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Hartblei Superrotator Macro 120mm F4 TS review

May 2009 | By Andy Westlake

Hartblei is a not a manufacturer well-known to the average photographer - the company occupies a small and specialised niche in the high-end lens market, making perspective control (tilt and shift) lenses using its unique 'Superrotator' barrel design. The optics are adapted from lenses which were originally designed for 6x6cm medium format cameras, and Hartblei exploits the resultant large image circle (85mm in diameter, essentially twice that required by the 35mm full-frame format) to provide a range of movements. The lenses can be shifted by up to 10mm off-centre, and tilted by up to 8 degrees; most impressively the directions of tilt and shift can be set completely freely with respect to each other and the camera (a capability recently imitated by Canon with its TS-E 17mm F4 L and TS-E 24mm F3.5 L II lenses). Almost all DSLR systems are supported, with Hartblei making versions in Canon, Nikon, Sony, and Pentax mounts, and even offering models for the now-defunct Leica R and Contax systems.

One consequence of the medium format heritage of Hartblei's lenses is the range of focal lengths available - the company offers 40mm F4, 80mm F2.8 and 120mm F4 Macro optics. As originally designed for 6x6, these gave wideangle, normal and telephoto angles of view, but on the 35mm-format DSLRs they are now most likely to be used with, they behave as normal, short telephoto and medium telephoto lenses, with a marked lack of wideangle capability. On the plus side, the image quality of these designs promises to be extremely high - Hartblei has been working in partnership with Carl Zeiss in the development and production of its lenses, which now proudly sport an 'Optics by Carl Zeiss' legend as a result.

Perhaps the most interesting lens in Hartblei's lineup is the Superrotator 120mm F4 Macro TS, which is the longest perspective control lens currently available for 35mm-format cameras. The focal length of this lens makes it ideally suited to close-up and studio work, for which the use of tilt movements to control depth of field should allow the user to extract the maximum image quality from the latest high resolution full frame DSLRs (such as the Canon EOS 5D Mark II, Nikon D3X and Sony Alpha 900). The use of 'Macro' in the lens name indicates that it is designed to retain high image quality at close focus distances (although it does not achieve 1:1 magnification), and the design uniquely uses two-stage focusing for extra precision at close range. The optical formula consists of 6 elements in 4 groups, and is based on the classic double-Gauss design which promises low distortion and minimal chromatic aberration.

In this review we'll take a close look at the design and operation of the tilt and shift mechanism, which is shared with Hartblei's other 'Superrotator' lenses. We'll also test the lens's optics, looking at how it performs both when it is conventionally centered, and also when it is fully shifted. Finally we'll look at how the perspective control movements can be used in practical applications.

Headline features

  • 120mm focal length; F4 maximum aperture
  • Up to 8° Tilt and 10mm Shift
  • Independent free rotation of tilt and shift movements through full 360º
  • Optimised for close range work

Hartblei Superrotator Macro 120mm F4 TS specifications

Price €3249
Maximum format size 35mm full frame
Focal length 120.9mm
Diagonal Angle of view (FF) 20º
Maximum aperture F4
Minimum aperture F32
Lens Construction 6 elements / 4groups
Number of diaphragm blades 12
Minimum focus 0.21m (8.3")
Maximum magnification 0.25x
AF motor type Manual focus only
Focus method Unit
Image stabilization None
Filter thread • 72mm
• Does not rotate on focus
Supplied accessories • Front and rear caps
• 72mm screw-in hood
• Hard case (Peli Case 1300)
• Zeiss cleaning kit
• Colour and sharpness test targets
Weight 965g (43 oz)
Dimensions 89mm diameter x 106mm length
(3.5 x 4.2 in)
Lens Mount Canon, Nikon, Sony, Pentax, Leica R, Contax

* Supplied accessories may differ in each country or area

Foreword / notes

If you're new to digital photography you may wish to read some of our Digital Photography Glossary before diving into this article (it may help you understand some of the terms used).

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