Architecture with a Canon 17mm TS-E on an Olympus E-M1

Olympus E-M1 with a Canon 17mm Lens

What?! A Canon review on an Olympus site? Yup. One lens style not available currently in the Olympus line up is a Perspective Control lens. These are sometimes know as shift lenses, or tilt-shift lenses if they move in both ways.

–Tangent for those not familiar with perspective control.–

Basically these lenses allow you to reclaim some movements lost when we moved from bellows style cameras to more modern styles. Cameras such as large format cameras had the lens on one end and film on the other end of a large bellows system. The image circle cast by the lens was larger than what was needed to cover the film surface. (or digital surface nowadays) This allowed you to move the lens in 4 directions, to tilt up and down, swing side to side, and repeat all this for the rear of the camera too. You can combine and adjust in multiple ways. You can read a whole lot about this online. Just look up camera movements and scheimpflug principle. Bottom line is you set the camera at the height or position you want for the perspective you are after. Then you adjust the shift to reclaim the view you would like and tilt or swing to set the angle of the focus plane. This allows you to stay level and capture the top of a building without tilting the camera, or to get deep depth of field along a non-conventional plane or direction. Modern cameras of smaller formats can no longer do this. However…we have tools that let us recapture some of the movements. Shiftable lenses and tech cameras are leading the way for movements nowadays.

–End Tangent!–

Ok so why the Canon 17mm? Well it has an enormous image circle. It allows a 36mm “full frame” sensor to shift its view over 11mm comfortably. That is a massive amount of movement at 17mm. The lens is rectilinear and has very little distortion if any. It is arguably Canon’s best 17mm lens when not shifted. Shifting at the extremes always shows degradation since you are pushing to the edges of the image circle. It is a huge lens, it is heavy, and it is expensive. It is the only one on the market. Currently there are no good native solutions for M43 users when it comes to architecture. I love having camera movements because A. I shoot commercial architectural images for a living…and B. I can make panoramic images even when I don’t have my panoramic tripod gear with me. So I have been carefully trying to examine my options to get movements with my E-M1.

There are several ebay “tilt shift” adapters available. These all adapt lenses with larger image circles onto the Olympus and allow for some movement. Sure it works. Is it good? I’ll let someone else find out. The other real issue is the crop factor. A 2x crop factor when adapting lenses means I don’t have a true wide angle. Generally I shoot with a “24mm” view when dealing with 36mm sensors. Same view I obtain from 12mm on my Olympus. The 12mm F/2.0 is excellent…and the 12-40 Pro is my favorite lens at the moment. It’s 12mm is absolutely outstanding. I want 12mm with the ability to shift. That is what I need. And I need it to be good.

At the end of this post I will list some different options to get a 24mm view with movements across different systems and for different budgets.

There is a company called Metabones. They make a Speedbooster that is basically a reverse teleconverter. It decreases focal length by .7 and opens up the aperture one stop. It also increases the MTF and adjusts for the sensor covering stack so you actually get decent results. This adapter also allows me to adjust the aperture electronically, and autofocus. Nice. The 17mm TSe is manually focus and F/4. Normally adapted this would become a 35mm view. With the speedbooster I get a 24mm view at F/2.8. Nice. The olympus having a smaller sensor also allows full range of the shift without any kind of vignetting or hard cutoffs.

Here is a picture of the front element. It is HUGE. Normal filters, hoods, etc… do not work as usual on this lens! You need to go super big or not bother. Be careful in use as this element is very exposed!

Here you can see the 17mm next to the Olympus 12-40 Pro. Height with the metabones adapter is close. The bulk and weight of the 17mm lens is totally different though. It is a much heftier lens in hand.

See the lens shifted and tilted fully. Not your every day look! This is how the sensor receives a different part of the image circle.

The meatiness adapter has an Arca Swiss foot that is removable. I had to remove it because it would interfere with my L plate. I would also not be able to mount my camera vertically centered on my tripod the way I can with my L plate. Unfortunately this meant I had to use the camera with the very front heavy E-M1. It generally was fine…especially when used with care. If you do choose to try this combination on on a smaller OMD or Pen, I would most certainly recommend removing the L plate and using the adapters area foot.

I made a basic video showing how this lens functions in regards to shift. I wanted to see how well this lens works on an Olympus in terms of its architectural and panoramic ability when using full shifts. So you can check out the following video and then continue reading. (or if you are familiar with camera movements, just keep reading!)

Click on the following images to see them in a gallery. You can click and select your viewing size. I have left them at full size in the gallery. They are level 10 jpg that have been adjusted in lightroom for look. I want to see the quality in a real life scenario.  The bottom right hand below the image has a button to select size.

Let’s start by looking at some panoramas.

  1. This image is Landscape camera orientation with vertical shifts up and down of 12mm.

2. This image is Landscape camera orientation with horizontal shifts left and right of 12mm.

3. This image is Portrait camera orientation with vertical shifts up and down of 12mm.

4. This image is Portrait camera orientation with horizontal shifts left and right of 12mm.

My personal favorite view is #4. This is similar to the view you would get with a potentially wider lens. Maybe a 9mm lens on the olympus. However, because it is stitched from three shots it is almost 30 megapixels. The furthest corners have a little stretching…but if you have used a super wide angle like the 7-14 Pro, 9-18, or anything else wide you know it is a fact of life. Extreme corners on super wides are never perfect.  If you must do the long panoramas like #2 or #3 be mindful of what kind of detail you put at the far sides or corners.  You will get the same perspective distortion as you would with any wide angle.

I like these results. I would love to try these with the Hi-res mode on the E-m5mkII or the new Pen F. You would have some seriously large files with insane detail and perfect stitching.

The following two images are the 17mm being shifted for a typical use application. Tall buildings. The first shot is the camera leveled and facing towards my subject, the white building. The second shot is the result of shifting upwards to ensure correct perspective while obtaining the view I want. I want to see the entire building and a lot less of the floor.

This next image series was taken with the 12-40mm Pro at 12mm. Both lenses were at F/7.1. The first shot is the 12-40mm with the camera tilted to see the top of the building. This results in the same view…but with perspective obviously incorrect. Notice how the building looks like it is leaning. The lines converge inwards. Not a good look!

This is the same image from above with the 12-40 but straightened using the lens tools in Lightroom. Notice the left side street sign. You lose areas to cropping after warping the image straight.

This next image is a JPG straight from the camera using Olympus Keystone correction that is built into the camera. You adjust the perspective using the control wheels and shift the view using the direction pad. You only get a JPG output though.

Very interesting results. My conclusion in this test…the 12-40 is one surprisingly good lens. Even after warping in lightroom, the 12-40 image actually looks better than the 17mm!!! It is sharper, especially up top. I have a feeling this comes down to focus however. This makes me think that the 17mm may have some slight field curvature at its outer most areas. I should have refocused after shifting. If you look at the images, the very top of the building in the 17mm shot falls slightly off focus. This could have also been to a slight shift in the tilt of the lens if it was not locked down well. I did not get results like this in the other shots, so I believe it is due to a small user error, or the possibility of a needing to have refocused after shifting Regardless, getting the image right in camera is the better method. Not all images look right after warping in lightroom for verticals. See the next example.

Here is an example similar to the last where warping just does not achieve the same goal. The 12-40 is up first. Shown is the camera looking up, and then the image straightened in lightroom.

The next two are the 17mm level and then shifted upwards.

You can see how much more of the building we see from the exact same position with the 17mm’s shifted shot versus the warping. If I were going to warp a shot or use keystone correction, I would need to move much further back to ensure room for cropping and still making the view I wanted.

This next shot is the 17mm lens shifted upwards somewhere between 5 and 7mm. A typical architectural capture. Great detail throughout.


Here is a shot of the scene from an elevated viewpoint. The camera was in portrait orientation and shifted up and down 12mm. Makes for a tall panorama. Impressive. The corners are all decent!

Here is a shot showing off the sunstar. This lens makes very strong stars on small points of lights like street lamps when stopped down. This is F/11. Flare is not bad. Well controlled. I edited this shot to be lower contrast with muted colors. I dig the look.

For those of you who watched the video I posted above, here is the final shot I made. Again, a landscape orientation three shot pano with up and down shifts of 12mm.

In conclusion, this set up works. It works well. This gives Olympus shooters a really good wide-angle architectural setup. I did not show off the tilt abilities, as tilt is tilt. I use that very little i my architectural images actually. I find it more useful in product shots. That will wait for another day. You are able to fully utilize all 12mm of shift without adverse quality. The only real downside I see is massive front element if you need to use filters and the front-heavy weight ratio. There are ways to work around and still use the arca-foot with an E-M1. None of them are elegant…but it is a workable solution. The 7-14mm Pro lens might be a decent solution too. If you shoot a bit wider and then correct in lightroom, you can make the same images. I would personally much rather not need to crop and take full advantage of the entire sensor. Not all images look quite right once keystone corrected. If a client was relying on my work to be perfect I would ONLY shift. If I was shooting real estate or for my own personal projects, keystone correction might be ok. Only you can decide.

Again, feel free to open these images up to 100% and decide for yourself. I was happy with the results and feel this is a viable setup, despite the two small quirks.

Now if Olympus would release an insanely good 12mm shift lens with 15mm shift in each direction plus a lens foot so the camera body shifts…not the lens… we would be in shift lens heaven!


Architectural Setup Options

For those of you interested in a camera setup for architecture, i’ve compiled a list of cameras and lens combinations and their cost as of today. Each setup has its benefits and downsides. I have tried to list setups that give the “24mm” view or as close to it. I have also tried to find combinations that can deliver at least a 40mp image. Obviously you can make a cheaper setup with used equipment, or with lesser cameras and lenses. Why 40mp? Because in architectural photography we love the details! And prices listed are in USD and sourced from various major vendors at the time of this writing.

Canon 70D 1000
Canon TS-e 17mm 2149
total 3,149

Cheapest of the bunch. Native lens.

E-M5 mkII 899
Canon 17mm TS-e 2149
Metabones 649 
total 3,697

Solid working setup, Hi-res mode has some limitations. A great setup.

Canon 5Ds R 3599
Canon 24mm TS-e 1899
total 5,498

Stepping up to 36mm sensors. Native mount plus a 24mm lens instead of the 17. Filter price is slightly more reasonable.

E-M5 mkII 899
Canon 17mm 2149
Metabones 649
Cambo Actus 1975
Cambo WA Bellows 315
Cambo EF Mount 1299
total 7,286

I have not tested this setup, but I assume it to work as designed. Note the need for the Canon mount then adapted to M43. This is to get the Speedbooster effect on the lens. In theory we could use an adapted Voigtlander 12mm or a Canon 11mm super wide zoom…but I don’t know how much shift we would have. Regardless, with this you gain front and rear standard movements and a lot more control. Weight distribution is also much better.

Cambo WRS 1250 3665
Schneider 35XL 4885
Cambo Rear Plate 535
One Shot Cable 295
Refurb Digital Back 40mp 7990
total 17,370

This is an excellent setup. You may really need a laptop too depending on the digital back. Sometimes tethered shooting is a must with a tech camera. The sensor in this scenario is also assumed to be at least 49mm. With the cambo you also get a LOT more shift. This has 40mm worth of shift travel compared to only 24mm on a shift lens. Depending on your sensor and lens, this is actually usable shift. It’s amazing. You also get medium format color accuracy and detail. Downside, you need to make Lens Color Cast shots to correct for extreme color shifts due to extreme light angle hitting the sensor when shifted. You have to do this for each shot. Then have Capture One software read those and apply them to your images.

Hasselblad H5D-50 14999
Hasselblad HTS 5705
Hasselblad HCD 24mm 5805
total 26,509

A bit pricier still, but you get a more mobile, flexible setup compared to the tech cams. The H system is great and Phocus software can read the shifts digitally and compensate for them. All your lenses become shift lenses with the HTS add on.

Alpa 12 6890
Rodenstock 35 6225
Alpa Rear Plate 1625
One Shot Cable 295
Digital Back 100mp 43990
total 59,025

The latest and greatest. Not cheap, but I threw this option in just for fun. Same issues with this as the Cambo tech cam. Same benefits as well.

As you can see, none of these are cheap options to just get a camera and one lens for a specific purpose. If you are already invested in a camera system, your journey into camera movements may be cheaper. Obviously adding just a shift lens to your system is the cheapest route. Renting is also a great option and the cheapest way to go.

Tech cams are the most capable and their lenses are unbelievable. The body based cameras are the most flexible. Your needs will really determine how deep you dive into this world. Most people that get into the upper end with large sensors and tech cams are often leasing the equipment. It is much more affordable than buying a digital back outright.

At the end of the day though, if you only occasionally have a need or just dabble…Lightroom, Capture One, and Photoshop all do a respectable job correcting keystoning.

Quite a journey just to keep our perspective right! What do you use for your perspective needs?


4 responses on "Architecture with a Canon 17mm TS-E on an Olympus E-M1"

  1. Hi Tony. Let me point out an error. “meatiness adapter” should have been Metabones adapter.

  2. FYI I believe Kipon makes a tilt shift adapter for m43, costs around $300.

    • Yes there are a couple shift adapters out there. The only catch is the still keep the crop factor of 2x So shooting with a wide angle becomes hard. Most reasonable lenses of 17mm or more become 35mm view. A 14mm lens would be needed just to get to 28mm. Also, many of the adapters I’ve seen only seem to offer about 6-9mm of shift. That’s fine for most situations, but with architecture I often find myself using up to 10mm regularly. And for extreme situations, i’ve used 20mm on a tech cam. Trade offs. If you have used the shift adapters from some one else, ice love to know how they do. Drop me a line if so!

  3. Quite informative! Thank you

    Zuiko Shift 24mm + EOS 1Ds MII (this works best for me so far)
    Zuiko Shift 24mm + OM-D E-M1 (this set-up is just for to get extra megapixels from E-M1)
    Samyang 7.5mm Fisheye + OM-D E-M1 (de-fishing it by software)

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