Canon Wide Angle Tilt/Shift Lens Reviews for Architecture Photography (17mm, 24mm mark I and II)
If you shoot architecture then any of these lenses is a must have over non-tilt-shift lenses. The original 24mm is a great deal at less than $1,000 and offers decent performance when stopped down and limiting the shift to around 7. That being said, the new 24mm is worth double the price. It has improved upon the original lens in every way. Optically it is close to flawless and if you have the money then go for the updated version. Now, moving onto the 17mm lens. This lens has some issues compared to the new 24mm but the wider focal length makes this lens the best choice for architecture work. See the detailed reviews for each lens below.
Any of these lens can be used hand held, especially with a grid focus screen installed. Shifting is very simple but tilting for precise focusing is much more difficult to achieve when hand holding. A tripod is really the best way to go for achieving focus and because getting a wide angle perfectly lined up and thus appear rectilinear is extremely difficult. The only way to obtain proper composition is through the use of a tripod with bubble level and LiveView (grid turned on).
Typical Shooting Process: 1) Set camera to M-manual with Mirror Lockup Enabled and 2-second drive mode. 2) Determine vertical or horizontal orientation, rotate lens for desired shift/tilt direction. 3) Establish rough level. 4) Turn on camera and remove lens cap. 5) Set proper exposure by stopping down the aperture to the setting that will yield sharp corners, then dial in shutter speed. 6) Activate LiveView and establish focus. 7) Set tilt and shift. 8) Refine focus and level. 9) Shade lens with your hand or body. 10) Take a shot and check RGB Histogram because any lens movement throws off the in camera meter. 11) Re-shoot as needed to achieve proper exposure, and consider using multiple exposure for post-processing blending.
17mm f/4L TS-E
This lens is one of a kind and the steep price reflects this reality.
1) The wide focal length is the major advantage of this lens. For exteriors you can shoot in front of parked cars and still get enough of the building. Tall buildings can be captured in their entirety from across the street. Superior for interiors.
2) The resolution is outstanding and easily matches the highest resolution full frame sensor. Without shifting any aperture will do but to get sharp corners when shifting, even up to 10, simply stop down the aperture. For large shifts, up to and beyond 10, I stop down to f/14.
3) Virtually no distortion.
4) Color, CA and flare are all excellent especially when compared to other ultra wides.
5) When used with a 1.6x crop sensor camera the focal length is idea for smaller residential projects and more detailed compositions.
1) Of course the price gets your attention, but after a short period this lens has proven to be an essential part of my kit and paid for itself in no time.
2) The inability to use a lens hood is my biggest gripe with this lens. While the lens does a good job at controlling flare, have no doubt that flare is going to occur with such a wide focal length that always finds some the sky and often the sun. That being said, the lens hood for the 24 isn't very large or effective, but it does make a difference to have a hood, even a small one. The other downside of not having a hood is the extremely vulnerable bulbous front element lacks the first defense against finger prints and minor damage. After lots of use I have found the lack of lens hood to be a non-issue. I only use the lens with a tripod so it is easy to use my hand or body to shade the lens when needed. Note that filters can be added but the setup is large and expensive.
24mm f/3.5L TS-E Mark II
This is the perfect lens, with only one downside, it isn't as wide as I want for most architectural work. I found that large shifts into the 10-12 (max) were required for all my shots while the 17 required much smaller shifts to get the shot. However, if you want to shoot landscapes or products then the 24 should be wide enough and your decision is very easy, go for the new 24!
1) The best performer in the group. See the original version review to learn about all of the issues that this lens corrects.
2) Great for landscapes as it isn't to wide and allows for filters, protective or NDs.
1) The price at more than twice the original version.
2) Not wide enough for large buildings, tight conditions or interiors.
24mm f/3.5L TS-E (first version)
Resolution: Simply not up to a 21MP or higher resolution full frame sensor. I found this to be the major issue with the lens. Corner sharpness is the most serious issue but overall resolution suffers. I found that the 16-35 II beats this lens for sharpness, but once Photoshop perspective correction zaps the resolution from the 16-35 image, all of the resolution advantages of non-tilt/shift lenses disappear. The resolution issue won't be as bothersome with lower resolution bodies, such as the original 5D.
Chromatic Aberrations: This lens is known to have issues with CA, however, I found this fairly easy to correct and it only became a major issue at the edges of the shifted image and of course became more severe as the degree of shit increased. Once again, with a 12MP 5D CA probably wouldn't be as bad. The new 24 handles CA like a champ, while the 17 will produce some CA in high contrast conditions (overcast sky and trees).
Distortion: The distortion is low but as others have mentioned very irregular so hard to correct with Photoshop's Lens Distortion Filter. This isn't a big issue unless shooting perpendicular to a flat surface, and in that case the distortion is very annoying. Both of the new TS-Es produce distortion free images.
Shifting: I regularly shifted up to the red marking (7 or 8) to get the shot. The extreme portion of the shifted image will show more CA and lower resolution, but I found the trade off to be better than using Photoshop's Lens Distortion Filter. The new 24 simply destroys the old version providing shifts into 10 with little downside when stopped down.
Build Quality: The lens flipped and flopped all over the place. Focus was loose but still accurate and easy to use. Keep in mind that this was a well used rental lens. The new TS-Es are much, much better in every way.
© Chad Kirkpatrick : Witness to Beauty ® Photography