TS-E 17mm f4 L, Tilt-Shift!

Does this look weird to you too?

So, my brand new Tilt-Shift lens is finally in my hands! More specific the Canon TS-E 17mm f4 L. I haven’t gotten the chance to use it all that much, but have tried it for a few days now. It’s surprisingly easy to use, with super-smooth control-knobs. However, this is not a lens you buy when you’re tired of your kit-lens. This one is MF (manual focus) only, it’s slow at max aperture of f4, it isn’t weathersealed, it doesn’t take any kind of filters and it costs more than you wanna know. So why would you buy it? Simple, it does things you can never do with any other lens, as this is the currently widest TS-lens you can get.

What does it do then? Well, it allows you to shift and tilt, well duh!! What that means is if you want to shoot a building thats quite high and you are on ground level, you can take your 10-20mm and shoot upwards to include the whole building, but then you’ll have converging lines, which make the building look like it’s falling over. This can be corrected with a TS lens. Simply point the camera directly ahead, now the walls of the building are parallell, and you have included only half of the building and a lot of the street infront of you, now here’s the magic, just turn the shift-knob so that the lens move upwards, camera in the same position and suddenly it looks like you have taken the photo from way above ground (the middle of the buliding) making the lines still parallell, but including the whole buliding in the picture. This is a fantastic tool for architecture and landscape photography!

Here’s and example, maybe it’s not very obvious (which I love), but in this image I’m pointing the camera up to get rid of the ground in front of the bulding, which normally would cause the sides of the building to converge. I applied some upwards shift to correct that. It’s a 5 shot handheld HDR image.

Besides that there is the Tilt-function, which is to make the most of the dof (depth of field) available. For example, you do have a lot of depth even wide open at f4 @ 17mm, but by tilting the lens upward, you can get much less depth which is useful for making only one part of the image or one subject in sharp focus while other intruding things will be blurred out. Do not excpect the TS-E 17mm f4 L to give you any way near the shallow depth of other fast Canon-primes like the 85 L, but it gives shallow enough depth for it to be very useful when used correctly. The other side to this is when you tilt the lens downwards, which does the opposite, increase apparent dof, which means you can shoot at wider apertures (preferably the sweetspot between f8-f11) and still have a dof that stretches from nearest to farthest subject in the image. This is very useful for landscape when you would normally need to stop down to f22 to have enough depth, but that will result in a large drop in sharpness due to diffraction.

Another unique feature of this particular lens is that it can rotate the tilt and shift adjustments independently of each other, which means that you can put the focus plane pretty much where you want to. This takes some practice, and is one of the things that you need to read about and really understand to use effectively. And to be honest, I have scratched the surface, but it will take some more practice to get proper hang of it. And how on earth people knew how much and when and were to combine the three functions of a Tilt-Shift lens without the blessing of LV (LiveView) in digital cameras is beyond me! You can use a bunch of math-formulas to calculate this stuff, but I wanna take some pictures, not do math, so I’ll just use LV and try it out!

If you are into landscape, architecture this is THE lens for you. I won’t go into detail on the technical stuff, you can read all that here. But in conclusion of a brief hands-on report of this remarkable lens, I’ll say a few words of what I think of it so far.

First of all, this is the highest quality wideangle, in the 17mm’ish range from Canon. What makes it stand out, without any tilt, shift or rotate applied, is the fantastic sharpness aaaall the way out to fullframe corners. It has extremely little CA, almost non-measureable, even wide open. On the 1dmkIV (1,3 crop) it shows little to no vignetting. Very little distortion. Besides the premium optics, the focusing ring is the best I have ever used, even better and more direct than the 24 L II. The build-quality is the “L” worthy to say the least, it’s just astonishingly built! The knobs and switches to the movement of the lens when applying tilt, shift and rotation is unparallelled (nerdy-pun). Only thing you need to be REALLY careful with is that huge bulbus front-element, Canon have included a strap for the lenscap so you have it right there when you’re not shooting, use it!! This lens, as mentioned, doesn’t accept any protective (or other) filters, and hasn’t got any lens-hood, so the lens-cap is the only protection you have. Canon uses a very effective coating on the front element so if you accidently touch the glass with a finger it almost doesn’t show, unless you’ve just been eating a peanut-butter&jelly sandwich, and even then it wipes clean very easily. Even better than the 14 L II, which has the same type of front element.

*UPDATE* I discovered a high-risk feature of the lens cap, I attached the strap of the cap to my camera-strap (since it’s going on and off for every picture), but have almost tipped the lens off the table twice today (I do not seem to learn fast) when changing lenses. I set the lens with lens-cap down on the table, twist the camera off and pull the camera back to attach another lens, guess what happens! Maybe it’s just me that’s clumsy, I just thought I should mention that you need to pay attention when taking the lens off your camera, keep an eye on that strap!


If you want your images in architecture and landscape or other wide-angle images to really stand out, this is the ultimate lens. It comes at price, you can buy a 17-40 f4 L and a 70-200 L II for this kind of money. It isn’t for everyone, so if you just want the baddest wideangle, and with AF, without any switches and knobs to worry about, you should really consider getting one of these three; 14mm f2,8 L II, 16-35mm f2,8 L II or the 17-40 f4 L to replace your kit-lens.