Contact us: +44 116 291 9092
Title Image

TS-E 90 review tilt and shift lens

  |   Articles and reviews, Lens, Review, Rumour lens article, Tilt / Shift   |   No comment

Canon 90 mm tilt and shift lens review

The Canon TS-E 90mm lens – why another T/S lens?

Keith wrote a fairly lengthy article about tilt and shift lenses when he obtained the Canon 24mm.

This shorter article shows some of the differences you get (apart from the obvious focal length change) when using the Canon TS-E 90 mm f/2.8.

2018: We’ve Keith’s review of the TS-E90mm F2.8L Macro lens, with a lot of detail about using such lenses. It also contains some direct comparisons with the TS-E90 used in this review.

ts-e90 on 1Ds

A 90mm tilt/shift lens and how to use it

If you are new to tilt and shift lenses, you might want to have a look at the 24mm article first

The 100% crops of images from the 1Ds are not sharpened in this article, but many of the reduced size images have had slight sharpening to bring out detail.

What is a tilt and shift lens?

Canon originally made three EF mount tilt and shift lenses.

Focal lengths of 24mm, 45mm and 90 mm (with a new version of the 24mm and 17mm recently added).

24mm 3.5L TS-E 45mm TSE 90mm
24mm 3.5L TS-E45mm f/2.8 TS-E90mm f/2.8

I use the 24mm extensively for interior photography where the shift function allows for perspective correction, and often gives more usable coverage than my EF 16-35 2.8L lens at 16mm, after using Photoshop to correct geometry.

Although I’ve experimented with the tilt, it’s not a feature I regularly think to use on the 24mm.

I acquired my own lens, second-hand via MPB Photographic in the the UK. It’s worth looking out for bargains, since people buy lenses like this and then, after a while, realise they have an expensive bit of kit sitting round that they hardly use.
USA used – B&H | Adorama

After experimenting with a TS-E90 for some product photography I decided that with this lens it would probably be the tilt that’s most useful — here’s why.

If you’ve tried relatively close-up photography, you’ll know that accurate focusing and control of depth of field is essential. Of course you can stop down to get more DOF, and with the 90mm you can go to f/32.

There is one nasty surprise waiting for DSLR users not used to going to such small apertures – DUST.

Because of the geometry of the filter in front of all digital camera sensors, dust becomes more noticeable as aperture reduces. I’ll show some examples later, but you can rest assured that whatever cleaning technology you are using, f/32 will show up dust.

There is also the ‘diffraction limit’ to resolution that comes in with smaller apertures – on my own 1Ds this only really shows as a slight softening of the image above about f/18. With other sensor designs (smaller pixels) it may be more apparent. Be very aware that this is a subject that generates a lot of heat and not much light on discussion forums – without going into the physics, just accept that the image will get a bit softer :-) However this softness may not be a problem – YMMV

For those of you wanting the figures, here is a more detailed listing of the lens specs.

Angle of view (horzntl, vertl, diagnl) 22°37′, 15°11′, 27° (without tilt or shift)
Lens construction (elements/groups) 6/5
No. of diaphragm blades 8
Min/max aperture f/32 – f/2.8
Closest focusing distance (m) 0.5
Maximum magnification (x) 0.29
Filter diameter (mm) 58
Max. diameter x length (mm) 73.6 x 88
Weight (g) 565
Magnification with Extension Tube EF12 0.43 – 0.14
Magnification with Extension Tube EF25 0.60 – 0.31

tse macro details

Note All Canon EF lens details are listed on our web site

Lens construction and MTF

construction ts_e90_28mtf

A quick guide to MTF charts (which only measure contrast and resolution) > Canon's guide to their MTF charts)
Black lines reflect lens performance at widest aperture.
Blue lines show the performance at f/8
Thick lines indicate lens contrast
Thin lines indicate lens resolution
Dashed lines: Lens performance with meridional lines.
Solid lines: Lens performance with sagittal lines
Closer sagittal and meridional chart lines indicate more 'natural' out of focus areas.
Remember that MTF charts are good for comparing similar lenses, so comparing ones from the 14mm f2.8L and 300mm 2.8L won't tell you much at all, whilst comparing the EF14 2.8L with the EF14 2.8L II will show meaningful differences. Note that other manufacturers may have different ways of displaying such information that may or may not match up with the Canon figures.

Quite a basic lens design, compared to the 2017 TS-E 90

Closer working

As part of my professional work I do product photography, often fairly small items. It’s not the main part of my commercial work but it’s one of those areas where having decent equipment certainly helps.

My desire to check out the TS-E90 came about after photographing some iridescent plastic bottles where a combination of reflective silver labels and a tricky lighting set-up was giving me some difficulties in getting the images I wanted (unfortunately they fall into the client confidential category, so I can’t show the results as examples).

Using the TS-E90

From my work with the 24mm T/S lens I was aware that I could potentially solve some problems with a bit of tilt, but 24mm was far too short a focal length.

Here is an example that shows the benefit of tilt. It’s shot at f/2.8 to get a shallow depth of field, but as you can see, not much of the front of the lens is in focus.

If you mouse over the image you can see the effect of 5 degrees of tilt. There is a slight shift in composition which I’ve allowed for, but shows up as a slight change in the gradation of the background.

Original ImageHover Image

Canon 24-70 2.8L taken at f/2.8 with and without tilt

One thing I noted was that the image shifts as you tilt. You could allow for this by shifting the lens, but the tilt and shift planes are at right angles. There is a simple modification to the lens to align these two planes. Some people suggest doing this as soon as you get the lens – I’m going to wait until I’ve used it a bit more. So far I have not done it on my 24mm, but that lens gets used for completely different work (at the moment).

Note – May 2007 – I’ve subsequently modified the 90mm tilt and shift axis – see the details on shift lens modification for more information and step by step guide.

modifying ts-e90 tilt shift lens

I thought about other ways to show how tilting the plane of focus works with aperture, but in the end some simple examples of a row of coins should illustrate the point.

Here is the setup, showing one of the lighting tables I use for small product work (it has lights under the translucent plastic as well). Note that I’m using the angle finder on the 1Ds for accurate focusing. The lens is tilted about 6 degrees (adjusted by eye rather than calculated)

In fact, the whole subject of focussing when using tilt is rather complicated. There is no real substitute for lots of experimentation. I wrote a basic guide to using tilt which covers focusing.

If you use extension tubes for macro work then it can get very difficult to work out and I’ve used an iterative approach such as described in my article about focusing the tilted lens

Canon 1Ds product photography set up using tilt lens

Test setup

The photo below was taken at f/8. If you mouse over the image it shows the effect of tilting the lens.

Original ImageHover Image

Cropped detail from test shot

Here is a 100% crop to give an idea of the image quality (lens tilted). The inset shows the full frame.

coin detail 90mm ts lens

Given the difficulty (I’d say futility) of making realistic comparisons between images on the web (JPEG compression, colour management etc.) I’m not going to post a whole load of 100% crops from different lenses. I’ll just say that at f/8 to f/18 the images were sharper than any of my normal lenses (L zooms) and seemed to have better contrast as well.

Since I have only marginal interest in MTF figures and all that stuff ;-) I’m happy to say it’s a damn fine lens.

For those of you who like to pore over lens test charts, I’ll try and dig out a link for the resources bit at the end of the article ;-)

At f/32 and some tilt, this full frame shows an impressive depth of field

f32 and full tilt

However a quick levels adjustment shows on this 100% crop, how much dust lives on the surface of even a fairly clean sensor

Dust – some of it was probably on the surface, but quite a bit is on the sensor. I live in the real world – dust just is…

Fortunately much of this stuff is invisible at f/11 and in many real world images, even at f/32

It’s still less than I found on a negative I had to scan recently … film – no thanks :-)

Here’s one more example taken recently with an extension tube and a small amount of tilt. The flowers are ~5mm long

small flowers

Flowers in my conservatory.

The tubes give a useful increase in magnification.

The example here is from my 2017 article all about using tilt and tubes with TS-E lenses

tubes and 90mm lens

Remember though that effective ‘f number’ rises with increased use of tubes.

tilt and tubes


Some observations

90mm lens tiltedSuperb bit of non ‘L’ glass from Canon. Excellent for product photography and where you want to play with depth of field.

The 90mm focal length and 50cm minimum focus distance gives a useful magnification of .29x (that means the image size on the sensor is 0.29 times its real size)

Higher magnification can be achieved by using extension tubes.

The Canon 12mm Extension tube allows magnification of .43x and the Canon 25mm Extension tube allows magnification of .6x

I took some examples of buildings using shift, but they just don’t show up that much effect for images the size that are on this page

Buying a TS-E lens

We make a specific point of not selling hardware, but if you found the review of help, please consider buying a lens, or any other items at all, via our link with Amazon/B&H
Amazon UK link / Amazon Fr / Amazon De
Amazon USA link / Amazon Canada link

It won’t cost any more (nor less we’re afraid) but will contribute towards the running costs of our site

or, if you’d prefer, you can look at:

I’d welcome any comments or examples (I’ll link to them) from users of the TS-E 90 if they have any shots that really show it at it’s best…

Being quite a bit longer focal length than the 24mm, the depth of field effects are more noticeable, but as an artistic tool I’d advise anyone to go out and play with it, to get some of that ‘new toy’ feeling cleared up.

I’ve found that any new lens promotes a burst of ‘creativity’ that may or may not pass the test of time – generally, I’d rather do this in my own time than when working for a client :-)

Extreme tilt can have interesting effects, but interesting is not always best for a subject ;-)

It’s also quite a nice lens for portrait work, although I have admit I prefer my 70-200 2.8L with its image stabilisation and excellent out of focus softness (bokeh) for hand held shots (I don’t do studio portrait work or -anything- connected with weddings :-)

Updates 2018: new reviews

Is the original TS-E90 still a useful lens?

After testing and comparing with the new TS-E90, it all depends on what you want to do with the lens.

For manual focus with the viewfinder, the old lens (top) is distinctly easier to use,with its larger focus throw.

focus distance

The old lens fits the Canon MT-24EX flash unit too.


In some areas the new lens is indeed 25 years ahead, but at smaller apertures and with tubes, I’ll still be using my original. Well worth considering if you find a used one in good condition at a good price.

Never miss a new article or review - Sign up for our Newsletter (2-4 a month max.)

Enjoyed this article?

More lens use related articles

All articles and reviews are listed on our main Articles and Reviews page, or use the search box at the top of any page. Experimental items, hacks and how-to articles are all listed in the Photo-hacks category.
Some articles that may be of interest:  

More of Keith's articles/reviews (Google's picks to match this page)


No Comments

Post A Comment