Canon TS-E 50mm f/2.8L Tilt-Shift Macro Lens Review
The Canon TS-E 50mm f/2.8L Tilt-Shift Macro Lens is a superbly built lens that delivers excellent image quality. And, with macro focusing and tilt, shift and rotate features, this lens can produce incredible and highly-differentiating results.
I said something similar in the beginning of the Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8L Tilt-Shift Macro Lens review. These two lenses were simultaneously announced along with the also-similar Canon TS-E 135mm f/4L Tilt-Shift Macro Lens. Because of the similarities of these lenses and the timing of their introductions, these reviews are going to sound also-similar.
Back in 1991, Canon rolled out three TS-E lenses, bringing tilt and shift movement capabilities to the EOS camera lineup, features that previously required medium or large format cameras to obtain. About 18 years later, on February 17, 2009, Canon announced the TS-E 17mm f/4L and the TS-E 24mm f/3.5L II, replacing the first TS-E 24 f/3.5L and adding the 17mm option to the lineup. Most of us expected the TS-E 45mm f/2.8 and TS-E 90mm f/2.8 replacements to soon follow, but … nearly 9 years passed before that occured. Those replacements are the TS-E 50mm f/2.8L and TS-E 90mm f/2.8L (with the TS-E 135mm f/4L being a new long end addition).
While this lens qualifies for the “Specialty Lens” designation, it can be used for the same purposes as a 50mm prime lens. This lens’ primary downside in that regard is its lack of autofocus. As of review time, all tilt-shift lenses I’m aware of are manual focus-only, so if you require AF for your application, one of these lenses is not for you. But, there are many great reasons for this lens to live alongside the AF lenses in your kit.
Plugging the gap between the TS-E 24mm and TS-E 90mm lens’ focal lengths, the TS-E’s 50mm focal length is often referred to as “standard” or “normal”. This focal length is and has long-been extremely well-represented in Canon’s and many other manufacturer’s lens lineups. There is, of course, good reason for that. Having the right focal length is just as important for a tilt-shift lens as it is for a standard prime (single focal length) lens and the popularity of this focal length is a good indicator of the usefulness of this focal length.
Part of the popularity of the 50mm focal length stems from its natural-appearing angle of view providing great general purpose usefulness.
This angle of view will frequently be used to photograph people and people doing things. It will find application in fashion, portraiture, weddings, parties, events, documentary, lifestyle and general around-the-house people photography needs. While photographing people is a significant use for this lens, note that, for perspective reasons, 50mm is typically too wide angle for tightly framed head shot portraits.
Mounted on an APS-C/1.6x FOVCF body, a 50mm lens delivers an angle of view equivalent to an 80mm lens on a full frame body and that angle of view is very nice for not-tightly-framed head and shoulders, partial body and full body portraits.
Regardless of the camera format being used, the 50mm focal length (like most others) can be used for landscape photography. While most would not opt to carry a 50mm lens this heavy along with the other landscape focal lengths needed on long hikes, those working closer to their residence or car may decide the image quality delivered and features provided by this lens are worth the effort.
The 50mm focal length can be used for architecture photography and cityscapes.
Commercial photographers often find needs for this focal length, 50mm general studio photography applications are plentiful and a wide range of other subjects await the 50mm angle of view. Especially with this lens’ features, the 50mm focal length works very well for product photography.
Tilt, Shift and Rotation Movements
While this lens is very useful when used as a normal prime lens, it becomes far more versatile when its movements are taken into consideration. So, before going any deeper into this review, let’s address these features. Here is a visual illustration of the movements of the lens.
Note that the entire set of lens elements and groups are positioned forward of the movements and always move as an entire group.
Illustrated first above is the tilt (AKA swing) feature. Without any tilt adjustment dialed in, the lens acts as a standard lens with the plane of sharp focus being parallel to the imaging sensor. For example, photographing a brick wall straight-on at the 0° tilt setting can result in the entire wall being in focus, even at the lens’ widest aperture (thinest depth of field). Tilting the lens tilts the plane of sharp focus in the same direction as the tilt. This means that only part of the referenced brick wall will be sharp and some of the foreground and background can also be in focus – just as if it was being photographed at an angle using a conventional lens.
Use the tilt movement to change what is in focus in the image. Typically, the desire is to get either more or less of the scene in focus.
Tilt is often used to keep a close foreground and distant background sharp in the frame while using an aperture wider than otherwise necessary (or available). One reason for using a wider aperture is to avoid the softening effects of diffraction and another is to permit faster shutter speeds that can avoid motion blur and/or permit a lower, less-noisy ISO setting to be used. Great uses for this feature include photographing flat products (a plate of food for example), photographing landscapes with close foregrounds and distant backgrounds (keeping an entire landscape image that includes depth sharp can often be challenging at 50mm) and photographing multiple subjects at varying distances to the camera. A downward tilt would accommodate the first two uses and a sideways tilt might be ideal for the third.
Another excellent use of the tilt feature is to create selective focus, with a slice of sharp focus running through the image. This example was captured with the TS-E 90mm lens.
I’ll save the the wedding ring image explanation for the TS-E 90 f/2.8L sample gallery, but the viewer’s eye is immediately drawn to the parts of an image that are in focus and, by tilting the lens to very strongly blur the surrounding distractions, that is what will happen. A narrow area of focus can be created at even very long focus distances. Here is another example captured with the TS-E 50L:
Tilt is the feature used to create the toy (miniaturization) effect, typically with cars, people, towns, etc. appearing little within a distant scene. As always, aperture determines the depth of field with a wider aperture creating a narrower slice of focus through the image and a stronger blur overall. Also, focusing continues to move the slice of focus forward or backward in the frame.
The TS-E 50mm f/2.8L lens tilts to +/- 8.5°. A large knob is used to make the adjustments (the lens can be manually pushed into position, but I don’t advise doing so). Opposite of the adjustment knob is a small lock knob useful at any set position and a lock switch is provided for the 0° position (a great new feature) which also includes a click stop.
Let’s look at a couple of additional examples of tilt. For the first example (and the next similar-subject example), captured with the similarly-featured TS-E 90, the camera is positioned well below my computer display which is tilted upward.
With no tilt adjustment, the depth of field is very shallow even at f/8. Tilting the lens downward brings the display into the plane of sharp focus. In this position, the entire surface of the display is in sharp focus – even at f/2.8. The difference is dramatic. Notice that framing shifts some with this movement.
Here is an example captured with the TS-E 135 L.
The camera is looking at the colored pencils from an angle. In the first image, the lens was tilted upward, resulting in a very shallow depth of field that draws the viewer’s eye to the yellow pencil. The second image was taken from the identical tripod position except with with the lens tilted downward and re-framed to match the first image, resulting in all pencils being rendered in sharp focus.
Now, let’s rotate the tilt axis to the horizontal orientation. Movements now help us visualize the tilt of the plane of sharp focus (captured with the TS-E 90).
The images in this set retained the same focus setting, with the 0° example being focused through the “X”. As the lens is tilted, the plane of sharp focus is tilted in the same direction. As with a normal lens, that plane can be moved forward or backward with focusing and the depth of field on that plane increases as the aperture is set narrower. Along with the framing change, focus typically must be adjusted with a tilt setting change. The framing and focusing adjustments being required with each tilt adjustment complicates setup, and the tendency for auto exposures to be inaccurate as the lens is tilted further adds to the challenge (a manual exposure is ideal).
Note that the TS-E 50L tilts to +/- 8.5° vs. the +/- 10° illustrated above. For more information on tilt, research the Scheimpflug Principle (Wikipedia).
Illustrated last in the product images above is the shift feature. The shift feature allows the optical axis to move parallel to the imaging sensor. If the camera is not moved, the view of the scene being photographed moves through the viewfinder in the direction lens is being shifted. If the camera is moved to retain the original view, perspective correction (or the reverse) is the result.
A common use for shift is to keep lines parallel in an image. For example, if photographing buildings using an upward (or downward) camera angle with a conventional lens, the lines defining the sides of the buildings will appear to be converging, moving closer together at the top (or bottom) of the frame (keystoning). The shift feature can make those lines straight (or at least straighter), making the camera position appear to be level with the center of the frame.
Generally, when using shift for perspective correction, the camera is first oriented perpendicularly to the subject (the imaging sensor and subject should be parallel) and the lens is then shifted to acquire the proper framing. While the architecture example represents a common use, this feature works well for trees, people, products and a huge array of other subjects. Keeping the photographer and camera out of reflections while making a rectangular-shaped subject continue to appear rectangular is another example of this feature’s usefulness.
Let’s take a look at an example of the shift feature in use.
In the “Normal” image, the point end of the pencils are wider than the other end, with their delineating lines modestly converging. A full 12mm shift brings the edges of the pencils into parallel alignment. Shifted the other direction by 12mm causes the exaggerates the converging lines.
Another great use for the shift feature is panorama capture. Because, when using shift, the framing is changed (toward the direction of the shift) and perspective distortion is avoided, stitching shift-captured images is very easy and finding the nodal point becomes far less necessary. Ideally, the camera is shifted by the same amount as the lens in the opposite direction. In other words, if shifting the lens 12mm to the right for a pano frame capture, move the camera 12mm to the left in its tripod mount to keep the lens in the exact same position. If there are no subjects close to the lens, the camera shifting may be unnecessary.
After centering the scene with the lens at the zero shift position, I captured 5 images (at half and full extents on each side of the zero position, though capturing just 3 images would have been adequate) with the resulting images then stitched together in Photoshop. The black frame illustrates the initial 5792 x 8688 pixel image inside of the extreme-resolution 11587 x 8703 pixel (100 megapixel) final result. Panoramas can be made using shift in either direction and even 45° shifts can be used to capture an image larger on both axis.
A modest-sized knob is used in rack and pinion style to make the adjustments. Opposite of the adjustment knob is a small lock knob, allowing the setting to be locked into any position. The zero-shift position has a click stop.
A larger shift knob cap is included in the box which can be installed by removing the standard shift knob’s top screw and replacing it with the cap in place. With the shift knob cap installed, shifting the lens is made easier. Of course, there is a good reason why the shift knob was designed to be variable in size rather than simply larger to begin with. As lens manual warns, “…note that for EOS cameras with a built-in flash, the cap may come in contact with the camera when mounting/detaching the lens, shifting the lens, or turning the lens for rotation.” [Canon]
Like all of the TS-E lenses before it, the entire lens rotates on the lens mount to allow the tilt and shift features to be oriented as desired. The lens rotation will lock at -90°, 0° and 90° for 180° of total rotation with click stops (not locked) every 30°. The small release tab conveniently located near the lens mount makes unlocking the lens rotation very easy. Note that the shift knob is difficult to reach when positioned on top while using an APC-S body with a built-in flash. Orient it to the bottom and all is well.
Changing the orientation of the tilt axis relative to the shift axis, from perpendicular to parallel, with Canon’s original TS-E tilt-shift lenses required disassembly with a screwdriver (or a service center visit for the less adventurous). Changing the orientation back required the same process. That issue was resolved with Canon’s most-recently-prior-introduced TS-E L lenses (the 17L and 24L II) with a press of a release lever and a twist being all that is now required. That great feature was carried over into this lens’ feature set. The tilt-shift relationship can be quickly and easily changed by varying amounts up to 90°.
Tilt-shift rotation stops at the parallel or perpendicular axis settings (relative to the shift orientation) with a click stop at 45°. You can use non-click settings for either rotation mechanism on this lens, but care must be taken to maintain that setting as no lock is provided for the ‘tweener positions. The small tab near the shift locking knob (closest to the lens mount) unlocks the TS rotation.
Few eyebrows will be raised by an f/2.8 max aperture on a 50mm prime lens – this is as slow as these lenses get. To accommodate the tilt and shift movements, tilt shift lenses must produce an image circle larger than the designed-for sensor format requires. While I would welcome a wider-than-f/2.8 aperture to use, I would not want the lens to be larger or more expensive than it is now. The f/2.8 choice seems like the right balance of size, weight and cost.
The f/2.8 aperture at the 50mm focal length can create a moderately-shallow depth of field and a decent background blur, especially at a short focus distances. Combine this blur capability with the tilt movement’s blur capability for some very strong blur as illustrated in the city scene above.
I shared an MTF chart comparison between this lens and some other relevant options in the TS-E 90 review and will not bore you with a repeat discussion. But, the MTF charts made it clear that the new TS-E 50 was going to be a strong-performer.
With a wide open aperture, the Canon TS-E 50mm f/2.8L Tilt-Shift Macro Lens is really sharp in the center of the frame which progresses to slightly soft in the full frame corners. The center performance was no surprise, but I admit that I wasn’t expecting the softer corners. Here is a look at all four f/2.8 corners side-by-side, showing even performance around the image circle.
By f/5.6, the corners are looking quite sharp.
Included in the standard image quality results are tests completed with the lens shifted, bringing the periphery of the image circle into the test. The site’s tool shows mid and periphery crops toward the upper right of the frame. Thus, shifting the lens one direction (the “-” results) bring the image circle closer to centered in the windows of view the tool provides. The other direction, “+”, helps to provide an accurate view of this lens’ peripheral image quality. In the positive direction shift results, we see the corners becoming somewhat softer as the periphery of the image circle is brought into play. By f/5.6, that corner is looking excellent and f/8 results are very slightly better still.
In addition to our standard lab tests, I like to share some real world examples, usually including at least several apertures. The “several apertures” part wasn’t necessary for the center results as this lens is razor sharp at f/2.8.
The f/2.8 images above and below are 100% resolution crops captured in RAW format using a Canon EOS 5Ds R. They were processed in Digital Photo Professional using the Standard Picture Style with sharpness set to “1”. The in-the-shade city picture was taken from a distance of roughly 1,000 yards/meters.
Moving to the corners (bottom-left in these examples), this lens is looking quite good in the field.
While the f/4 corners sharpen nicely from the f/2.8 results, the f/2.8 results appear nice and corner results are very usable for most purposes.
I am not noticing any focus shift issues with this lens. Subjects in front of and behind the plane of sharp focus become increasingly in-focus as the aperture narrows.
When used with the movements in their centered positions, this lens has only a small amount of peripheral shading, thanks primarily to its huge image circle. An about-1.4-stop is just perceptible in some images and the about-0.5-stops at f/4 will seldom be noticeable. Roughly 0.3 stops of shading remains over the balance of the aperture range.
Vignetting is typically seen most strongly at the periphery of the image circle. The tilt and shift movements bring that into play and we have those test results in the site’s vignetting tool. Vignetting quickly becomes more apparent with tilt and shift settings in use as the image circle is no longer precisely centered over the imaging sensor. One side of the frame is going to look darker than the other. By the full-extent shift at f/2.8, the corners on one side of the frame see an increase to at least 1.7 stops (AE over-exposed the image) while the other side sees a decrease to about 0.4 stops. Stopping down substantially eliminates the shading. Tilting creates a more dramatic difference with the corners seeing 0.7 and 2.5 stops of shading. Again, stopping down resolves most of the shading.
The various movements can be made simultaneously and that complicates the vignetting results. Also, the orientation of the simultaneous movements affects these results, with all four corners potentially being different.
With parallel movements both set to their mid-positions, the amounts range from 0.6 to about 1.2 stops with the shading quickly reduced at narrower apertures. With both movements set to their full-extents, the camera’s auto exposure turned most of the frame pure white. With a -3 EV adjustment in-camera (the last set of results), we see more-typical results with about 1.6 stops of shading in the corners. Stopping down steadily clears this issue with about 0.7 stops of shading remaining in the deep corners on one side.
With perpendicular movements both set to their mid-positions, the shading amounts are substantial, ranging from 1.5 to about 3 stops (and AE underexposes the image). About half of the shading cleared by f/4 and nearly another half clears by f/5.6. At full perpendicular movements, the dark side amount greatly increases, with about 2 to 6 stops being the range at f/2.8. Peripheral shading amounts remain noticeable even at f/16.
Basically, this lens shows a low amount of vignetting unless certain very-strong tilt-shift movements and combinations of movements are used, and then mostly the wide apertures are strongly affected. Those using this lens on an APS-C sensor camera will see very little vignetting. Note that the viewfinder becomes darker with some strong tilt-shift combinations in use.
The effect of different colors of the spectrum being magnified differently is referred to as lateral (or transverse) CA (Chromatic Aberration). Lateral CA shows as color fringing along lines of strong contrast running tangential (meridional, right angles to radii) with the mid and especially the periphery of the image circle showing the greatest amount as this is where the greatest difference in the magnification of wavelengths exists. Prime lenses are usually strong performers in this regard. Let’s look at worst-case example, a 100% crop from the extreme top-left corner of 5Ds R frames.
There should be only black and white colors in this image and the lack of additional colors are showing a very strong performance in this regard.
A relatively common lens aberration is axial (longitudinal, bokeh) CA, which causes non-coinciding focal planes of the various wavelengths of light, or more simply, different colors of light are focused to different depths. Spherical aberration along with spherochromatism, or a change in the amount of spherical aberration with respect to color (looks quite similar to axial chromatic aberration but is hazier) are other common lens aberrations to look for. Axial CA remains at least somewhat persistent when stopping down with the color misalignment effect increasing with defocusing while the spherical aberration color halo shows little size change as the lens is defocused and stopping down one to two stops generally removes this aberration.
In the real world, lens defects do not exist in isolation with spherical aberration and spherochromatism generally found, at least to some degree, along with axial CA. These combine to create a less sharp, hazy-appearing image quality at the widest apertures. The colors bordering the specular highlights in the foreground and background blur of the silver bracelet shown below should remain silver.
Again this lens is showing excellent performance in this regard.
“To help minimize the ghosting and flare that reflected light can cause on image capture, the TS-E 50mm f/2.8L Macro features Canon’s ASC and SWC coatings. Air Sphere Coating (ASC) technology is designed to help significantly minimize reflections, particularly with light that enters the lens vertically. It adds a protective film that includes air spheres over the lens’s conventional multi-layer coatings, enhancing its ability to capture virtually glare-free images. Subwavelength Structure Coating (SWC) helps reduce flaring and ghosting caused by light hitting the lens at large angles. Combined, the ASC and SWC coatings help the TS-E 50mm f/2.8L Macro capture wonderfully clear images with high contrast and minimal glare.” [Canon] That technology combined with the very low lens elements/groups count (12/9), gives this lens a very high flare tolerance with only some minor effects being seen at very narrow apertures.
Coma is generally recognized by sharp contrast towards the center of an image and long, soft contrast transition toward the image periphery. Coma becomes quite visible mid-frame and in the corners of images captured at wide apertures and significantly resolves when the lens is stopped down. Astigmatism is another lens image quality attribute that is apparent in the corners and the pin-point stars in the night sky are a subject that makes these aberrations, along with some others, easily recognizable to me. The stars in the following top-left corner 5Ds R crop show a reasonable performance in these regards.
Like its TS-E siblings, this lens performs excellently in the linear distortion test. As discussed earlier, keeping parallel lines parallel in the frame is one of the desired uses for this lens and any geometric distortion would be viewed as a strong detriment to that goal. Fortunately, this lens delivers highly in this regard.
This lens creates a beautiful, high quality background blur (bokeh). The first example below shows out-of-focus specular highlights being very smoothly rendered even at f/11.
I see a few little tiny round artifacts among the much larger circles and the normal-for-f/11 aperture blade interaction beginning to show. The concentric outer rings are relatively mild and the outer transition is smooth.
At f/2.8 with the periphery of the image circle brought into play, mild cats eye bokeh, a form of mechanical vignetting, can be seen in the corners. The movements mostly do not change the bokeh effects, but going to full-tilt does produce very strong cats eye effects as seen in the bottom-right corner of the frame example shown above. Stopping down reduces the entrance pupil size and the mechanical vignetting absolves completely.
When stopped down, this lens’ 9-blade aperture produces captivating 18-point stars from point light sources
This lens turns in impressive image quality and it is hard to find anything to complain about.
As previously clarified, the Canon TS-E 50mm f/2.8 Lens (and all other tilt-shift lenses available at review time) is manual focus only. Image quality is highly dependent on accurate focusing and, with a manual focus lens, that accuracy is completely in your hands. Fortunately, Canon’s TS-E lens designs provide a quality focus experience.
The solid-feeling focus ring is substantially-sized, extremely smooth and nicely-damped with no play. The moderately large 121° range of rotation provided by the focus ring is nice with precise adjustments able to be made at even close focus distances. That the focus ring is easy to find is an advantage for a manual focus lens.
Like the Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8L, the TS-E 50mm f/2.8L extends with focusing (0.54″/13.6mm), reaching its longest extension at the minimum focus distance. While the focus ring is mounted toward the front of the lens, I can easily adjust the focus distance with my fingers while balancing the lens in my left hand. The various necessary knobs and levers do not make this the most comfortable lens to handhold, but it is not bad in that regard. The camera this lens is mounted to will most often find itself tripod-mounted where handholding comfort is a non-issue.
As with all Canon TS-E tilt-shift lenses, just past infinity and minimum focus distances are hard stops (the focus ring stops moving) and that means focus distance settings/marks are easily repeatable, an attribute highly valued by videographers. Most lenses, including this one, focus slightly past their actual infinity setting to account for needs in extreme temperatures.
The Canon 50mm f/2.8 provides a DOF (Depth of Field) scale with f/8, f/16 and f/32 aperture settings marked.
Of note, including for videographers, those planning to use focus stacking techniques and those needing to critically frame a scene, is that this lens changes the size of subjects in the frame by a noticeable amount during mid or longer focus distance adjustments. Subjects not only come into and go out of focus, but they become larger or smaller while doing so.
Focus accuracy is your responsibility with a manual focus-only lens. In the old days, manual focusing was the only option available. But, we were given bright viewfinders with split image rangefinders and microprisms.
Today’s DSLR viewfinders are optimized for autofocusing and the provided focusing screen makes precise manual focusing a challenge. Focusing screens can be replaced (either via accessory drop-in replacements or via a service provided by a third party camera service center), but one challenge potentially remains and that is focus calibration. If the focusing screen is not precisely calibrated with the imaging sensor, perfect viewfinder-based focusing can result in a front or back focus condition.
The viewfinder’s in-focus indicator light will come on when the camera thinks that accurate focus has been acquired, but this is an imprecise indication. Ideal is to use live view under maximum magnification where very precise manual focusing can be very reliably established. The downside of course is that not all situations permit use of the magnified live view method and that is where your skill comes in. It is possible to manually focus a 50mm f/2.8 lens using the optical viewfinder.
Focusing down to 10.6″ (270mm), the TS-E 50mm f/2.8 delivers an impressive 0.50x maximum magnification, especially compared to the 0.16x spec of this lens’ 45mm predecessor. The 1:2 reproduction ratio makes this lens a good choice for product and small subject photography, the new lens significantly extends these capabilities.
In the chart below, you will find Canon’s review-time-current TS-E L lenses, this lens’ predecessor and a selection of focal-length-similar lenses.
ModelMFDMM Canon TS-E 17mm f/4L Tilt-Shift Lens9.8″(250mm)0.14x Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5L II Tilt-Shift Lens8.3″(210mm)0.34x Canon TS-E 45mm f/2.8 Tilt-Shift Lens15.7″(400mm)0.16x Canon TS-E 50mm f/2.8L Tilt-Shift Macro Lens10.6″(270mm)0.50x Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8L Tilt-Shift Macro Lens15.4″(390mm)0.50x Canon TS-E 135mm f/4L Tilt-Shift Macro Lens19.3″(490mm)0.50x Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM Lens17.7″(450mm)0.15x Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM Lens17.7″(450mm)0.15x Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM Lens13.8″(350mm)0.21x Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II Lens17.7″(450mm)0.15x
Let’s take a closer look at reproduction ratios using an example I created with a different lens on a full frame body. Use the mouseover labels below the image to see the specified ratio.
The 1:2 (0.5x) example represents MM for this lens.
While the maximum magnification ratio is responsible for how big your bug or other subject can be reproduced on the physical sensor, the pixel density of the camera’s imaging sensor also has responsibility for the output size capability of the overall system. All other aspects being equal, a higher density sensor will provide more output magnification capability. To get more magnification from this lens, use a higher resolution DSLR.
While having a 0.5x maximum magnification capability is a big deal for a conventional lens, those lenses are challenged with depth of field issues at close focus distances. Even when using a narrow aperture (often one showing softening effects of diffraction), careful alignment of the plane of sharp focus on the subject is required. Flat subjects need to be photographed with the imaging sensor parallel to the subject to keep the entire subject in focus. But, that straight-on position is not always the desired perspective. For example, you may not want to photograph a plate of food from straight overhead, but you may want the entire plate in focus.
That is where the tilt movement and the high maximum magnification capability beautifully combine. In many cases, the ideal composition can be selected with little regard to plane of focus. The latter can be adjusted as desired using the tilt and rotation movements.
At minimum focus distance, roughly 3.6″ (91mm) of subject fits horizontally in the frame at minimum focus distance. The 0.50x maximum magnification (1:2 reproduction ratio) means that the subject can be rendered up to 1/2 life-size on the imaging sensor. Of course, even large imaging sensors are not very large and subjects captured at 1/2 life-size look big in 4×6″ prints and huge on a typical computer display. Still, many “macro”-designated prime lenses have a 2x-better 1.00x spec.
An easy way to increase the maximum magnification is to reduce the minimum focus distance and that is the function that extension tubes provide. A 12mm extension tube very nicely increases the magnification range to 0.74-0.23x (infinity and distant focusing is sacrificed) and a just-over-2x-longer 25mm extension tube moves the range to 1.00-0.48x.
While that last set of numbers reached the much-desired 1.00x life-size figure, there are other options for increasing the magnification with this lens. Canon does not specify this, but this lens is physically compatible with Canon extenders. The connection does not electronically report the extender’s presence to the camera (at least not to the EXIF data), but the space behind the pivoting group of lens elements accommodates the extenders’ front element intrusion and this combination works quite well together.
Extenders (teleconverters) magnify the image by the factor included in their name. The upside is that the lens can be used with a longer focal length option while retaining its native minimum focus distance, which means that the maximum magnification is also increased by the same factor. The primary concerns to using teleconverters are that the max aperture is significantly reduced (by 1 stop for a 1.4x and by 2 stops for a 2x) and any lens aberrations present are increased.
With a Canon EF 1.4x III Extender behind it, the Canon TS-E 50mm f/2.8L Tilt-Shift Macro Lens transforms into a 70mm f/4 lens with a 0.70x max magnification. At f/4, this combination shows slight degradation in image quality across the frame. Stopping down brings some improvement in sharpness, especially in the center of the frame. The addition of the 1.4x increases barrel distortion slightly, but lateral CA remains very well-controlled.
Mount the Canon EF 2x III Extender behind the TS-E 50 and it becomes a 100mm f/5.6 lens that precisely reaches the 1.00x life-size max magnification. I’m seldom completely satisfied by with-2.0x extender results, but the TS-E 50 L’s image quality holds up quite well with this combination, even at the wide open aperture. Stopping down the aperture produces only minor improvement in sharpness. The 2x has only minor influence on linear distortion and has negligible effect on lateral CA.
Obviously, Canon’s extenders do not color-match the tilt-shift lenses.
Build Quality & Features
The extra knobs and levers on this lens are intriguing and with a primarily matte-black textured finish, this lens is quite attractive. For those who know what it means, the red ring around the end of the lens is a thing of beauty. Along with the “L” appended to the max aperture opening in the model name, the red ring signifies membership in the Canon L-Series lineup. The lenses in this series represent Canon’s best-available, professional-duty options and, like its TS-E siblings, this one is definitely worthy of its red ring.
As mentioned and as illustrated, this lens extends significantly with focusing, reaching its maximum length at the minimum focus distance.
Construction behind the focus ring is all metal. The fit is tight and the movements are smooth, especially when using the large tilt knob. The ribbed-rubber-coated focus ring and the extending portion of the barrel is constructed of engineering plastic. I detect no movement on the fully-extended portion of the barrel.
Tilt-shift lenses are not weather-sealed, so use caution in wet and dusty conditions.
At slightly over 2 lbs (.9 kg), this medium-sized lens is rather dense and the weight will be noticeable if carried for long periods of time. However, it handles very nicely and hasn’t been burdensome to me.
ModelWeightDimensions w/o HoodFilterYear Canon TS-E 17mm f/4L Tilt-Shift Lens28.9 oz(820g)3.5 x 4.2″(88.9 x 106.9mm)n/a2009 Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5L II Tilt-Shift Lens27.5 oz(780g)3.5 x 4.2″(88.5 x 106.9mm)82mm2009 Canon TS-E 45mm f/2.8 Tilt-Shift Lens22.8 oz(645g)3.2 x 3.5″(81 x 90.1mm)72mm1991 Canon TS-E 50mm f/2.8L Tilt-Shift Macro Lens33.4 oz(945g)3.4 x 4.5″(86.9 x 114.9mm)77mm2017 Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8L Tilt-Shift Macro Lens32.3 oz(915g)3.4 x 4.6″(86.9 x 116.5mm)77mm2017 Canon TS-E 135mm f/4L Tilt-Shift Macro Lens39.2 oz(1110g)3.5 x 5.5″(88.6 x 139.1mm)82mm2017 Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM Lens19.2 oz(545g)3.4 x 2.6″(85.4 x 65.5mm)72mm2006 Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM Lens10.2 oz(290g)2.9 x 2″(74 x 51mm)58mm1993 Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM Lens5.6 oz(159g)2.7 x 1.5″(69.2 x 39.3mm)49mm2015
For many more comparisons, review the complete Canon TS-E 50mm f/2.8L Tilt-Shift Macro Lens Specifications using the site’s Lens Spec tool.
For us visual types, here is a current Canon 50mm lens family picture.
Positioned above from left to right are the following lenses:
Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM Lens Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM Lens Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM Lens Canon TS-E 50mm f/2.8L Tilt-Shift Macro Lens
The same lenses are shown below with their hoods in place.
Use the site’s product image comparison tool to visually compare the Canon TS-E 50mm f/2.8L Tilt-Shift Macro Lens to other lenses.
The TS-E 50 L accepts 77mm filters. That so many other Canon L lenses use the same size is very convenient and potentially cost-saving.
Because the TS-E 50 L has a large image circle, a slim filter is not needed for not-significantly-tilted and/or shifted use of this lens. Because this lens vignettes in certain significantly tilted and/or shifted positions without any filter attached, a slim filter such as the B+W XS-Pro may give you a small advantage at times.
As with all Canon L-Series lenses, the hood is included in the box. This lens gets the Canon ES-84 Lens Hood model, the same as included with the TS-E 90mm f/2.8L Lens. The modestly-sized, rounded hood adds some additional protection to the front lens element, but to accommodate for the lens movements and prevent mechanical vignetting, the hood must be undersized relative to one covering only the conventional focal length. The interior of this hood has a matte finish vs. the flocking Canon has used in the past.
A Canon Lens Case LP1219, included with many other L lenses, is included in the box. This is a drawstring suede-like pouch with a padded bottom. The pouch sides are unpadded and provide only light impact protection.
Price and Value
This lens has very good image quality, it is strongly-built, it has unique features and it is very useful. That list of values is a solid one. But, as with the other TS-E L lenses, there is a price to be paid for the package. The TS-E 50 f/2.8L is not an inexpensive lens and I’m sure that price will be the biggest limiting factor for sales. Some will have no problem with the cost and will quickly recoup their investment. Others will struggle to justify spending this much for a specialty lens. For those photographers, an occasional rental may work perfectly.
As a “TS-E” lens, the Canon TS-E 50mm f/2.8L Tilt-Shift Macro Lens is compatible with all Canon “EOS” cameras (the EOS “M” line requires an adapter). Especially since it is a manual focus lens, it should also work well on Sony E-mount/alpha cameras using an adapter. This lens comes with a 1-year limited warranty. The reviewed lens was obtained retail/online.
Alternatives to the Canon TS-E 50mm f/2.8L Tilt-Shift Macro Lens
When considering the purchase of the TS-E 50 L, the first decision that needs to be made is whether or not the tilt-shift features are important. While very useful, the movements are of no value if not used.
If the tilt-shift movements are desired, Canon has an entire series of awesome tilt-shift L lenses and the focal length becomes, by far, the biggest differentiator. Check out our Which Tilt-Shift Lens Should I Get? article for more details.
While this lens’ predecessor, the about-26-years-older Canon TS-E 45mm f/2.8 Tilt-Shift Lens remains available, it is a strong competitor as well.
Obvious is that the new lens grew significantly in size and its weight similarly increased from 22.8 to 33.4 oz (645 to 945g). Note that the older lens is fixed in size and of course the new lens has a 5mm longer focal length.
The Canon TS-E 50mm vs. 45mm image quality comparison shows the L lens being noticeably sharper and the difference would appear even stronger if magnified to the EOS 5Ds R’s resolution. The difference dissipates as the aperture is narrowed, but not until f/8 does the difference become difficult to discern. The L lens’ improved sharpness strongly parlays over into improved with-extender sharpness. Also, the L lens is better-resistant to flare despite its element/group count increasing slightly from 10/9 to 12/9.
One of the key differences between these two lenses is the maximum magnification capability, with the L lens extending this spec from 0.16x to 0.50x. The L lens has the additional rotation feature, enabling the tilt and shift axis orientation to be immediately changed and it has larger knobs along with a zero-tilt-lock with release button. The L lens picks up an additional aperture blade, with a count of 9 vs. 8, with 18-point starburst effects vs. 8-point effects. Along with the L lens’ physical size increase comes a modest filter thread size increase, from 72mm to 77mm. The TS-E 45 is not inexpensive, especially for its age, but it is considerably less expensive than the L version.
If the tilt-shift movements are not desired, assembly of the alternative lens list suddenly becomes a very daunting task. Canon has numerous 50mm lenses and many other-brand 50mm Canon-mount lenses are available, with or without autofocus. Use the site’s comparison tools to evaluate the other lens options and contact us if you need still need help.
If this lens and its special features are what you need (or you can make it work for your needs), it is a very good performer in a well-built package.
A tilt-shift lens can be as easy to use as any manual-focus prime lens. Or, it can be very complex. While simplicity is great, complexity can be a differentiator for your work and a barrier to entry for those wishing to compete. If a photographer has a lens with tilt-shift movements, they can raise the bar on their imagery.
Do you ever find yourself in a photographic rut? Or are you interested in taking your photography skills and imagery to the next level? A tilt-shift lens may be exactly what you need. When the focus plane can be tilted and perspective correction (or the opposite) can be applied, old subjects look new again.
The Canon TS-E 50mm f/2.8L Tilt-Shift Macro Lens is a good one. The high price tag will be viewed as a downside, but those taking the time to make the most of this lens’ capabilities will be rewarded.
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