In September, I (Pak) took a road trip with my family to Washington DC. On this trip, I had the chance to try out a rented Canon TS-E 17mm f/4 tilt-shift lens for architectural photography. Using a tilt-shift lens was on my photography bucket list so I was very excited to be able to finally try this lens out.
During the first two days of having this lens (before arriving at DC), I can truly say that I absolutely hated it while practicing with it. I found the operation of the knobs to be a clunky operation. The knobs on the rented lens were very stiff and hard to rotate, which didn’t help. However, once I got the hang of it, I quickly grew to enjoy using it.
My wife and I have three young children so getting personal photography time was not so easy. In the three day road trip, I only got to do my own stuff one morning. I woke up at 4AM and trekked by foot from my hotel towards the Washington and Lincoln Memorials for some early-morning photography.
(The left image below was taken with the 17mm TS-E at about 5:30AM while the grass was still wet)
Using the tilt-shift lens properly requires patience and lots of preparation. All focusing is done manually (it is, after all, a manual focus only lens). My camera was mounted onto a ballhead attached to my tripod. I started off by using a bubble level mounted in the hot-shoe of my camera and adjusting the ballhead until the camera was level. Metering was done manually before the lens was shifted. After that, I switched to live view mode and zoomed in 10x to make sure the manual focusing was accurate. Once focus was acquired, I would then shift the lens appropriately until the vertical lines looked vertical in the LCD and rechecked the focus. Finally, I would snap the shot and check the image in the back of the camera to make sure exposure and focus were perfect. I would do this for each and every shot, especially if I changed camera position.
In the photo above (of the Lincoln Memorial), my own shadow is the middle one in the cluster of 3 shadows under Lincoln. The two shadows on the left provide a sense of scale for the pillars and the room itself. Of the handful of “serious shots” I took on my trip, I think the one above is my favorite.
In addition to messing around with the TS-E lens, I also took photos with a 70-200 f/2.8L IS II lens on my 5D Mark III. I have to say in all my travels, I have yet to encounter such a fiery sky. The following shots of the Washington Memorial with the Capitol Building behind were taken as the sun was rising and putting brilliant color into the cloud cover.
Below are a few more images of Lincoln Memorial below taken with the 70-200 zoom and a final hand-held shot in the National Museum of History taken with the 17mm TS-E lens (just using it as a wide angle lens and not utilizing the tilt-shift functionality).
I was pleased to be able to check off the tilt-shift curiosity from my bucket list. Would I buy this lens? To be honest, after trying it out during my trip, I would not. I don’t do all that much architectural photography so it would be hard to justify spending over $2,200 on it. The lens does produce beautifully sharp photos with great color and contrast but is also a bit cumbersome to use. Additionally, the 17mm TS-E takes up a lot of space in the camera bag. Though I will miss the perspective correction capabilities from having such a lens (as you can see in the next image, taken with a 35L, where vertical line convergence is noticeable).
Overall, the chance to photograph these national landmarks with such a unique lens was a special opportunity worth the early wake-up call and the long walk.