Hartblei offers a trio of tilt/shift SuperRotator lenses: the 40mm f/4, 80mm f/2.8 and the 120mm f/4. The 40/80/120 trio are professional-grade tools for the working photographer needing to solve specific photographic challenges. They provide the closest thing to view camera movements on a DSLR body that you can find today, short of attaching your DSLR to a view camera (which generally is limited to 80mm or longer focal lengths).
Current Zeiss optics
All three lenses utilize medium-format Zeiss optics with current multi-coating, engineered by Hartblei into their “superrotator” lens barrel, which has undergone extensive rework over the past year to improve the functionality, precision, and quality. Indeed the precision of the Hartblei lens barrel is 4X greater than that of the normal Zeiss lens barrel, and symmetry is in the 3-5% range, as compared with 10% standard (according to Hartblei). The result is lenses of top-flight mechanical build quality, with Zeiss glass inside. Late 2010, the barrels have also been upgraded for cine-friendly focusing (video).
The Zeiss optics are designed for 6X6 medium format, which means they must “cover” a 56mm X 56mm image area. This is what allows them to be used with 10mm shift, for a width of 56mm (36mm + 10mm + 10mm). Best quality will be seen shifting in the 24mm direction, there are as yet no optical miracles to be had in terms of sharpness across such a large area.
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Precision is of course paramount in such a complex lens as the superrotator, but the optics themselves have their own behavioral characteristics that are present in all lenses, including field curvature (see Making Sharp Images). So one must take time to understand the behavior and design goals of the optics when using the Hartblei lenses.
Hartblei supplied the three lenses for testing from Germany, arriving in a Pelican hard-case, along with a tripod mounting plate for the 40/4, Heliopan lens shades for the 80/2.8 and 120/4 and some test targets.
Working with the SuperRotator design requires some time and effort. One can shift, tilt and rotate the lens in two ways. This takes time to understand, and a lot more time to master. That’s the price to pay for the flexibility the SuperRotator design delivers.
Warning: the 40mm f/4 lens is particularly heavy. Use the supplied tripod mount, and be very careful to not stress (warp or bend) the camera’s lens mount by asking it to support such a large and heavy lens! The 80/2.8 is of moderate weight, of no real concern, but the 120/4 is somewhat heavier, although no more than a 70-200/2.8 zoom.
Recommendation: working with tilt/shift lenses is a precision affair. If you’re in the market for such things, plan on getting the appropriate tripod head, namely the Arca Swiss Cube, my favorite head unless I’m hiking.