Musings on Photography

Canon EF 24mm f/3.5L TS-E

Posted in equipment by Paul Butzi on March 28, 2007

I’m still pondering this lens.

Several people have now told me it’s not as sharp as, say, the 45mm f/2.8 TS-E.

Now, looking at the MTF charts on the Canon website, we get a mixed story, both wide open and at f/8.  (24mm TS-E info, 45mm TS-E info, description of how to read the Canon MTF chart)  In any case, the MTF charts don’t immediately lead me to believe that the 24mm TS-E is a dog.  It’s sharper in the central third of the image than the 24mm f/1.4L at f/8, and it’s sometimes better, sometimes worse in the rest of the field.  In the very corners, it looks like it whips the stuffing out of the 24mm f/1.4L at f/8.

So it’s hard for me to believe that the lens design is rotten.  Maybe I’m not seeing something.

I’ve also been warned about the possiblity of unit to unit variation.  Might be true, might not, I don’t know.  But if the reason that the lens has a dodgy reputation is that there are quality control issues, renting the lens to evaluate it won’t help me.  If I rent a lousy example, I’ll conclude the whole idea is bad, and pass up an opportunity to buy a good example of the lens.  Likewise, if I rent a great performer, that still leaves the possibility that the one I buy will be rotten.

What to do, what to do?  Buy one from a retailer where I’ll have little difficulty returning it if I find problems, I guess.

12 Responses

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  1. StephaneB said, on March 28, 2007 at 4:05 pm

    This lens madness is so stupid. It all started with 100% on screen viewing. Of course enlarging the image 30 times will reveal some optical shortcomings, more so with some lenses than with others. It does not make the formers bad designs. A tilt-shift retrofocus 24mm is a very hard thing to do. I think Canon has succeeded. To give you some perspective, I used to have a Schneider Super Angulon 58mm XL on my Arca-Swiss 6×9. That’s what my 24 TS-E replaces. The 6×9 solution has more resolution if scanned with an expensive scanner and less distorsion. Light fall-off needs an expensive correction filter. Globally it was slightly (slightly!) better than the TS-E. So what? Does it show on print? I don’t think so. Does it matter? I think not.

    The end of the shift scales on the 24 TS-E is in red, indicating it is not optimal. They are right, it is not. Usable, but not really sharp on the edge of the image circle. More appropriate for shy than for detailed buildings. Within that range, however, everything is fine. No worry.

    I certainly understand the stress of blowing $1,000 and having remorse. I know I don’t have any. If you want, I can upload a 5D RAW somewhere for you to check.

  2. Scott said, on March 28, 2007 at 5:28 pm

    Well, I think the question is do you want a 45 mm lens, or a 24 mm lens. If you want a 24 mm lens does it really matter if the 45 mm is sharper.

  3. Howard Slavitt said, on March 28, 2007 at 8:29 pm

    Buy a couple of copies, and return one. . . . The 24mm TSE is a great lens, but my favorite lens for the 5D is the 45 mm TSE. The 45mm TSE when used in vertical format and stitched produces a fantastic 22 megapixel or so file, that’s equivalent to about a 35mm lens, and you can also use tilt to hold depth of field. Using the 24mm in vertical format and stitched is also fantastic and gives you something close to an 18mm field of view. . . The TSE lens are like three (or 4) lenses in one: (1) use straight without tilt or stitch, (2) stitch two horizontal shots for panoramic format, (3) stitch two vertical shots for a wide field of view and much higher resolution, (4) tilt to hold extreme depth of field. . . I agree that the 24mm TSE is not substantially inferior to a 58mm XL Superangulon on 6cm x 9cm, that’s what mine replaced too. . . Now I just need to get a 90mm TSE.

  4. Alan George said, on March 29, 2007 at 10:15 am

    I have the 90, 45 and 24. The 24 is not a dog, but if your objective is stitching it maybe a little wide to be considered general purpose stitching lens. At least it is for my style. The 45 and then 90 are used far more. If I were starting, I would get the 45 with the 1.4 and 2.0 telextenders. And get the RRS nodal point head, at least the horizonal one.

  5. quang-tuan luong said, on March 29, 2007 at 5:24 pm

    It’s a good lens. True, there are even sharper 24 lenses. So what ? If I need rise, the other 24 lenses won’t do, and using PS for correction will certainly degrade image quality much more.

  6. Howard Slavitt said, on March 30, 2007 at 6:16 am

    Why would you need an RRS nodal point head? For flat stitching, which is what the TS-E lenses are used for, you just shift the lens all the way to one side, and then all the way to the other. You also should move the camera in the tripod mount by 11mm (or 22mm) to offset the shift, so that you have the same effect as if you were moving the back on a view camera. The two halves then cut together like butter, pretty much always, in my experience. If you’re doing panoramic/horizontal flat stitches, then you only need two exposures. If you’re doing hi res/vertical flat stitches (gives you a similar aspect ratio to 4 x 5), then you can get by with two exposures, but because there’s very little overlap, you’re better off also having a third, centered exposure. There’s an excellent article on Outback Photo, I think, on why you need to also move the camera in the tripod mount by 11mm to avoid parallax error.

  7. Alan George said, on March 30, 2007 at 7:47 am


    If you want to create 4×2 or 5×2 panos, you can use shift and a horizontal nodal point head (to avoid parallax). I find that a 4×2 pano from a 1DsII will easily surpass scanned 4×5 in quality. If you only want 2×1 or 3×1 panos, then the technique you describe is sufficient.

  8. Ed Richards said, on March 30, 2007 at 9:04 am

    An arguement against contemplation:

    “When Winogrand died in 1984, he left more than 2500 rolls of film exposed but undeveloped, 6500 rolls developed but not proofed, and 3000 rolls proofed but not examined. That’s a total of a third of a million unedited exposures.”

  9. Paul Butzi said, on March 30, 2007 at 9:43 am

    Buy a couple of copies, and return one. . . .

    Speaking as a guy with a degree in statistics, I have to say that if quality control is bad, buying two and returning the worst of the pair doesn’t much improve the odds of getting a good one. Buying one, and returning it if it fails to meet some meaningful threshold, and continuing that process until a good one is found is a much better plan.

  10. […] 30th, 2007 Alan George writes in the comments to a previous post I have the 90, 45 and 24. The 24 is not a dog, but if your objective is stitching it maybe a little […]

  11. Joe Reifer said, on March 30, 2007 at 10:06 am

    Hi Paul –

    I hope I was being more realistic than negative in my previous comment about the 24mm TS-E. I have owned this lens twice, and compared it to Canon’s 24mm primes, 17-40/4L, and 24-70/2.8L. The performance is good but not great. Certainly not in the same league as the 35L, 85L, and 135L.

    I have tried Howard’s technique of flat stitching, and it’s quite easy once you’ve done it a few times. The problem with the 24mm TS-E is, as StephaneB notes, performance degrades when shifted into the red zone. Based on a friend’s tests of multiple copies, the Olympus 24mm shift lens is a better performer when shifted.

    There is a spot on review over on The Digital Picture, including helpful comparison charts if you’re interested.



  12. Peter Wurm said, on April 19, 2007 at 12:48 am

    I’ve been using the 3,5/24 mm TS-E for two years now. Of course it doesn’t fully equal a Large Format wide angle lens. But it is a very fine lens nevertheless, as long as not used in the shift range indicated red. It’s sharp (stopped down to 8 or 11 at least – but tis is generally a good idea for architectural shots, I think), and light decrease in the corners is also ok (and can be easyly corrected in PS using 16 bit RAW data for minimal loss in quality). The only feature not perfect is distortion, resulting in not totally straight lines towards the image borders.
    Personally, I think it is much better than the 45 mm, which doesn’t satisfy me fully (shifted or not), as pictures quite often appear somewhat “soft”, as if there had been used a very slight soft focus filter). If this results from quality control problems at Canon, I can’t tell. But if I consider my 24 – 70 mm / 2,8 I really would not wonder too much … with this lens, it’s hard to get a picture sharp from one side to the other even at 5,6, thought CPS Service told me the optical performance is within the standard tolerances. So maybe You really should check out some items of the TS-E until you are satisfied? As long as your dealer gives you the possibility?


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