Canon TS-E 45mm f/2.8 Tilt Shift Lens Review

The Canon TS-E 45mm f/2.8 Tilt-Shift Lens brings tilt, shift and rotate movements to a digital (or film) SLR format camera body. In near-standard focal length, the TS-E 45 delivers excellent optical quality.

First, what is a Tilt-Shift lens?

Canon's Tilt-Shift lenses feature three not-found-on-a-typical-lens adjustments. Tilt, Shift AND Rotate. Large format system users are familiar with these adjustments, but many 35mm format users are not. These adjustments can be used individually or simultaneously to alter the relationship of the optical axis of the lens to the sensor (or film) plane.

Tilt. Turning the small (too small) tilt adjustment knob angles the lens up to +/- 8 degrees relative to the sensor plane. The result is a plane of sharp focus that is not parallel to the sensor plane. The plane of sharp focus follows the direction of the tilt of the lens. For example, tilt the Canon TS-E 45mm f/2.8 Tilt-Shift Lens downward to keep an expansive area of relatively flat ground in focus from close out to infinity even at a wide aperture setting. Actually, the plane of sharp focus becomes more like a focus wedge as the DOF (Depth of Field) increases with distance.

Use this feature to selectively keep objects in or out of focus in the picture. A very diffuse background can be produced with this lens opened wide to f/2.8 and when tilted significantly. Diffusely blur the non-subject portion of your picture to dramatically direct the viewer's eye to the subject. The tilt adjustment scale is marked in 1 degree increments. The amount of change in plane of sharp focus at the maximum tilt settings is significant.

Canon Tilt-Shift Lenses Tilted

Pictured above from left to right are the Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5L Tilt-Shift Lens (set to maximum tilt), Canon TS-E 45mm f/2.8 Tilt-Shift Lens and Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8 Tilt-Shift Lens (set to maximum tilt). All three lenses are shown with their included lens hoods.

Shift. A shift adjustment moves the lens sideways parallel to the sensor plane. The effect of shift is perspective distortion - either correcting or enhancing as desired. The uses for this functionality are many. Shifting enables sides of tall buildings to be made parallel - instead of converging lines. Shooting highly reflective objects can utilize lens shift - the camera can be positioned outside of the reflection for the shot while the perspective remains as though it was shot straight on. Stitched panoramic photos are easy to make with the Canon TS-E 45mm f/2.8 Tilt-Shift Lens. Simply take multiple images of the same scene (without moving the camera), shifting the lens between shots. Are you unable to get the shot from the proper position because of an obstacle? Simply move to the side and shift the lens to give the perspective you wanted from the blocked position.

Canon Tilt-Shift Lenses Shifted

Pictured above from left to right are the Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5L Tilt-Shift Lens (set to maximum shift), Canon TS-E 45mm f/2.8 Tilt Shift-Lens and Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8 Tilt Shift-Lens (set to maximum shift).

The Canon TS-E 45mm f/2.8 Tilt-Shift Lens' tilt and shift movements are perpendicular to each other as shipped from the factory. Canon Service can modify TS-E lenses for parallel movements (many opt for this change). Or - at your own risk - if you are mechanically inclined/daring, you can easily make this change yourself. Place the lens on its front lens cap (objective end) on a non-marring surface. You will see 4 small screws on the rear-facing side of the square middle part of the lens - one on each corner. Using a good jeweler's screwdriver, remove each of these screws. They will be tight - do not strip them. Rotate the now-loose rear portion of the lens 90 degrees in a counter-clockwise direction. Ribbon wires inside the lens dictate this rotation direction. Of course, returning the lens to perpendicular motions requires the opposite rotation. Reinstall the 4 screws to complete the project. Shading (vignetting) occurs more easily in parallel converted lenses according to Canon.

Rotate. Even though not designated as a feature in its name, the Canon TS-E 45mm f/2.8 Tilt-Shift Lens can also rotate. A small release unlocks the up-to-180-degree rotational movement of the TS-E lenses. Detents are provided at 30 degree increments and positive locks are provided at 90 degree increments. The small release lever takes a little getting used to, but the rotation function is very valuable.

These 3 adjustments are both functional and creativity-inspiring.

Significant tilt and/or shift (especially shift) settings - those near either ends of the scales - may result in shading (light fall off) on a full frame body - even though the provided image circle is larger than a full frame sensor (24x36mm). When mounted on a 1.6x or 1.3x, the shading will not be nearly as significant. Using a smaller aperture opening helps minimize the shading. These settings may also result in metering errors up to at least 1 stop. Meter the shot before tilt and shift settings are moved from their zero positions. Then keep an eye on your histogram and make any adjustments necessary.

Both tilt and shift setting adjustments can be prevented or allowed by tightening or loosening a small (far too small) captive lock knob opposite the respective tilt and shift adjustment knobs. Although I think the locks are a good idea, they are insufficient for preventing accidental setting changes in my opinion.

All Canon TS-E lenses use good old fashion manual focus only. Manual focus at a wide aperture setting is easy to miss with the standard focusing screens shipping on Canon's current DSLRs. Alternative focusing screens are available to make this task easier. Canon's Angle Finder C will also help. Live View is a huge help with this task. If the tilt and shift settings are both at their zero settings, the viewfinder focus indicator will illuminate (and the focus-achieved beep will sound if turned on) when manual focus is properly achieved. Shifting does not affect focus.

I've had 3 copies of the Canon TS-E 45mm f/2.8 Tilt-Shift Lens. Unlike most of the properly focusing Canon lenses I've owned, these three copies of the same lens model varied in sharpness somewhat. The first was a very sharp wide open and even sharper at f/4. It was very similarly sharp as the Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8 Tilt-Shift Lens (the 90's corners were a bit sharper at f/2.8 on a full frame body). At comparable apertures, the first TS-E 45mm was slightly sharper than the Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM Lens. The second and third copies of this lens are not as sharp as the first - but still decent wide open, quite sharp at f/4 with corners trailing the center. The ISO 12233 sample crops are from my second copy. The above-referenced comparison lenses are sharper than my subsequent TS-E 45mm lenses - as is the Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5L Tilt-Shift Lens.

The Canon TS-E 45mm f/2.8 Tilt-Shift Lens has minor light fall-off wide open (f/2.8) and minor CA (Chromatic Aberration). Flare-resistance is moderate - the Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM Lens proved better for flare resistance.

Full shift decreases sharpness, increases CA and introduces vignetting (on a full frame body). Compared to the Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5L Tilt-Shift Lens, the TS-E 45mm's tilt does not decrease sharpness as significantly.

Canon Tilt-Shift Lenses

Pictured above from left to right are the Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5L Tilt-Shift Lens, Canon TS-E 45mm f/2.8 Tilt Shift-Lens, Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8 Tilt Shift-Lens and the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L USM Lens.

The Canon TS-E 45mm f/2.8 Tilt-Shift Lens' build quality is very good - solid like the rest of the TS-E lenses. Although a medium-small sized lens, the TS-E 45mm weighs 1.45 lbs (645g). The focus ring is nicely sized and very smooth - the TS-E 45mm does not extend while focusing. Both distance and full depth of field scales are provided. All current TS-E lenses feature 8 aperture blades.

Combining a 45mm focal length and a 1.3' (.4m) minimum focus distance does not yield big magnification(.16x). Higher magnification can be achieved with the addition of a Adding the Canon 12mm Extension tube (.44x). The Canon 25mm Extension tube is not supported by the Canon TS-E 45mm f/2.8 Tilt-Shift Lens.

The Canon TS-E 45mm f/2.8 Tilt-Shift Lens comes with a pinch-release lens hood (EW-79B II measuring 4 5/16" x 1.5") and a lens pouch. It takes 72mm filters. Due to its non-sealed mechanical joint movements, the Canon TS-E 45mm f/2.8 Tilt-Shift Lens should be kept clean. The joints are located behind the rear lens elements.

Although I have not seen Canon specify the compatibility, Canon Extenders seem to work well with TS-E lenses. Autofocus is of course not affected as there is none to begin with. However, the correct aperture and focal length information are not reported to the camera. Exposures are fine - image quality is also decent. Extenders definitely add to the versatility of the Canon TS-E 45mm f/2.8 Tilt-Shift Lens.

Use the Canon TS-E 45mm f/2.8 Tilt-Shift Lens as a normal 45mm lens (a manual focus one of course) or adjust the tilt, shift and rotation to creative perfection. Plan on needing some behind-the-camera time to get used to the adjustments and capabilities of this lens. A digital body will be a huge help in understanding the exposure variances. I recommend using a tripod or other steady support - especially when adjusting the shift functionality. Of course, photography has few rules.

Product photography is a great use for the Canon TS-E 45mm f/2.8 Tilt-Shift Lens - Especially medium-sized products such as clothing, home furnishings ... architecture and landscape photography are good uses for this lens.

The Canon TS-E 45mm f/2.8 Tilt-Shift Lens works well for Portraits (if not too cropped too tightly). The TS-E 45 enables a subject's eyes and the part of his/her environment you wish to emphasize to remain in focus while the remainder of the portrait is blurred to taste.

The Canon TS-E 45mm f/2.8 Tilt-Shift Lens is an optically-excellent lens that inspires creativity. The results can be outstanding. If you are looking for a simple point and shoot lens, a TS-E lens is probably not for you.

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