As excited as I was about trying out a tilt-shift lens (Canon TS-E 45mm f/2.8), I was not prepared for a number of realizations. The first of which was the focal length. 45mm is, as ridiculous as it might sound, simply too long of a focal length for the photo subjects I was shooting. This lens would be an excellent wedding or creative portrait lens but for landscape or architecture it’s just too long.
The focal length problem is most evident with architecture. Regardless of the tilt and/or shift combinations, the 45mm lens has 51 degrees of view angle and is nowhere near wide enough to capture any building in its entirety (thankfully I used a full-frame camera instead of a crop sensor or I would have been dealing with 72mm of focal length and even less view angle). For this photo I stood at the outer edge of the Olympic Sculpture Park’s gift shop/event space and attempted to capture the patio space. I managed to get most of it in the frame and I do like the soft blur at the left and right-hand sides but another 20-30 degrees of view would have been a significant improvement and would have caught the remaining couple of panes of the glass on the left and a bit more of the sound on the right.
Despite the narrow view angle I took a whack at one of the other things that tilt-shift lenses are known for. In the photos below I attempted to produce a tilt-shift “fake miniature”. The first one was with a horizontal tilt and a downward shift. Even with the extra saturation to make it seem more artificial it’s clear I need more practice with this process.
This is the same scene with the lens rotated (vertical tilt). I think this one is a bit closer to the fake miniature effect but still not exactly it.
Other findings about this lens are the metering, manual focus and weight.
Metering with a prime or zoom lens is pretty simple. Meter off the brightest part of the scene, lock the exposure, re-compose and shoot. With the tilt-shift this is not as easy. You can follow this process with no tilt and produce a decent photo. Adjust the shift and you can expect the metering to remain appropriate. Adding any amount of tilt completely changes the lens dynamics and the metering is off. I found that with minimal tilt a decent photo could be expected (tendency towards minimal overexposure) but tilting it to the maximum in any direction consistently overexposed the image. I normally shoot in Aperture Priority mode and found that by switching to full manual I was able to compensate for the overexposure. To really take advantage of the creative aspects of this lens you need to have some patience. Tripod, manual mode and careful adjustment of exposure settings. This is not a lens you would take to an event or where you want to move around and capture objects in motion.
The manual focus is not the end of the world but the combination of bright sun and my aging eyes ensuring a tack sharp image was not guaranteed. Thankfully it was a sunny day and I found my best images were produced using ISO 100, an aperture of f/16 and letting the camera determine the shutter speed. The lens has a minimum focusing distance of about 16″ so setting the focus ring at the infinity mark seemed to ensure that just about everything would reasonably be in focus (unless the tilt was used). For objects close to you focusing manually while tapping the shutter button will give you feedback in the view finder as to if you are in focus but this really only works with no tilt. Tilt the lens in any direction and the AF points just don’t seem to work.
Lastly, this lens is heavy. Canon lists it a 1.42 pounds (after carrying it for an hour or so it definitely feels heavier) and with the full-frame camera body the total package weighs in at just over 3 pounds. I would definitely not recommend carrying a camera with this lens in a shoulder bag for long. When not shooting I used my Tenba Shootout backpack. I have used this bag fully loaded for day trips in both the city and on hikes and it is very comfortable and distributes weight nicely.