Review – Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5L II
Choosing a tilt shift lens can be pretty tricky. Why would you need one? I have a Canon 24-70 f/2.8 L (faster and “zoomier”), a 17-40 f/4L (for posterity) and I had a 24 1.4 II L for a bit before I realized I couldn’t effectively focus the darn thing. All of these lenses, though, are cheaper to purchase than the Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5 L; so why?
You need one because it does things no other lens can do. It tilt, it shifts, and it’s sharper than any other 24mm Canon has in its lineup.
First and foremost the TS-E 24mm f/3.5 L II is, corner to corner, one of the sharpest lenses you’ll ever use. If you need to photograph something, or someone, that fills a frame at 24mm than this is the lens to use. Of course the premium you pay is for much more, and it’s sometimes tricky to get around what exactly a tilt and shift lens are good for.
So what can we do with this lens?
Yeah, the tilt can make all those cool “miniature” time lapse videos you see, though those are often accomplished with one of the more telephoto tilt-shifts like the 45mm or the 90mm. This selective focus is created by altering your focus plane through one, or a combination, of the Canon TS-E 24mm’s many points of articulation.
By using the tilt feature, you angle the front lens element away from the camera sensor. The resulting effect is that your plane of focus changes. On a “regular” lens, the focus plane is pretty much a straight line perpendicular to your front lens element. You adjust where this plane is with your focus ring, moving it forward or backwards. On fast lenses, like the 50mm f/1.2 you have a very shallow depth of field – that’s the focus plane – and you can make it thicker by increasing your aperture.
When you tilt, you’re angling that focal plane in a way that makes the sides blurry (instead of the foreground and background); effectively creating an infinite depth of field, albeit along a narrow horizontal, diagonal or vertical line. While this has it’s uses, and stopped stopped at higher apertures you can create an infinite level of sharp focus, I prefer to use this lens primarily for the shift.
Where tilting angles the lens element, shifting moves the whole lens, in relation to the sensor, to the sides. Because you can crank this lens around 360 degrees, you can also shift in almost every direction. Up, down, left right, and at the four diagonals. This is an incredibly quick and easy to way to create panoramic images like I did for the National Gallery of Canada recently:
Shifting has another benefit that is one of the reasons it’s much loved by real-estate, interior, and architectural photographers everywhere. If you’ve ever taken a photo of a skyscraper with a wide angle lens, or even angled your lens a little bit, you’ll now that there’s a key-stoning that occurs that angles all the vertical lines of the building up and inward. Are the walls all angled? Is the house crooked? No.
You can go into Photoshop and correct all those lines making them perfectly straight, or just shift your fancy tilt-shift lens up, then re-compose with all the lines nice and true. The shift has provided you with a view that you otherwise needed to angle your lens to get, but the result is straighter and true lines – much more pleasing.
Confused? That’s okay. Did I mention you can do any of the above things together? Tilt one way, shift the other – there are many creative opportunities that you may need never explore. This lens does take a bit more getting used to than most. Did I mention it’s Manual Focus only? Yeah, so get ready to use the live-view feature on the back of your camera for critical focus. There’s a bit of a checklist for me when using the 24mm tilt shift on location. Did I lock the tilt? Have I tightened the shift? is it centered? Did I manually focus, have I accidentally adjusted the focus ring while moving things around? I keep a little piece of gaffer’s tape on the hood of all my lenses to “lock” my own focus when necessary.
It comes with a lens hood, as do all of the L series lenses, it’s a bit wide and adds to the space the lens will consume in your bags, but it’s removable and you can stow it sideways if necessary. If you’re like me, most of your glass has 77mm filter threads, and you already have an arsenal of filters, circular polarisers and adapters to work with this. Well at 82mm the Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5 L II will make you wish you had bought larger and bought an adapter. Granted, it looks like quite a few other new release lenses are moving to 82mm as well (like the Canon 24-70 f/2.8 L II) so it may be a sound investment to just buy that filter size now. Of course bigger glass filters cost more, but nobody said photography was cheap.
Unless you’re a manual-focus, zone-focusing ninja, this lens is not for snapshots or people who like to shoot first and think later. You should be methodical and intentional with it. Once you are, though, the results are absolutely worth it. I often find myself taking it out instead of my 24-70, preferring to shoot at 24 on such a sharp lens than any of the other potential focal lengths. I sold my 24 1.4 II to buy the 24 f/3.5 L II. I know someone else who did the very same, and THAT guy loves his fast glass but still ditched it in favour of the TS-E – the tilt shift is truly the best in it’s class.
- Sharp like tack
- Tilt and shift at the same time!
- Not too heavy, not too light
- Build Quality
- Learning curve
- More expensive than other lenses at the same focal length
- Not weather sealed
- 82mm filter thread
- No AF
- Temptation to do cliche’d selective focus shots