Canon 17mm TS-E review update

I happened to be in Glazer’s Camera in Seattle yesterday, coincidentally at the same time Mike G. was dropping off a demo copy of the lens (the same one I briefly tested last month) and he was willing to let me use it on a full-day interiors shoot.

Canon 1Ds Mark II and Canon 17mm TS-E, ©Francis ZeraSo, I have some more info and images to share. Once my clients sign off on yesterday’s proofs, I’ll share images that were produced with the 17 and then with my old 24mm TS-E from the same tripod location for comparison. (FYI, the above images were taken in my studio using a Leica D-LUX4 set to manual control with a PocketWizard on the hotshoe and a quick two-light tabletop setup. I’d never tried shooting in the studio with a point-and-shoot before, ...)

First, there’s plenty to like about Canon’s new tilt-shift lenses in general. There’s now a locking slider switch on the tilt plane, a long-overdue feature to keep the lens movements from getting banged around in a camera bag, or for inadvertently moving while the lens is in use. In addition to the rotational movement for the whole lens, there’s now a secondary rotational point allowing the tilt and shift movements to be parallel as well as perpendicular. That feature actually allows the shift movement to be used properly, as opposed to its former primary use as a tool to create artsy images. The only drag to that configuration is that, when the two planes are aligned, the image circle quickly moves off the sensor plane when the lens is shifted, but that’s a limitation of the relatively small sensor presented by the 35mm format rather than a lens problem.

I found no appreciable softness on the edges of the frame, even with the lens shifted, although vignetting was definitely noticeable at extreme shifts/tilts.

Now that I’ve been able to use the lens on a shoot, I did notice a couple of downers. First, there’s no way to polarize this thing, as the front element protrudes like a redneck’s beer gut. With the disclaimer that I’m definitely not an optical engineer, I wonder if a drop-in filter system could have been added, similar to Canon’s longer lenses.

That protruding front element has some magical line-straightening mojo, especially if you take pains to keep the thing level. However, that protrusion also means that flare is a real issue and extra care needs to be taken when placing lights or when shooting outdoors, as evidenced by this shot:

Seattle Center ©Francis Zera
















There’s not a ton of flare in this particular example, but the reason I included it is that you can actually see the light refracted through the inside of the protuberance onto the right side:

Seattle Center crop ©Francis Zera






For comparison, here’s a hand-held image that was taken in indirect sunlight:


EMP ©Francis Zera











Granted, Frank Gehry’s Experience Music Project doesn’t present very many straight lines, but you can see that it’s relatively easy to hand-hold this lens straight enough to create very presentable images.

At least there’s a solid lens cap as opposed to the faux-leather pouch that comes with Canon’s 14mm f/2.8 rectilinear lens.

Canon 1Ds Mark II and Canon 17mm TS-E, ©Francis Zera











I had the lens for 24 hours, so I didn’t have time to create a grid pattern on some foamcore so I could do some distortion testing; that will have to wait until the lens arrives in Glazer’s rental department.

Despite the fact that you can’t polarize the lens (or use any filters at all, for that matter), and the obvious concerns about flare, the additional time with the lens only served to cement my belief that the lens is a winner, although at $2,500 a copy, I don’t expect Canon will sell a zillion of them, nor do they need to. It fills a gap that’s been missing in architectural shooters’ camera bags.

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