HOW TO: USE LEE GRADUATED ND FILTERS ON THE CANON 17MM F4L TSE LENS

One of my favorite lenses is the Canon 17mm F4L Tilt and Shift, an optically superb lens and one of the sharpest in the Canon wide angle range (along with the 24mm Tilt and Shift). With stellar optical performance and perfect tilt and shift movements, it is the ideal tool for wide-angle landscape photography.

Except that there has been a problem: a big problem.

Because of its bulbous front element, it is more or less impossible to use filters with this lens. I use neutral density graduated filters extensively and frequently find I cannot use the 17mm F4L TSE effectively because of the inability to use a filter to tame the dynamic range of the scene. This has sometimes left me frustrated with this lens for landscape work.

LEE designed and developed a solution for a similar issue with the Nikon 14-24mm wide angle zoom lens (which also has a bulbous front element) and that solution has been widely available for some time now. Unfortunately, no such solution has been forthcoming for the Canon 17mm F4L TSE lens, leaving many of us who rely on filters left out in the cold.

I know many photographers who have abandoned their filter kits in favor of multiple exposure HDR (High Dynamic Range) composites and for those photographers there is no longer a requirement for an effective bracket for using Graduated filters. However, I dislike HDR photography and prefer to capture my images in a single exposure without the need for digital blending during postproduction in Photoshop.

Consequently, I have often had to reject the 17mm TSE lens because of the scene’s dynamic range and the inability to use filters, which has more or less relegated that lens to internal architectural photography or occasions such as Antarctica (where I shot with the 17mm Lens extensively). In Antarctica, dynamic range was simply not an issue and I was able to capture the scene without use of a graduated filter (thank goodness for overcast conditions!). I shot extensively with this lens both from the deck of the Ocean Nova and from Zodiacs and I really came to appreciate the benefits of the lens when shooting handheld from ships. What was particularly useful was the ability to shift the lens down to get closer to water level when shooting from the deck of a tall ship.

With my trips to Paris, Italy and Iceland looming, I have been agonizing over whether to pack the 17mm F4L TSE lens in my kit, as its weight is not inconsiderable. The thought of carrying this lens around Europe and not being able to use it effectively for a significant amount of my landscape photography work gave me serious cause to consider its usefulness. That was until I stumbled upon a possible solution to my problem.

It turns out an enterprising photographer from Germany has cleverly solved the ‘filter problem’ using regularly available off the shelf parts from both Canon and LEE. I subsequently discovered (thanks to a user on the Luminous Landscape forum) that Fred Miranda had also constructed one of these adapters and had posted in his forum about his own experiences. After some further reading and research, I acquired the necessary parts and began constructing my own custom adapter that would enable me to use filters with the 17mm F4L TSE lens. This custom adapter bracket allows for the standard LEE foundation kit to be used with this lens. And, unlike the LEE solution for the Nikon 14-24mm lens, you do not need to purchase a new set of larger filters.

I cannot take the credit for this ingenious solution, but I can report that construction is relatively straight forward and that the finished product looks for all intents and purposes like it was manufactured by Canon or LEE. I followed the clear instructions laid out on the German website and found them straight forward and easy to follow and as such have not re-documented the construction process.

There are limits to both the tilt and shift mechanism, due to vignetting with the custom adapter and LEE kit in place, but this does not pose a significant issue for me as I am usually only tilting the lens by a very small margin and rarely use the extreme shift functionality. In any case, the custom holder can be further modified to improve both tilt and shift by removal of the inside of the LEE adapter ring with a Dremel as documented in the Fred Miranda link.

Canon 17mm F4L TSE with Custom Bracket and LEE Foundation Kit

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