Review: Studiotool-Stm STS-Model 1
By Ellis Vener
The Studiotool-Stm STS-Model 1 marries the image shaping controls of a monorail view camera—moving either the lens or the sensor/film independently of each other—to a Digital SLR body. You need a Sinar P series view camera (P, P2, C or X chassis, but not the Sinar F variants) and a Canon or Nikon DSLR body. The full kit consisted of a Sinar lens board modified for using Mamiya RZ lenses; flexible Neoprene bellows connecting the Sinar lens standard to a DSLR; a camera-mounting bracket that replaces the removable format frame /groundglass assembly on the rear standard of the Sinar; an Arca-Swiss based quick release plate connecting the DSLR to the bracket; and a depth-of-field sticker marked for the 24x36mm format for use with the built-in Sinar depth-of-field and tilt-angle calculator. The Canon EOS 1Ds Mark II, a 35mm-style DSLR with a large sensor, is the best choice for the DSLR.
A creation of Finnish photographer Patrik Raski, Studiotool-Stm will appeal to architectural and product photographers who are familiar with view cameras and the value of tilt, swing, and shift movements for crafting an image, and who aren't satisfied with the results of software solutions for perspective correction. The flexibility of the system also lends itself handily to macro work and to creating distortion-free, high-resolution panoramic landscape and cityscape images.
Two limitations show up when using the STM in the field. To shoot verticals, you must tilt the entire rig over on its side–not the most stable of configurations even with a very heavy tripod and head. An L-shaped mounting quick-release plate for the camera plate would solve this problem. Second, as you start tilting and swinging, the image through the “peep hole” of a DSLR viewfinder quickly becomes progressively dark and blurry. It is imperative that you work with the camera tethered to a computer so you can actually see what you are doing via the computer monitor. By working tethered you can look at a large view of the image and zoom in for a 100-percent view of a detail. You just can’t do that with a DSLR’s viewfinder and LCD.
In the accompanying shot of an old small clock with a 4-inch diameter face, I used a Schneider 150mm f/5.6 Symmar-S lens. While a 150mm is a normal focal length lens on a 4x5 camera, it is a long focal length on the approximately 1x1.5 inch format of the EOS 1Ds Mark II. With the clock tilted at a slightly sideways and downward angle towards the camera, applying the Scheimpflug principle through a combination of swing and tilt movements keeps the entire clock face in focus. I stopped down the lens to f/22 to extend the depth of field above and below the plane of focus. Using a long focal length lens flattened the perspective rendering (which is also controlled through tilting and swinging the sensor plane) and allowed for a good deal of distance between the camera and the subject, which also made lighting the set easier. Standard tilt/shift lenses for DSLRs can only angle the lens plane in one direction (you can swing or tilt but not both at the same time), and if you can’t change the angle of the sensor plane or move the sensor position independently of the lens, you can’t manipulate the perspective rendition in camera.
Raski recommends using Mamiya RZ lenses over large-format lenses. Because they are designed for medium-format use they have inherently greater resolution than lenses made for 4x5 or larger formats, but they still produce a large image circle covering all but the most extreme movements.
While the Studiotools-Stm STS system (and the similar Cambo Ultima 35 and Horseman LD cameras) are clearly specialty items, if you are doing architectural, product, or still life photography they are almost essential. Short of using a larger and (significantly more expensive) format digital back on a view camera, there is nothing else that can do what the Studiotool-Stm STS-Model 1 can do.