Review: 90mm F2.8 TS-E lens

For our recent trip to Iceland, we rented a couple of lenses once again – from Their service was excellent, as always. We placed the order a couple of weeks before we left, and the lenses arrived clean and in perfect condition – in plenty of time for us to get them packed up and ready to go. We highly recommend their services – and we know several other photographers who’ve rented from them as well. I haven’t heard any complaints yet! Renting lenses is a great way to get your hands on a lens to try it out before making an expensive purchase.

So, let’s get to it!

A tilt shift lens is a specialty lens that allows the photographer to control perspective without tilting the camera – instead, they can actually tilt the elements within the lens itself. You can also adjust the plane of focus so that everything within the plane is in sharp focus… or so that only a small area is in focus. Here’s a nice little video from Digital Rev TV that gives a really nice, basic overview of what you can do with one of these lenses.

This is a very compact and light-weight lens that comes with an integrated lens hood. It is one of the sharpest prime lenses we have used – it’s beautifully sharp even wide open. The lens is really solid – it’s well built, and made to last… which is pretty important, since it’s selling for about $1300.00. (Yet another reason to rent!)

There’s very little distortion with this lens, and you shouldn’t have problems with flare unless you are shooting directly into the sun. One of the drawbacks of this lens is that the axis of shift and the axis of tilt remained locked with respect to one another….we hope Canon will choose to correct this issue with newer models. And the knobs are also really little! Which makes them a bit difficult to adjust if your fingers aren’t very small.

A T/S lens can be used in variety of creative ways to capture images. Rather than focusing on the technical aspects of how to use the lens, we want to point out some of the creative ways you can use it.

First of all – it can be used just like any other lens… here’s a shot I took using LiveView to manually focus. (It’s important to note that this lens does not have auto-focus capabilities.) Because it’s a compact lens, I was able to sprint a half-mile with my camera and tripod to capture the gorgeous light over the mountains in Iceland.

On of our favorite uses for this lens is in creating panoramas. The process is simple. You set up your first shot as you would normally – and snap a photo. Then, you adjust the lens along it’s shift axis to the left and right to complete the panorama. Here is an example of a panorama series. After the images were captured, we combine them in Photoshop for the finished effect.

Another interesting aspect of the TS lens is it’s ability to isolate a subject by adjusting the plane of focus. The shot you see below shows how tilting the lens axis blurs the area in front of and behind the subject. This is a neat way to isolate a subject within the frame.


This lens is great for photographing small objects – think how cool it would be to shift your plane of focus so that all the petals of the flower you are shooting are within the plane of focus… without shooting the flower from above! We loved it for super-sharp panoramas and isolating subjects within the field of view. We don’t recommend the lens if you don’t feel comfortable with a learning curve. Tilt shift lenses are very different from conventional lenses, and making the most of them requires practice and experimentation! If you are up for a challenge – rent one and see how you like it! I think we’ll rent this one again… it’s entirely too much fun to play with!

TS/E lenses offer an incredible opportunity to explore your creative side. What would you do if you get your hands on one? :)

5 replies
  1. Joe D'silva
    Joe D'silva says:

    Interesting, but isn’t 90mm a bit too long compared to normal ranges of tilt shifts ? though I agree it makes panoramas more “natural” to look at without much distortion. but then you can do the same with a normal lens at the focal length too right ? I mean doesn’t the benefits of tilt shift more prominent at a wide angle range rather ?

    • Varina Patel
      Varina Patel says:

      I agree with you on this one, Joe. Thanks for bringing that up. I see more benefits to choosing a wider TS lens, since distortion is rarely a problem at 90mm. However, keep in mind that the tilt shift lens can be used to enhance distortion as well – so you can create distortion when you want it. The shift function also allows you to shift the angle of the lens to avoid glare off of water, or to shift your view past an object that is in your way – at least in certain situations.

      The tilt function allows you to adjust your plane of focus so that it is not parallel to the sensor plane. That’s something your standard 90mm lens simply can not do.

    • Varina Patel
      Varina Patel says:

      You’re right, Paul. It’s important to maintain your gear over time. Keep them clean, check for loose parts, and have them serviced when they are damaged. They’ll last a lot longer and work better for you as well.

  2. Drew
    Drew says:

    One if the beast uses for this lens is studio/product shots. The tilt is invaluable for getting the whole product in focus even shooting with the camera angled down. Also shift can be used to enable parallel vertical lines when required. This lens focuses quite close as well despite not been a macro lens. This lens is my favourite lens that I own and always take it with me. It should be noted that the user(if you are brave) or canon can enable this lens to shift and tilt in the same plane if required, the standard configuration is tilt and shift working on opposite planes.
    Highly recommended.


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Are you human? *