Lens Test

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.

Per­for­mance

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

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