Canon TS-E 17mm f/4L Tilt-Shift Lens Brief Review (Updated)


Canon 5D Mrk III and TS-E 17mm f/4L lens ~ 1/100s – f/11 – ISO 100

As primarily a Nikon shooter, there really aren’t that many lenses that Canon has that we don’t have. However one glaring exception to this is the Canon TS-E 17mm f4/L Tilt-Shift Lens. Nikon’s PC-E Tilt-Shift lenses come in 24mm, 45mm, and 85mm varieties while Canon’s TS-E’s are offered at 17mm, 24mm, 45mm, and 90mm.

Previously I have had some exposure to the Canon TS-E lenses when I reviewed the Hartblei HCam B1. With the larger image circle of the tilt-shift lens, the Canon TS-E’s held up remarkably well showing that they had more then enough resolving power to stand up to my 80 megapixel PhaseOne IQ180. This is rather remarkable for any 35mm lens, and personally though I have not tested it I suspect that the Nikon PC-E’s wouldn’t have held up as well to 80 megapixels as they do at 36mp on the D800e.

So suffice it to say when using the Canon TS-E 17mm on the Canon 5D Mrk III its possible to get some very nice results. As far as I’m concerned, 17mm is very wide for a 35mm camera and this lens preforms very nicely and has very good edge-to-edge sharpness which can be an issue on some tilt-shift lenses.

Using a tilt-shift lens to stitch and create a larger FOV or a high-resolution image is very easy, especially when taking the images from a tripod. Adobe Photoshop’s Photomerge function (File > Automate > Photomerge) has no problem chewing through the files to get you your results.


As for this specific image, it was a bit of a difficult situation (that I think actually came out very nicely). Because of time constraints for this image, I had to take it with the Sun directly behind the building (and in the frame). I took some initial images and saw that there was lens flare happening (which really isn’t surprising when you have an ultra-wide angle lens shifted and shooting directly into the sun).

I noticed however that the Canon TS-E 17mm at f/11 did a really good job handling the area directly around the sun itself but there was unacceptable lens flare on the building. I knew I would need a card to block out the sun and get the building image. Not having anything terribly photographic, I opted for a small raincoat that I keep in my bag at all times. As you can see this allowed me to capture the sky (with the nicely rendered sun but with flare on the building) and then a second image with the jacket blocking the sun and preventing the lens flare on the building.

Thanks to the images being taken on a level tripod and taking advantage of the perspective correction of the tilt-shift lens, it was very easy to merge the two background images and then use Auto-Align (Edit > Auto-Align Layers) to align the sky image with the two background images and then mask out the building so that I had a pretty sky, and a flare-less building.

All-in-all I’m new to architectural photography so I think there is still a bit of a novelty factor present, and I hope to (always) create better images in the future. However, I think this image helps to illustrate some very interesting qualities of the unique Canon TS-E 17mm f/4L Tilt-Shift lens.

Update: This article was written prior to the announcement of the Canon 5Ds and 5Ds R which are two amazing ultra-high resolution 35mm DSLR cameras. A lot of talk has surfaced about these being medium format “killers” which as I’m sure you already know, I don’t believe to be true. As we know from my use of this lens with my PhaseOne IQ180, this lens will be great for high-resolution imaging on the Canon 5Ds. Medium format digital backs and technical cameras and lenses will always have their place at the pinnacle of image quality but these will certainly be interesting options for the lower end of the architectural market and for hobbyists.


2 Responses to Canon TS-E 17mm f/4L Tilt-Shift Lens Brief Review (Updated)

  • Robin says:

    Now the building looks like it is an inverted bell. I don’t think this is what you were looking for. You have over compensated. It looks worse than it would have done with normal converging verticals.

  • Fabien says:

    I couldn’t agree more with Robin. The picture is heavily overcompensated, and this article is not even close to what I would call a brief review.

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