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TS-E 17mm or 24mm for landscape photography

Jim Morka , Mar 12, 2010; 06:11 p.m.

I own EOS 5D MarkII and currently planning to get Tilt and Shift lens. The primary purpose for using it would be landscape photography, but of course, I would look forward to benefit from other opportunities provided by such lens. I do not know if it would suitable, but would be ideal if it would fit for close-up photography with perspective background.
At the moment, I cannot decide which one to get - 17 mm f/4L or 24 mm f/3.5L. I've seen few post on this, which did not provided clear dominant opinion, thus I would appreciate if you would share your ideas and experiences, especially from the landscape photography point of view.
Since I use full frame camera, I've heard an opinion that 17 mm. might appear too wide and 24 mm would suite in more situations. But isn't it so, that using 17 mm I would still get a chance to crop the image and get an 24 mm effect?
I really do not mind paying bigger price for 17 mm., performance quality and usability is most important thing.
What about optical performance of both lenses - are they both equally good? I understand that with 17 mm. I would not be able to use CirPol filters, which is disappointing. This would be possible with 24 mm.
What about the DOF of those lenses? - I've read an opinion that with 17 mm. I would not be able to get shallow DOF with tilting the lens. Is it true?
I would also appreciate if somebody would post some links with landscape pictures taken with 17 mm lens.


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Dan South , Mar 12, 2010; 06:29 p.m.

Here are my dominant opinions: ;-)

- They're both VERY high-quality lenses.

- 24 mm is a nice focal length for wide-angle shots.

- 17mm is a VERY wide angle on a full-frame camera. The extreme angle-of-view can be useful, but it can also pose some difficulties. For instance, it may be difficult to avoid capturing the legs of your tripod in the photo. Also, wide-angle distortion will be extreme. Rectangular objects like tennis courts or the top of a picnic table will morph into trapezoidal shapes.

- Polarizers don't work well with wide-angle lenses, and the light fall-off problem is even more extreme when you apply movements (rise, tilt, etc.).

- If you plan to photograph architectural interiors, the 17 mm lens would be a great choice. Otherwise, the 24 mm lens is a more versatile choice.

- Use a bubble level attachment to level your camera body for the best possible effect.

Enrique Bocanegra , Mar 12, 2010; 06:34 p.m.

The 17mm is known for being THE sharpest lens in its class. People love that lens, sharp even in the corners. Lucky you.

Andreas Kusumahadi , Mar 12, 2010; 06:46 p.m.

Maybe this and this would help a bit. Those are flickr images taken with the lens.

Martin S. , Mar 12, 2010; 07:04 p.m.

What other lenses do you have and use most often for landscapes? That might give you a good indication as to which one to choose.

I have a 24mm TS-E and a 17-40mm. Looking at my image collection, and as far as landscapes are concerned, I use the 17-40mm at focal legths from 17 to 20mm most of the time. In fact even 17mm occasionally turns out to be not quite wide enough.
So I consider the 17mm TS-E the more desirable lens for landscapes, and of course for interiors.

Jim Morka , Mar 12, 2010; 07:12 p.m.

Martin and others - thanks so far, look forward for more opinions.
Martin, I also have 17-40 mm and I do like using 17 mm. However, at the same time, I avoid using 17 mm due to high distortions. This is why I also take pictures at e.g. 24 mm focal length where distortions are significantly lower.
This is why I seriously considering TS lens which would avoid such distortions by shifting possibility.

JDM von Weinberg , Mar 12, 2010; 07:26 p.m.

I've been using a shift lens since 1971 for various kinds of architectural photography, much of it archaeological.
I'm saving up to eventually get the 17mm TS-E, which by all accounts and all examples I have seen of its use is a marvelous lens. I currently have a shift-only 35mm lens that I use on my 5D (the same lens I've been using from 1971).

All the same, I cannot see that a shift feature is really necessary for landscape photography where the upward angling of the camera back is often not necessary; and where it is necessary, would rarely produce noticeable "distortions" except where some local feature like tall trees in the foreground might occur. Even there, it seems likely to me that just a wide-angle lens could be used without absolutely having to angle up the sensor plane at all, thus negating the utility of the shift. Most of the other utility of the shift lens for things like "shunting aside", so to speak, foreground objects when the camera cannot itself be moved (the classic problem of photographing a reflective surface 'straight on' without showing the camera and photographer) are not usual problems for landscape.
I am less qualified to speak on the advantages of tilts. However, this feature seems more often to be associated with relatively close objects for which the plane of focus needs to be turned (as in product photography). In even architectural photography on a large scale (except for things like models), this is not a necessity. Of course, you can use the tilt feature to make real world objects look like models, but again, I wonder if this would be useful in landscape photography.

In short, alluring as the TS-E lenses are, I suspect that you will be paying a lot of money for features that are of relatively little utility for landscape photography, per se. Particularly for the 24mm focal length which is in the range of the excellent 24-105mm L lens (with a little barrel distortion at the wide end). For a prime, you can buy a nice 24mm f/1.4L for less than half the price of the 17mm TS-E (although the TS-E 24 is closer to the same price). Although for some reason Canon does not have a rectilinear prime of less than 20mm, shorter focal lengths are of course available on the 16-35 and 17-40mm L lenses. Even these are by far less costly than the TS-E 17mm.

When I got my 5D (to be an accessory for my PC-Nikkor 35mm f/2.8), I confess I did find the lack of an equivalent to my 10mm ultrawide angle on my APS-C bodies more troubling than I anticipated. While saving for the TS-E 17mm, I cast about for a wider (than 24mm) lens that did not have the gasp-inducing price of the 17mm TS-E -- I finally settled on a 15-30mm "full-frame" Sigma lens (the direct ancestor, as I believe, of the more recent 12-24mm "full-frame" lens). Wide open at 15mm it is a little rough at the edges, but stopped down and by 17mm it is plenty good. Its cost was about 1/8th of the TS-E 17 and I suspect it will serve me for general landscape purposes until I accumulate sufficient Macedonian staters for the TS-E 17mm, my daughter graduates from college, and the pets die.

Dan South , Mar 12, 2010; 07:51 p.m.

Rise and fall are useful to keep trees, fence posts, and the occasional building from leaning over. Tilt is useful when you want a plane (usually the ground, as in a field of flowers) to be in focus from front to back. Swing is useful when you are standing beside a hedge or a fence or a wall and you want to keep it all in focus.

When I use my view camera, the first thing I do in most cases is to level the camera. When this is done, the film plane is perpendicular with the ground (assuming that you're standing on a level field). If I want to compose upward or downward, I now apply rise or fall. The film plane remains perfectly vertical. In cases where there's something in the distance and the foreground that both need to be in sharp focus I'll employ tilts or occasionally swings (almost neve both at the same time, though). Of course, with digital capture you can take two or more shots (close focus, middle focus, far focus) and combine them with software. Further, when you're working as wide as 17mm, depth-of-field goes to infinity fairly quickly. Still, tilts have a magic all their own when they work. Unfortunately, the world does not always present its features on a single plane.

I miss the ability to work like this with small-format cameras. Converging verticals drive me crazy, and there's only so much perspective distortion that you can eliminate with software. Getting it right in camera takes a little work up front, but it's a blessing when you nail it.

Mark Pierlot , Mar 12, 2010; 07:52 p.m.

[F]or some reason Canon does not have a rectilinear prime of less than 20mm...

JDM, isn't the EF 14/2.8 L a rectilinear prime?

Ben Goren , Mar 12, 2010; 08:30 p.m.

My 24 just arrived yesterday. It truly is an amazing lens. I have the original version; until yesterday, that was my favorite lens. The new one…wow. It’s just unbelievable. Physically impossible, I’m sure of it. Canon must have an illicit faery garden where they harvest the little buggers and grind ’em up and mix them with unicorn horns to make these things.

Zymantas, 24mm on the 5DII is pretty much the textbook focal length for wide-angle landscape photography. It gives the perfect feeling of a sweeping grand vista without going over the edge into looking unrealistically distorted. And, if you ever need something wider, you can do as in the attached picture: shift the lens and stitch the two frames together. You really only need two frames; as you can see from the added drop shadows, the outer two do overlap significantly. But the center is as wide as I usually ever find myself wanting.

You can shift up and down, too, as well as diagonally to any angle. You can probably get an equivalent FOV as of somewhere around a 17mm lens (or thereabouts; haven’t measured) in a 2:3 perspective — at MF digital resolution, no less. Of course, stitching the 17 will give you wider still.

JDM, movements are far more useful for landscape photography than you suspect. I’ve already demonstrated one potential: panoramas. I, like Dan, start by leveling the camera (and pointing it in the right direction) and then use movements to frame things. It keeps saguaros, for example, from looking like they’re falling over more than they really are. It’s also a great way to get the foreground right at your feet in the frame. Put the tripod almost on the ground, shift down, and you get a close-up shot of some flowers with the mountains in the distance still framed.

And tilting is simply amazing. The panorama below I shot at f/5.6. The foreground is about four feet away from and two feet below the lens. I almost could have shot it wide open — certainly for any desktop-sized print. At f/5.6 it ranges from razor-sharp to “OW! YOU SLICED OFF MY CORNEA!”

(For those who are inexperienced at this sort of thing, the easy way to focus with movements is to focus far and tilt near. It’s especially easy with Live View. At 10× view, use the focus ring to bring the most distant object in focus. Use the joystick to maneuver to the nearest object and use the tilt knob to bring that in sharp focus. Go back to the distant object and use the focus ring to bring it back in focus. Bounce back and forth once or twice more and you’re set. Pan around the scene and see how bad things are that aren’t in the new focal plane; hold the DoF Preview button while adjusting aperture to the minimum amount necessary to bring them in line. Adjust the shutter speed with the LV histogram per your normal taste. Fire the shutter and marvel at the preview image.)

And, of course, not all “nature” photography excludes man-made objects. Having movements makes it much easier to get good shots of bridges, for example. And — okay, I should shut up, now. Just get one or the other (or both!) of these new lenses and you might never shoot anything else. Heck, I just now caught myself trying to think of an excuse to use one for sports…not that I’ve ever shot sports before, but just think of what you could do, say, right up against the inside of the curb of a turn at a bike race…



Backyard panorama shot with my brand-new TS-E 24mm f/3.5L II!

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