Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8L Tilt-Shift Macro Lens Review

It is my pleasure to introduce you to the Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8L Tilt-Shift Macro Lens, a superbly built lens that delivers outstanding image quality. Add macro capabilities to the tilt, shift and rotate features and this lens can produce incredible and highly-differentiating results.

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 TS-E 90mm f/2.8L with the TS-E 135mm f/4L being a new long end addition.

While this lens qualifies for the "Specialty Lens" designation, it can be used for the same purposes as a 90mm prime lens. This lens' primary downside is its lack of autofocus. As of review time, all tilt-shift lenses I'm aware of are manual focus-only, so if you require AF for your application, one of these lenses is not for you. But, there are many great reasons for this lens to live alongside the AF lenses in your kit.

Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8L Tilt-Shift Macro Lens Top View

Focal Length

Of course, the tilt-shift feature will mean very little if a 90mm focal length is not right for your photographic needs. The best focal length is ideally selected to create the proper subject framing at the subject distance desired for optimal perspective. With a prime lens, you get one focal length. This means that prime lens focal length selection is even more critical than when choosing a zoom lens such as one of the 70-200mm options. Fortunately, Canon currently offers enough tilt-shift lens choices to cover all of your needs ranging from 17mm through 135mm and all of them are impressive.

Canon Tilt-Shift Lens Angle of View Comparison

The lens being reviewed here, as already mentioned, is the 90mm variant. What is the 90mm focal length good for? I'll start by saying that 90mm is close enough to the ultra-popular 85mm focal length to cover the identical uses.

One of the standout uses of the 90mm focal length is portrait photography. The classic portrait focal length range is from 85mm through 135mm (after FOVCF is factored in). A 90mm lens hits near the bottom classic range figure on a full frame DSLR and, at a 144mm full frame angle of view equivalent on an APS-C 1.6x body, it essentially remains at the upper end of the portrait range on this format also. An APS-C format DSLR of course requires a longer working distance to get the same framing as a full frame DSLR. That longer distance changes perspective toward a more-compressed look and the longer distance 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. Move in as tight as head and shoulder or loose head shot framing on a full frame camera for a nice perspective being retained and APS-C format shooters can go in for tightly-framed head shots.

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, teams, senior adults, fashion, documentary, lifestyle ... all are great uses for the 90mm focal length. There is often adequate space in even a small studio for portraiture with a 90mm-provided angle of view.

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 also argue that there are no subjects more important than people.

Regardless of the camera format being used, the 90mm focal length (like most others), can be used for landscape photography, creating a slightly compressed view of the world around us. While most would not opt to carry a relatively-heavy 90mm 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 90mm focal length can be used for architecture photography. Commercial photographers often find needs for this focal length, 90mm general studio photography applications abound and a wide range of other subjects await the 90mm angle of view. This focal length works especially well for product photography. Of course, commercial/product photography is a paying pursuit.

Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8L Tilt-Shift Macro Lens Angle View with Hood

Tilt, Shift and Rotation Movements

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.

Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8L Tilt-Shift Macro Lens

Tilt: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5
Rotate 6 | 7 | 8 | 9
Shift 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14

Note that the entire set of lens elements and groups are positioned forward of the movements and always move as an entire group.

Tilt

Illustrated first above is the tilt (AKA swing) feature. Without any tilt adjustment dialed in, the 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 scene that includes depth sharp can be very challenging at 90mm) 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.

Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8L Macro Lens Tilt Sample Picture

I'll save the the wedding ring image explanation for the 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 also 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 90mm f/2.8L lens tilts to +/- 10°. A large knob is used to make the adjustments (the lens can be manually pushed into position, but I don't advise doing so). Opposite of the adjustment knob is a small lock knob useful at any set 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. For this example (and the next similar subject example), the camera is positioned well below my computer display which is tilted upward.

Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8L Macro Lens Tilt Movements In-Focus Example

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.

Here is an example captured with the TS-E 135 L.

Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8L Macro Lens Tilt Movements In-Focus Example

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 draws the viewer's eye to the yellow pencil. The second image was taken from the identical tripod position except with with the lens tilted downward and re-framed to match the first image, resulting in all pencils being rendered in sharp focus.

Now, let's rotate the tilt axis to the horizontal orientaion. Movements now help us visualize the tilt of the plane of sharp focus.

Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8L Macro Lens Tilt Movements Plane of Sharp Focus Example

-10° | -5° | | | 10°

The images in this set retained the same focus setting, with the 0° example being focused through the "X". 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).

Shift

Illustrated last in the product images above is the shift feature. The shift feature allows the optical axis to move 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 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.

Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8L Macro Lens Tilt Movements In-Focus Example

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 causes the exaggerates the converging lines.

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 far less necessary. 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 to keep the lens in the exact same position. If there are no subjects close to the lens, the camera shifting may be unnecessary.

Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8L Macro Lens Shift Pano Sample Picture

Using the 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]

Rotate

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 'tweener positions. The small tab near the shift locking knob (closest to the lens mount) unlocks the TS rotation.

Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8L Tilt-Shift Macro Lens Front View on Camera

Max Aperture

Made obvious in the product name is that this lens has an f/2.8 maximum aperture opening. While f/2.8 is quite wide for 90mm lenses in general, it is not terribly wide for a pro-grade L-series prime lens. To accommodate the tilt and shift movements, these lenses must produce an image circle larger than the designed-for sensor format requires. While I would welcome a wider-than-f/2.8 aperture in use, I would not want the lens to be larger or more expensive than it is now. So, I think that f/2.8 was the right 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/2.8 without issue.

The f/2.8 aperture at the 90mm focal length can create a very shallow depth of field and a strong background blur, especially at a short focus distances. Combine this blur capability with the tilt movement's blur capability for some extreme blur.

Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8L Tilt-Shift Macro Lens Top View with Hood

Image Quality

Our first look at this lens' expected image quality came in the form of Canon's theoretical MTF charts. While we now have real-life test results, I'll keep the MTF charts here for your amusement.

Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8L Tilt-Shift Macro Lens MTF Chart Comparison

17mm | 24mm | 50mm | 90mm | 135mm

Canon refers to the thick lines as showing contrast (10 lp/mm) measurements and the thin lines as showing resolution (30 lp/mm) measurements. The solid lines show sagittal (lines radiating from center to the image circle periphery) results while the dashed lines show meridional (lines perpendicular to the sagittal lines) results. The black lines indicate a wide open aperture while the blue lines show results at f/8. The left side of the chart shows center-of-the-image-circle measurement and the right side shows peripheral measurement. The higher the lines, the better the lens performs. When all of the lines get crushed into the top of the chart, the lens promises to be amazing.

The complete review-time-current set of Canon TS-E tilt-shift lenses are included in the first row of results. The second row includes a pair of being-replaced tilt-shift lenses and a set of similar focal length non-tilt-shift lens options. Keep in mind that the 85mm prime lenses included here have very significantly wider max apertures than the tilt-shift 90 and the black lines show measurements at these wider apertures.

The MTF charts made it clear that the new TS-E 90 was expected to be considerably sharper than the model it was replacing and that we should see very sharp imagery delivered by the "L" version.

With those real-life tests completed, I'll make this easy. I'm left looking for a stronger word to describe the sharpness of this lens. Prepare to be impressed. Even at its wide open aperture, the Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8L Tilt-Shift Macro Lens is exceptionally sharp from full frame corner to full frame corner. 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 prove that out.

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) bring the image circle closer to centered in the windows of view the tool provides. The other direction, "+", better tells this 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/2.8. By f/5.6, that corner is looking excellent and f/8 results are very slightly better still.

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/2.8 results are razor sharp.

Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8L Tilt-Shift Macro Lens Sharpness Example

The f/2.8 images above and 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 example above is from the center of the frame and the example below was from the top-left corner.

Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8L Tilt-Shift Macro Lens Corner Sharpness Example

Both look great to me and the image quality can be seen right on the LCD while focusing at high magnification.

I am not noticing 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 a remarkably small amount of peripheral shading, thanks again to the huge image circle. That about-1-stop is just perceptable in some images and the about-0.2-stops at f/4 will not likely ever 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. Vignetting quickly becomes apparent with tilt and shift settings in use as the image circle is no longer precisely centered over the imaging sensor. One side of the frame is going to look darker than the other. By the full-extent shift at f/2.8, the corners on one side of the frame see an increase to about 1.7 stops while the other side sees a decrease to about 0.7 stops. Stopping down quickly eliminates the shading. Tilting creates a more dramatic difference with the corners seeing 0 and 3.5 stops of shading. Again, stopping down eventually resolves the shading.

The various movements can be made simultaneously and that complicates the vignetting results. Also, the orientation of the simultaneous movements affects these results, with all four corners potentially being different.

With parallel movements both set to their mid-positions, the amounts range from 0.5 to a bit over 2 stops with much of the shading cleared by f/5.6. With both movements set to their full-extents, one side of the frame essentialy becomes black, even at f/16, showing mechanical shading and the limits of this combination being exceeded. With perpendicular movements both set to their mid-positions, the amounts are mild, ranging from 0.5 to a bit over 2 stops with much of the shading cleared by f/4. 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 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.

Basically, this lens shows a very low amount of vignetting unless certain very-strong tilt-shift movements and combinations of movements are used, and then mostly at wide apertures. Those using this lens on an APS-C sensor camera will see very little vignetting. 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 worst-case example, a 100% crop from the extreme top-left corner of 5Ds R frames.

Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8L Tilt-Shift Macro Lens Lateral Chromatic Aberration Example

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.

Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8L Tilt-Shift Macro Lens Spherical and Axial Aberration Example

While I do see some slight color differences here, they are not strong. The wedding ring on the Bible sample photo I shared earlier is a good example of where good performance in this regard is important. With this lens, the foreground and background text in the Bible does not take on a strong color tone.

"To help minimize the ghosting and flare that reflected light can cause on image capture, the TS-E 90mm f/2.8L Macro features Canon's ASC coating. Air Sphere Coating (ASC) technology is designed to help significantly minimize reflections, particularly with light that enters the lens vertically. It adds a protective film that includes air spheres over the lens's conventional multi-layer coatings, reducing reflections and delivering clear images with high contrast and minimal glare." [Canon] That technolgy combined with the very low lens elements/groups count (11/9), gives this lens a very high flare tolerance with only some minor effects being seen at very narrow apertures.

Coma is generally recognized by sharp contrast towards the center of an image and long, soft contrast transition toward the image periphery. Coma becomes quite visible mid-frame and in the corners of images captured at wide apertures and significantly resolves when the lens is stopped down. Astigmatism is another lens image quality attribute that is apparent in the corners and the pin-point stars in the night sky are a subject that makes these aberrations, along with some others, easily recognizable to me. Photographing the night sky with a 90mm lens without a tracking mount means star trails quickly become an issue and the moon was approaching full on the night clear skies presented themselves. Still, the stars in this extreme-top-right corner 5Ds R crop show very good performance regardless of those technical issues.

Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8L Tilt-Shift Macro Lens Coma

Another image quality test this lens aces is the linear distortion test. 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.

This lens creates a beautiful, high quality background blur (bokeh). The first example below shows out-of-focus specular highlights being very smoothly rendered even at f/11.

Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8L Tilt-Shift Macro Lens Bokeh Example

I see a few little tiny round artifacts among the much larger circles and the normal-for-f/11 aperture blade interaction beginning to show. The concentric outer rings are relatively mild and the outer transition is smooth.

At f/2.8, mild cats eye bokeh, a form of mechanical vignetting, can be seen in the corners. The movements mostly do not change the bokeh effects, but going to full-tilt does produce very strong cats eye effects as seen in the bottom-right corner of the frame example shown above. Stopping down reduces the entrance pupil size and the mechanical vignetting absolves completely.

When stopped down, this lens' 9-blade aperture produces beautiful 18-point stars from point light sources

Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8L Tilt-Shift Macro Lens Starburst Effect Example

This lens turns in outstanding image quality and it is hard to find anything even small to complain about.

Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8L Tilt-Shift Macro Lens Extended Top View with Hood

Focusing

As previously clarified, the Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8 Lens (and all other tilt-shift lenses available at review time) is manual focus only. Image quality is highly dependent on accurate focusing and, with a manual focus lens, that accuracy is completely in your hands. Fortunately, Canon's TS-E lens designs provide a quality focus experience.

The solid-feeling focus ring is substantially-sized, extremely smooth and nicely-damped with no play. The moderately large 157° range of rotation provided by the focus ring is slightly short, making adjustments happen on the quick side of ideal. That the focus ring is easy to find is an advantage for a manual focus lens.

Like its predecessor, the Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8L extends with focusing, reaching its longest extension (1.21"/30.8mm) at its minimum focus distance. While the focus ring is mounted toward the front of the lens, I can easily adjust the focus distance with my fingers while balancing the lens in my left hand. The various necessary 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 where handholding comfort is a non-issue.

As with all Canon TS-E tilt-shift lenses, just past infinity and minimum focus distances are hard stops (the focus rings 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.

The Canon 90mm f/2.8 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.

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 90mm f/2.8 lens using the optical viewfinder.

Focusing down to 15.4" (390mm), the TS-E 90mm f/2.8 delivers an impressive 0.50x maximum magnification. While the predecessor lens' 0.29x spec was a good one, making it a good choice for product and small subject photography, the new lens significantly extends these capabilities.

In the chart below, you will find Canon's review-time-current TS-E L lenses, this lens' predecessor and a selection of focal-length-similar lenses.

ModelMFDMM
Canon TS-E 17mm f/4L Tilt-Shift Lens9.8"(250mm)0.14x
Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5L II Tilt-Shift Lens8.3"(210mm)0.34x
Canon TS-E 50mm f/2.8L Tilt-Shift Macro Lens10.6"(270mm)0.50x
Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8L Tilt-Shift Macro Lens15.4"(390mm)0.50x
Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8 Tilt-Shift Lens19.7"(500mm)0.29x
Canon TS-E 135mm f/4L Tilt-Shift Macro Lens19.3"(490mm)0.50x
Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM Lens37.4"(950mm)0.11x
Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM Lens33.5"(850mm)0.12x
Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM Lens33.5"(850mm)0.13x
Canon EF 100mm f/2 USM Lens35.4"(900mm)0.14x
Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L IS USM Macro Lens11.8"(300mm)1.00x

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.

Zeiss 100mm f/2 Makro-Classic Lens Maximum Magnification Comparison

Reproduction Ratios:  1:10  |  1:7.5  |  1:5  |  1:4  |  1:3  |  1:2  |  1:1 

The 1:2 (0.5x) example of course represents MM for this lens.

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 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 2.8" (71mm) of subject fits horizontally in the frame at minimum focus distance. 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 0.64-0.15x and a just-over-2x-longer 25mm extension tube moves the range numbers to 0.82-0.32x.

While that last set of numbers is reaching close to the 1.00x life-size figure, we are not done yet. 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.

Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8L Tilt-Shift Macro Lens with Teleconverter

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 90mm f/2.8L Tilt-Shift Macro Lens transforms into a 126mm f/4 lens with a 0.70x max magnification. I'm sure that you noticed how close that focal length and aperture combination come to another Canon TS-E L lens offering. At f/4, this combination shows very little degradation in image quality in the center of the frame. The difference in the mid and especially the periphery of the image circle becomes more noticeable, but the results are still decent and quite usable. Stopping down brings some improvement in sharpness, but the native f/2.8 sharpness is not completely matched at any point. 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 90 and it becomes a 180mm f/5.6 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 90 L is noticeable, this combination is usable, even wide open. Stopping down the aperture produces only minor improvement in sharpness. The 2x increases barrel distortion, but only slightly and by less than the 1.4x's impact. Once again, the 2x extender 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.

Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8L Tilt-Shift Macro Lens Extended Top View

Build Quality & Features

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.

Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8L Tilt-Shift Macro Lens Product Images

MFD |    w/ Hood:  MFD |    Rotated        Compare »

As mentioned and as illustrated, this lens extends significantly with focusing, reaching its maximum length at the minimum focus distance. Not as visible is that the objective lens elements are seated deeply inside the outer lens barrel and they extend at a slightly faster rate than the tapered ribbed plastic areas surrounding them.

Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8L Tilt-Shift Macro Lens Angle View

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 the extending portion of the barrel is constructed of engineering plastic. A very tiny amount of movement can be induced on the fully-extended portion of the barrel.

Tilt-shift lenses are not weather-sealed, so use caution in wet and dusty conditions.

Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8L Tilt-Shift Macro Lens Mount

At 2 lbs (.9 kg), this medium-sized lens is rather dense and the weight will be noticeable if carried for long periods of time. However, it handles very nicely and hasn't been burdensome to me.

ModelWeightDimensions w/o HoodFilterYear 
Canon TS-E 17mm f/4L Tilt-Shift Lens28.9 oz(820g)3.5 x 4.2"(88.9 x 106.9mm)n/a2009
Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5L II Tilt-Shift Lens27.5 oz(780g)3.5 x 4.2"(88.5 x 106.9mm)82mm2009
Canon TS-E 50mm f/2.8L Tilt-Shift Macro Lens33.4 oz(945g)3.4 x 4.5"(86.9 x 114.9mm)77mm2017
Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8L Tilt-Shift Macro Lens32.3 oz(915g)3.4 x 4.6"(86.9 x 116.5mm)77mm2017
Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8 Tilt-Shift Lens19.9 oz(565g)2.9 x 3.5"(73.6 x 88.0mm)58mm1991
Canon TS-E 135mm f/4L Tilt-Shift Macro Lens39.2 oz(1110g)3.5 x 5.5"(88.6 x 139.1mm)82mm2017
Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM Lens36.2 oz(1025g)3.6 x 3.3"(91.5 x 84.0mm)72mm2006
Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM Lens33.5 oz(950g)3.5 x 4.1"(88.6 x 105.4mm)77mm2017
Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM Lens15.0 oz(425g)3.0 x 2.8"(75.0 x 72.0mm)58mm1992
Canon EF 100mm f/2 USM Lens16.2 oz(460g)3.0 x 2.9"(75.0 x 74.0mm)58mm1991
Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L IS USM Macro Lens22.1 oz(625g)3.1 x 4.8"(77.7 x 123.0mm)67mm2009
Canon EF 135mm f/2L USM Lens26.5 oz(750g)3.3 x 4.4"(83.0 x 112.0mm)72mm1996

For many more comparisons, review the complete Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8L 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.

Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8L Tilt-Shift Macro Lens Compared to Similar Lenses

Positioned above from left to right are the following lenses:

Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM Lens
Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8L Tilt-Shift Macro Lens
Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L IS USM Macro Lens

The same lenses are shown below with their hoods in place.

Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8L Tilt-Shift Macro Lens Compared to Similar Lenses with Hoods

Use the site's product image comparison tool to visually compare the Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8L Tilt-Shift Macro Lens to other lenses.

The TS-E 90 L accepts 77mm filters. That so many other Canon L lenses use the same size is very convenient and potentially cost-saving.

Because the TS-E 90 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 a small advantage at times.

As with all Canon L-Series lenses, the hood is included in the box. This lens gets a Canon ES-84 Lens Hood, the same as included with the TS-E 50mm f/2.8L Lens. The modestly-sized, rounded hood adds some additional protection to the front lens element, but to accommodate for the lens movements and prevent mechanical vignetting, the hood must be undersized relative to one covering only the conventional focal length. That said, remember that the front element lives deep within the front of this lens. The interior of this hood has a matte finish vs. the flocking Canon has used in the past.

Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8L Tilt-Shift Macro Lens Case

A Canon Lens Case LP1219, included with many other L lenses, is included in the box. This model is a drawstring suede-like pouch with a padded bottom. The pouch sides are unpadded and provide only light impact protection.

Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8L Tilt-Shift Macro Lens Cap

Price and Value

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. The TS-E 90 f/2.8L is not an inexpensive lens and surely price will be the limiting factor for sales. Some will have no problem with the cost and will quickly recoup their investment. Others will struggle to justify spending this much for a specialty lens. For those photographers, an ocassional rental may work perfectly.

As a "TS-E" lens, the Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8L 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.

Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8L Tilt-Shift Macro Lens on Tripod

Alternatives to the Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8L Tilt-Shift Macro Lens

When considering the purchase of the TS-E 90 L, the first decision that needs to be made is whether or not the tilt-shift features are important. While very useful, the movements are of little value if not used.

Canon L-Series Tilt-Shift Lens Family Picture

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.

While this lens' predecessor, the about-26-years-older Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8 Tilt-Shift Lens remains available, it is a strong competitor as well.

Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8L Tilt-Shift Macro Lens Comparison – New vs. Old

Obvious is that the new lens grew in size and its weight similarly increased from 19.9 to 32.3 oz (565 to 915g). Notice that the L lens' zoom ring remains in a fixed position, making it easier to use.

The Canon TS-E 90mm new vs. old lens image quality comparison shows the L lens being noticeably sharper and the difference would appear even stronger if magnified to the EOS 5Ds R's resolution. The difference dissipates as the aperture is narrowed and at f/8, a difference may be hard to disern. The L lens' improved sharpness parlays over into improved with-extender sharpness. Also, the L lens seems better-resistant to flare despite its element/group count increasing from 6/5 to 11/9.

One of the key differences between these two lenses is the maximum magnification capability, with the L lens extending this spec from 0.29x to 0.50x. The L lens has the additional rotation feature, enabling the tilt and shift axis orientation to be immediately changed, it has larger knobs along with a zero-tilt-lock with release button and it has 10° of tilt vs. 8°. The L lens picks up an additional aperture blade, with a count of 9 vs. 8, with 18-point starburst effects vs. 8-point effects. Along with the L lens' physical size increase comes a filter thread size increase, from 58mm to 77mm. The non-L lens is not inexpensive, especially for its age, but it is considerably less expensive than the L version.

If autofocus is prefered over tilt-shift movements, Canon has a nice selection of focal-length-similar lenses that should be considered and the first is the Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM Lens. This lens was introduced in the same press release as the TS-E 90 L and it was an instant hit among photographers. Obvious advantages this lens holds are a much wider aperture and image stabilization.

In the image quality comparison, the f/1.4 lens is already stopped down 2 stops at the f/2.8 max equivalent aperture and it too looks very impressive. The f/1.4 L holds a slight vignetting advantage at f/2.8, but that difference is erased by f/4. The TS-E 90 holds a slight edge in the flare comparison and a huge edge in the max magnification comparison (0.50x vs. 0.12x). From a size and weight perspective, these two lenses are similar. While not an inexpensive lens, the 85L IS is still considerably less expensive than the TS-E 90L.

With a matching max aperture and only 10mm longer focal length, the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L IS USM Macro Lens is an interesting lens to compare. Like the TS-E 90, this lens has "Macro" in its name and it takes macro to a full 1.00x and adds image stabilization to its side of the equation. In the image quality comparison, we see the 100 performing very well, but it is not as sharp as the 90 at f/2.8 and, especially with more lateral CA, it is not as sharp in the periphery when stopped down. The 100 has more vignetting and shows flare effects more readily.

The 100 weighs about 2/3 as much, is slightly longer, is slightly narrower and uses 67mm filters vs. 77mm. For the price of a TS-E 90 L, two 100 Ls could be purchased with a wallet full of cash remaining.

Use the site's comparison tools to evaluate other similar lens options.

Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8L Tilt-Shift Macro Lens Side View

Summary

If this lens and its special features are what you need (or you can make it work for your needs), it is a spectacular 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 step? 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 90mm f/2.8L 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.

Bringing you this site is my full-time job (typically 60-80 hours per week). Thus, I depend solely on the commissions received from you using the links on this site to make any purchase. I am grateful for your support! - Bryan

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My Recommended Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8L Tilt-Shift Macro Lens Retailers

Where you buy your gear matters. You expect to get what you ordered and you want to pay a low price for it. The retailers I recommend below are the ones I trust for my own purchases. Get your Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8L Tilt-Shift Macro Lens now from:

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