original capture preserves image integrity with no pixels harmed in the making of the photograph.

Opening photograph: Kevin Ames | All other photographs by Steve Inglima except where noted.

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