About a month ago, I got a photo assignment on doing interior shots which required a super wide-angle lens with perspective control. The only super wide tilt-and-shift within the Nikkor line is the PC-E 24mm f3.5 which is simply not wide enough plus it requires a full-frame body (I uses a D300). Shooting 4×5 with a Schneider 58mm XL will do but it will be totally out of the client’s budget. So I turned to my friend, who is actually a wedding photographer, for help. As of many others who shoot wedding, he uses a Canon 5D MKII and Canon does have one thing for sure better than Nikon: they have the only 35mm/full-frame format 17mm perspective control lens (see photo above) in the whole world!
So, we rented the Canon TS-E 17mm f4L one day before the actual shoot and went out to have some “fun”. The lens is big and heavy because there are a total of 18 glass elements inside plus it needs to cover a much bigger image circle than other ordinary 35mm/full-frame lenses. Also, like many other super-wides, you can forget about hood and filter because of the gigantic spherical front element (see photo below). There is no auto-focus (that’s why it is called TS-E without the “F”) and focus confirmation from the camera will not work after that lens is shifted/tilted.
I haven’t tried the tilt of the lens because it is not really needed for the shoot. So, I will focus on talking about the shift. The word “shift” is confusing if you also uses a view camera because the “shift” on this lens actually corresponds to “rise” and “fall” of the front standard of a view camera. However, the movements on the lens is much more limited than a true view camera. The TS-E 17mm f4L only has a +/- 12mm rise/fall range while a modern basic model view camera like the Toyo 45CX is capable of a front standard rise of 80mm!
To operate the TS-E 17mm, first you need to align your film plane (by “film”, I meant “sensor”) so that it is parallel to the vertical lines within the viewfinder. In other words, you should not tilt the camera (not the “tilt” movements on the lens) up or down. After that, you turn the “shift” knob (see photo above) on the lens so that the lens either “rise” or “fall” to encapsulate what you intended to capture. If you have hit the limit (+/- 12mm), then you need to adjust the height of the tripod accordingly. The two photos below show the views before (upper) and after (lower) the lens rised.
Some after thoughts…
This lens is so great and costs comparatively much lower than a full 4×5 system that it is actually justified to buy a Canon 5D MKII body just to use it. Of course, that is provided that you get a lot of assignments that requires a super wide angle lens with perspective control (or you have enough money to use such lens just for pleasure) and a 24x36mm 21.1 mega-pixels sensor will suit your need.
A little update…
Recently, I have a chance to try out a sister lens of the above, the TS-E 24mm f3.5L II, on a film body loaded with Ilford Pan F 50. I used this opportunity to create an illustration of the usefulness of a tilt-shift lens in photographing architectures. Upper right image is what you will get when you try to capture the whole building with an ordinary 24mm lens. Upper left one shows that if you try to keep the verticals parallel, the top-half of the building will be lost. The main image, with a rise of the lens for just a few millimetres, captured the whole building while keeping all verticals parallel.