Canon TS-E 17mm f4L

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Essential for interiors and architecture, Kevin Carter looks at Canon’s widest tilt and shift lens.

Description: Canon TS-E 17mm f4L

SRP: $2,499

Canon’s L-series lenses have a reputation for high optical quality and innovative design. The company has had a number of firsts over the years, including a perspective control lens with both tilt and shift movements for their 35mm F-1 camera back in 1973. Today, Canon offers no less than four full-frame TS-E lenses in EF mount including this lens, which is, with a notable 12mm of shift and a 104-degree (diagonal) angle of view, the widest of its type regardless of make. It is not just interiors where this lens excels but also architecture, and while pricey, it’s also an attractive optional fitment as the equivalent to a 28mm on a Canon APS-C-format DSLR.

Although manual focus, the TS-E designation indicates the aperture is electronically stopped down and, in terms of handling, an important consideration in a lens where mechanical linkages are next to impossible. This lens and the TS-E 24mm f3.5L Mark II, introduced at the same time, offer the option to use both shift and tilt in the same plane. Canon’s older TS-E 45mm and TS 90mm have those movements set at 90 degrees apart, which improves the ergonomics but that’s not really the point with these lenses as the increase in depth of field and control of perspective is usually wanted in the same plane. Not only that but they’re all meant for use on a tripod anyway.

The newer versions are much bigger than the originals, and at 820g, the TS-E 17mm is quite a weight. But it’s not much of an issue as the size allows for greater shift (from a large image circle) but also a large, precise manual focus ring, and more room for the adjustment controls. Movements are made using large metal knobs, while the smaller knobs (offset by 180 degrees) are used to lock the lens in plane.

Like the earlier original models, the title mechanism is set at 90 degrees to the distance scale. When rotated so that the tilt and shift movements are in the same plane, the distance scale and the controls also revolve by the same amount. However, this puts the controls in same plane and quite close together. In addition, the lens has a rotating mount so the movements can be aligned to the subject plane. Despite the complexity, the controls remain easy to use when looking through the viewfinder or at the live image on the rear.

Description: Canon TS-E 17mm f4L

As for image quality, the TS-E 17mm doesn’t quite match the TS-E 24mm Mark II wide-open across the frame, but with excellent central sharpness, the lens performs well. Optimal performance is achieved two stops from the maximum, at f8, though the lens remains pin-sharp right across the frame at both f11 and f16. By that point diffraction can be seen to affect sharpness on our chart, though in practice it’s not till the lens is stopped down to f22 that the resolution drop becomes noticeable.

While there’s some chromatic aberration, levels are very low. Ultra-wides like this can also be a bit of let-down with vignetting and distortion, but that’s not the case here. Some very slight barrel distortion can be seen, but levels are low and, as you might expect with a lens that has a large imaging circle, vignetting at maximum aperture is really only a problem when you’re close to the maximum shift. Flare and ghosting is inevitable with a hugely convex front, though Canon has done well to minimize the effects. It all adds up to a unique and hugely versatile lens that’s capable of the highest imaging quality.

Description: Test result: tested on a CanonEOS 1Ds Mark III, mounted on the tripod, shooting max-quality JPEGs at ISO100

Test result: tested on a CanonEOS 1Ds Mark III, mounted on the tripod, shooting max-quality JPEGs at ISO100

Technical data

Model: Canon TS-E17mmf4L

Price: $2,499


Phone: 08443690100

Elements/construction: 18/12

Angle of view: 104 degress (diagonal)

Max aperture: f4

Min aperture: f22

Min focus distance: 0.25m

Mount: Canon EF

Filter size: N/A

Length: 106.9mm

Diameter: 88.9mm

Weight: 820g


Score: 9/10

This lens is costly but it has tilt and shift movements in the same plane and is the widest currently available, as well as being a fabulous performer.

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