Which Tilt-Shift Lens Should I Get?

With the introduction of three L-series tilt-shift lenses in August 2017, Canon can now has the largest and most varied selection of tilt-shift lenses available in the full-frame camera market. But with so many lenses to choose from, it may be difficult to narrow one's decision own to the right choice. Therefore, we're going to explore what differentiates these lenses and what each will be good for to aid in your decision-making process. For the purpose of this comparison, we're excluding the older Canon TS-E 45mm f/2.8 and TS-E 90mm f/2.8 lenses as we're uncertain how much longer they will be available.
 
If you're unfamiliar with tilt-shift lenses, first check out are article, "What is a Tilt-Shift Lens?"
 
What These Lenses Have In Common
 
Aside from an L-series build quality and extremely high image quality, the standout feature of these lenses is the ability to tilt and/or shift the optics in relation to the imaging sensor. These abilities allow for a photographer to correct perspective distortion in-camera (through shift) or change the plane of sharp focus (through tilt). Note: All tilt-shift lenses are manual focus only and none feature weather sealing.
 
The Biggest Differentiating Factor – Focal Length
 
Canon's L-series tilt-shift lenses – denoted by a TS-E prefix – range in focal lengths from an ultra-wide 17mm to a moderately short telephoto 135mm. Like most lens decisions, it's important to understand which focal length will suit your specific needs best.
 
Possibly Important Differentiator – Macro Ability
 
Canon's newest tilt-shift introductions, including the TS-E 50mm f/2.8L, TS-E 90mm f/2.8L and TS-E 135mm f/4L feature an Maximum Magnification rating of 0.50x, making them very useful for a wide range of macro subjects.
 
Least Important Differentiators – Max Aperture and Price
 
Even though prime lenses typically feature notably wider max apertures than zoom lenses covering the same focal length, the max aperture for these tilt-shift lenses ranges from f/2.8 - f/4. As tilt-shift lenses are typically used in conjunction with a tripod, the up-to-1-stop difference in max aperture will likely mean little to most consumers. And while there are modest differences in prices, the difference between any two lenses is unlikely to prove sufficient to sway one's purchasing decision compared to other notable differences.
 
A Look at Canon's TS-E Tilt-Shift Lenses
 
Canon TS-E 17mm f/4L
Featuring the widest focal length found in a tilt-shift lens from any manufacturer, the Canon TS-E 17mm f/4L is ideally suited from capturing interior and exterior architecture, keeping perspective distortion at bay with the shift feature. This lens can also be useful for landscape purposes, with tilt enabling both foreground and background subjects to remain in sharp focus. Note that this lens does not natively allow for the use of front filters, so that will be a drawback for some landscape photographers. Special accessories can be purchased to enable certain filters to be used.
 
Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5L II
With a modestly longer (and ultra popular) focal length, the Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5L II can be used for the same subjects as that the TS-E 17mm lens is useful for, with the main differences being a moderately narrower angle of view and the ability to accept front filters. These attributes shift (pun intended) the TS-E 24's ideal uses away from interior, small room architecture to outdoor architecture and landscape photography where the use of circular polarizering and neutral density filters are often desired.
 
Canon TS-E 50mm f/2.8L Macro
As we continue to climb up the focal length ladder, the next Canon tilt-shift offering is the TS-E 50mm f/2.8L Macro. While it can be very useful for outdoor architecture and landscapes (the lens accepts front filters), the TS-E 50L really shines in the product photography realm, especially for medium-sized products such as clothing, home furnishings and three-dimensional art. With a 0.50x Maximum Magnification rating, small subjects can be projected half-size on the camera's imaging sensor, increasing the overall versatility of the lens. The 50mm focal length can also work well for loosely-framed portraiture, with this lens' tilt feature allowing for endless creativity in capturing selectively sharp imagery.
 
Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8L Macro
The Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8L Macro's focal length makes it very well suited for product photography, primarily for medium and small-sized products such as plates of food, model cars, bottles, etc. Floral photography is another great use of the 90mm focal length, especially when combined with the unique blurring effects that tilting the lens enables. Like the TS-E 50L, the TS-E 90L can be useful for landscapes and macro subjects, too.
 
Canon TS-E 135mm f/4L Macro
Featuring the longest focal length found in a tilt-shift lens designed for SLR (Single Lens Reflex) photography, the Canon TS-E 135mm f/4L Macro is likely the most specialized lens in Canon's lineup. Its medium telephoto focal length combined with tilt can help you capture very creative portraiture, assuming that manual focus is appropriate for your portrait application. Like the TS-E 90 and 50mm lenses, the TS-E 135L will often find its home in a product photographer's kit as it excels at capturing small-to-medium sized subjects all the way down to macro-sized subjects. With vast working distances available, this lens can create compelling compositions of even very large subjects.
 
Summary
 
With five L-series models in its arsenal, there's a good chance that you could find a multitude of uses for one (or several) of Canon's tilt-shift lenses. As I mentioned, the biggest differentiating factor for most will be focal length. Determine which focal length will be optimal for your intended subjects, get the appropriate model and enjoy the endless fun and creativity engendered by tilt-shift photography.
 
B&H carries Canon's tilt-shift lenses.
Posted: 2/20/2018 8:30:32 AM CT   Posted By: Sean
Posted to: Canon News
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