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Canon 17mm F4L TS-E Lens

I had a brief opportunity to test the Canon 17mm tilt/shift lens yesterday afternoon and, in poor weather, opted to visit the Glasgow University cloisters to carry out a “real-life” trial.

The cloisters offer an enclosed space out of the rain, which protects the large front lens element, and a beautiful grid of columns  and paving to check out the distortion and edge-to-edge sharpness of the lens. The lens was trialled on a Canon EOS  5D MkIII at 100 Iso and at apertures of f8, f16 and f22 (continued below).

Canon EOS 5DMkIII & 17mm f4L TS-E Lens. f16, ISO100

Canon EOS 5DMkIII & 17mm f4L TS-E Lens. f16, ISO100

The first thing to notice (apart from the weight of the lens and the size of the front element) is that this lens really slows you down. As well as having to get the framing spot on, the lens has two axial adjustments; the front half of the lens, which includes the tilt mechanism, rotates through 90 degrees, so that the tilt can be adjusted horizontally or vertically (and anywhere in between). Similarly, the rear part of the lens , which includes the shift mechanism, also rotates through 90 degrees so that the shift can be adjusted both horizontally and vertically. It’s not rocket science but when you set the camera and lens up, properly framed, you then have to work out how both sections of the lens should be rotated to ensure you get the tilt and shift adjustments you have in mind. You also have to bear in mind that the initial framing should allow for any T/S adjustments you are going to make. All of this means a littler bit of trial and error, although I suspect the more you use the lens the easier and more intuitive this becomes. I certainly hope so, because the lens could otherwise become a bit of a mixed blessing in rapidly changing light.

Put simply, the shift mechanism slide the lens on the shift axis whilst keeping the plane of focus parallel to the sensor. This works by unlocking the mechanism and turning a small knurled wheel on the side of the lens to shift the lens. This effectively moves the image up and down or side-to-side on the sensor and allows the photographer to, for instance, keep the camera horizontal to ensure straight verticals but include higher parts of a building. In this example you would lose some of the foreground (the field of view remains unchanged). The shift would also allow the photographer to get parts of a subject in where tight space would normally restrict access to raise the camera or move it from side to side. All in all a fairly simple concept that works really well and is very intuitive.

The tilt mechanism is equally simple to operate and seems fairly straight-forward in concept too. A second adjustment wheel on the lens barrel tilts the front element of the lens, tilting the view along the plane of adjustment. As an example, in the building example given above, if you had to tilt the camera to include the top of a building, you can use the lens tilt mechanism to adjust the converging verticals back to parallel . However, the mechanism tilts the plane of focus away from the plane of the sensor and, because of this, focussing becomes very critical and it is important that all four corners of an image are checked for sharpness before packing up and going home. Clearly, with a 17mm lens at f16, the hyperfocal distance generally compensates for any focussing shortfall, but I find it’s always best to be sure.

The tilt mechanism can also be utilised to extend the depth of field. For example,  by tilting the lens downwards in landscape photography the plane of focus becomes closer to the plane of the ground and, by setting the hyperfocal distance of the lens, the photographer can achieve in the order of 35cm to infinity in focus at f16. It can also be used to narrow the depth of field; by tilting the lens to its maximum and opening the aperture up you can achieve, for example, that “toy-town” effect so often seen on the internet these days.

In use the lens shows minimal distortion (I can’t really detect any distortion in the photographs taken yesterday, although you may be able to pick a little up on a chart). Central sharpness is exceptional at f8 although there is some drop off at the edges. At f16 the lens is probably a touch softer at the centre but is much more consistent across the frame, whereas at f22 diffraction begins to rear its ugly head and starts to soften the image.

Vignetting is well controlled as is chromatic aberration, with only a little of the latter visible at bright/dark edges at f16. This is very easily corrected in post processing.

So, this specialist lens is optically superb and has many uses. Even though it is slow to use, many people would argue that that’s probably a good thing. Just be aware of the potential limitations in rapidly changing light; have the camera set up and the view framed before the anticipated and spectacular sunset begins!

As for me, I’d love one and this is another lens to add to the “wanted list”.

Of Harsh Light, Deep Shadows and Limited Time

I was lucky enough to visit Aberdeen last weekend on business and had a bit of time on the Friday afternoon for photography along the coastline to the south of Stonehaven. It was one of those glorious winter afternoons that was cold, crisp and clear-as-a-bell. A lovely day to be out but a frustrating one for photography.

The weather was not too much of a burden at my first stop off at Johnshaven; a lovely little fishing village that clearly majors on lobster and crab fishing, judging by the number of lobster pots  stacked around the compact and picturesque harbour. Both the setting and the weather allowed me to make some postcard style images. nothing atmospheric but pretty enough with the right composition.

Aberdeen (1 of 4)

Aberdeen (2 of 4)

The second stop, at a place called Crawton, was more of an issue. The sun was dropping now and this caused deep shadows that sliced across the waterfall that plunges over the conglomerate cliffs here. I took the photos but there was nothing to be done other than plan a visit either at dawn or on a cloudy day. I did manage one image here; looking through a (probable) window hole in the remaining gable of an old cottage to the cliffs across the bay. Maybe a bit of a marmite image, but I like it.

Aberdeen (3 of 4)

My final stop was at Dunottar Castle, which must be one of the most photographed locations in the UK. The castle is in a truly spectacular setting on a promontory on the coast at the end of a deep gorge that runs out to the shore. The spectacle makes it very difficult (impossible?) to find an original viewpoint and I’m sure future archaeologists will be able to pinpoint the viewpoints by the identification of tripod  footholes at various locations around the castle. This factor, the harsh light, deep shadows and approaching sunset made for a bit of a mad-scramble to find something that worked. I think I succeeded, but, again, this is a location I must return to when I have more time to scope out the location and plan the shot.


Aberdeen (4 of 4)

Until next time.

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Welcome to Alexander Fraser Photography

Versatile and hard working – that’s me!

Well, here we go. After some time in the planning welcome to my new website and my new photography business, Alexander Fraser Photography.

The business has been set up to make use of the 30+years experience I have in photography, photographing everything from mineral specimens and insects to buildings and landscapes and all subjects in between. You see, I graduated as a geologist in 1981 and took up photography to illustrate my thesis, which included geologically important landscapes as well as macro and micro photographs of mineral and rock specimens. It was a steep learning curve but both the aesthetic and scientific elements of photography hooked me and I was quickly taking photographs for personal satisfaction and to catalogue my own mineral and rock collection. My camera went everywhere with me and I would try my hand at anything, including portraiture, wildlife, sport and buildings.

It wasn’t long before I became the “official” photographer at family events and I covered weddings, on a casual basis, for some friends as the years went by. As far as commercial photography was concerned I was asked by some of my previous employers to provide photographs of staff members as well as construction projects, both in progress and on completion. I built up a pretty impressive portfolio in this way, photographing anything from the interiors of churches to huge cement silos that were used to load railway wagons. Unfortunately, those photographs are in the archives of my previous employers and my digital back-catalogue isn’t as extensive as I would like to start off the new business.

I now use high quality digital equipment and the speed and versatility of digital has opened up new avenues of creativity that simply weren’t available with film. I can also honestly say that with the best equipment the quality now also surpasses what could be achieved with 35 mm film stock and all available at a much reduced time scale and cost. Mastering digital imaging is about much more than pressing the shutter button, however, as a working knowledge of digital imaging software is also necessary to get the best out of a photograph, both in terms of quality and in realising the client’s requirements for creative vision. To that end I have spent many hours working on and learning Photoshop and Lightroom and recently completed a Photoshop course at the City of Glasgow College. I do all editing on a colour calibrated monitor, preferring to handle this work myself to ensure complete control of the creative process.

You can check out my more creative work at my personal website,  TwoPeople Photography. This contains mainly landscapes and wildlife images and it should give you an idea of my personal vision. I hope you like what you see at TwoPeople and on the Galleries on this website.

‘Til next time


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