A Quick Lens Test – Canon TS-E 24mm versus Zeiss 21mm

During the November Fire and Ice Tour in 2010, Darren Barclay brought along his Zeiss 21mm f2.8 lens for his Canon camera. Zeiss lenses are legendary and have been touted by many photographers as the best wide angle lenses out there. Of course, I had serious lens lust! The Zeiss 21 mm lens is manual focus  and is available in mounts to fit various brands of cameras. In short, it is a lens that interests any serious landscape shooter. But rather than spend time here doing an extensive review check out Mac Danzig’s blog for his in-depth look at the lens. Also if you are a keen gear-head check out these reviews as well: ephotozine, 16-9.net, photozone. Overall the Zeiss kicks some butt!

But… how does the Zeiss 21mm lens compare to my beloved Canon TS-E 24mm Mark II which a number of sources believe is Canon’s best wide-angle lens? I only had time for one quick test between the two lenses because I simply could not pull the lens out of Darren’s hands!

For this quick test of lens sharpness I used live view at 5x magnification with my Canon EOS-1ds Mark III and manual focus ton each lens  to achieve critical sharpness on a flat plane of small pebbles on a driveway. The camera was level and parallel to the driveway. For each lens, I shot at all apertures (with mirror lock-up). I then compared the shots from each lens for center and corner sharpness.

Both lenses are amazingly tack! And both lenses have the absolute best sharpness at f8. Below is the overall shot of the quick test set-up:

Very exciting test subject! Do you like my boots?

Here are the results of a magnified section of each photo at the center of the frame:


Zeiss 21mm center sharpness at f8

Canon TS-E 24mm II center sharpness at f8


I don’t see any difference. It’s a draw!

Below are the results for edge sharpness. In theory, the Canon should have the advantage here because the image circle of this tilt-shift lens is really big (to cover shift movements). So with the Canon we are not really measuring true ‘edge’ sharpness.


Zeiss 21mm edge sharpness at f8

Not bad for a lens that is at the edge of the image circle. Notice though, the surprising amount of fringing on the highlight edges of the rocks. Hmmm.


Canon Ts-E 24mm edge sharpness (no shift) at f8

Sharpness is much better with the Canon lens and I was pleased to see  little or no fringing. The winner here is clearly the Canon lens.

The Zeiss is a great wide angle lens and if you want a light-weight, sharp and crisp lens – read the other reviews to see why this lens is  still a remarkable performer. But the Canon TS-E 24 is sharper and has less fringing at the edges but it is also heavier and more expensive. The extra price you pay for the Canon lens gives you a giant image circle that when the lens is set to the zero shift position gives remarkable edge performance. Mac Danzig has the same conclusion for the Canon TS-E 17mm lens compared to the Zeiss 21mm lens. But comparing a tilt-shift lens to a straight wide-angle lens is really like comparing a pedal bike to a moped. Plus as anyone who reads this blog knows that I can’t live without the benefits of tilt-shift performance. So my lens envy is all done for the time being. (Samantha is happy about this latter point!).


12 Responses to “A Quick Lens Test – Canon TS-E 24mm versus Zeiss 21mm”

  1. So glad I read this. I was considering the Zeiss for a while now. The Camera store doesn’t rent the Zeiss out so I couldn’t try it. I’ve tried the 24mm TS-E many times now and really like it. This answers the question I was looking for.

  2. Still don’t want a Zeiss after this but you’re not helping my lust for a tilt-shift.

  3. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by photo blog feeds, Alltop Photography and others. Alltop Photography said: A Quick Lens Test – Canon TS-E 24mm versus Zeiss 21mm http://bit.ly/f7esJY Photography.alltop […]

  4. Darwin,

    The TS-E 24mm f/4 II USM is the sharpest 24mm lens I’ve ever shot with in the past 35 years. Hands down. No holds barred. You could cut a diamond with the raw files produced by this lens. (OK, maybe not diamond).

    🙂 Jeff

  5. Darwin, there’s not any other lens out there in the same league as the new TS-E 24mm. If you stop down the Zeiss you’ll see the TS-E really kick its butt! I did a DOF test between my old TS-E 24mm and the old 21mm Distagon setting the focal points as an extreme DOF shot requiring the Distagon to be at f/22. To obtain the same DOF with the old TS-E 24mm I used f/11 and the results were a surprise. The old TS-E was sharper. For landscapes TS-E’s are a must have for sharpness.

  6. I do not see how you can compare a 24mm with a 21mm for edge sharpness, let alone a TS design. Its apples and pears. If you tested one side of the TS at max shift displacement you might be approaching the angle of view of the 21mm….but otherwise its a meaningless comparison.

    They are entirely different tools. Best to have both available..one would think. In nikon land (don’t know about Canon) the Zeiss “draws” much more subtly than the Nikon 24mm PC.

    • I agree the two lenses are totally different tools and as I stated in the blog post. It was just a test for my own interest and I thought some others may be interested to know that the Canon lens can be as sharp as a legendary Zeiss lens.


  7. Aatos lehtila Says:

    I purchased the 21mm Zeiss after selling my old 24 TS. I know the new TS is much sharper but am curious about wide-open performance. The Zeiss quality is virtually identical from 2.8 to 11. How does the new TS do across the full range?

  8. […] A Quick Lens Test – Canon TS-E 24mm versus Zeiss 21mm « Darwin Wiggett […]

  9. Really nice review of the two lenses, it’s amazing how sharp they both are. I was debating between getting a TS-E24mm I and TS-E24mm II, the more I read the more I think the mk II is the way to go.



  10. Anders lundeby Says:

    The center crops are from the same file. They are 100% identical and the exif shows the exact same time of capture. Please post center crops from both lenses. Thanks.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: