Tilting at Shift Lenses

People want Sony to sell Tilt/Shift lenses for the Alpha system. For those not in the know, Tilt/Shift lenses allow you to move the lens independently of being attached to the camera body. If you wanted to shift the lens left or right, you can do that. Tilt it up and down? You can do that too. Why would you want to do these things? Michael Reichmann’s Understanding Movements gives great examples of why you would want to do this and improve your photography in certain situations. Movements of a camera’s optics are important to solve several problems in landscape and macro shooting, which is a field that the a900, for instance, excels in. Yet, these lens options are not there, unless you pursue some less than perfect third party options.

Unfortunately for these lenses, they’re expensive to develop, manufacture, and purchase. Nikon and Canon can offer movement lenses because their base of users is so big that they can economically sell them. Sony’s number of users that would find a tilt/shift useful are much smaller. They will need to sell them at some point to be considered a “complete system,” but that point is unfortunately not now.

How many tilt/shift lenses would you expect Sony to sell in a year? A hundred? Less? And that’s just for one of the most common focal lengths, 24 f/2.8. People want Sony to make not just the 24mm, but 17, 24, 45, and 90mm lenses! How much would you be willing to pay for one of these? Canon sells their newest TS/E lenses for about $2,200-$2,500 a pop. Sony’s would probably cost $3,000 or more. Their first attempt at such a design would have to beat the competition in optics at a minimum to generally be considered (and the TS/E lenses are excellent performers). How many people are willing to pay $3,000 or perhaps even more for these optics? Very, very, few.

Some will say “Well, then why should Sony make supertelephotos that will sell in small numbers if that’s the case?” Supertelephotos are easier to design, namely because Sony already has optical engineers familiar with supertelephoto designs. Minolta’s done them for decades, and that experience is now in Sony’s camp. Plus, supertelephotos are not especially difficult to design or produce in comparison to what amounts to a medium format lens with complex movement systems. Their expense primarily comes from the sheer amount of glass and materials. Supertelephotos are also more visible and have wider applications (sports, wildlife) than tilt-shifts (architecture, macro). Basically, with the resources available, supertelephotos were prioritized over tilt shifts. The silver Supertele G concept lens shown last year shows that this is already in the pipeline.

The solution to this problem is to have Zeiss design the lens or use one of their medium format lens designs and have Sony design a movement system. Movement systems are not easy to do right, but if they did one with independent controls for tilt and shift it would be a first for a 35mm system. It would need to have automatic aperture control and need to clear the a900 and other camera’s prisms. Start out with one 24mm f/2.8 design for architecture and wide angle, and see how it sells. Unfortunately, I think it will sell poorly and not due to any flaw of the lens. I’m sure it would be very good. I just don’t think there’s enough guys to buy it. Once those, say, 100 guys buy the lens, that’s it. I just don’t think a lens built in that small of numbers would be financially viable, and that’s why it hasn’t been made yet. I think Sony knows they will have to sell a lens like that at one point, but that point may not be for a long time.

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