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Canon TS-E 50mm f/2.8L Macro Review

John Riley reviews the new full-frame Canon TS-E 50mm f/2.8L Macro tilt-shift lens for Canon DSLRs.

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Handling and Features
Canon TS-E 50mm f/2.8L Macro Review: Canon Ts E 50mm F2,8l On 5dsr Front Oblique View

Take a 50mm f/2.8 full frame standard lens, make it a macro that focuses down to half life size and then give it tilt and shift capability and you have this chunky, impressive looking new optic from Canon. The exciting potential of this is far-reaching, so let's have a close look at its performance and especially at its versatility in the field.

Canon TS-E 50mm f/2.8L Macro Handling and Features

Canon TS-E 50mm f/2.8L Macro Review: Canon Ts E 50mm F2,8l On 5dsr Front Oblique View With Hood

Taking our tour of the lens from the front, a wide, round lens hood bayonets cleanly into place. It is retained by a locking catch which holds the hood securely in place. There is a standard filter thread taking 77mm filters. The lens does not rotate during focusing, so the use of polarising filters is facilitated.

Behind this is the well ribbed, rubberised manual focusing ring, and the lens is, in fact, manual focus only. The action is silky smooth though and the image snaps in and out of focus easily, especially when using a magnified live view. The distance scale is marked in feet and metres, although the figures are very small and some may have difficulty deciphering them. Focusing is down to 27.5cm, or 12.5cm from the front of the lens, which represents a maximum magnification of 1:2 or 0.5x. This is also termed half life-size, and is quite an exciting bonus for a tilt and shift lens.

For those who need a closer focus, extension tube EF12 II enables a magnification of 0.74x – 0.23x. Closer still, extension tube EF25 II gives a magnification range of 1.0x – 0.48x. These tubes are of course optional extras.

Canon TS-E 50mm f/2.8L Macro Review: Canon Ts E 50mm F2,8l Top View

Moving closer to the camera body, we find the tilt mechanism. This is controlled by a large knob on the top of the lens, where we also see clear markers indicating the degree of tilt. The underside of the lens has the locking mechanism so that the tilt is not accidentally engaged. Tilt is available over a range of plus or minus 8.5 degrees.

Next is the shift control, which is found on the side of the lens. On the right is the actual control and indicator scale and on the left the locking mechanism. The action of both tilt and shift is very smooth, giving a very reassuring feel that exudes a sense of quality and precision. The lens can be shifted plus or minus 12mm.

Canon TS-E 50mm f/2.8L Macro Review: Canon Ts E 50mm F2,8l On 5dsr Maximum Tilt Left

Lens construction is 12 elements in 9 groups. The lens diaphragm comprises 9 blades, although there is no control of this on the lens. Aperture settings are controlled by the camera. The latest Canon Subwavelength Structure and Air Sphere coatings are employed.

For a 50mm f/2.8 lens, this all results in a very hefty 945g package, although it does balance very well with the Canon EOS 5DS R used for this review. For use of the tilt-shift mechanisms, it is quite likely that a tripod will be best, and as the lens has manual focus only that also means that focus can be very accurately set. Despite quite a short throw of the focusing ring, finding a precise point of focus is very easy.

Obvious applications are of course architecture and the correction of converging verticals, but equally well everything from landscape to portraiture can benefit. Wider apertures can be used whilst matching the plane of focus to the subject and really the only limitation is our own creative imagination. Being able to apply these movements to macro photography is a very powerful bonus, full of its own possibilities.

Canon TS-E 50mm f/2.8L Macro Review: Canon Ts E 50mm F2,8l Rear Oblique View

Canon TS-E 50mm f/2.8L Macro Performance

Canon promises a high level of sharpness and they deliver. From f/2.8 to f/11, sharpness is excellent both centre and edge. That the coverage is very even across the frame is not so surprising, as the lens is designed with a large image circle to accommodate the tilt and shift movements. The measurements are taken at just one distance but the sharpness also holds well at long range and macro ranges, resulting in satisfyingly crisp images.

f/16 sees very good sharpness both centre and edge and it is only at f/22 that we see diffraction really taking hold, although even here results are still good. f/32 is provided for circumstances where depth of field is a priority, but results are quite soft, especially when compared with the biting sharpness at wider apertures. In one way it might be debatable whether or not very small apertures have much photographic value, but it is good to have the choice.

Canon TS-E 50mm f/2.8L Macro MTF Charts

How to read our MTF charts

The blue column represents readings from the centre of the picture frame at the various apertures and the green is from the edges.

The scale on the left side is an indication of actual image resolution as LW/PH and is described in detail above. The taller the column, the better the lens performance.

For this review, the lens was tested on a Canon EOS 5DS R using Imatest.

CA (Chromatic Aberration) is controlled especially well, with little if any visible colour fringing. Software could be employed to reduce the figures even further, but it is doubtful that this is necessary for most subjects.

Canon TS-E 50mm f/2.8L Macro Chromatic Aberration Charts

How to read our CA charts

Chromatic aberration (CA) is the lens' inability to focus on the sensor or film all colours of visible light at the same point. Severe chromatic aberration gives a noticeable fringing or a halo effect around sharp edges within the picture. It can be cured in software.

Apochromatic lenses have special lens elements (aspheric, extra-low dispersion etc) to minimize the problem, hence they usually cost more.

For this review, the lens was tested on a Canon EOS 5DS R using Imatest.


50mm lenses usually display some barrel distortion, and this lens is no exception, but it does return a very low value of just -0.48%. This is unlikely to be a problem, even for architectural subjects, but again it can be further corrected in software if required.

There is virtually no flare from the lens at all, the whole design of internal baffling and coatings offering a superb performance in this respect.

Another performance bonus is the quality of the out of focus areas, the bokeh of the image. The defocused effects are very smooth and pleasant, and we have an optically very well balanced lens.

Canon TS-E 50mm f/2.8L Macro Sample Photos


Canon TS-E 50mm f/2.8L Macro Aperture range


Value For Money

The Canon TS-E 50mm f/2.8L Macro lens is priced at £2499, a not insubstantial sum of money. An alternative for Canon users is the T-S-E 45mm f/2.8 at £1199, although this is not a macro lens. Likewise the Samyang T-S 24mm f/3.5 ED AS UMC at £699, neither a macro lens nor a focal length close to the Canon 50mm.

For comparison, Nikon users have the 45mm f/2.8D ED PC-E Micro at £1539, with a very similar specification to the Canon 50mm lens.

So, in summary, in terms of VFM probably quite expensive, but also has some unique and very useful features combined in the one lens, along with a standard of performance that cannot really be faulted.

For more options have a look at the Top 15 Best Canon EOS lenses or Top 23 Best 50mm Standard Prime lenses.


Canon TS-E 50mm f/2.8L Macro Verdict

It has bulk, it has the features. It has a high price, it has the features. In other words, another of those situations where the feature set and quality are not in question but the price will limit the market to those who really need this as a working tool. It would be very nice indeed to own, but it does need to pay its way, as well as needing a high degree of photographic skill to get the best out of its potential.

Given the need and the cash, the photographer will certainly not be disappointed in the results from the Canon TS-E 50mm f/2.8L Macro lens.

Canon TS-E 50mm f/2.8L Macro Pros

  • Excellent, even sharpness
  • Low distortion
  • Low CA
  • No flare
  • Smooth bokeh
  • High quality of manufacture
  • Crisp focusing
  • Creative potential

Canon TS-E 50mm f/2.8L Macro Cons

  • High cost
  • Bulk and weight

Overall Verdict

With thanks to CliftonCameras who provided the Canon EOS 5DS R used for testing. 

Canon TS-E 50mm f/2.8L Macro Specifications

Lens Mounts
  • Canon EF
Focal Length50mm
Angle of ViewNo Data
Max Aperturef/2.8
Min Aperturef/32
Filter Size77mm
35mm equivalentNo Data
Internal focusingNo Data
Maximum magnification0.5x
Min Focus27.3cm
Box Contents
Box ContentsTS-E 50mm f/2.8L MACRO, Lens cap E-77 II, Lens Hood ES-84, Lens Case LP1219, Lens Dust Cap E, User manual

View Full Product Details

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derekt Avatar
derekt 15 United Kingdom
15 Nov 2017 11:39AM
Under 'obvious applications' the major one missing is commercial product photography - websites, catalogues etc. This would be an ideal lens
yam_i_yam Avatar
3 Dec 2017 6:10AM
I own the old 90mm Tilt-Shift and the focus is helicoid. I was wondering what type of focusing is with the 50mm and 90mm? Looks like the 135mm is helicoid. From a couple of photos I've seen, it looks like the front group focuses outward similar to say a 24-70 which is supported by a triple cam to stabilize the front group. So my point is that the helicoid focusing is pretty solid and the cam focus can loosen over time and introduce play in the lens group over time. Anyway just curious with your observations. Thank you!

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