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Conclusion - Pros

  • Excellent central sharpness even at F3.5
  • Minimal chromatic aberration
  • Almost no visible distortion
  • Extensive and highly flexible perspective control movements
  • Exceptional build quality

Conclusion - Cons

  • Soft corners when shifted (need to stop down to F11 - F16 to achieve best sharpness)
  • Expensive

Overall conclusion

The Canon TS-E 24mm F3.5 L II is a lens which, given its price, has high expectations to meet. The good news is that, in almost all respects, it succeeds - the build quality is exemplary (certainly on a par with the EOS-1 series bodies it's likely to be paired with), and the new, more flexible system of movements works very well indeed. The ability to rotate the tilt axis freely with respect to shift increases the creative possibilities substantially, but despite this additional complexity the layout and operation of controls is still very straightforward and easy to master. With this being a manual focus lens, the operation of the focus ring is especially important; fortunately its long travel and super-smooth, precise operation makes critical focusing a breeze.

Optically the lens is, on the whole, superb - indeed our tests show it to be possibly the best 24mm Canon has yet produced, certainly superior to the EF 16-35mm F2.8 L II (which isn't at all bad at 24mm), and on balance arguably better even than the EF 24mm F1.4L II due to its lower chromatic aberration. In the centred (i.e. unshifted) position it's exceptionally sharp wide open at F3.5, and there's effectively no distortion or chromatic aberration. Move to the extremes of shift, and those latter two highly desirable characteristics remain - if your specialty is architectural photography, this lens will draw straight lines pretty well perfectly no matter what position it's in, and color fringing will be very low even in the corners of the frame.

But there is of course one optical weakness, and that is the lens's softness towards the edge of the frame when used at extreme shift positions. Our tests show that this is just as noticeable in real life as in the studio, but as always with such issues, it needs to be placed in proper context. It's important to appreciate that not only is it simply not necessary to shift the lens fully much of the time, but also that shooting at apertures around F8 - F16 for depth of field is par for the course with this lens anyway. Also, as we've shown, despite this corner softness the lens still produces better results overall when shifted than using software to correct for perspective distortion after the event. So while there's no denying the issue exists, its real-world impact will for many users be less than the graphs might suggest - indeed most of the images we shot in anger during the course of this review turned out perfectly sharp corner-to-corner.

Of course for many users the big choice to be made will be between this lens and the TS-E 17mm F4L which Canon introduced at the same time. We aim to review the 17mm fully in the near future, but it seems fair to suggest that the focal length (rather than the optical performance) should be the deciding factor. The 24mm lens is ideal for wide angle architectural and landscape photography on full frame cameras, but is less compelling for these uses when paired with APS-H or APS-C cameras, on which it gives 31mm and 38mm equivalent angles of view respectively. For these cameras, the 17mm is likely a more versatile option. (Of course for users who don't need the tilt and shift capabilities, the EF 24mm F1.4 L II would probably be the ideal choice.)

So in the end we have a unique lens, which has capabilities beyond anything else currently on the market (Nikon's PC-E 24mm F3.5D ED comes close, but has the tilt axis fixed with respect to shift). It's certainly an improvement on its predecessor, with better optics (especially in terms of chromatic aberration), improved build, and of course more flexible movements. Against this is the high price, which is almost twice that of the older lens; but to be fair, it's only about 10% higher than the Nikon equivalent, and certain to drop once stocks of the older lens have sold out. But for Canon users who need the capabilities of a tilt and shift lens, and understand how to make the most of them, this lens will almost certainly not disappoint.

Detail

Rating (out of 10)

Build quality 9.0
Ergonomics & handling 8.5
Features 8.5
Image quality 9.0
Value 8.0

Highly Recommended

Highly Recommended

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Samples Gallery

There are 24 images in the samples gallery. Please do not reproduce any of these images on a website or any newsletter / magazine without prior permission (see our copyright page). We make the originals available for private users to download to their own machines for personal examination or printing (in conjunction with this review), we do so in good faith, please don't abuse it.

Unless otherwise noted images taken with no particular settings at full resolution. To provide the fairest impression of the lens itself, images are shot in RAW and converted using Adobe Camera Raw at default settings (to bypass the test cameras' automatic JPEG chromatic aberration correction). A reduced size image (within 1024 x 1024 bounds) is provided to be more easily viewed in your browser. As always the original untouched image is available by clicking on this reduced image.

Canon TS-E 24mm F3.5 L II Review samples

24 images • Posted 16th July 2009 • View album
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