The Schneider PC-TS Super-Angulon 4.5 / 28 HM Aspheric lens is not for the feint-hearted, weighing in at 3.5lbs and setting you back over $8,000. Keith Briley puts it to the test to find out whether it is worth the challenge.
After agreeing to become the Gear Tester for North America for LPM, I eagerly looked at the product lineup for testing. One of the first few items on the list was a Schneider PC-TS Super-Angulon 4.5 / 28 HM Aspheric lens. Phew. After an initial wave of excitement about having a Schneider lens in my hands to test, I was overcome by intimidation by the very expensive ($8,288) prime 28mm tilt shift lens that was coming my way. My wife will tell you that I am a notorious lover of all things panoramic and stitching. I am also obsessively searching for the sharpest image possible (surprising, I realize that), and tend to stick to prime lenses. However, I was eager to rise above my intimidation and dive into this lens in search of the ultimate panoramic lens for my photography.
My first morning in the field was frustrating due to the eight moving parts on the body of the lens itself. If I had the luxury of owning this lens I anticipate that, like a relationship that grows over time, she and I would become more familiar and that navigating her body would become easier.
Let us begin with the fundamentals. This beauty (complete with a very pleasing blue Pre-Set Aperture Setting Ring) comes in at a hefty 3.5 lbs. I hope you have spent your time in the gym lately because this lens is going to build up your stamina! Her aperture ranges from f/4.5 to f/16. During my testing I primarily photographed around f/11 and I was very pleased with the crisp, clean results. I also liked the pre-set aperture ring so that I could have a lightened view of my composition prior to photographing.
Additionally, I am very fond of the tripod mount directly on the lens for ease of use and its Arca Swiss style mount. I found the entire setup to be very sturdy and the lens settings were easy to adjust (everything is manual).
This lens will provide you with 8 degrees of tilt angle, and 12mm of shift, along with a 72mm image circle. It also has an impressive 360 degree rotation and comes in various mounts which include, Nikon, Canon, Sony and Pentax K. If you want to use filters with this lens, the front filter thread is at 122mm, so plan ahead when you purchase.
One draw back, as I mentioned previously, is the time that it takes to figure out all of the rings and their various functions. If this lens ends up in your backpack, you will want to be sure to keep a cheat guide or the instruction manual with you for quick reference. One major benefit, however, is that once you have committed to memory the function of this design, the mechanics of this lens allow the tilt and shift movement to work independently of each other. After having this lens out in the field a couple of times, I became quite comfortable and was pleased with how quickly I was able to adapt.
If you have the budget and desire to master a tilt/shift lens, and the muscles to pack this monster, I would highly recommend it. It absolutely did not disappoint with the glass quality and I was very pleased with the clarity and color of the lens. Some of the greatest rewards in life come from overcoming initial challenges and I believe this to be one such scenario. If you are given the time to become well acquainted with this lens, it will impress and produce stellar results.
For further reading on tilt/shift lens I recommend referring back to LPM Issue 27, where Mike Bell does an excellent job of presenting the fundamentals of tilt/shift. In addition, I would also highly recommend traveling with LPM's editor, Dimitri Vasileiou and experiencing his Tilt/Shift Workshops.