The Canon TS-E 135mm f/4L Tilt-Shift Macro Lens is a superbly built lens that delivers outstanding image quality. With macro focusing and tilt, shift and rotate features, this lens can produce incredible and highly-differentiating results.
I said something similar in the beginning of the Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8L Tilt-Shift Macro Lens review. These two similarly-featured lenses were simultaneously announced along with the also-similar Canon TS-E 50mm f/2.8L Tilt-Shift Macro Lens. Because of their similarities, the reviews for all three of these lenses are going to be also-similar.
Back in 1991, Canon rolled out three TS-E lenses, bringing tilt and shift movement capabilities to the EOS camera lineup, features that previously required medium or large format cameras to obtain. About 18 years later, on February 17, 2009, Canon announced the TS-E 17mm f/4L and the TS-E 24mm f/3.5L II, replacing the first TS-E 24 f/3.5L and adding the 17mm option to the lineup. Most of us expected the TS-E 45mm f/2.8 and TS-E 90mm f/2.8 replacements to soon follow, but ... nearly 9 years passed before that happened. Those replacements are the TS-E 50mm f/2.8L and the TS-E 90mm f/2.8L. Unlike those other two lenses, the TS-E 135 had no predecessor and breaks new ground. This is the only tilt-shift DSLR lens longer than 90mm available at review time.
While this lens qualifies for the "Specialty Lens" designation, it can be used for the same purposes as a 135mm prime lens. This lens' primary downside is its lack of autofocus. As of review time, all tilt-shift lenses are manual focus-only, so if AF is required for your 135mm application, one of these lenses is not for you. Still, there are many great reasons for this lens to live alongside the AF lenses in your kit.
The first priority in selecting one of Canon's tilt-shift lenses is determining which focal length is best. Canon now has five excellent L-series options in their TS-E line-up, starting at 17mm and ranging up to this one at 135mm.
When the 1987-era Canon EF 135mm f/2.8 with Softfocus Lens was discontinued, Canon had one 135mm prime lens remaining available, the Canon EF 135mm f/2L USM Lens. While the 135 L is a great lens, it is very different than this one. Still, these two lenses are useful for many of the same tasks.
Especially on a full frame camera, one of the standout uses for 135mm is portrait photography. The classic portrait focal length range is from 85mm through 135mm (including FOVCF). A 135mm focal length is obviously at the top of the classic range and, with a 216mm full frame angle of view equivalent seen by an APS-C 1.6x body, this lens will need adequate working space or tight subject framing for portrait use. Even on a full frame camera, the 135mm focal length invites tight head shot framing and plenty of working space for less-tightly-framed portraits. The longer working distance changes perspective toward a more-compressed look and the longer working distance required by APS-C cameras will create more depth of field with a less-strongly blurred background showing in same-aperture comparisons.
With adequate working distance available, this lens will create beautiful full body portraits and even tight head shot framing will retain a nice perspective even with a full frame camera.
The "portrait photography" designation is a broad one that covers a wide variety of potential still and video subject framing and a wide variety of potential venues (from indoors to outdoors). Portrait subjects can range from infants to seniors and from individuals to groups (small ones in this case). Think engagements, weddings, parties, events, theater, stage, families, senior adults, fashion, documentary, lifestyle ... all are great uses for the 135mm focal length.
Helping to justify the acquisition cost of this lens is that portrait photography is one of the best revenue-producing genres out there (you cannot buy stock photos of most people). I'll also argue that there are no subjects more important than people.
Regardless of the camera format being used, the 135mm focal length (like most others), can be used for landscape photography, creating a moderately compressed view of the world around us. While most would not opt to carry a relatively-heavy 135mm lens along with the other landscape focal lengths needed on long hikes into the backcountry, those working closer to their residence or car may decide the image quality delivered by such a prime lens is a highly-desirable advantage.
Though it will prove too long for some applications, the 135mm focal length can be used for architecture photography. Commercial photographers often find needs for this focal length, 135mm general studio photography applications abound and a wide range of other subjects await the 135mm angle of view. This focal length works especially well for product photography, including small products and for this usage, this lens really shines. Of course, that commercial/product photography is often a paid pursuit is helpful for offsetting the acquisition cost.
While this lens is very useful when used as a normal prime lens, it becomes far more versatile when its movements are taken into consideration. So, before going any deeper into this review, let's address these features. Here is a visual illustration of the movements of the lens.
Note that the entire set of lens elements and groups are positioned forward of the movements and always move as an entire group.
Illustrated first above is the tilt (AKA swing) feature. Without any tilt adjustment dialed in, this lens acts as a standard lens with the plane of sharp focus being parallel to the imaging sensor. For example, photographing a brick wall straight-on at the 0° tilt setting can result in the entire wall being in focus, even at the lens' widest aperture (thinest depth of field). Tilting the lens tilts the plane of sharp focus in the same direction as the tilt. This means that only part of the referenced brick wall will be sharp and some of the foreground and background can also be in focus – just as if it was being photographed at an angle using a conventional lens.
Use the tilt movement to change what is in focus in the image. Typically, the desire is to get either more or less of the scene in focus.
Tilt is often used to keep a close foreground and distant background sharp in the frame while using an aperture wider than otherwise necessary (or available). One reason for using a wider aperture is to avoid the softening effects of diffraction and another is to permit faster shutter speeds that can avoid motion blur and/or permit a lower, less-noisy ISO setting to be used. Great uses for this feature include photographing flat products (such as a plate of food), photographing landscapes with close foregrounds and distant backgrounds (keeping an entire landscape image showing great depth sharp can be very challenging at 135mm) and photographing multiple subjects at varying distances to the camera. A downward tilt would accommodate the first two uses and a sideways tilt might be ideal for the third.
Another excellent use of the tilt feature is to create selective focus, with a slice of sharp focus running through the image. This example was captured with the TS-E 90mm lens.
I'll save the the wedding ring image explanation for the TS-E 90mm sample gallery, but the viewer's eye is immediately drawn to the parts of an image that are in focus and, by tilting the lens to very strongly blur the surrounding distractions, that is what will happen. A narrow area of focus can be created at even very long focus distances. This is the feature used to create the toy (miniaturization) effect, typically in distant scenes, often showing cars, people, towns, etc. appearing little.
As always, aperture determines the depth of field with a wider aperture creating a narrower slice of focus through the image and a stronger blur overall. Also, focusing continues to move the slice of focus forward or backward in the frame.
The TS-E 135mm f/4L lens tilts to +/- 10°. A large knob is used to make the adjustments (the lens can also be manually pushed into position, but I don't advise doing so). Opposite of the adjustment knob is a small lock knob used to lock any tilt position and a lock switch is provided for the 0° position (a great new feature) which also includes a click stop.
Let's look at a couple of examples of tilt. In the first example, the two extremes of tilt are illustrated. The camera is looking at the colored pencils from an angle. In the first image, the lens was tilted upward, resulting in a very shallow depth of field that helps draw the viewer's eye to the yellow pencil. The second image was taken from the identical tripod position except the lens was tilted downward and re-framed to match the first image, resulting in all pencils being rendered in sharp focus.
For next the example, captured with the TS-E 90, the camera is positioned well below a computer display which is also tilted upward.
With no tilt adjustment, the depth of field is very shallow even at f/8. Tilting the lens downward brings the display into the plane of sharp focus. In this position, the entire surface of the display is in sharp focus – even at f/2.8. The difference is dramatic. Notice that framing shifts some with this movement.
Now, let's rotate the tilt axis to the horizontal orientaion. Movements now help us visualize the tilt of the plane of sharp focus. All images within each row of examples was focused as shown in the 0° option.
As the lens is tilted, the plane of sharp focus is tilted in the same direction. As with a normal lens, that plane can be moved forward or backward with focusing and the depth of field on that plane increases as the aperture is set narrower. Along with the framing change, focus typically must be adjusted with a tilt setting change. The framing and focusing adjustments being required with each tilt adjustment complicates setup, and the tendency for auto exposures to be inaccurate as the lens is tilted further adds to the challenge (a manual exposure is ideal).
For more information on tilt, research the Scheimpflug Principle (Wikipedia).
Illustrated last in the product images above is the shift feature. The shift feature allows the optical axis to be moved parallel to the imaging sensor. If the camera is not moved, the view of the scene being photographed moves through the viewfinder in the direction the lens is being shifted. If the camera is moved to retain the original view, perspective correction (or the reverse) is the result.
A common use for shift is to keep lines parallel in an image. For example, if photographing buildings using an upward (or downward) camera angle with a conventional lens, the lines defining the sides of the buildings will appear to be converging, moving closer together at the top (or bottom) of the frame (keystoning). The shift feature can make those lines straight (or at least straighter), making the camera position appear to be level with the center of the frame.
Generally, when using shift for perspective correction, the camera is first oriented perpendicularly to the subject (the imaging sensor and subject should be parallel) and the lens is then shifted to acquire the proper framing. While the architecture example represents a common use, this feature works well for trees, people, products and a huge array of other subjects. Keeping the photographer and camera out of reflections while making a rectangular-shaped subject continue to appear rectangular is another example of this feature's usefulness.
Let's take a look at an example of the shift feature in use.
In the "Normal" image, the point end of the pencils are wider than the other end, with their delineating lines modestly converging. A full 12mm shift brings the edges of the pencils into parallel alignment. Shifted the other direction by 12mm exaggerates the converging lines. The differences seen here are not dramatic, but that correction can make the difference between a good image and a great one.
Another great use for the shift feature is panorama capture. Because, when using shift, the framing is changed (toward the direction of the shift) and perspective distortion is avoided, stitching shift-captured images is very easy and finding the nodal point becomes unnecessary. Ideally, the camera is shifted by the same amount as the lens in the opposite direction. In other words, if shifting the lens 12mm to the right for a pano frame capture, move the camera 12mm to the left in its tripod mount, keeping the lens in the exact same position. If there are no subjects close to the lens, the camera shifting may be unnecessary.
Using the TS-E 90mm wedding ring photo setup illustrated above, I simply shifted the lens, capturing images at half and full extents on each side of the zero position with the images then stitched together in Photoshop (note that this result would have been slightly cleaner if I has also shifted the camera in this situation). The black frame illustrates the initial 8688 x 5792 pixel image inside of the extreme resolution 8688 x 14369 pixel (124.8 megapixel) final result. Panoramas can be made using shift in either direction and even 45° shifts can be used to capture an image larger on both axis.
This lens shifts to +/- 12mm. A modest-sized knob is used in rack and pinion style to make the adjustments. Opposite of the adjustment knob is a small lock knob, allowing the setting to be locked into any position. The zero-shift position has a click stop.
A larger shift knob cap is included in the box which can be installed by removing the standard shift knob's top screw and replacing it with the cap in place. With the shift knob cap installed, shifting the lens is made easier. Of course, there is a good reason why the shift knob was designed to be variable in size rather than simply larger to begin with. As lens manual warns, "...note that for EOS cameras with a built-in flash, the cap may come in contact with the camera when mounting/detaching the lens, shifting the lens, or turning the lens for rotation." [Canon]
Like all of the TS-E lenses before it, the entire lens rotates on the lens mount to allow the tilt and shift features to be oriented as desired. The lens rotation will lock at -90°, 0° and 90° for 180° of total rotation with click stops (not locked) every 30°. The small release tab conveniently located near the lens mount makes unlocking the lens rotation very easy. Note that the shift knob is difficult to reach when positioned on top while using an APC-S body with a built-in flash. Orient it to the bottom and all is well.
Changing the orientation of the tilt axis relative to the shift axis, from perpendicular to parallel, with Canon's original TS-E tilt-shift lenses required disassembly with a screwdriver (or a service center visit for the less adventurous). Changing the orientation back required the same process. That issue was resolved with Canon's most-recently-prior-introduced TS-E L lenses (the 17L and 24L II) with a press of a release lever and a twist being all that is now required. That great feature was carried over into this lens' feature set. The tilt-shift relationship can be quickly and easily changed by varying amounts up to 90°.
Tilt-shift rotation stops at the parallel or perpendicular axis settings (relative to the shift orientation) with a click stop at 45°. You can use non-click settings for either rotation mechanism on this lens, but care must be taken to maintain that setting as no lock is provided for the inbetween positions. The small tab near the shift locking knob (closest to the lens mount) unlocks the TS rotation.
This lens obviously features an f/4 maximum aperture opening that is not so wide for a professional-grade 135mm lens and even zoom lenses are commonly found covering 135mm with an f/2.8 aperture. To accommodate the tilt and shift movements, TS-E lenses must produce an image circle larger than the designed-for imaging sensor format requires. While I would welcome a wider-than-f/4 aperture in use, I would not want the lens to be larger or more expensive than it is now. So, f/4 was a logical choice for this model.
A tilt-shift lens will not commonly be the choice of low light action photographers and those using this lens will often utilize a tripod. Thus, still life images can be captured in low light at f/4 without issue.
By virtue of their focal length enlarging background blur, telephoto lenses can create a very strong background blur, especially at a short focus distances. Combine this blur capability with the tilt movement's blur capability for some extreme blur.
I shared an MTF chart comparison between this lens and some other relevant lens options in the TS-E 90 review and will not bore you with a repeat of that discussion. But, the MTF charts made it clear that the new TS-E 135 was going to be a special lens.
The expectations bar was set very high and the lab results show that this lens delivered on the expectations.
The Canon TS-E 135mm f/4L Tilt-Shift Macro Lens is exceptionally sharp from full frame corner to full frame corner wide open at f/4. Even with an ultra-high resolution Canon EOS 5Ds R body behind it, The TS-E 90 L competes with the best DSLR lenses ever produced. Use the site's image quality tool to see what I mean.
Included in the standard image quality results are tests completed with the lens shifted, bringing the periphery of the image circle into the test. The site's tool shows mid and periphery crops toward the upper right of the frame. Thus, shifting the lens one direction (the "-" results) brings the image circle closer to centered in the windows of view the tool provides. The other direction, "+", better tells the periphery story. At +6mm of shift, sharpness remains excellent. Fully shifted to +12mm, some softness, mostly lower contrast, creeps into the periphery of the right side of the image at f/4. By f/5.6, vignetting is clearing in the corner and at f/8 the results are looking very sharp across the entire frame.
In addition to our standard lab tests, I like to share some real world examples, usually including at least several apertures. That wasn't necessary for this lens as f/4 results are razor sharp. Here are three examples:
These images and the ones below are 100% resolution crops captured in RAW format using a Canon EOS 5Ds R. They were processed in Digital Photo Professional using the Standard Picture Style with sharpness set to "1". The above examples are from the center of the frame and the examples below are from extreme top-left corner.
Those are very impressive results. The image quality can be seen right on the LCD while focusing at high magnification.
I did not notice any focus shift issues with this lens. Subjects in front of and behind the plane of sharp focus become increasingly in-focus as the aperture narrows.
When used with the movements in their centered positions, this lens has remarkably little peripheral shading, thanks again to the huge image circle. The about 0.15 stops at f/4 will rarely be noticeable.
Vignetting is typically seen most strongly at the periphery of the image circle. The tilt and shift movements bring that into play and we have those test results in the site's vignetting tool. Tilt and shift settings bring the periphery of the image circle into play and increased peripheral shading results. Shift alone, even to 12mm, increases peripheral shading only a tiny amount, remaining a non-issue. At full tilt, a just-noticeable about 1 stop becomes apparent in the corners on one side at f/4.
The various movements can be made simultaneously and that complicates the vignetting results with tilt and shift movement combinations more-strongly increasing vignetting on one side of the frame. Also, the orientation of the simultaneous movements affects these results, with all four corners potentially appearing different. With parallel movements at half-tilt and half-shift, the corners on one side of the frame see about .5 stops of shading, still a non-issue. With parallel movements at full-tilt and full-shift, the corners on one side of the frame see about 2.5 stops of shading. While this is not a severe amount (most lenses have more than this amount wide open), it is a noticeable amount and the shading is not balanced in the frame. Stopping down significantly reduces the shading.
With perpendicular movements both set to their mid-positions, shading remains negligible. With both movements set to their full-extents, the camera's auto exposure turned most of the frame pure white. With a -3 EV adjustment correction made in-camera, one corner of the frame becomes very dark, at least 6 stops darker than the brightest portion of the frame. Stopping down steadily clears this issue, though a tiny portion of one corner remains quite dark even at f/16.
Basically, this lens shows an extremely low amount of vignetting unless certain very-strong tilt-shift movements and combinations of movements are used, and then mostly wide apertures see the darkening. Those using this lens on an APS-C sensor camera will see very little vignetting when using this lens. Note that the viewfinder becomes very dark with some strong tilt-shift combinations in use.
The effect of different colors of the spectrum being magnified differently is referred to as lateral (or transverse) CA (Chromatic Aberration). Lateral CA shows as color fringing along lines of strong contrast running tangential (meridional, right angles to radii) with the mid and especially the periphery of the image circle showing the greatest amount as this is where the greatest difference in the magnification of wavelengths exists. Prime lenses are usually strong performers in this regard. Let's look at a worst-case example, a 100% crop from the extreme top-left corner of a 5Ds R frame.
There should be only black and white colors in this image and the lack of additional colors are showing stellar performance in this regard. I noticed little change in this attribute when using the tilt and shift movements, though the full tilt setting did produce some lateral CA in the corners on one side of the frame.
A relatively common lens aberration is axial (longitudinal, bokeh) CA, which causes non-coinciding focal planes of the various wavelengths of light, or more simply, different colors of light are focused to different depths. Spherical aberration along with spherochromatism, or a change in the amount of spherical aberration with respect to color (looks quite similar to axial chromatic aberration but is hazier) are other common lens aberrations to look for. Axial CA remains at least somewhat persistent when stopping down with the color misalignment effect increasing with defocusing while the spherical aberration color halo shows little size change as the lens is defocused and stopping down one to two stops generally removes this aberration.
In the real world, lens defects do not exist in isolation with spherical aberration and spherochromatism generally found, at least to some degree, along with axial CA. These combine to create a less sharp, hazy-appearing image quality at the widest apertures. The colors bordering the specular highlights in the foreground and background blur of the silver bracelet shown below should remain silver.
I see some modest color differences here, indicating some aberration presence.
"To help minimize the ghosting and flare that reflected light can cause on image capture, the TS-E 135mm f/4L Macro features Canon's SWC coating. Subwavelength Structure Coating (SWC) helps reduce flaring and ghosting caused by light hitting the lens at large angles, helping to deliver clear images with high contrast and minimal distracting glare." [Canon] That technology combined with the very low lens elements/groups count (11/7), gives this lens an impressive flare tolerance, even at very narrow apertures.
One TS-E 135 L image quality attribute that is indiscernible from the TS-E 90 is the geometric distortion profile with both of these lenses showing negligible linear distortion. As discussed earlier, keeping parallel lines parallel in the frame is one of the desired uses for this lens and any geometric distortion would be viewed as a strong detriment to that goal. Fortunately, this lens delivers excellence in this regard. Leave the distortion correction slider at 0 when processing this lens' images. That is, unless a strong tilt is in use and in that case, lines will show a slight curve throughout the entire image. The colored pencil tilt movement example earlier in the review shows this.
This lens creates a beautiful, high quality background blur (bokeh). The examples below show background and foreground out-of-focus specular highlights being very smoothly rendered at f/11.
The normal-for-f/11 aperture blade interaction is beginning to show in these examples. The concentric outer rings are relatively mild and the outer transition is smooth. As is often the case, the concentric rings in the foreground blur are slightly stronger than those in the background.
When stopped down, this lens' 9-blade aperture produces reasonable-looking 18-point stars from point light sources.
Overall, one would be challenged to find a reason to take the Canon TS-E 135mm f/4L Tilt-Shift Macro Lens off of the short list for image quality reasons. More likely is that this lens will rise to the top of the option list because of its stellar image quality performance.
As previously clarified, the Canon TS-E 135mm f/4 Lens (and all other tilt-shift lenses available at review time) is a manual focus only lens. Image quality is always highly dependent on accurate focusing and, with a manual focus lens, that accuracy is up to you. Fortunately, Canon's TS-E series lenses provide a quality manual focus experience.
The solid-feeling focus ring is very large, is extremely smooth and is nicely-damped with no play. While a 170° range of focus ring rotation seems long, adjustments happen on the quick side of ideal.
Unlike the Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8L, the TS-E 135 does not extend with focusing and maintains a fixed overall size. The focus ring is mounted toward the front of the lens and I can easily adjust the focus distance with my fingers while balancing the lens in my left hand. The various tilt, shift and rotation knobs and levers do not make this the most comfortable lens to handhold, but it is not bad in that regard. The camera this lens is mounted to will most often find itself tripod-mounted and in that case, handholding comfort is a non-issue.
As with all Canon TS-E tilt-shift lenses, (well past) infinity and minimum focus distances are hard stops (the focus ring stops moving) and that means focus distance settings/marks are easily repeatable, an attribute highly valued by videographers. Most lenses including this one focus past their actual infinity setting to account for needs in extreme temperatures, though this one does an extra-long distance past that point.
The Canon 135mm f/4 provides a DOF (Depth of Field) scale, but the widest aperture marks that fit are f/16 and that means the scale is not going to be found incredibly useful by most. Need f/45? This scale has you covered.
Of note, including for videographers, those planning to use focus stacking techniques and those needed to critically frame a scene, is that this lens changes the size of subjects in the frame by a noticeable amount during mid or longer focus distance adjustments. Subjects not only come into and go out of focus, but they become larger or smaller while doing so.
As mentioned, focus accuracy is your responsibility with a manual focus-only lens. In the old days, manual focusing was the only option available. But, we were given bright viewfinders with split image rangefinders and microprisms.
Today's DSLR viewfinders are optimized for autofocusing and the provided focusing screen makes precise manual focusing a challenge. Focusing screens can be replaced (either via accessory drop-in replacements or via a service provided by a third party camera service center), but one challenge potentially remains and that is focus calibration. If the focusing screen is not precisely calibrated with the imaging sensor, perfect viewfinder-based focusing can result in a front or back focus condition.
The viewfinder's in-focus indicator light will come on when the camera thinks that accurate focus has been acquired, but this is an imprecise indication. Ideal is to use live view under maximum magnification where very precise manual focusing can be very reliably established. The downside of course is that not all situations permit use of the magnified live view method and that is where your skill comes in. It is possible to manually focus a 135mm lens at f/4 using the optical viewfinder, but careful attention is required.
Focusing down to 19.3" (490mm), the TS-E 135mm f/4 delivers an impressive 0.50x maximum magnification. This lens is a great choice for product and small subject photography.
In the chart below, you will find Canon's review-time-current TS-E L lenses and a selection of focal-length-similar lenses.
|Canon TS-E 17mm f/4L Tilt-Shift Lens||9.8"||(250mm)||0.14x|
|Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5L II Tilt-Shift Lens||8.3"||(210mm)||0.34x|
|Canon TS-E 50mm f/2.8L Tilt-Shift Macro Lens||10.6"||(270mm)||0.50x|
|Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8L Tilt-Shift Macro Lens||15.4"||(390mm)||0.50x|
|Canon TS-E 135mm f/4L Tilt-Shift Macro Lens||19.3"||(490mm)||0.50x|
|Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L IS USM Macro Lens||11.8"||(300mm)||1.00x|
|Canon EF 135mm f/2L USM Lens||35.4"||(900mm)||0.19x|
|Samyang 135mm f/2 ED UMC Lens||31.5"||(800mm)||x|
|Sigma 135mm f/1.8 DG HSM Art Lens||34.4"||(875mm)||0.20x|
|Zeiss 135mm f/2 Milvus Lens||31.5"||(800mm)||0.25x|
Let's take a closer look at reproduction ratios using an example I created with a different lens on a full frame body. Use the mouseover labels below the image to see the specified ratio.
The 1:2 (0.5x) example of course represents MM for this lens.
While the maximum magnification ratio is responsible for how big your bug or other subject can be reproduced on the physical sensor, the pixel density of the camera's imaging sensor also has responsibility for the output size capability of the overall system. All other aspects being equal, a higher density sensor will provide more output magnification capability. To get more magnification from this lens (or most others), use a higher resolution DSLR. Fortunately, the image quality of this lens is easily ready for the highest resolution DSLRs available as of review time.
While having a 0.5x maximum magnification capability is a big deal for a conventional lens, those lenses are challenged with depth of field issues at close focus distances. Even when using a narrow aperture (often one showing softening effects of diffraction), careful alignment of the plane of sharp focus on the subject is required. Flat subjects need to be photographed with the imaging sensor parallel to the subject to keep the entire subject in focus. But, that straight-on position is not always the desired perspective. For example, you may not want to photograph a plate of food from straight overhead, but you may still want the entire plate in focus.
That is where the tilt movement and the high maximum magnification capability beautifully combine. In many cases, the ideal composition can be selected with little regard to plane of focus with the latter being adjusted as desired using the tilt and rotation movements.
At minimum focus distance, roughly 2.6" (66mm) of subject fits horizontally in the frame. The 0.50x maximum magnification (1:2 reproduction ratio) means that the subject can be rendered up to 1/2 life-size on the imaging sensor. Of course, even large imaging sensors are not very large and subjects captured at 1/2 life-size look big in 4x6" prints and huge on a typical computer display. Still, many "macro"-designated prime lenses have a 2x-better 1.00x spec.
An easy way to increase the maximum magnification is to reduce the minimum focus distance and that is the function that extension tubes provide. A 12mm extension tube nicely increases the magnification range to 0.62-0.09 and a just-over-2x-longer 25mm extension tube moves the range numbers to 0.77-0.20x.
While that last set of numbers is approaching the 1.00x life-size figure, better is to come. Canon does not specify this, but this lens is physically compatible with Canon extenders. The connection does not electronically report the extender's presence to the camera (at least not to the EXIF data), but the space behind the pivoting group of lens elements accommodates the extenders' front element intrusion and this combination works quite well together.
Extenders (teleconverters) magnify the image by the factor included in their name. The upside is that the lens can be used with a longer focal length option while retaining its native minimum focus distance, which means that the maximum magnification is also increased by the same factor. The primary concerns to using teleconverters are that the max aperture is significantly reduced (by 1 stop for a 1.4x and by 2 stops for a 2x) and any lens aberrations present are increased. Start with a razor sharp lens and that last concern dissipates.
With a Canon EF 1.4x III Extender behind it, the Canon TS-E 135mm f/4L Tilt-Shift Macro Lens transforms into a 189mm f/5.6 lens with a 0.70x max magnification. At f/5.6, this combination shows very little degradation in image quality in the center and mid portions of the image circle. The difference in the periphery becomes more noticeable, but the results are still good. Stopping down improves sharpness, bringing the corners quite close to their native sharpness. The addition of the 1.4x increases barrel distortion slightly, but lateral CA remains very well-controlled.
Mount the Canon EF 2x III Extender behind the TS-E 135 and it becomes a 270mm f/8 lens that precisely reaches 1.00x life-size max magnification. It takes a special lens to leave me completely satisfied with 2.0x extender results and while the sharpness impact to the TS-E 135 L is noticeable, this combination is usable, even wide open. Stopping down the aperture produces very minor improvement in sharpness and starting at f/8 means that most cameras begin to show softening effects from diffraction within a stop or two of wide open. The 2x very slightly increases barrel distortion and again has negligible effect on lateral CA.
Obviously, Canon's extenders do not color-match the tilt-shift lenses. If that bothers you, consider what could be done with a can of spray paint.
The extra knobs and levers on this lens are intriguing and with a primarily matte-black textured finish, this lens is quite attractive. For those who know what it means, the red ring around the end of the lens is a thing of beauty. Along with the "L" appended to the max aperture opening in the model name, the red ring signifies membership in the Canon L-Series lineup. The lenses in this series represent Canon's best-available, professional-duty options and this one is definitely worthy of its red ring.
To reiterate, this lens is fixed in size and that is a nice feature.
Construction behind the focus ring is all metal. The fit is tight and the movements are smooth, especially when using the large tilt knob. The ribbed-rubber-coated focus ring and small end portion of the barrel are constructed of engineering plastic.
Tilt-shift lenses are not weather-sealed, so use caution in wet and dusty conditions.
At 2.3 lbs (1.1 kg), this mid-sized lens is somewhat heavy and its weight will be noticeable if carried for long periods of time. However, it handles very nicely and hasn't been a burden to me.
|Model||Weight||Dimensions w/o Hood||Filter||Year|
|Canon TS-E 17mm f/4L Tilt-Shift Lens||28.9 oz||(820g)||3.5 x 4.2"||(88.9 x 106.9mm)||n/a||2009|
|Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5L II Tilt-Shift Lens||27.5 oz||(780g)||3.5 x 4.2"||(88.5 x 106.9mm)||82mm||2009|
|Canon TS-E 50mm f/2.8L Tilt-Shift Macro Lens||33.4 oz||(945g)||3.4 x 4.5"||(86.9 x 114.9mm)||77mm||2017|
|Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8L Tilt-Shift Macro Lens||32.3 oz||(915g)||3.4 x 4.6"||(86.9 x 116.5mm)||77mm||2017|
|Canon TS-E 135mm f/4L Tilt-Shift Macro Lens||39.2 oz||(1110g)||3.5 x 5.5"||(88.6 x 139.1mm)||82mm||2017|
|Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L IS USM Macro Lens||22.1 oz||(625g)||3.1 x 4.8"||(77.7 x 123mm)||67mm||2009|
|Canon EF 135mm f/2L USM Lens||26.5 oz||(750g)||3.3 x 4.4"||(83 x 112mm)||72mm||1996|
|Samyang 135mm f/2 ED UMC Lens||29.3 oz||(830g)||3.2 x 4.8"||(82 x 122mm)||77mm||2015|
|Sigma 135mm f/1.8 DG HSM Art Lens||39.9 oz||(1130g)||3.6 x 4.5"||(91.4 x 114.9mm)||82mm||2017|
|Zeiss 135mm f/2 Milvus Lens||39.6 oz||(1123g)||3.5 x 4.5"||(89.7 x 115mm)||77mm||2016|
For many more comparisons, review the complete Canon TS-E 135mm f/4L Tilt-Shift Macro Lens Specifications using the site's Lens Spec tool.
For us visual types, here is a comparison between a few of the above-included lenses.
Positioned above from left to right are the following lenses:
In the sans-hoods comparison, the TS-E 135 is easily the biggest. Add the hoods, extend the Zeiss lens (minimum focus distance) and the TS-E 135 appears to be the smallest. I'm provide some of the reason for this soon.
Use the site's product image comparison tool to visually compare the Canon TS-E 135mm f/4L Tilt-Shift Macro Lens to other lenses.
The TS-E 135 L accepts 82mm filters. Filters of this size are among the larger and more expensive options, but they are becoming more common and most pro kits will have other lenses requiring 82mm filters.
Because the TS-E 135 L has a large image circle, a slim filter is not needed for not-significantly-tilted and/or shifted use of this lens. Because this lens vignettes in certain significantly tilted and/or shifted positions without any filter attached, a slim filter such as the B+W XS-Pro may give you an advantage at times.
As with all Canon L-Series lenses, the hood is included in the box. This lens gets a Canon ES-88 Lens Hood. The modestly-sized, rounded hood adds some additional protection to the front lens element, but to accommodate for the lens movements and avoid mechanical vignetting, the hood must be undersized relative to one covering only the conventional focal length, as seen in the comparison image above. The interior of this hood has a matte finish vs. the flocking Canon historically has used.
A Canon Lens Case LP1424, the same model included with many other L lenses, is included in the box. This case is a drawstring suede-like pouch with a padded bottom. The pouch sides are unpadded and provide only light impact protection.
This lens has really impressive image quality, it seems built like a tank, it has unique features and it is very useful. There is much value in that list. But, there is a price to be paid for this package. Like the other TS-E L lenses, the TS-E 135 f/4L is not inexpensive and price will surely be a limiting factor for sales. Some will have no problem with the cost and will quickly recoup their investment through sales of their service. Others will struggle to justify spending this much for a specialty lens. For those photographers, an occasional rental may work perfectly.
As a "TS-E" lens, the Canon TS-E 135mm f/4L Tilt-Shift Macro Lens is compatible with all Canon "EOS" cameras (the EOS "M" line requires an adapter). Especially since it is a manual focus lens, it should also work well on Sony E-mount/alpha cameras using an adapter. This lens comes with a 1-year limited warranty.
While I usually source retail lenses for review, this model has been very difficult to get and I resorted to borrowing a lens from Canon USA.
When considering the purchase of the TS-E 135 L, the first decision to make is whether or not the tilt-shift features are important. While very useful, the movements are of little value if not used.
If the tilt-shift movements are desired, Canon has an entire series of awesome tilt-shift L lenses and the focal length becomes, by far, the biggest differentiator. Check out our Which Tilt-Shift Lens Should I Get? article for more details, but the Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8L Tilt-Shift Macro Lens is going to be the closest option to this one. If you can't decide between the two focal lengths, my slight preference is for the 90mm option. It performs slightly better optically with strong movements dialed in (less linear distortion), has slightly less axial CA, is smaller, is lighter and, with a 1.4x extender, turns into a TS-E 126mm f/4L lens.
Canon's nearest non-tilt-shift competitor is the EF 135mm f/2L USM Lens. The 135 f/2L has two very obvious advantages. One is autofocus and the other is a 2-stop-wider max aperture. From a sharpness perspective, these lenses are essentially identical at f/4.
The TS-E lens shows less flare, has slightly less geometric distortion and has a much higher maximum magnification (0.50x vs. 0.19x). The EF lens weighs 2/3 as much and the size relationship is similar, including the 72mm vs. 82mm filter size. That two 135 f/2L lenses can be purchased (with money left over) for the price of one TS-E 135 f/4L will be the biggest differentiator for some.
Another 135mm option worth considering is the Sigma 135mm f/1.8 DG HSM Art Lens. Like the 135 f/2L, this Sigma has autofocus and big max aperture advantages. Few lenses are as sharp as this Sigma and, at f/4, image sharpness is not a differentiator.
The Canon lens shows slightly less flare, has slightly less geometric distortion, has a much higher maximum magnification (0.50x vs. 0.20x) and accepts extenders. These two lenses are very similar in size and weight. While it is priced higher than the Canon 135 f/2L, the Sigma remains far less expensive than the TS-E lens.
If autofocus is not important, the next 135mm lens to consider is the Zeiss 135mm f/2 Milvus Lens. Zeiss Milvus lenses are beautifully constructed and by now, you are probably figuring out that 135mm prime lenses tend to be incredibly sharp. This Zeiss lens matches that description.
The Zeiss holds a 2-stop aperture advantage while the Canon shows slightly less flare. These two lenses are very similar in size, at least when the Zeiss is extended, and they are also similar in weight. The Canon has a much higher maximum magnification (0.50x vs. 0.25x) and functions with extenders. The Zeiss has a longer focus ring rotation better-suited for precision work (270° vs. 170°). These two lenses share the same price tag.
The Samyang/Rokinon 135mm f/2 ED UMC Lens makes a name for itself by being priced at less than 25% as much as the Canon. In this case, I'll give the Canon an edge in the f/4 sharpness comparison and the Samyang's focus shift characteristic is a bit of an issue.
The Canon has less vignetting when both lenses are compared at their widest apertures, shows less flare and has less linear distortion. The Samyang holds a 2-stop aperture advantage, is about 10 oz (243 g) lighter and is a bit smaller with 77mm filter threads (vs. 82mm). The Canon has a much higher maximum magnification (0.50x vs. 0.25x) and functions with extenders.
Use the site's reviews and comparison tools to evaluate many other lens options.
For this lens, I can simply duplicate the TS-E 90 f/2.8L's summary. If this lens and its special features are what you need (or you can make it work for your needs), it is a stellar performer in a well-built package.
A tilt-shift lens can be as easy to use as any manual-focus prime lens. Or, it can be very complex. While simplicity is great, complexity can be a differentiator for your work and a barrier to entry for those wishing to compete. If a photographer has a lens with tilt-shift movements, they can raise the bar on their imagery.
Do you ever find yourself in a photographic rut? Or are you interested in taking your photography skills and imagery to the next level? A tilt-shift lens may be exactly what you need. When the focus plane can be tilted and perspective correction (or the opposite) can be applied, old subjects look new again.
The Canon TS-E 135mm f/4L Tilt-Shift Macro Lens is very impressive in all regards. The high price tag will be viewed as a downside, but the future-ready razor sharp image quality will reward those making this acquisition.
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