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TS-E45mm F2.8 lens review

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Canon TS-E45mm F2.8 lens review

45mm tilt/shift lens


The Canon TS-E 45mm f/2.8 lens is one of Canon’s original tilt/shift (TS-E) lenses and dates from 1991

Keith has been trying out the lens on his EOS 5Ds 50MP DSLR.

The review explores the image quality of the 45mm and looks at some of the uses for such a lens, making use of the tilt and shift to obtain images you can’t easily get in other ways. Several of the images are of locations and subjects also shown in the TS-E50mm review, the lens that replaced the 45mm in 2017.

The TS-E45 is still widely available at much less cost than the TS-E50mm – should you get one?

If you are new to tilt/shift lenses Keith has written numerous articles and reviews. A good place to start is ‘What tilt/shift lenses do‘ with more about tilt in ‘Focusing the tilt/shift lens

Canon TS-E 45m F2.8

Buying a TS-E45
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Canon TS-E45mm F2.8

The TS-E45mm F2.8 is one of Canon’s three original tilt/shift lenses (24/45/90mm) dating from 1991.

I’m testing this one on my 50MP Canon  5Ds.

The lens can be shifted by ±11mm and tilted ±8º

ts-e45 on 5Ds

In the photo above (click to enlarge) you can see the lens shifted leftwards by the full 11mm and tilted upwards by the maximum (slightly over 8º)

Looking at the lens mount you can see how the mount shifts with respect to the optics.

shift mechanism

Applying full tilt, you can see how the tilt mechanism is in front of the shift mechanism.

tilt mechanism

You can also see how the tilt mechanism is set at 90º to the shift mechanism.

As an aside, the code UW0304 tells me that this lens was made in March 2008
[Canon lens date codes]

The whole lens can be smoothly rotated up to 180º relative to the mount (30º click stops) to give shift up/down (aka rise/fall) and tilt left/right (aka ‘swing’).

Canon TS-E 45m F2.8

It is possible to have Canon set the lens tilt/shift to the same plane. Alternately, you can do this yourself quite simply.

I modified my own TS-E90mm this way and have an article showing how easy it is.

The original TS-E90mm and 24mm lenses also have this limitation, whilst the new 17mm/24mm mk2/50mm/90mm/135mm all let you smoothly rotate the axes relative to each other by 90º (45º click stops).

Aperture

The lens has an 8 blade aperture

aperture blades

This gives distinct starbursts, such as this view of the sun trough leaves.

sun spikes and lack of flare

Here’s a 100% crop (click to enlarge) that also shows a bit of lens flare (@f/7.1)

sun burst spikes

In general, the lens proved quite resistant to flare, with its lens hood proving useful, even with the lens shifted.

A similar shot but with the lens at full shift, so the sun is now well towards the edge of the image circle.

shifted sun and flare

The diffraction starburst is diminished by a lack of sharpness and the lens’s most unwelcome feature, its chromatic aberration, is quite clear to see.

shifted CA

There are ways round the colour fringing, which I’ll come back to. However, what might have been a minor issue back in the film era, when this lens first came out, is much more noticeable than with either the TS-E24mm or TS-E90mm from the same era.

The lens handles shots into the sun quite well. This is at f/8 and shifted upwards a bit for framing after levelling the camera.

into the sun

A 100% crop showing good detail and spikes from specular reflections of the sun.

sun detail

Vignetting

Lenses vignette for all sorts of reasons, depending on optical design choices and the basic physics behind it.

I’ve used my old transparency light-box to create an even light source, and taken a series of photos at different apertures.

light-box

I’ve taken each shot twice – once with no shift, and once with full shift to one side (up/down shown above).

Here are screen shots of the RAW files viewed in Adobe Bridge (just a quick way of comparing them).

As with many images – click to enlarge or check the gallery at the foot of the article.

The shifted vignetting is quite obvious at wider apertures, but the lens is looking like the fairly good 45mm f/2.8 prime lens it is. (Any posterisation in this first image is likely due to this being a resized screen shot).

vignetting

Now, a version of the image, but with the vignetting intensified and posterised to show it more clearly.

vignetting posterised

Any slight asymmetry in the unshifted images is likely due to my 20 year old lightbox.

Note though, the vignetting on the left side of the shifted images. This is there up to around f/8 and is due to the lens mount. Look at the shifted rear view of the lens earlier, for a big clue as to its cause.

What’s the takeaway from this? If I want to cleanly stitch two images taken at different shift settings, I need to keep the aperture smaller than f/5.6.

I should note that you’ll see similar results in the new TS-E lenses too.

Exposure

With no tilt or shift, the metering of your camera will work fine.

With much shift or tilt, the results are unpredictable, so manual exposure is the way to go.

Barrel distortion

The lens has relatively little geometric distortion and of many images I took with it, not many showed significant bowing of straight lines.

This image is shifted upwards by some 6mm and I’ve drawn a red line to show the curvature.

I say 6mm, but who knows for sure? TS-E lenses have never recorded movements in EXIF data.

food village

Focus

The focus ring has a smooth movement, and ~160º throw.

focus throw

Unlike the TS-E90 and all newer TS-E lenses it has a hard stop at infinity. Other lenses focus slightly ‘beyond’ infinity to allow for changes in the lens focus with temperature, and because focusing ‘beyond infinity’ is a legitimate setting when tilting the lens.

If focusing such lenses is not clear, see my Using tilt on the DSLR article for lots of examples.

The focus scale seems much less condensed at the far end than the TS-E50 for example – enough that Ill say it’s a lot easier to use the lens for manual focus with the viewfinder than the new TS-E lenses (my only significant gripe about them).

Specifications

The lens is a full time manual focus lens with internal (floating) focus, so the front element does not move.

Focal Length & Maximum Aperture 45mm 1:2.8
Diagonal angle of view 51° (without tilt or shift)
Image circle diameter 58.6mm
Lens construction (elements/groups) 10/9
No. of diaphragm blades 8
Minimum aperture 22
Closest focusing distance (m) 0.4
Maximum magnification (x) 0.16
Filter diameter (mm) 72
Max. diameter x length (mm) 81 x 90.1
Weight (g) 645
Magnification – Ext Tube EF12 II 0.44 – 0.27
Magnification – Ext Tube EF25 II Cannot be used

Internal design and MTF chart

ts_e45_f/2.8 block diagramts_e45_28 mtf_chart

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.

Outdoors

The lens isn’t too bulky and the ‘just under’ 50mm focal length gives an easy to use field of view, whilst f/2.8 makes for relatively easy manual focus – on a modern DSLR viewfinder screen.

I’m just heading off from my home to the nearby De Montfort university (DMU) campus, where there is an interesting collection of buildings that I find great for testing lenses, given the significant proportion of architectural work I do. See an article about this on our architecture web site.

Walking down the street, I guess the amount of tilt (leftwards swing in this case) to put the railings in sharp focus (this at f/4).

full tilted lens

Not quite a guess, I’ve my original tilt tables with me (see the foot of the article) which give me a rough idea when I know the distance.

I know from previous experiments that the performance of the lens fully tilted drops of dramatically at f/2.8, so f/4 just makes the sharp areas a bit sharper.

This series of images are all shifted upwards to correct the verticals.

stones

The idea is that you level the camera (I use the Benro GD3WH geared head) and then shift upwards for the view you want.

street-crossing

For web sized shots the chromatic aberration of the lens is almost un-noticeable, but at the full 50MP resolution of the camera, it can be significant – however I’ll come back to fixing it in a bit.

steps

The perspective of the 45mm looks good – if you can stand far enough back.

riverside-1

The relative proportions of the buildings, look just as you’d expect, looking towards the gallery entrance.

striped-lawn

A view back where I’ve just walked.

landscaping

The 45mm gives good closer views too.

south-entrance

Using tilt

Up on the roof of the gallery I’ve two photos – one a straight view of the building facing me and one looking downward at f/2.8 with the lens fully tilted.

building side

This sort of image – the ‘model world’ or ’tilt/shift’ effect is unfortunately all a lot of people know about using such lenses.

dmu model campus 3

Such images can be interesting if you know the location, but to be honest are simply not the sort of thing clients ever ask for.

It’s an effect many rapidly tire of, but doesn’t stop it having regular bouts of popularity – at the moment it seems popular for some video use, but I’m afraid I really don’t much care for it ;-)  YMMV, so do give it a go…

Since people expect such stuff, here’s one looking the other direction…

tit-shift view

A cropped view shows where the plane of focus runs (look at the lamp post).

cropped-model-world

A real use for tilt

A more practical use for tilt (for myself) is the way it lets you run the plane of focus along a wall/floor/ceiling.

Look at the camera position relative to this wall

looking up wall

There’s no way you’ll get the entire view in sharp focus in a single shot.

However look at this photo.

brick wall

A detail of the brick and mortar textures.

brick detail

It’s taken at f/8.

The secret is the ability to tilt the lens downwards.

tilt setup

The tilt runs the focal plane along the wall.

The geared tripod head (GD3WH) makes setting up such shots a lot easier – on a ‘paying job’, I might even have tethered the camera to my MacBook or iPad, to get the composition and focus spot on.

If you’re not sure about this, then do have a look at my focus with tilt article where it’s all explained in a lot more detail (no maths BTW).

This is one of those times where you really can’t fix it in post-production.

Indoors

Whilst it’s tempting to wonder if a bit of tilt would help interior shots, my feelings are that unless you have need for a more extreme effect like the one above with the wall, the best use of such lenses is with shift, to keep verticals straight.

lamps

Running the focal plane along the line of lamps could be used to emphasise them, but at this angle I’m not sure it would make much difference.

A view almost along the line of lamps, with the plane of focus set, might look interesting, but I couldn’t find a light switch.

The two shots below at f/2.8 (with upwards tilt and sideways tilt) show how you can use tilt to isolate elements of groups of people.

lens-tilt

What works is up to you, but once again it strikes me as an effect people could tire of.

lens-swing

The tilt axis does not have to be vertical or horizontal – it just makes the effects here a bit easier to describe.

Fixing chromatic aberration (CA)

All lenses show colour fringing to some extent, although it’s absolutely minuscule on the new TS-E lenses.

Take the photo of the side of the building I showed earlier.

building side

The lens was shifted upwards to push the horizon down, whilst keeping the camera level.

Let’s have a look at the far right of the image, where the CA is quite clear.

edge CA

If the image wasn’t shifted, then the automatic CA correction in ACR or Lightroom would easily clear this up.

You might even find a lens correction profile for the TS-E45 – but these only work with no tilt or shift.

I’ve two approaches to fixing the CA, both rely on telling the CA correction tools the ‘real’ centre of the image.

I can open the RAW file and then expand the canvas size to make the centre of the canvas match up with the centre of the lens image circle.

This is quite easy if I know the camera is level, since it’s the middle of the image at camera height.

expanded canvas

I can either use the lens correction tool, or save the image as a TIFF file and open it in Camera RAW too use the tools there.

Here’s a screen shot after opening in ACR and using the auto correction.

CA auto-fix

Residual colour can be cleared with a slight application of de-fringing.

Stitching images

Where the correction is really helpful is if I take two images with different amounts of shift and stitch them together to make a higher resolution image (~80MP with my camera) and larger field of view.

Processing both images and doing a flat stitch in Photoshop gives me a larger image, but with that CA.

Here are two images stitched together. I’ve then expanded the canvas, to put the mid point of the lens image circle (the middle of an unshifted image) back to the centre.

expanded canvas

Auto correction then works fine – I can then fix any geometry errors that came from my taking the shot hand-held (DxO ViewPoint 3 is my preferred tool).

Two stitched examples after correction.

boat and DMU

With this second shot, you need to be careful over parallax errors, having something relatively close to the lens.

Ideally you would keep the lens still and shift the camera up/down. I can do that for my TS-E24mm F3.5L  II and TS-E17mm F4L using the TSE frame mount.

steps view

So, the lens performs moderately well at a distance – what about up close?

Close-up

The lens is not described as a macro lens (the three new TS-E lenses are).

At its close focus distance it’s magnification is just o.16x.  However you can add an extension tube or auxiliary lens.

This from Canon’s specs for all three of the original 3 TS-E lenses

tse macro info

I’ve a selection of images taken at closest focus, and with a 13mm extension tube.

I’m using the same desktop setup as with the 3 Macro TS-E lenses, where the graph paper is letting me see the focal plane quite easily.

test setup

Here’s a selection of views at the close focus point.

close f/2.8

As you can see, 0.16x magnification is not ‘Macro’

close f/5.6

It’s at about f/11 that you start noting a softening through diffraction, but f/22 isn’t bad.

close f/11

The TS-E 45 only goes to f/22, compared to f/32 on the TS-E50.

Adding tilt to the lens.

tilted f2.8

With a lot of tilt you need to get to f/8 to start getting a sharpish focal plane across the field.

tilted f8

At f/11 the depth of field further away is getting much deeper (the text is one of my printed tilt tables

tilted f11

These three 100% crops are from the centres of the tilted images.

zoom f/2.8

As you can see, the highlights show asymmetrical coloured blobs of distortion.

These clean up progressively as you stop down.

zoom f/8

The best quality is once again around f/8

zoom f/11

Adding a 13mm extension tube brings the close point almost to the 0.5x (1:2) you get with the TS-E50

This overhead view shows how much less the maximum tilt of the image plane is when working close.

ts-e45 and 13mm tube

Remember, the tilt of the lens is not the same as the tilt of the focal plane.

I’m using Kuuvik capture software on my Mac for controlling the camera, since it lets me open up to 3 detailed live-view sub-windows.

This lets me adjust focus and tilt much more accurately (it’s still fiddly though at this magnification).

tilted at f8

Three close-up views – the first is not tilted.

tube f2.8

At f/2.8 the softness of the image is visible even at this size.

You need to get to f/8 to get a good image across the field

tube tilted at f8

F/16 is slightly better at the edges, but the centre is a bit softer.

tube tilted at f/16

So, a lens that you can use quite close if you absolutely needed to.

I should note though that this is not marketed as a macro lens, so don’t complain too much about 1991 lens technology.

Of course, you can put the tilt axis wherever you want, and for closer shots this can make for an interesting way of emphasising elements in product photography.

Take this cup of coffee from my visit to the cafe shown earlier. Where is the plane of sharp focus?

coffee cup slanted tilt

Setting the plane of focus can be tricky – I’ve written more about this in my TS-E135mm review.

Conclusions

In some ways, any review of the TS-E45mm F2.8 is setting things up for failure, after spending time with Canon’s three new TS-E macro lenses.

However, you can get a used TS-E45mm lens for under £700 [MPB – where I got my TS-E90 from several years ago]  so it really does depend on what you want to do with one.

The 45mm is a solidly built lens and I find the 45mm focal length a bit easier to make use of than the 50mm or even the 55mm I’ve got with a M645 medium format lens and shift adapter [MF lenses and shift adapters]

I’ve explored some of the uses for the TS-E45 here (see the TS-E50mm F2.8L Macro review for more) and for the usage it would get, my need to stitch images and correct for CA would make it moderately inconvenient.

However, what about video or shots where you want the plane of focus all over the place? Stop it down a little bit and the 45mm is a very versatile lens. At f/2.8 and much tilt it suffers from appreciable aberrations, so you may find that the detail in detailed parts of your image just isn’t there.

For medium distance product photography, stop the lens down to f/8 and it starts to shine, even with much tilt. It’s never going to match the cleanliness and crispness of the new TS-E lenses, but they cost a lot more.

For landscape shots, the ability to add a bit of shift, will make you wonder how you never noticed those leaning trees before in some shots.

Tilt in landscape photography is often seen as a reason to get such lenses, and a frequent source of disappointment amongst those trying them.

One of the key aspects of learning to use such lenses is developing a sense of the plane of sharp focus in front of you, and how it intersects the scene. In reality it’s a wedge that is thin close to you and thicker further away. Stopping down makes that wedge a lot thicker far away, but not a lot more so close up.

It takes a lot of thinking about your shot to optimise the thin bit of foreground that’s in focus with what’s out there at the wide end.  In many ways, such shots make my photo of the brick wall look easy.

Learning to use such a lens will benefit many aspects of your photography, from manual exposure and focus, to thinking about how the space in front of you is represented in your photos.  An old lens, but still one I’d happily give to someone to explore what they can achieve with it.

Related info

All T/S info is listed in the Tilt-Shift articles category

Tilt tables

These are my original version from ‘Focus with tilt

tilt-table inc 135mm

Metric only

tilt table metric

Gallery

Large versions of some of the images used in this review.

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