Architectural photography on a budget

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Canon 16-35mm EF lens - Fotodiox shift adapter (unshifted) - Fujifilm XT-2 camera body

For a detailed overview of architectural photography, please start at our Architectural Photography – An introduction page.

Get started with architectural photography on a budget

Tilt-shift lenses are undeniably expensive, but it is possible to tilt-shift using your existing lenses for minimal outlay. Enter the wonderful world of mirrorless cameras, which allows the use of different makes of lens on a camera through the use of adapters.

In this post I focus mainly on the shift function, but you can get the tilt function using the same method.

For more on lenses for architectural photography, check out our “What is the best lens for architectural photography” post.

Tilt-shift lenses have a large image circle, larger than the camera sensor. When you shift the lens, you are simply moving the image circle around on your sensor until you arrive at the scene you want in your viewfinder or on your screen.

To get shift functionality then, we need a lens with a larger image circle, or a smaller imaging sensor, so we can shift the lens and get our shot. But what about trying a standard full frame lens on a camera which has an APS-C sensor?

Lens adapters

One method to get the shift function without buying expensive new lenses is to use your existing full frame lenses on a camera having an APS-C  sensor, with a shift adapter. For full tilt-shift functionality you simply need to get hold of a tilt-shift adapter, which of course will cost a bit more, but it’s still much cheaper than buying a tilt-shift lens. In fact you can get a good mirrorless camera body, new or used, plus a tilt-shift adapter, for less than the price of a new tilt-shift lens.

You can of course use a full frame camera, shift adapter, and a medium format lens to do the same thing and take advantage of the full frame sensor size. This is fine if you happen to have some old medium format lenses lying around, otherwise, read on…

I mainly use Canon equipment, but I also have a Fujifilm XT-2, which has an APS-C sensor and gives an image output size of 6032 x 4032px. My Canon EOS-R has a full frame sensor with an image output size of 6720 x 4480px. The EOS-R also has a 1.6 crop setting, similar to using a Canon camera with an APS-C sensor. The problem is though, that the image output size is reduced to 4176 x 2784px, considerably smaller than the XT-2 output.

Image of Fotodiox shift adapter to support architectural photography on a budget
Shift adapter (Fotodiox)

We could debate the quality aspect of using a cropped full frame sensor rather than an APS-C camera, but if you have read this far you are probably interested in primarily making use of your existing equipment, with minimum additional cash outlay to get decent results…

RELATED:  What is the best lens for architectural photography?

Fotodiox makes a wide range of adapters that will help us out. There are 2 that allow the use of Canon EF lenses on the Fujifilm XT-2, one offers the tilt-shift function, while the cheaper option, pictured above, offers shift-only adjustment. Here we take a look at the shift-only adapter. This costs around £120 including shipping to the UK. Contrast this with the cost of a new tilt-shift lens!

Forget automation

The first thing to note is that this adapter is in the “fully manual” category, you will not be able to set the aperture unless your lens allows you to do so manually, use autofocus, or image stabilization etc., but this does not really present a problem for architectural work, as we can simply use a tripod. Neither the XT-2 nor the EOS-R have in-body image stabilization, so there’s no help there either…

Everything comes with risk

In the next paragraph we look at how to set the lens aperture on a Canon EF lens. Note however that disconnecting lenses while stopped down, with the camera powered up, is not something that manufacturers would recommend, and might also void any warranty. It might also turn your camera into an expensive door stop or paper weight. I have never had a problem doing this, but the risk is all yours. If you do not want to take the risk, or face the consequences, buy the correct equipment for the job!

Setting the lens aperture

First off, we need to set an aperture on the lens. If you don’t have a Canon EF lens with manual aperture setting we resort to plan B – set your desired aperture on a Canon camera first, then put the lens on to the Fujifilm camera. How do we do this? Simply attach the lens to the Canon body, power up, set the desired aperture, press the depth of field button to stop the lens down, then (and while still keeping the lens stopped down), detach it from the camera. The lens is now set at your desired aperture (f8 works quite well in many scenarios…). 

Putting it all together

Attach the shift adapter first to the lens, and then to the XT-2 body. Life will be much easier if you mount the camera on a tripod now.

RELATED:  How to #1: Great architectural photography

Set the camera so that it is level, both horizontally and vertically, and use the shift function of the adaptor to get the composition you want.

We also have to focus manually, but that’s where the wonders of mirrorless cameras come in again. Just turn on focus peaking to assist you. The XT-2 has a switch on the front to set the camera to manual focus.

Now the camera is tripod mounted you can opt for a low ISO setting, set the required shift on the lens adapter, and then set the shutter speed to suit your needs.

Canon 16-35mm EF lens - Fotodiox shift adapter (unshifted) - Fujifilm XT-2 camera body
Canon EF 16-35mm lens - Fotodiox shift adapter (Unshifted) - Fujifilm XT-2 camera
Canon 16-35mm EF lens - Fotodiox shift adapter (shifted up) - Fujifilm XT-2 camera body
Canon EF 16-35mm lens - Fotodiox shift adapter (Shifted up) - Fujifilm XT-2 camera
Canon 16-35mm lens attached to a Fujifilm XT-2 camera, and shifted down, by means of a Fotodiox shift adapter
Canon EF 16-35mm lens - Fotodiox shift adapter (Shifted down) - Fujifilm XT-2 camera

Final thoughts

As there is no communication between lens and camera, you may need to set the XT-2 to allow shutter release with no lens, this is a simple menu option: Setup Menu (the spanner/ wrench group) -> Button/ Dial settings -> Shoot without lens -> On.

Take your shots, and to reset the lens aperture simply attach the lens onto the Canon camera and turn the power on.

Using a Canon 16-35mm zoom on the Fujifilm XT-2 gives an equivalent 24-52.5mm focal length range due to the 1.5 crop factor.

The Fotodiox adapter shown here provides 9mm shift in each direction, and can be rotated 360°, providing a cost-effective way to get shift functionality.

Give it a try, using whatever you have available with a suitable adapter.

Good luck!

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