Review of Canon’s Tilt Shift Lenses 17mm & 24mm

-TS-E 17mm f/4 L
-TS-E 24mm f/3.5 L II

Over the past several years the Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5 L has been a mainstay in my arsenal of lenses for both architectural and landscape photography. I was therefore very excited to have the opportunity to use the new Canon TS-E 17mm f/4 L and TS-E 24mm f/3.5 L II on a recent commercial job. After my shoot, I also did a comparison test of the old 24mm t/s shift and the 2 new lenses

SUMMARY:

In short the new Canon tilt shift lenses are impressively sharp, right into the full frame corners, have substantial improvements to the barrel distortion, chromatic aberration and flare issues of the previous model. They also have an enhanced range of movement over the old 24mm. The new TS-E 24mm f/3.5 L II lens is painfully sharp, while the TS-E 17mm f/4 L is not quite as sharp.

The TS-E 17mm f/4 L is currently the widest tilt-shift SLR lens available and a very valuable lens to have in tight situations. In fact, you’ll find yourself using it more and more in tight situations, and it can really save a shoot.

The new lenses also deliver on enhanced functionality. The new design features larger knobs for controlling and locking lens movement and both have a new feature called TS revolving. TS revolving allows the tilt and shift capabilities to rotate independently of and in relation to each other. This could be done in the past, but you had to send it in to Canon or take the lens apart yourself ; not something I am particularly fond of.


THE REAL WORLD:

While a workhorse for my architectural photography, the old Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5 L lens was something of a mixed bag. The commercial jobs I was working on necessitated the shift capabilities of the lens. However, I was always a little disappointed with the overall sharpness, especially in the image corners.

The other big frustration I have with the old Canon tilt shift lenses is with their ergonomic functionality. The knobs for controlling and locking lens movement are too small and can easily be over tightened. The tilt and shift capabilities are fixed in either a perpendicular or parallel alignment. In order to change the tilt and shift alignment the lenses need to be sent back to Canon or you could risk it yourself and take the lens apart.

The new Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5 L II is physically and optically the highest quality 24mm lens I have used. The image sharpness throughout the entire image is very impressive with minimal distortion.

The issues with the tilt and shift control knobs has been resolved with larger, smoother functioning ones. This certainly makes life easier on those cold morning shoots when the fingers are frozen.

The new TS revolving feature is an elegant solution to the fixed tilt and shift alignment issue. With the release a shift locking knob the tilt and shift capabilities of the new lenses can be rotated independently of each other; opening up numerous more creative opportunities.

Well the proof is in the pudding. Let’s take a look at a couple images.

CANON TS-E 24mm f/3.5 L II

This image was shot with the Canon 1Ds Mark III and Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5 L II; settings were f11, 1/15 sec, ISO 400.

In the final image for the client, we have had to blur the far background buildings because they were too sharp. Below are two 100% crop from the above image.

CANON TS-E 17mm f/4 L


This image was shot with the Canon 1Ds Mark III and Canon TS-E 17mm f/4 L; settings were f11, 1/4 sec, ISO 400.

The 17mm lens was perfect for this shot because there was no room to move backwards because of heavy vehicle traffic.
This is where this lens is invaluable.

SIDE BY SIDE TEST

In the download-able full size images the difference in sharpness between the old and new canon 24mm t/s lenses is quite noticeable from front to back. Also noticeable is the lack of distortion to the vase with the new 24mm lens. If both images are overlaid on top of each other then you will also be able to see some of the barrel distortion in the old 24mm.

The 17mm lens is also nice and sharp front to back. While I typically would not want to use such a wide lens for an interior image, all aspects of the image hold up well, and there are times when this is the only lens for the job.

For the quick lens test, we used a Gitzo tripod, Gitzo levelling base, Arca Swiss tripod head and Canon 1Ds Mark III. The camera and tripod were levelled and the whole set-up sandbagged. All images were shot at f16 and 6 seconds. For the 17mm image, the tripod was moved forward to provide a similar frame.

The images were processed in Adobe Lightroom v2.0 with only a light level of capture sharpening (Amount 25, Radius 0.8, Detail 0). No other work has been done to the images.

Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5 L (Click here for hi res)

Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5 L II (Click here for hi res)

Canon TS-E 17mm f/4 L (Click here for hi res)

Leave a comment

5 Comments

  1. Hi Justin,
    If you could only choose one of these lenses for architectural use which would you recommend? I’m leaning towards the 17mm but is it too wide for interiors? Do you think a 1.4x converter can work with the 17mm to make it close to 24mm?
    Thanks

    Reply
    • Hi Simon,

      Personally I think the 17mm is a little wide for most interiors; the 24mm is closer to what the human eye sees. I don’t think using 1.4x would negate some of the fish-eye effects of the 17mm, but it would be interesting to test. The other challenge with the 17mm is that you cannot use any filters.

      The 24mm certainly provides the most flexibility. The 17mm is nice to have when it a very tight spot; but can always be rented in a pinch.

      Cheers,
      Justin

      Reply
  2. Luke

     /  August 20, 2012

    I would say that the 17mm + 1.4 extender is the most flexible combo possible. The 17mm gives you the flexibility to shoot wide in those tight situations, add the 1.4 extender and you have a 24mm equvilent with (in my experiend and other reviews i have read) no degredation in image quality compared to the 24mm. The 24mm has the option of standard lens hood (and filters?) however i have read reviews of homemade filters with great success. Ofcourse, if you are using these lenses at a proffessional level then take this with a grain of salt, hire both lenses and test for yourself, only then will you be able to make the right decision for your needs.

    Cheers,

    L.

    Reply
  3. Mark

     /  April 12, 2013

    What about the 17mm on a crop camera which would give a photo similar to a full frame 27mm lens. Would this combination work for interiors?

    Reply
    • Hi Mark,

      A crop factor may work for you at 27mm, but it is amazing the difference each 1mm makes when shooting interiors,

      If you have access to a zoom lens then why not try testing out a few shots with the zoom set to an effective focal length of 27mm.

      The other challenge with having the 17mm as your primary interior TS lens is that you cannot use a polarizer.

      JF

      Reply

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