Not just for fixing wonky buildings, Canon’s new TS-E Macro lenses are fantastic for shooting creative close-ups
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canon’s tilt & shift lenses are famously good for photographing architecture. The shift facility enables you to literally shift the lens up and down, or to the left and right, moving the optical plane relative to the camera. You can use this to neutralize perspective effects that make tall buildings appear to lean inwards towards the top. However, it’s the tilt facility of Canon’s new 50mm, 90mm and 135mm macro lenses that’s interesting. Whereas Canon’s wider-angle 17mm, 24mm and even 45mm TS-E lenses are ideal for architectural and landscape photography, the longer focal lengths of the new TS-E Macro lenses are much more suited to shooting close-ups. The 90mm lens has an suitable focal length for photographing small objects. While the 50mm lens fits more into the frame, and the 135mm lens lets you to put more distance between you and what you’re photographing.
All three lenses have identical tilt and shift controls, and the ability to rotate the lens on its mounting plate, so that tilt and shift can be applied horizontally or vertically. The 50mm and 90mm lenses look very similar, while the longer 135mm lens is a little larger and is the only one to have an internal focusing mechanism. As with other tilt and shift lenses, focusing is a manual affair and there’s no autofocus facility. But, onboard electronics enable the aperture to be controlled from the camera body.
So why do you need a tilt-shift macro lens? A challenge when shooting close-ups is the tiny depth of field, which makes it tricky to keep subjects sharp when shooting at an angle, even when using a narrow aperture. The tilt facility gives you greater control over depth of field, independent of aperture setting, shrinking it down for a toy camera or miniature effect. Of more practical benefit, you can also enlarge the depth of field, enabling more front-to-back sharpness.
We tested all three of the new 50mm, 90mm and 135mm lenses and found image quality to be mostly similar in all cases. But the 90mm is our top pick, as it has the most ideal focal length for a majority of close-up shooting. That said, all of the lenses deliver 0.5x rather than full 1.0x magnification at their closest focus distances. Even so, they enable extreme enlargement of small objects.
As expected, the shift feature works perfectly but is of less benefit at longer focal lengths. With a wide-angle TS-E lens, you can get an almost infinite depth of field by using the tilt feature. That’s not the case when shooting close-ups with the new macro lenses but you can still extend the depth of field, keeping more of the subject sharp.
The shorter focal length of the TS-E 50mm macro makes it ideal for architectural shots, thanks to the shift function
A fantastic macro lens that opens up many options with its versatility
Canon’s new TS-E Macro lenses also come in 50mm and 135mm focal length options
The increase in depth of field for extreme close-ups is the main selling point of the TS-E Macro lenses
Tilt can also reduce the depth of field. In this close-up shot, only the yellow pencil is sharp