Tilt lenses are very popular these days, often for the cheesy (IMHO) effects they let you achieve. But they can be indeed extremely useful in both portrait and landscape photography.
Unfortunately they tend to be either of excellent quality – and to cost an arm and a leg -, or DIY contraptions held together with plumbing and duct tape for “freelensing”. In between you find something like the LensBaby that I, though, consider a special effect lens more than a true tilt one.
Even better, with the top lenses you often have the possibility of using “shift” as well as “tilt”. You will not be surprised to know that these variants are even more expensive.
Luckily for us mirrorless users there is now an alternative solution, much, much, much, did I say much? cheaper than even the cheapest alternatives but with potentially – it will depend on your lens selection – the same quality of the most expensive ones.
With the help of one Chinese made tilt adapter you can now convert almost any lens to work with tilt on any mirrorless camera, as long there is a version of the adapter made for that mount. They retail for around 20/25$, shipped!
The only restriction is the coverage of the lens itself and the distance from the focal plane – so no rangefinder lenses, sorry. So to make it work on an Aps-c body you will have to use at least a lens made for 35mm film / full format.
To make it work on full format as well you will have two choices:
a) using a lens made for medium format with an adapter for the mount you bought the adapter for
b) using a lens made for 35mm film but with a wider coverage, like a shift lens
I chose this last road, and I’m using an excellent Olympus OM Zuiko 35mm f/2.8 Shift with the tilt adapter.
With this solution not only your lens + tilt adapter combo will work on both Aps-c and full format bodies, but you will have the same range of movements of the most expensive T&S lenses. Actually, with the Olympus you will have probably even a bigger range of shift…
Like I said, even if the Zuiko Shift is quite cheap at around 300/350€ – and you can find even cheaper shift lenses like the old Nikkors or the Curtagon / Leica R – you don’t have to spend that much. If you are on Aps-c and you are not interested in the “shift”, you can just buy any decent 50mm lens for 10-20€ and be done.
For use on full format there are plenty of cheap but extremely good medium format lenses to have, especially in the 75/90mm range (the “normals” on medium format film); to cite but a few the Pentax for both 645 and 6×7 bodies or the various Kiev (Russian) ones.
In any case you will be able to control the plane of focus without having to necessarily resort to closing/opening the aperture. For example in a portrait this could mean having the full face in focus but with the background still completely blurred; in a landscape this can let you have all in focus from the meadow in the foreground up to the mountains in the background.
The adapter I suggest you to buy is lockable and indexed (like the one mounted on the Olympus in the picture above), so that you can have consistent and repeatable results. But if you are really really into freelensing there is also a model (the one on the left in the picture above) in which you determine the amount of tilt just by feel that costs just a couple of bucks less.
In theory you could lock this adapter as well, but: a) it is fiddly, and you will often end up moving the tilt mechanism trying to lock it; b) it is not a repeatable process, you just move the lens around.
Experiment, have fun, and happy pictures!