Musings on Photography

24mm TS-E

Posted in equipment, Solo Photo Book Month, technique by Paul Butzi on June 5, 2009


A little while back, Ed Richards asked me via email:

How about musing on using a TS lens? Or, more to the point, the shift?
Seeing tilt is really going to require that monitor – I do not find I
use tilt much even on 4×5, so I see these as more shift lenses, unless
you are doing table top work. Canon has just raised the bar on TS with
their new 17 TS. Could be the ultimate lens for shooting interiors.
Anything wider than 65mm on 4×5 and you get no shift, and there is not a
lot with the 65mm.

I’ve been going to the photo sessions for the theatre project with a bag full of lenses, including my 24mm f/3.5 TS-E, the 24-105 f/4L, and the 100mm f/2.8 macro. The first time, not quite sure what to expect, I took along the 70-200mm f/2.8; however, I never used it, so I freed up space in the (small) bag by not taking it along since then. At the first session, I thought I wanted a lens that opened up wider than f/3.5, so the next time I brought along a 28-70 f/2.8 instead of the 24-105. Again, I never used it.

In fact, of the keepers from the photos I’ve made so far, ALL of them were made using one specific lens – the 24mm f/3.5 TS-E.

When I first got it, I had panoramas in mind. It is ok for that, but not in the way I expected. I thought I’d use the shift feature to make overlapping exposures for panoramics. So far, I’ve not made a single successful photograph that way. I have made some successful 2:1 aspect ratio photos using the lense and cropping. And for landscape work, I find that orienting the lens so that the sift becomes rise/fall is, well, massively useful. Remember that I’ve got years and years of doing landscape photography with a view camera, and by far the movement I used the most was front fall/rear rise. So I put the 24mm TS-E on the camera, put the camera on the tripod, and my fingers and brain immediately feel comfortable dialing in front rise/fall with the camera back vertical. It’s like breathing for me; it happens without conscious thought.

And that experience has carried over into the theatre photographs. I made a few exposures at the very start – wide lens without the camera leveled front to back. When I looked at the converging lines on the display, I knew that although this is a perfectly reasonable way to tackle the subject, it is nonetheless not MY way. My way, it turned out, was to put that friendly 24mm TS-E on the camera, level the camera using the bubble level in the QR clamp, and then let my fingers do the rise/fall magic.

So I’m really happy with the 24mm f/3.5 TS-E, especially for the theatre work, where it currently accounts for about 99% of the exposures made and 100% of the keepers.

Is it a solution free of collateral problems? No. In particular, I have half a dozen images where one end of the frame is out of focus although the other end is crisp; I’m attributing these to inadvertently budging the swing/tilt and getting the plane of focus wrong at the same time that I have left shift in there, so that I’m outside the real usable image circle of the lens. Because I don’t yet have an exposure routine nailed down tight, I sometimes leave the lens not zeroed after making an exposure. That’s a workflow problem, really, and not a lens problem.

Ed’s comment about needing a bigger monitor to really use tilt to move the plane of focus is on point. There’s no way to see the focus plan in the crappy little 35mm full frame viewfinder. A big monitor would help, but what really helps is the live view and zoom mode on the 5d mk II, which lets you sort of use the rear display as a window onto a display that’s ten times as large (linearly) as the read display is. Think of it as an electronic focus loupe, if you’re coming from the view camera world. I have used it this way to verify focus, in very low light, in the theatre, and I can tell you that this feature is the bee’s knees, the cat’s pajamas, and eel’s elbows all rolled into one.

So, bottom line: I like the 24mm TS-E a lot. I like it an awful lot. I like it so much that I lust after the NEW 24mm TS-E that Canon have announced, as well as the new 17mmm TS-E. And I continue to lust after the 45mm TS-E and the 90mm TS-E.

3 Responses

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  1. Doug Plummer said, on June 5, 2009 at 5:37 pm

    It sounds like you’re reconciling the craft of large format with the spontaneity of digital work that you’ve been pursuing the last few years. It’s always interesting when the past loops back to the current, and the nice thing about working this for a while is that you increase the likelihood of that happening.

  2. Paul Butzi said, on June 5, 2009 at 9:23 pm

    Doug, it does feel that way. I was surprised at how *familiar* it felt to set the camera, focus, and set the front fall. It’s totally different equipment. The rise/fall knob is fiddly. The viewfinder is squinty. The display on the back of the 5d mk II is small.

    And yet. And yet it still rings the same chime.

    So yeah. If I got some loop back to connect this with all that view camera thing, I’d be happy.

  3. Ed Richards said, on June 6, 2009 at 8:55 pm

    Thanks Paul! For folks who do architecture, that 17mm could be a reason to buy a 5DII, even if still used Nikon for everything else.

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