A tilt–shift lens may not be the first thing you grab for wide-angle images, neither being the most common of lenses. However, for architectural work or wide-angle viewpoints with a unique perspective, a lens such as the Canon TS-E 17mm f/4L has all the quality and features.
Without going into all the intricacies of what is happening optically, a tilt-shift lens essentially rotates and moves its optics. This allows the plane of focus and the position of the subject to change without moving the camera.
In many ways, it’s best to see the results in an image to fully get the concept. One particular type of image which is most common from this type of lens is miniature faking, where aspects of a regular scene can be made to look more like tiny models rather than the real thing.
As these lenses are specialized, they command a high price point, while also providing the best optics to backup all the technical wizardry.
The Canon TS-E 17mm f/4L is one of the widest available in this type of lens, allowing foreground and background tilting for out of focus effects, dramatic shifting, and changing perspectives.
A total of +/- 6.5 degrees of tilt is available for focusing while +/- 12mm of shift is available for adjusting perspectives. The whole mechanism can be rotated 90 degrees and has a tilt locking mechanism for locking everything in place.
As you would expect from a lens such as this one, it has a lot of fancy optics and workings which include one ultralow dispersion and one aspherical element, along with a Sub Wavelength Coating to reduce lens anomalies. All the glass is arranged in a floating optical system, with a rear focusing mechanism, arranged with 18 elements and 12 groups.
Because of the complexity of the lens, it is a manual focusing only lens, housed within a full metal body and with simple controls. Tilting and shifting is performed with each of the associated knobs, with a very useful lock switch on each.
The lens doesn’t come with a hood of any type, which you think would be a consideration with the huge bulbous front element. However, fitting a lens hood would block the light in certain images, which means the generously sized lens cap will always be needed.
The Canon TS-E 17mm f/4L in Use
It feels extremely weird at first to have a lens that can physically move about in all directions. The lens barrel physically moves up and down and tilts, which means each area of the lens can be moved independently.
The shifting of the lens controls perspective, stopping the likes of the vanishing point effect and buildings leaning backward, producing a more natural look. The opposite can also be controlled for creative purposes.
Tilting the lens produces extreme depth-of-field images, much more than is found on conventional lenses. For instance, one part of an image can be set to infinity, while another can be completely out of focus. Thus, achieving those images where parts look like they have been miniaturized.
You would expect with such a fancy lens for it to have a good deal of lens anomalies. As the TS-E 17mm f/4L is built to such high quality, many of these areas are minimal at best.
Barrel distortion is extremely low for such a wide-angle lens, but vignetting is present at f/4, dropping to its lowest by f/11. Chromatic aberration is kept extremely low, with a justifiable amount at f/4 and hitting the lowest levels by f/11.
When the lens is set to its most basic settings, it has an impressive resolution, with the center of the frame having very good sharpness levels and the edges not too far behind. Stopping down to f/5.6 sharpens up the whole frame, until hitting its zenith at f/8. Quality only starts to drop after f/16 due to diffraction.
As this isn’t your everyday type lens, the lens’ characteristics change when it is either tilted or shifted. Vignetting or light falloff is high when the lens is at its maximum shifted positions, needing to be stopped down to f/8 for the cleanest images. This is more or less the case for ultimate sharpness, where f/5.6-f/8 produces the best results.
How Does It Compare?
When it comes to high-quality tilt-shift lenses, there’s not much competition due to them being so specialized. The Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8L MACRO is a tilt-shift lens that also has a macro mode. While the TS-E 17mm is a very wide-angle lens, the TS-E 90mm is more in the realm of medium telephoto, which means it is more applicable to the likes of portraits and product shots.
This lens is equal in quality to the TS-E 17mm, with just as efficient tilt and shift workings. Though in reality, the TS-E 90mm is more a solution for zoomed in shots, rather than wide-angle expanses.
|Canon TS-E 17mm f/4L||Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8L MACRO|
|Angle of View||104 Degrees||27 Degrees|
|Minimum Focusing Distance||25cm||39 degrees|
There’s no doubt that the Canon TS-E 17mm f/4L is an extremely well-made lens that is very efficient at its intended task. When it is used in a conventional way, the TS-E 17mm will work just like a wide-angle prime lens. But, in every other respect, it’s not exactly a lens for the beginner.
There’s no faulting the resolution power of the lens, with very good levels of sharpness at the widest aperture and excellent performance by f/5.6. Resolution levels will drop slightly when the lens is being used in tilt and shift mode, plus there is no autofocusing and light metering is off the table for the majority of the time.
There’s also a good deal of practicing involved with this lens. Therefore, it’s a good idea to test out this lens with just the tilt or shift aspects at any one time.
However, the most important point is that this lens is one of the best around for its intended purposes. Therefore, if you want the highest quality tilt and shift lens, you can’t do better than the Canon TS-E 17mm f/4L.