The Great Tilt-Shift Wars Mk. II

February 03, 2018  •  2 Comments

(C)Jon Chiang Photography 2018

Juggling both the Canon 17mm TS-E on a Sony A7r body with the rest of my Nikon kit tended to be a rather unwieldy affair, so when I had the opportunity to visit Japan's legendary Yodobashi camera store in early January 2018, I popped by to take a look at the price of the Nikon 19mm PC-E lens over there. I shouldn't have done so because with the tourist tax rebate of 8%, coupled with the cash rebate of 5% when buying with Visa cards, the price amounted to about $3.9k Singapore Dollars. That's about $600 less than what the local camera stores are quoting, and almost $900 off the official list price! The temptation proved too much, so I snapped at the opportunity to grab the lens. With Nikon's worldwide service warranty for their lenses, I wouldn't be losing anything in terms of customer support, so it's pretty much a no-brainer decision.

But what about the Canon 17mm TS-E? Well, the Nikon version is proving to be a rather expensive investment despite the discount, and it makes no sense for me to keep the Canon since I could mount the Nikon one natively, rather than use an adapter for the lens on a Sony mirrorless body. I'll definitely be selling it, but not before making some comparisons first. The previous opportunity I had with the Nikon 19mm was too short since it didn't belong to me, but now I have as much time as I want to conduct a more thorough and fair review.

For this review, the Canon was mounted on a Sony A7rii using a Viltrox adapter, while the Nikon is mounted natively on my Nikon D850. Both cameras have about the same number of high-resolving megapixels, so that should narrow down the sensor differences. Also, all the shots were shot on f/11 and at base ISO on a sturdy Really Right Stuff tripod. Since I'm going to be using the lens for architecture and landscape, it makes no sense to shoot wide-open, so I'll compare both lenses at their optimal apertures. The review photos are converted to JPG without any post-processing.

Specifications

  Canon 17mm TS-E Nikon 19mm PC-E
Focal Length 17mm 19mm
Aperture Maximum: f/4
Minimum: f/22
Maximum: f/4
Minimum: f/32
Angle of View 104° 97°
Movements Tilt ± 6.5° 
Shifts ± 12mm 
Tilt ± 7.5° 
Shifts ± 12mm 
Elements/Groups 18 / 12 17 / 13
Aperture Blades 8 9
Minimum Focus Distance 9.84" (25 cm) 9.84" (25 cm)
Ability to tilt/shift on independent axis  Yes Yes
Weight 1.80 lb (820 g) 1.95 lb (885 g)
Price US$2,149.00 (B&H Feb 2018) US$3,396.95 (B&H Feb 2018)

Both seems to be very similar to each other in terms of specs. The Nikon can tilt one degree more than the Canon, and can go up to f/32 (which will be soft due to heavy diffraction at this aperture anyway), while the Canon is obviously wider and has 8 aperture blades instead of 9 like the Nikon. Its 8-bladed aperture produces distinct 8-point starbursts, while the Nikon 9-bladed aperture will produce 18-point starbursts, which are diffused in comparison. This difference is described in my previous comparison here and the comparison further down the article.

Another important thing to note is that unlike the older Nikon tilt-shifts, the 19mm has the ability to tilt and shift independently. This may not seem like much, but it's important because previously you need to send the lens back to the service centre just so that you can tilt and shift on different planes, since both tilt and shift are not independently rotatable like the Canons. 

Ergonomics

Both Canon and Nikon provide locks for the tilt axis, but only Canon has a click-stop and a lock for the lens centre point for its shift axis. Although it's disappointing that Nikon did not include one for their lens at this price range and especially since their older tilt-shifts have this feature, they made up for it by providing their 19mm with a stiff shift knob, which means that the lens should not slide off the shift axis during transportation or when shooting, which can happen with the Canon. Both lenses have click-stops for their rotating axis, as well as the zero point for the tilt axis.

As tilt-shift lenses have to be manual-focus, the throw of the focus ring needs to be well-designed. Nikon achieves this splendidly by providing a stiff but very smooth focus ring with good friction, which is unlikely to be disturbed by movement of the lens. In contrast, the Canon has a focus ring that is too smooth, and you might accidentally disturb the focus when shifting the lens, requiring you to refocus the image again.

Field-of-View

What I enjoy doing with tilt-shift lenses besides their primary use as a physical perspective-correction device (in contrast to correcting in post-processing, which can result in stretched pixels and image quality degradation), is due to their huge image circle, I can produce shift panoramas with them. It's a lot more straightforward to stitch in Photoshop, and you do not need to use a panoramic rail with this technique. Furthermore, Photoshop's automatic stitching function is very advanced these days, so you do not need to use an offset when shifting to stitch. Previously, it meant that you need to apply an offset to the amount of shift you used, in order for the image to stitch properly in post, but this is negated in the latest releases of Photoshop due to its intelligent stitching algorithms.

Shift Panoramas

Making shift panoramas is very simple - shift the lens to its maximum point and rotate it all around its axis, taking a photo for every click-stop during the rotation. This will leave give you twelve photos to stitch in total. This is because, like hours on a clock, the lens will click into place twelve times in total during the rotation. A full shift panorama results in about a 12mm field-of-view for the Nikon, while a 11mm field-of-view can be achieved with the Canon.

Canon 17mm TS-E shift panoramaCanon 17mm TS-E shift panorama

Canon 17mm TS-E shift panorama

Nikon 19mm TS-E shift panorama

Resolving Power

As you can see, the Canon 17mm is quite a bit wider as compared to the Nikon tilt-shift, which makes shooting in enclosed and confined places like this church a tad more convenient. But what about the sharpness?

Crop from top-right corner on the Canon, full shift

(C)Jon Chiang Photography 2018

Crop from top-right corner on the Nikon, full shift

Both lenses resolve details very well at their maximum level of shift, but the Nikon seems to be a hair sharper in the corners.

Centre crop on the Canon

Centre crop on the Nikon

In the centre, the seem to produce similar level of sharpness, although the microcontrast on the Nikon looks to be a little more defined. This can be easily fixed with a bit of structure/clarity post-processing on the Canon.

Flaring during movements

The Canon 17mm TS-E is known to flare especially during shifting; this could be due to either light leaks that happen during lens movements, or because of the huge bulbous front element catching stray light at the sides. Although undesirable, this flare can be resolved by physically shading the lens with your hand, or by stitching a shift panorama. Photoshop is smart enough to omit the flare in the final pano after stitching.

Flare on the Canon 17mm TS-E at full shift

In contrast, the more modern Nano and Flourine coatings on the Nikon seems to eliminate or drastically reduce this issue. This is commendable, especially with the bulbous front element inherent in the designs of such ultrawide tilt-shift lenses.

Nikon 19mm PC-E at full shift

Starbursts

The Canon 17mm TSE with its 8-bladed aperture produces distinct 8-point starbursts at f/11 and above, but for some reason produces a very aesthetically-pleasing, 16-point diffraction pattern at f/8. It's not quite as distinct as the starbursts at f/11, but the soft-looking, 16-point pattern is rather eye-catching, at least to me.

 

Canon 17mm TSE starburst effect at various apertures

The Nikon 19mm PCE has a more typical 18-point starburst with its 9-bladed design. Nikon shooters will find its starburst pattern quite familiar, and perhaps, a little uninteresting. It's also not as distinct as the Canon's especially when your light sources are faint and small.

 

Nikon 19mm PCE starburst effect at various apertures

Vignetting

The Canon 17mm has more distinct vignetting, resulting in stronger darkening of the skies when shifted, as compared to the Nikon. The difference in the angle-of-view can also be seen in this fully-shifted shot of People's Park Centre:

Canon 17mm TS-E full shift

Nikon 19mm PC-E full shift

Here's another sharpness comparison between the two:

Canon 17mm TS-E full shift, cropped

(C)Jon Chiang Photography 2018

Nikon 19mm PC-E full shift, cropped

Another sharpness comparison of a different scene at full shift on the bottom right corner (full scene in sample images):

Canon 17mm TS-E crop

Nikon 19mm PC-E crop

As observed in the earlier comparison images, the Nikon seems to have a hair better sharpness and microcontrast as compared to the Canon.

Bonus - Nikon 14-24mm vs Nikon 19mm PC-E

I also decided to make a comparison between the legendary Nikon 14-24mm lens, a lens that despite its age, still manages to resolve detail extremely well on high-resolution cameras, which is quite a feat considering that it was designed and made in an era where Nikon made 12mp cameras. The Nikon 14-24mm was focused at 19mm to match the field-of-view of the Nikon 19mm PC-E.

(C)Jon Chiang Photography 2018

Full scene - Nikon 19mm PC-E

As expected, both lenses resolves detail impeccably well in the centre of the frame:

(C)Jon Chiang Photography 2018

Nikon 14-24mm, centre crop

(C)Jon Chiang Photography 2018

Nikon 19mm PC-E, centre crop

On the extreme corners of the frame, the Nikon 14-24mm exhibits softness and more pronounced chromatic aberration in contrast to the 19mm PC-E:

(C)Jon Chiang Photography 2018

Nikon 14-24mm @ 19mm, corner crop

(C)Jon Chiang Photography 2018

Nikon 19mm PC-E, corner crop

It should be noted that the chromatic aberration seen in the shot using the Nikon 14-24mm can be easily cleaned up in post, especially with the correct lens profiles. Also, for a wide-angle zoom lens, the sharpness is pretty respectable, especially shown side-by-side with the Nikon 19mm PC-E, a prime lens with a huge image circle, whose use-case calls for extreme sharpness and resolving power even to the corners.

Concluding Notes

While I may miss the extra 2mm the Canon gives me in exchange for using the Nikon on a native system, it's a lot more convenient than to switch between two systems if I want to use a tilt-shift. Furthermore, the Nikon has better flare resistance due to better coatings, and is slightly sharper with less vignetting to boot. However, Canon users should take heart that they still have the advantage in terms of angle-of-view coverage, which makes the Canon a lot more usable in tight spaces, the design objective for such exotic ultrawide tilt-shifts. I'll definitely miss my Canon 17mm TS-E when I sell it, but I look forward to shooting a lot more with the Nikon!

Sample Shots

(C)Jon Chiang Photography 2018

Marina One Interior, Nikon 19mm PC-E

(C)Jon Chiang Photography 2018

Marina One Interior, Nikon 19mm PC-E

(C)Jon Chiang Photography 2018

National Gallery Interior, Nikon 19mm PC-E

(C)Jon Chiang Photography 2018

Tanjong Pagar and Chinatown, Nikon 19mm PC-E shift panorama

Novena Church Interior, Canon 17mm TS-E shift panorama

(C)Jon Chiang Photography 2018

People's Park Centre, Nikon 19mm PC-E

(C)Jon Chiang Photography 2018

Ghim Moh, Nikon 19mm PC-E

(C)Jon Chiang Photography 2018

Ghim Moh, Nikon 19mm PC-E

(C)Jon Chiang Photography 2018

Asakusa Shrine, Nikon 19mm PC-E


Comments

Jon Chiang Photography
Both are really similarly built! Solid, mostly-metal lenses, but with a plastic outer layer for some parts. Can feel the heft for both.
The Hai(non-registered)
Great review Jon. I do feel the Nikon is a tad sharper at the edges and those flare on Canon looks bad.
How are the built quality btw the two?
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