Tilt-shift lenses for church architecture (Dennis Aubrey)

For an update on this post, see this more complete analysis of architectural lenses.

While the subject of tilt-shift lenses for architectural photography is well-covered, I thought it would be interesting to demonstrate the performance of the Canon lenses for purposes of the photography of religious spaces.

In the past, I have shot mostly with the Canon TS-E 24mm f3.5L, introduced in 1991, which was recently replaced with the S-E 24mm f/3.5L II. Canon claims that the new version of the 24mm has reduced chromatic aberration and lower distortion when shooting buildings.

In the past, perhaps 85% of my shots were taken with the 24mm tilt-shift. The following tests were conducted in Boston to test the new TS-E 17mm f/4L from Canon.

The 17mm test shots were taken in Boston at Trinity Church and Old South Church, both significant religious structures. Trinity Church was designed by the famous American architect Henry Hobson Richardson and established his reputation when consecrated in 1877. It is the birthplace and archetype of what came to be known as “Richardsonian Romanesque”. It is certainly worth a visit and features wonderful stained glass from Edward Burne-Jones (actually executed by William Morris) and John La Farge. Here is a shot of Trinity Church in Boston, a vertical format, shot in the early morning.

This first shot gives a great sense of the scope of the 17mm tilt-shift lens. Click on the image to see a larger version.

Nave of Trinity Church, Boston Photograph copyright Dennis Aubrey (All Rights Reserved)

For obvious reason, the 17mm tilt-shift is a valuable addition for interior shots of large spaces. The manual focus lens is wonderfully sharp as well, and as advertised by Canon, the chromatic aberration is significantly reduced, almost non-existent in my tests.

As a point of comparison, here is what a conventional 17mm shot looks like without the shift function to correct for vertical perspective distortion.

Apse of Basilique Sainte Madeleine, Vézelay (Yonne) Photograph copyright PJ McKey (All Rights Reserved)

Just down the street from Trinity is Old South Church, less well-known but a very lovely structure. Constructed at the same time as Trinity, it was designed in the Gothic Revival style by Charles Amos Cummings and Willard T. Sears and was completed in 1873. It must have been very impressive to see these two structures simultaneously under construction on Copley Square, one as Gothic revival and the other as Romanesque!

Nave of Old South Church, Boston Photograph copyright Dennis Aubrey (All Rights Reserved)

Compare the scope of this 17mm lens with that of a shot of Trinity shot with the 24mm lens. The difference is stunning.

Wide shot of the nave of Trinity Church, Boston Photograph copyright Dennis Aubrey (All Rights Reserved)

In this next shot, the test was combining the vertical shift to correct for perspective distortion with a horizontal tilt to keep both the near and far elements in focus on the plane of the pews. You can see how the distant part of the left side of the shot is out of focus but the right side is in focus. It was an interesting experiment and it came out wonderfully in black and white.

Pew in Old South Church, Boston Photograph copyright Dennis Aubrey (All Rights Reserved)

From my perspective, this is an amazing lens. As much as I loved the old 24mm ts, this lens is far superior. I’ll be shooting 85% of my future shots with the Canon TS-E 17mm f/4L.

6 thoughts on “Tilt-shift lenses for church architecture (Dennis Aubrey)

  1. Thanks for this primer on TS lenses, particularly how they apply to churches. I’m in the market for a new lens, although one of these is a bit out of my price range for the moment.

    1. Allie, if you are seriously interested in a tilt-shift, you might check with Adorama or B&H in New York for a used 24mm tilt-shift lens, especially the first version. They do a great job refurbishing them.

  2. I wish I could rent this lens, the 17mm. I wonder why they don’t have it where I rent from? Have you tried the 24mm II lens? It’s nice because you can rotate the lens between vertical and horizontal without moving the camera or tripod. I am just catching up on these posts, so I am a little behind here, and you may have written about it. At any rate, these are all great shots

    1. Lisa, you can get it at BorrowLenses. The 24mm was always able to rotate between the horizontal and vertical, but it could not do both the tilt and shift at the same time. But the greatest improvement in the 24 was the chromatic aberration. Just about disappears in Version 2.

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