Tilt Shift Lens Review: Hartblei 35 Super Rotator

Started Mar 15, 2006 | Discussions thread
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Mike K Veteran Member • Posts: 5,525
Tilt Shift Lens Review: Hartblei 35 Super Rotator

Hartblei 35mm Super Rotator f2.8

The Hartblei 35mm Super Rotator lens has recently been introduced to the US through Kiev Camera and sells for $500. By comparison the Canon TS-E lenses are about $1100. The main attraction and unusual feature to this tilt/shift lens is that the tilt axis and shift axis are not coupled, and can be freely rotated in relationship to one another. This is a very qualitative review covering the description of the lens, how it works, and examples of the image quality relative to other Canon lenses. I have borrowed a friend’s Canon 24 TS-E for the purposes of comparison to another, more expensive tilt/shift lens. The Hartblei is available in Nikon or Canon mounting rings, is 10 cm tall and 8.5 cm in diameter. The glass elements are actually a bit smaller in diameter than the Canon 24 TS-E, but the aperture is a wide f2.8. The Hartblei is just a little bit heavier than the 24 TS-E, but not very much, the Canon have a pretty solid tilt/shift mechanism made out of sizeable chunk of solid aluminum.

For these tests I mounted it on a 1DmkII, a 1.3X crop sensor with RRS L bracket and Angle Finder C at 2.5X to aid in manual focus with a split screen focusing screen (Canon Ec-B). These focusing aids are a tremendous help in focusing as otherwise it is very difficult to discern optimum focus. Here is a picture of it with the camera on a Gitzo Explorer tripod, mounted to get a low perspective view of the deck: 6 degree tilt at 10-11 inches off the deck surface.

Here is the shot taken by this set up on a very rainy day, at reduced but larger size, f/11

and the same shot with a Canon 24-70L f2.8 lens at 35mm to demonstrate the added dof of the tilt feature on the Hartblei

with the Canon lens at f/11 the flowers of the middle orchid are sharp, but the pine needles on the near deck are not.

The Movements of the Hartblei Super Rotator design

Here are some close ups of the lens tilted 8 degrees downwards and shifted a maximum 10mm so you can easily see the movements.

The 4 adjustment rings on the lens all are different size and different textures so it is easy to tell them apart by feel when you are looking through the viewfinder. The focus ring is the big one with circular scallops on it near the outside of the lens. In these images the blue numbers are the feet scale, while on the other side of the lens are yellow numbers for the meters scale. The action of focus ring is really nice a smooth and very easy to fine adjust. The focus travel is quite far, but most of it covers a very small range near the closest focusing distance and the useful range from 2 meters to infinity is a very small travel. Overall I very much liked the action of the focus ring. On the second lens photo above you can see the DOF ring printed in yellow and the aperture ring on the inside of it in white. There are slight one stop indents from f2.8 to 22; it is very easy to move this ring by accident while you are messing with the tilt and shift adjustments.

Next come two rings with white lettering that say SHIFT is numbered 1-10 mm, and the ring closest to the camera that says TILT numbered in degrees 1-8 with small indents. These two rings obviously control the amount of Shift and Tilt. On mine the shift is quite stiff the last 2 mm of travel from 8 to 10mm, but the scalloped ring gives something to hold on to and twist. You can put screw on handles on to the Tilt and Shift rings to make it easer to turn them. I have put one on the tilt ring as it has no textured surface to grab hold of. You can see this knurled, thin handle near the bottom of the lens on the first shot with the tripod and at the bottom of the middle image. They stick out so much it makes the lens bulky to store so I only use one.

Here is the confusing part. See the silver tab on the top of the lens (at the 7 degree mark on the tilt ring) and the black tab between the shift and tilt rings? To change the tilt angle one pushes in the silver tab and freely rotates the entire lens. This disengages a spring loaded tab and allows the entire lens assembly to freely rotate in either direction 360 degrees. There are 18 stop tabs, in other words 20 degrees each. Thus one can move the tilt angle 0, 20, 40, 60, 80, 100, 120, 160, 180, etc. but not 90 degrees. Kind of odd, but usually the tilt axis is not very sensitive, I doubt if one could tell 80 from 100 degrees with the modest 8 degrees tilt max. When you rotate the tilt axis, the shift axis (the front of the lens) will rotate with it. The red dot in front of the silver tab in the last image is the index mark for the tilt, 8 degrees in this image. It is not normally seen as it is covered up by the lens at 0 tilt (the lens is tilted downwards here).
Please continue to part 2

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