FOCUS ON: TS-E 90mm f/2.8

March 11, 2011

Are great images a product of the photographer, or their camera equipment? This series (formerly known as "Lens of the Month") explores the idea that it's BOTH: Featuring a professional photographer and a single Canon lens, the Canon Digital Learning Center focuses on the relationship that artists can have with their gear.

Canon Digital Learning Center (CDLC): What type of photography do you do, professionally? What field(s) do you prefer, for your personal projects/ as a hobby?

Jeff Dow (JD): Any project that gives me an opportunity to exercise my photographic expertise and service my clients with thoughtful, emotional, storytelling images I truly enjoy. However, I do shoot studio product photography on occasion but I’m mostly called upon to shoot people and concepts for advertising and ad campaigns. I was recently involved in a project for Airstream and KOA, the editorial images were published in Time magazine. I love a good concept, a good cause, and I very much enjoy the clients I serve. Photography is a wonderfully interesting collaboration of creative people. Personally, apart from serving my clients, I enjoy traveling to new places and getting lost Morein the culture of people and places. Traveling with my family is what I prefer to do all the time. Without their companionship it just feels a bit too much like work. I am very passionate about my work, but apart from work my photography is very much a part of my soul.

CDLC: What are the most important features you need in the lenses you use professionally? What about for personal work? Is there a difference?

JD: I very much prefer the TS-E line of Canon lenses, the tilt-shift feature provides me with the opportunity to focus selectively, which is so important when trying to convey a message to the viewing audience. By directing the eye and focusing on the message, your story is made more clear. “Focus on the good” its kind of like life, there is good and bad in this world and I prefer to focus on the good. Whatever is good, whatever is pure, and whatever is honorable, focus on these things. A lot of scenes will have a primary and a secondary message. With the line of Canon TS-E lenses is it possible to move your plane of focus wherever you want. With a standard lens you can think of your “plane of focus” as a vertical wall that moves forward and backward as you move your focus ring. However with the Canon TS-E lenses you can think of your plane of focus like a piece of paper that you can move around you can tilt it backward and forward and you can swing it left and right like a double swing door. Whatever intersects your plane of focus will be in focus and the other parts of the screen will be un-sharp. This effect of shallow focus is maximized at low aperture just like a standard lens.

CDLC: What is your favorite Canon lens, and why?

JD: Some people have asked me what my favorite Canon lens is and that is somewhat a difficult question. It’s like asking someone, “What’s your favorite color?” Well I like the color red for a sports car but I don’t like the color red for my house. I can say however that I love the entire line of TS-E lenses: The 90mm, the 45mm, and the 24mm -- and new on the horizon is the TS-E 17mm f/4L! When the lenses are set in the neutral position they react like a standard lens so for good ol’ clean sharp images they work great. Over the past five years or so I have used the TS-E line of lenses in about 90% of my photography. I use selective focus in most of my images and it has become my style. It kind of just happened along the way. Instead of coming up with a style and looking for equipment to pull it off, I in turn used the personality of the TS-E lens to “create” my style.

CDLC: What types of assignments do you think this lens will really excel at, and why?

JD: The lens that I would like to specifically speak about is the Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8. This is a semi true-photo lens and is great for people and creative portraits. Also, its long focal length inherently gives it a very shallow depth of field. And when the lens is tilted the depth of field is very shallow. This lens also stops down to an incredible f/2.8, which is pretty remarkable for a 90mm lens. This is great for low light situations. The 90mm also has the greatest magnification of all the TS-E lenses: Close-up and macro work is possible. As you know with macro work the depth of field is very shallow. But with the tilt feature you can select your plane of focus. Yes, your plane of focus will still be shallow, but you can still “choose” your plane. For instance, if you’re shooting a frog you can choose to focus on the eyes and nose, or you can choose to focus on one eye and the back foot. Again it’s you image it’s your story. What do you want to say with your image?

CDLC: What, if any, challenges did you experience working with the lens?

JD: I recently purchased the Canon EOS 5D Mark II and produced a TV spot for Wells Fargo Bank in San Diego. I was exploring the macro capabilities of the TS-E 90mm f/2.8 while recording and I discovered not a challenge, but instead a very interesting bi-product of using the tilt feature while racking the focus: When the tilt feature is un-tilted and you move your focus while recording the image coming through the lens shifts from side to side or top to bottom at the same time and at the same speed as the focus. The result is like a very controlled dolly move at macro close up distance, very cool.

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