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Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8 Tilt-Shift Lens Review

Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8 Tilt-Shift Lens Review

The first tilt/shift lens Canon produced, the Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8 Tilt-Shift Lens, is also Canon’s highest optical performing tilt/shift lens.

I don’t like to be redundant in my reviews, but Canon’s tilt/shift line shares many qualities. I repeat much of this information for those who happen to be starting their TS-E search with each particular TS-E lens. And of course, the information is tweaked for the nuances of each lens. So with that said …

What is a Tilt-Shift lens? Good question. While many large format system users are familiar with the concept, I hazard to say that most 35mm format users are not.

Canon’s Tilt-Shift lenses feature three not-found-on-a-typical-lens adjustments. Tilt, Shift AND Rotate. These adjustments can be used individually or simultaneously to alter the relationship of the optical axis of the lens to the sensor (or film) plane.

Tilt. Turning the small (too small) tilt adjustment knob angles the lens up to +/- 8 degrees relative to the sensor plane. The result is a plane of sharp focus that is not parallel to the sensor plane. The TS-E 90 has a different tilt pivot arc than the other TS-E lenses, but I don’t see a functional difference in use. The plane of sharp focus follows the direction of the tilt of the objective lens. For example, tilt the Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8 Tilt-Shift Lens downward to keep an expansive area of relatively flat ground in focus from close out to infinity even at a wide aperture setting. Actually, the plane of sharp focus becomes more like a focus wedge as the DOF (Depth of Field) increases with distance.

Use this feature to selectively keep objects in or out of focus in the picture. A very diffuse background can be produced with this lens opened wide to f/2.8 and when tilted significantly. Diffusely blur the non-subject portion of your picture to dramatically direct the viewer’s eye to the subject. The tilt adjustment scale is marked in 1 degree increments. The amount of change in plane of sharp focus at the maximum tilt settings is significant.

Canon Tilt-Shift Lenses Tilted

Pictured above from left to right are the Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5L Tilt-Shift Lens (set to maximum tilt), Canon TS-E 45mm f/2.8 Tilt-Shift Lens and Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8 Tilt-Shift Lens (set to maximum tilt). All three lenses are shown with their included lens hoods.

Shift. A shift adjustment moves the lens sideways parallel to the sensor plane. The effect of shift is perspective distortion – either correcting or enhancing as desired. The uses for this functionality are many. Shifting enables sides of tall buildings (not necessarily a prime subject for this focal length, but an easy example) to be made parallel – instead of converging lines. Shooting highly reflective objects can utilize lens shift – the camera can be positioned outside of the reflection for the shot while the perspective remains as though it was shot straight on. Stitched panoramic photos are easy to make with the Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8 Tilt-Shift Lens. Simply take multiple images of the same scene (without moving the camera), shifting the lens between shots. Are you unable to get the shot from the proper position because of an obstacle? Simply move to the side and shift the lens to give the perspective you wanted from the blocked position.

Canon Tilt-Shift Lenses Shifted

Pictured above from left to right are the Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5L Tilt-Shift Lens (set to maximum shift), Canon TS-E 45mm f/2.8 Tilt Shift-Lens and Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8 Tilt Shift-Lens (set to maximum shift).

The Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8 Tilt-Shift Lens’ tilt and shift movements are perpendicular to each other as shipped from the factory. Canon Service can modify TS-E lenses for parallel movements (many opt for this change). Or – at your own risk – if you are mechanically inclined/daring, you can easily make this change yourself. Place the lens on its front lens cap (objective end) on a non-marring surface. You will see 4 small screws on the rear-facing side of the square middle part of the lens – one on each corner. Using a good jeweler’s screwdriver, remove each of these screws. They will be tight – do not strip them. Rotate the now-loose rear portion of the lens 90 degrees in a counter-clockwise direction. Ribbon wires inside the lens dictate this rotation direction. Of course, returning the lens to perpendicular motions requires the opposite rotation. Reinstall the 4 screws to complete the project. Shading (vignetting) occurs more easily in parallel converted lenses according to Canon.

Rotate. Even though not designated as a feature in its name, the Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8 Tilt-Shift Lens can also rotate. A small release unlocks the up-to-180-degree rotational movement of the TS-E lenses. Detents are provided at 30 degree increments and positive locks are provided at 90 degree increments. The small release lever takes a little getting used to, but the rotation function is very valuable.

Significant tilt and/or shift (especially shift) settings – those near either ends of the scales – may result in shading (light fall off) on a full frame body – even though the provided image circle is larger than a full frame sensor (24x36mm). When mounted on a 1.6x or 1.3x, the shading will not be nearly as significant. Using a smaller aperture opening helps minimize the shading. These settings may also result in metering errors up to at least 1 stop. Meter the shot before tilt and shift settings are moved from their zero positions. Then keep an eye on your histogram and make any adjustments necessary.

Both tilt and shift setting adjustments can be prevented or allowed by tightening or loosening a small (too small) captive lock knob opposite the respective tilt and shift adjustment knobs. Although I think the locks are a good idea, they are insufficientlt tight for preventing accidental setting changes in my opinion.

All Canon TS-E lenses use good old fashion manual focus only. Manual focus at a wide aperture setting is easy to miss with the standard focusing screens shipping on Canon’s current DSLRs. Alternative focusing screens (including at least one with parallel lines) are available to make this task easier. Canon’s Angle Finder C helps a lot. Live View helps tremendously with this task. If the tilt and shift settings are both at their zero settings, the viewfinder focus indicator will illuminate (and the focus-achieved beep will sound if turned on) when manual focus is properly achieved. Shifting does not affect focus.

The Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8 Tilt-Shift Lens is a very sharp lens with excellent contrast/saturation. The TS-E 90 is very sharp wide open – among the sharpest of Canon’s lenses. Corner sharpness is very good even wide open. Full shift decreases sharpness (and creates autoexposure issues). The Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8 Tilt-Shift Lens is slightly-moderately sharper than the Canon TS-E 45mm f/2.8 Tilt Shift-Lens, especially wide open in the corners on a full frame body.

The Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8 Tilt-Shift Lens has nearly no light fall-off even wide open (f/2.8) unless shifted to near limits on a full frame body. CA is very well controlled on my first copy of this lens – better than the other TS-E lenses, but my second copy does exhibit a small amount wide open. Flare-resistance is high – flare only shows up with the sun actually in the picture (or similar extreme circumstances). Distortion is very well controlled.

Canon Tilt-Shift Lenses

Pictured above from left to right are the Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5L Tilt-Shift Lens, Canon TS-E 45mm f/2.8 Tilt Shift-Lens, Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8 Tilt Shift-Lens and the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L USM Lens.

The Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8 Tilt-Shift Lens’ build quality is very good – solid like the rest of the TS-E lenses. The smallest and lightest Canon TS-E lens, the TS-E 90mm weighs 1.2 lbs (565g). The focus ring is nicely sized and very smooth. Unlike Canon’s other TS-E lenses, the TS-E 90mm extends about 1″ while focusing. Both distance and full depth of field scales are provided. All current TS-E lenses feature 8 aperture blades.

Combining a 90mm focal length and a 1.6′ (.5m) minimum focus distance yields a very nice magnification of .29x. Even higher magnification performance can be achieved with the addition of extension tubes. Adding the Canon 12mm Extension tube allows magnification of .43x and adding the Canon 25mm Extension tube allows magnification of .6x.

The Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8 Tilt-Shift Lens comes with pinch-release lens hood EW-65 III measuring 3 7/16″ x 1.5″ – the smallest TS-E hood. A soft Canon Lens Pouch is included. The TS-E’s 58mm filter size is also smallest among the Canon TS-E lenses. The deeply recessed objective lens is well protected by its design. Due to its non-sealed mechanical joint movements, the Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8 Tilt-Shift Lens should be kept clean. The joints are located behind the rear lens elements.

Although I have not seen Canon specify the compatibility, Canon Extenders seem to work well with TS-E lenses. Autofocus is of course not affected as there is none to begin with. However, the correct aperture and focal length information are not reported to the camera. Exposures are fine – image quality is also decent. Extenders definitely add to the versatility of the Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8 Tilt-Shift Lens.

Use the Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8 Tilt-Shift Lens as a normal 90mm lens (a manual focus one of course) or adjust the tilt, shift and rotation to creative perfection. Plan on needing some behind-the-camera time to get used to the adjustments and capabilities of this lens. A digital body will be a huge help in understanding the exposure variances. I recommend using a tripod or other steady support – especially when adjusting the shift functionality. Of course, photography has few rules.

Product photography is a great use for the Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8 Tilt-Shift Lens – Especially medium and small-sized products such as plates of food, model cars, bottles …

Many use the Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8 Tilt-Shift Lens for near-macro photography. Used alone, the TS-E 90 is a nice lens for medium-sized flowers and such. With extension tubes added, the TS-E 90 can approach close enough to adequately frame insects and tiny flowers. The typical macro contraint of a fixed plane of sharp focus is not shared by the TS-E lenses. Now you can photograph a daisy – keeping all petals in focus – without having to shoot straight into the flower.

The Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8 Tilt-Shift Lens also works well for Portraits. A 90mm focal length typically gives nice perspective to people pictures. Adding tilt and rotation increases the portrait creativity available. The TS-E 90 enables a subject’s eyes and the part of his/her environment you wish to emphasize to remain in focus while the remainder of the portrait is blurred to taste.

The Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8 Tilt-Shift Lens is an optically-excellent lens that inspires creativity. The results can be outstanding. If you are looking for a simple point and shoot lens, a TS-E lens is probably not for you.

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