Our test sample came in Nikon F mount, but the lens is also available in a range of other fits including Canon, Sony and Pentax.
The mount is completely 'dumb' and doesn't communicate with the camera at all. This isn't a problem in terms of functionality, but does mean that no focal length or aperture data will be recorded in EXIF.
The filter thread is 72mm, and as you'd expect on a lens at this level, does not rotate on focusing.
Hartblei supplies a simple 72mm screw-in cylindrical hood, made by Heliopan.
The lens comes with an impressive array of accessories as standard, including a Peli Case 1300 hard case, sharpness and colour test targets, and a Zeiss cleaning kit.
The unique focus system operates in two stages. The first focus ring towards the rear of the barrel is marked for the the range of infinity to 1.2m; the second narrower one towards the front then takes over for distances down to 0.75m. Both movements are buttery smooth, allowing precision focus with ease.
There's a comprehensive depth of field scale marked for all full aperture stops, covering that initial focus range down to 1.2m.
The lens features a traditional aperture ring right at the front. This stops down the aperture directly, there's no automation at all (unlike Canon and Nikon's perspective control lenses)
The ring has positive detents at the marked apertures (F4, F4.8, F5.6, F6.7, F8, F11, F16 and F32), plus another unmarked stop at F22.
The aperture dial controls a diaphragm mechanism with no fewer than 12 blades. This provides a near-circular aperture for attractive bokeh even when significantly stopped down - in this case it's at F11.
The broad, flat tab next to the shift dial is used to unlock the shift axis rotation movement. It's large and easily found; in the default layout it sits at the base of the lens.
You can also see clearly here one of the knurled knobs which aid operation of both the tilt and shift controls. These can be easily unscrewed in the (very occasional) instance that they block a desired movement.
Hidden away at the base of the tilt dial is this silver-coloured button - press to unlock the rotation movement. It's by far the least accessible, and therefore most problematic control on the lens, and the only really awkward element to the whole design.
The one saving grace of this design, however, is that it ensures the lens fits on a wide range of bodies including those with large flash housings.
Here's the tilt movement set to its extreme position of 8°. In the default layout, the direction of tilt is downwards (but of course you can set this however you like).
This is the lens set to maximum shift of 10mm, in this case to the right (again the default).
The tilt movement rotates freely through 360°, with click stops every 22.5° (i.e. 16 in total). You need to press in the locking lever to move between click-stops.
There are, however, no marks indicating the angle the lens is currently set to, meaning you have to check carefully to make sure the lens is pointing precisely the direction you want.
The shift movement rotates in exactly the same way as the tilt. Again it moves freely through 360°, locking at 16 click stops along the way. Again, there's no scale to remind you of how the lens is set.
This array of tilt and shift movements and rotations gives rise to an extraordinary degree of flexibility, that was once the sole preserve of specialist large format systems. Because both axes are freely rotatable, it's very easy to reach the exact combination you need. Here we've combined maximum tilt and shift and placed them at an angle to each other.
Once you start using all the controls, they can rapidly end up in all sorts of positions relative to each other. Finding exactly where the right control has got to when you're trying to fine-tune a setting can take a moment or two.
Despite all the controls and movements, the only real conflict we could find concerns the tilt rotation lever. On bodies with a built-in flash (here the Nikon D300) it can get hopelessly obscured under the housing, and near-impossible to press. On larger bodies such as the D3X, it's only slightly less inconvenient. You may wish to keep something like a screwdriver handy to operate it in these situations.
Impressively though, we were unable to find any combination of tilt and shift which was completely blocked on any of the bodies we tested. This is full tilt combined with full shift on the D300 - we've had to unscrew one of the tilt control knobs to get here, but it's possible.
This particular position could however be a very close call on a Nikon D700, with its large flash overhang.
Reported aperture vs focal length
This lens allows an aperture range from F4 to F32 to be selected.