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Modify Canon tilt shift lens

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Modifying your tilt and shift lens

Modification to the Canon TS-E 90mm lens to rotate the tilt axis



When I received my TS-E 90 lens, the shipped condition is to have the tilt and shift axes at 90 degrees to each other, this can be changed.

I’ve described using the 90mm and 24mm elsewhere.

This short note covers the simple procedure for modifying your lens. It applies to the mk1 version of the 24mm and I believe, the 45mm as well.

Be very careful – these are not cheap lenses! – this is a simple procedure, but follow it at your own risk…

If you are new to tilt and shift lenses, you might want to have a look at the 24mm article first

modifying ts-e90 tilt shift lens

Why modify your lens?

Canon originally made three EF mount tilt and shift lenses.

Focal lengths of 24mm, 45mm and 90 mm

The new 17mm and 24mm versions do not need this adjustment, since it now just requires a twist of the lens.

I use the 24mm extensively for interior photography where the shift function allows for perspective correction.

24mm 3.5L Canon shift lensTS-E 45mm Canon shift lensTSE 90mm Canon shift lens
24mm 3.5LTS-E45mm f/2.8TS-E90mm f/2.8

The 90mm gets used a lot for product photography on a Canon 1Ds (I used the Canon 24-70 2.8L for the example shots)

Canon TS-E 90mm 2.8 lens

Here is an example that shows the benefit of tilt. It’s shot at f/2.8 to get a shallow depth of field, but as you can see, not much of the front of the lens is in focus.

If you mouse over the image you can see the effect of 5 degrees of tilt. There is a slight shift in composition which I’ve allowed for, but shows up as a slight change in the gradation of the background.

Canon 24-70 2.8L lens taken with TS-E90 at f/2.8 with and without tilt. The tilt brings the whole front of the lens into focus, but note the change to the far side of the lens hood. Tilt doesn’t give you more depth of field, just moves it about.

It’s this shift of the image that led me to want to change the tilt and shift of the lens to the same axis. I found myself wanting to shift the lens and not being able to.

A good example would be where you wantt to take a picture of a bottle, looking slightly down on it, but still keep the sides parallel. I’d point the camera horzontally, shift the lens down to frame the shot, and then alter tilt to get the focus right, followed by perhaps a bit more shift adjustment…

Whether you want to make this modification entirely depends on how you use the lenses, for myself the tilt is rarely used on my 24mm, so I’m happy with the functions at 90 degrees to each other (as supplied)

Lens modifications

There are four small crosshead screws holding the mount and shift plate (and mount) to the rest of the lens.

These need undoing to rotate the shift plate by 90 degrees (a quarter turn)

Note -The procedure shown is for the 90mm. The 24mm and 45mm have a different design of tilt unit, but the shift plate fits in the same manner.

tse90 showing mounting flange

Make sure you use a good quality screwdriver of the right size.

The screws may be a tight fit if they have not been removed since the lens was made.

removing screws from Canon tilt shift lens

The screwdriver should fit very crisply into the screw head. Tighten the tilt and shift locks before undoing the screws and be careful getting that first bit of movement from the screws.

lens mounting screws

The screws are small – I didn’t do the job on my light table just to take the photos…

interior of lens

Here I’ve removed the screws and lifted the shift plate/mount.

You can see the rack and pinion that controls shift (inside – just below my thumb).

You don’t move anything connected with the optics of the lens at all – all the lens elements are in the bottom bit.

rotate shift axis

Rotate the plate by 90 degrees counter-clockwise. Pay particular attention to that thin cable.

Note that if you look carefully, you can see that there are 8 screw holes in the main lens body, this means that when you replace the screws, they are going into unused threads on the body, so be careful when inserting the screws.

Tighten the screws loosely at first, and then tighter (not too much – this is not a car cylinder head!) in a diagonal pattern (i.e. pick a screw to tighten and then tighten the one diagonally opposite)

modified Canon tilt shift lens

Here is the tilt shift lens after the modification procedure.

Note that the main adjustment knobs are now on opposite sides.

The smaller one in the picture above is for locking the shift, the main shift adjustment is at the back in this picture.

That’s it – done.

If you don’t like the new arrangement, then make sure you do the reverse movement of the shift plate/mount (clockwise), since you don’t want to strain that little flat orange cable.

I’ve seen dire warnings about doing the modification yourself, but as long as you take care to get a good quality screwdriver of the right size, and have a modicum of dexterity, it’s no big deal.

I’ve had the lens shifted round since not long after I got it, and have not found the need to change it back.

Equally well, I’ve not found the need to modify my 24mm TS-E lens at all, so it is still at the original setting.

Modifying Nikkor PC-E lenses

Nikon tilt/shift lenses can be modified to change the two axes of movement in the same way as the Canon TS-E.

Unfortunately this is not a DIY operation for the latest versions.

This from a recent Nikon publication:

“Adjusting the lens requires that various parts within the lens are replaced including various flexible printed circuit boards … should these parts not be replaced the current circuits within the lens would be stretched and broken when the tilt and shift mechanism is adjusted.”

So, a trip to a Nikon service centre…

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