I’ve talked a lot recently about the tilt-shift lens adapter that I’m using with my Mamiya lens. Two days ago, I reviewed the Mamiya 35mm f3.5 lens. Today, I’m reviewing the adapter that allows me to attach the Mamiya lens to the Fujifilm GFX 50R camera. I’m using an adapter by FotodioX, a company that makes a mind-blowing number of lens adapters, in addition to other photography accessories.
They have 3 different adapters to let you attach a Mamiya 645 lens to a Fuji GFX camera. I bought TLT ROKR, the most expensive at about $300, allowing tilt-shift photography. I’m most interested in architecture and using it for the shift feature, which I explain in this post.
Amazingly, Fotodiox makes over seventy TLT ROKR versions, allowing you to attach a vast array of lenses for the popular cameras. I’m assuming, though not sure, that most TLT ROKRs work in the same way.
The TLT ROKR is a solid adapter made entirely of metal. Most of the body is painted black, with some of the controls in unpainted silver. A single knob is brass colored. Both the connection to the camera body and the lens are solid with the right amount of resistance — it’s neither too tight nor loose. It also comes in a rather fancy wood box. The overall impression is of a high-quality and precise instrument.
This is the first time I’ve ever used a tilt-shift adapter or lens. Thus, when I talk about the user interface, I have no other reference. Perhaps this adapter works like any other, but I’m not sure.
Fundamentally, this adapter mimics the accordion-like bellows you see in those old, large cameras. Those cameras are not used often, but the flexible bellows allow a type of photography that is still very useful. It makes the lens move independently from the film or sensor. This freedom of movement enables you to fine-tune the plane of focus and shift your compositions.
Unlike the bellows, however, the tilt-shift adapter doesn’t have the same easy free-form movement. It only tilts to one side, which can be tightened or loosened with the brass knob. It shifts up and down, controlled by a silver button. What if you want to tilt in another direction or go left or right? Then, you can rotate the lens to accommodate this, adjusted with yet another metal control. Using these various controls, you can manipulate the lens in any direction you want. It might just take you some extra manipulations to get there. I find the processes fiddly but easy to understand once I got the hang of it.
The specifications claim up to a 10-degree tilt, 20mm of shift, and 360 degrees of rotation. Here’s a YouTube video of the TLT ROKR in action, which shows the movements.
My TLT ROKR is strictly manual focus. I don’t know if there are any autofocus TLT ROKRs, but I’m guessing no. Also, there are no electronic communications between the lens and camera through the adapter. Thus, I don’t get any aperture setting saved in the photograph’s EXIF data.
I’m generally happy with the results, and I’ve posted many photos using the TLT ROKR with the Mamiya 35mm f3.5 combo. However, it’s not without its issues. Your results will depend a lot on the camera and lens combination you use.
The issues that I mention below are not due to the TLT ROKR adapter. Rather, it’s because I’ve shifted the image too much and was using the optically weak part of the lens. In general, the smaller the sensor and the bigger the lens’ image circle, the more you can shift. I used the Fujifilm GFX 50R, which has a sensor that is 70% larger than full-frame. Using the same Mamiya lens on a full-frame camera should lessen the optical issues.
This first image looks pretty good, except you might notice the vignette (the dark area) in the upper left corner. I’ve shifted the lens too much and basically hit the edge of the lens’ image circle. I’ve reduced some of the vignetting with post-processing tools. I suppose additional post-processing can brighten the dark area if you have the skills to do so.
This second image is a lot more serious, showing massive distortion of the skyscrapers. Notice the abnormal bending of both the buildings on the left and right. The distortions become worse as they approach the edges and again are caused by shifting the lens too much into the optically weak area. In addition to the distortion, the sharpness has also drops dramatically.
This issue is exacerbated by shooting architecture. Photographs of more organic subjects, like clouds, for example, won’t look nearly as problematic.
I’ll reiterate that these issues are not due to the TLT ROKR adapter. It has to do with the lens’ optical weakness. I’ve gotten around this by not shifting the lens to the maximum. I ease off somewhat, and if needed, I can apply digital post-processing to further correct any perspective distortion.
It’s easy for me to manually focus the lens since I can punch in 100% magnification on the EVF (or back LCD) and adjust the sharpness in real-time. In doing so, I noticed that my distance scale on the lens is off. I usually shoot my cityscapes at f16. Using a hyperfocal distance calculator, I determined that focusing at about 7 feet should make everything from 3.5 feet to infinity in focus. However, on the Mamiya 35mm f3.5, I was most in focus at about 5 feet. I’m not sure if this is an issue with the lens or the lens adapter. This hasn’t affected my actual photography, and I have not looked into it deeper. I just adjust my distance scale to 5 feet on the lens, set the aperture to f16, and I know everything I shoot is perfectly sharp.
The second issue is due to the fiddly-ness of the adapter’s interface. After making various adjustments, it’s not always easy to set the adapter completely neutral — without any shifts. There are no markings or indents to know that I have the lens perfectly centered. Also, I find that the brass knob may become loose, and the lens might be slightly tilted without realizing it. I have to take extra effort to make sure all the TLT ROKR controls are set exactly as they may have changed between use.
At $300 for the FotodioX Pro TLT ROKR, I’m more than satisfied with the results. Not only does it allow me to use the Mamiya 35mm f3.5 for my architecture photography. But it has also opened up new options with the tilt-shift capability. Tilt-shift lenses are expensive, and not many are made for the various camera platforms. Fujifilm, for example, makes no tilt-shift lenses for either the X mount or GFX mount. Using this adapter is an inexpensive way to get into this type of photography.
While there are limitations with this combination, high-quality images are possible. Your mileage will vary depending on the camera and lens you use. The Fujifilm GFX 50R, FotodioX TLT ROKR, and Mamiya 35mm f3.5 is an effective combination. With care, I believe you can make professional-quality photographs. The weakest link is the Mamiya lens.
There is another option that may yield higher quality images but with a much higher cost. I can use a Canon lens adapter without the tilt-shift capability and use the Canon TS-E 24mm f3.5 lens. Except, the Canon lens costs $1900. That’s certainly more than I want to spend at this time. However, if I were a professional architectural photographer, it’s a combination that I might consider.
For now, FotodioX Pro TLT ROKR has opened up a new and enjoyable type of photography with excellent results. I’ll leave you with one more YouTube video that shows the TLT ROKR in action.
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