It is with great pleasure that I was asked by Nakita from Avantech to try out the new lens from Canon which everyone is talking about. The Canon 11-24mm f/4L lens. Yes, you heard right…11mm!!! WOW! This is the world’s widest angle rectilinear lens. This is an ultra-wide lens, wider than a fish-eye lens (Canon’s fish eye is 15mm and is a lens I proudly own), but as opposed to the fish-eye lenses, these lenses have corrected the barrel or pincushion distortion inherited by the fish-eye lenses.
So, one can imagine the advantage to landscape photography this lens brings. And it certainly did not let me down.
Moreover this lens comes forward with full frame 35mm sensor coverage, so it would have been a travesty if it was put on anything other than a full frame body. It was here tested on a 5D MkIII body.
The angle of view is a full 126° - and the elimination of the curvilinear effect is by means of the 3 front aspherical elements. Physically the lens looks special, with its outer domed element and all.
Attach it to the camera and the effect is immediate. You can get very very close to a subject and it’s all there. In fact, the advantage with this lens is that you increase the depth of the composition and that in fact very close objects become very important compositional elements. The perspective, the angle of view and the absolute sharpness of it all is unique and bewildering. There is nothing like it. In fact, I would suggest that one should wear scene-complementary shoes when using this lens – or dare I say, scene-complementary pants too!
Naturally, this applies to a full-frame sensor, but the advantage is immediately noticeable. However, once the initial excitement dies down, one really still has to think about how best to take advantage of this advantage, as a challenge remains. As with all rectilinear lenses, but especially with this at 11mm, it is not easy or straight-forward to create compelling compositions at these wide angles. Therefore this lens will immediately add another dimension or thought process to your photography, and failure to master this will result more often than not as mere snapshots. With ultra-wide lens it is therefore absolutely necessary to have an interesting foreground matched with a complimentary background.
Let’s not forget that this is a zoom lens. It is easy to get carried away with its 11mm, but at its 24mm setting, it is not that extreme and therefore it makes the lens very useable and not a one-off speciality. I dare say that this versatility will drive one to use these new extremes more often and therefore I do expect some new styles to be developed.
So, this is a great lens for landscape photography. Horizons remain as flat as you hope them to be and a lot of time would be saved in correcting lines etc. The sharpness is also incredible, and I will elaborate more on this a bit further on. It is also tremendous for architecture. Interiors are just never the same again. It is tremendous also in dramatizing the subject / action. All this comes at a very useable constant (over its focal lengths) maximum aperature of f/4. With a lens like this, f/4 is sharp and really a wider maximum aperature will not diminish the sharpness by that far. So it is very useable in an event, and it gives perhaps another outlook.
I tried it out on another love of mine – street photography. I reckoned that with that inherit sharpness it will make my image-making easier. However no. It is just too bulky and too noticeable for street photography, and while street photography lends itself to wide lenses, this is just too wide. My trusty 50mm f/1.4 or 35mm f/1.4 L is the better choice here.
One disadvantage though, especially for landscape photography….with the bulbous front end, it is impossible to screw on or make use, in any way, of any filters. Neutral density and polarizers are important in landscapes, so one needs to then resort to exposure bracketing and other post-processing techniques to counter act this effect. In truth, Canon as created a slot just at the bayonet side of the lens, but this involves special filters, which are not so readily available.
But even at f/4 the detail in the corners of the image are amazing. I must admit that possibly I must have never touched a sharper lens. The achievement is greater when one considers that this is not a prime lens either. A good lens must be able to resolve enough detail while having reasonable amount of contrast to distinguish those details. This lens does not disappoint. It’s in the resolution that it excels. This lens is able to resolve fine details, with no or hardly noticeable chromatic aberration. This is what’s great as, unlike its acutance, these details cannot be acquired by post-processing.
This fact led me to enquire further in the Canon website in order to examine the Modulation Transfer Function (MTF) of the lens as declaired by the manufacturer, and compare it with other lenses. The 11-24mm is impressively sharp right in the sensor at all focal lengths and aperature setting of f/4. As seen in the chart, the corner performance is in fact a MATCH for centre performance. The drop-off is minimal and better than the centre performances of other lenses. Very impressive.
I did try out another of my styles – that of shooting against the light, expecting considerable flare. But no, to my surprise even this was minimal, thanks in no little way, I later got to know, to the special lens coatings which are amongst the newest technologies in lenses today.
Which brings to the price. At above €3000, this is not an inexpensive lens. It is 2.5 times the price of the 16-35mm f/4 L IS lens, itself a marvelous lens. Yes it is weather sealed, it is a L lens and it is a rectilinear lens and rectilinear lenses cost. But at what it offers….it might just be worth it…
But the truth of the matter is….do I want one? The answer to that is…MOST DEFINITELY. The world seems a lesser place without it.