I bought a nearly-new Arax 35mm tilt and shift lens with a Nikon mount on ebay for US$630. I couldn't afford a Nikon T&S lens, which is almost US$2,000. Here are my thoughts on the thing.
- Make: Photex (aka Arax, Arsat or Kiev)
- 35mm f/2.8 - f/22
- Manual focus, min. focus 3m
- Shift 0-11mm
- Tilt -8o to 8o
- Rotation 360o
- Includes depth-of-field and IR focus markers, as a good lens should
- Supplied with soft pouch, and a piece of padding to wrap round the lens
It's solid and seems well made. It seems to be all metal, except for a shiny white plastic part of the barrel behind the magic aperture ring (see later).
The tilt and shift directions are at right angles to each other. Nikon has them parallel (or opposite).
Tilt and shift is done using nicely-sized screws. These have a bit of slack when you use them, but seem precise enough.
Nice engraved scales for tilt and shift.
Shift is only in one direction, so you have to rotate the lens 180o to shift in the opposite direction.
The lens rotates 360o with 12 click stops, ie every 30o. It's quite stiff and has no play, which is good.
Manual focus has a long travel. Annoyingly, it is in the opposite direction to my Nikkors.
The aperture ring has no click stops.
The aperture ring moves back and forward about 3mm, and a spring holds it in the forward position. You seem to be able to set the aperture ring to cover a limited range from f/2.8 to whatever you want. I think this is a clever mechanism that allows you to quickly switch between wide-open for focusing and your chosen aperture. Unfortunately it's too clever for me, as I can only ever set it by accident.
The lens goes on well and fits snugly. If you've moved the rotation ring from the default position, there's a small red dot to orient the lens when putting it on.
The lens comes off smoothly, although you have to rotate it back a tad in order to remove it.
I'm not sure if it's better to rotate the lens when it is on the camera, or to take it off first. I'll probably try to do the latter.
You cannot rotate the lens fully on a D200, because both the tilt and shift screws foul the body where it overhangs the lens.
Shift upwards may be limited by the body. You get the full 11mm of shift on a D800E, but only 9mm on a D200.
Shift downwards is unlimited on a D800E, but a bit fiddly because the adjustment screw is very close to the body. It's impossible on a D200 as the screw fouls the body. If you really must have downwards shift on a D200, turn the camera upside down!
The lens has no electrical contacts so does not talk to the camera at all. I set my D800E to aperture priority matrix metering, and it seems to work OK. Of course it doesn't save the aperture in the EXIF data. I'm not sure if there is any benefit in setting the Non-CPU lens data in the camera, so I do it anyway.
Using the lens requires some thought as to where the plane of focus is. Shift is quite easy to conceptualise, as it's always parallel to the sensor. Tilt sometimes requires referring to the diagrams here. I don't think my brain could cope with combining tilt and shift.
The lens is very soft wide open. I find I get acceptable results at f/8 or smaller apertures, although it's still nowhere near as sharp as my Nikkor 35mm AF-D. This is more of a pain than I'd thought, as I often want a narrow depth-of-field when I am using the tilt.
Example 1 - sideways tilt at f/4. As the camera is at an angle to the keyboard, the tilt creates a diagonal zone of focus.
More examples to come ...
A tilt and shift lens is a fun thing to have, but you have to think a lot to make the most of it. The Arax/Photex/etc 35mm f/2.8 T&S lens is good value for money, if you have the money to waste.
If you really need a T&S lens for work, you'd be better off saving up for a Nikkor.