Canon EF 11-24 f/4L USM Lens Review
Today, I received a lens i've been waiting for for what seems like FOREVER. I've been waiting (and saving) for Canon's answer to Nikon's 14-24 f/2.8G for at least 2 years. I was lucky enough to pre-order the Canon EF 11-24 f/4L USM as soon as it was available, and it arrived to my office this morning. In this post I'll be giving an unboxing, a quick review, my initial first impressions with this lens, and a couple sample shots.
Prior to this, I owned a Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 and a 16-35 f/2.8L II to take care of my wide-angle duties. I still own the 16-35L II, but I have a feeling owning both the 14-24L and 16-35L may be redundant. By most accounts, the 16-35L II isn't that great wide-open, anyway. The Rokinon, however, was a great lens for its price (unfortunately, I no longer own it, and didn't get a chance to review it, but there are plenty of resources out there if that lens interests you).
So what's in the box?
First of all, it's large. Seeing photos of the lens online, I had an idea it would be pretty big, but I wasn't expecting it to be THIS big.
Here's the massive box next to the 16-35 f/2.8L II's box, and just as a size reference, next to a 70-200L IS II with the hood ON:
Inside the box, you get your standard Canon Warranty card, Front and rear lens caps, and an LP 1424 lens case. the naming convention of the lens case leads me to believe the initial design of this UWA lens would have been a 14-24 f/2.8, but Canon decided to push the envelope.
I'll spare explaining with the technical details and specifications, but if you're interested, you can view them on Canon's product page. Or, if you're lazy like me, here's a quick rundown of the key performance points of the 11-24L:
- Focal Length: 11-24mm, rectilinear
- Aperture: Maximum aperture of f/4 throughout the zoom range
- Mount: EF (will mount on both Full-Frame and APS-C bodies -- APS-C equivalent would be roughly 17.6-38.4mm)
- Angle of view: 126° 5' - 84°
- Minimum Focus Distance (MFD): 11.02" (28 cm)
- Lens elements/groups: 16 elements in 11 groups
- Diaphragm blades: 9 blades, rounded
- Weight: 41.6oz (1180g)
It's heavy. Specs put it at 41.6oz (1180g) about half a pound lighter than the 70-200 f/2.8L IS II (which weighs in at 52.6oz/1490g). For a lens this short, that's pretty hefty. I can't imagine how big, how heavy, and how expensive this thing would be if they could have made it in an f/2.8. This thing is dense, as you can see by this cutaway photo Canon had on display at the CP+ show in Japan last month:
Here it is next to the 16-35 L II and the 24-70L II, both of which share some focal lengths with the 11-24L:
How does it feel?
Build quality is great, and the lens feels solid. The body is made out of the same "engineering plastic" as many of Canon's other lenses, and the finish matches that of the 24-70L II. The famous "Red Ring" appears on the permanently attached lens hood, rather than on the barrel.
Here's a couple shots to compare it to some of my other Canon lenses that share focal lengths or are similar in size:
The zoom and focus rings are fairly tight and nicely dampened, making this lens good for video work, aside from its heft (and with a proper follow-focus rig -- I expect the rings to loosen with time, perhaps allowing for some amount of handheld video use). I expect the nicely dampened and tight "feel" of the zoom and focus rings to be a result (in part) due to the massive amount of glass you move on this beast when the rings are turned. The focus throw on the focus ring is fairly short, requiring about 1/4 turn from MFD to infinity, in my rather unscientific test. The zoom ring also requires about the same amount of throw from the wide end at 11mm to the long end at 24mm.
The lens hood is permanently attached, and features a jagged surface on the inside, as opposed to the felt-lined hoods on other Canon offerings:
It should also be noted that the gel filters may be inserted in the rear of the lens, since that huge, bulbous element will not accept traditional screw-on filters.
Even mounted on a gripped 5D Mark III, the large, heavy, bulbous front element (along with the heft of the lens itself), it's front heavy (as you'd expect), but balances nicely with a gripped body. It's not quite like having a 70-200 mounted, where the weight is much further forward from the body, despite the similar weights of the lenses.
I'm not much of a landscape, real estate or architecture photographer -- which are the photographers who would get the most out of this lens -- but I do use my UWA lenses regularly for establishing shots in both video and still work. I even use them often for portraits and events to make it appear as if my subject is in a grand space (even when such isn't the case).
Autofocus is fast and accurate, in my limited testing thus far. I have not yet adjusted my lenses (I haven't had a need to, aside from some of my Sigma primes).
Below, I'll share a few quick images I took with the 11-24L on its first outing, along with some comparisons to the other Canon zooms I own (16-35L II & 24-70L II) which share some of the focal lengths covered by the 11-24L. For all of these shots, camera settings are the same (all images and lesnes shot at both f/4 and f/8)-- Captured on a 5D Mark III in RAW, WB set in-camera, with a Standard Picture Style. Lenses are not microadjusted. Autofocus using the center point. Imported into Lightroom 5.7 and exported without any additional adjustments. For examination, I take crops from the center of the frame, the corners away from the center, and the extreme corners at the very, very edges of the frame.
11-24 f/4L @ 11mm
Here's the first shot I took at 11mm, wide open at f/4 (full-sized images are available in a flickr gallery here):
and the same image, 11mm at f/8 (full-sized images are available in a flickr gallery here):
The Field of View on this lens is huge, and will allow for some really creative uses for almost any purpose.
Wide open at f/4, you can see that it suffers from some heavy vignetting, but this is easily remedied in post, and will be a non-issue once there are profiles available for this lens. Lines remain straight and there is very little distortion throughout the zoom range. This is pretty incredible.
Sharpness and contrast in the center at f/4 is very good, with contrast only slightly improving when stopped down to f/8:
Corners/Mid frame improve when stopped down:
Extreme corners are never really strong on any lens, but the results are respectable, especially when stopped down.
There is some amount of CA in this lens, but it seems to be well controlled, and i imagine it would be easily corrected with a profile, or manually in post (for the time being) It doesn't seem to get better by stopping down, and is really only visible in the corners and extreme corners:
11-24 f/4L @ 14mm
Here's a couple sample images @ 14mm. I don't own a 14L, and no longer own a Rokin 14mm f/2.8 (which was a spectacular lens, especially considering the price), but these should give you an idea of the FOV 14mm provides. (Sample shots below, full-sized images are available in a flickr gallery here):
11-24 f/4L vs 16-35 f/2.8L II @ 16mm
Since 16mm is a shared focal length between these lenses (and these lenses often serve the same purpose for most shooters), let's take a look at these lenses at 16mm (sample shots below, full-sized images are available in a flickr gallery here):
Below are crops for each lens at f/4 and f/8:
In the center at f/4, the 16-35L II appears to be very slightly sharper, with a bit more contrast, but improved IQ is to be expected, since the 16-35L II is stopped down. The same appears to be true at f/8, though much less noticeable.
In the corners away from the center, the 11-24L appears to be sharper at f/4 than the 16-35L II, with slightly less fringing. Vignetting has already begun to creep in at this part of the frame. At f/8, the vignetting is gone, and the 11-24L is noticeably sharper than the 16-35L II.
Very few lenses are great at the extreme edges of the frame. At f/8, the 16-35L II appears to carry more detail.
The center is noticeably sharper at both f/4 and f/8 on the 16-35L II in this shot. However, it may have been a focusing issue/fluke. I'll have to revisit this in the future.
At f/4 the 11-24L is noticeably sharper in the corners away from the center. In this shot, at f/8, however, it looks like there were some issues. Again, I'll have to revisit these shots, and it's apparent something went wrong.
The extreme corners on the 11-24L in are surprisingly good wide open at f/4. At f/8, the results are again a bit confusing. Yup, there's definitely something wrong with these shots.
I also noticed there appears to be a slightly narrower field of view for the 11-24L versus the 16-35L II @ 16mm. It could be user error, but both shots are registered as 16mm in the EXIF info. Possibly also a result of some amount of barrel distortion at the wide end of the 16-35L II. I don't know, and won't pretend to know. Here's a few GIFs illustrating the different field(s) of view (or distortion) offered by each lens:
In the indoor shot, the barrel distortion of the 16-35L II is more apparent. Small discrepancies between field of view at the same focal length is seen in other lenses, so this is pretty common -- For example, the 24-70L I offers a different FOV at 24mm when compared to the 24-70L II.
11-24 f/4L vs 16-35 f/2.8L II vs 24-70 f/2.8L II @ 24mm
24mm is a shared focal length between these three lenses. Let's take a look at these three lenses at 24mm (sample shots below, full-sized images are available in a flickr gallery here):
Below are some crops and comparisons between the three lenses at f/4 and f/8.
At f/4, with the same settings (1/1250, ISO 100), the 11-24L seems to be very, very slightly darker than the 16-35L II and the 24-70L II. All of the lenses are sharp in the center, with the 24-70L II being the sharpest, by a very small amount at both apertures. Not really surprising since the 24-70L II is Canon's sharpest 24mm -- even sharper than the 24mm f/3.5L TS-E tilt-shift and 24L. However, the difference here at 24mm in these shots is minimal. All three of these lenses look like they're performing well.
In corners away from the center at f/4, the 11-24L and 24-70L II are nearly identical (to me). The 16-35L II lags behind the other two lenses at f/4, but by f/8 all three lenses appear to be identical again.
Extreme corners on the 24-70L II are noticeably better than the other two lenses at f/4. By f/8, the 24-70L II's extreme corners are actually very good, with a good amount of detail -- much better than the other two lenses, and the results for the 11-24L vs the 16-35L at f/8 mirror those seen when compared at 16mm, with the 16-35L II being slightly sharper in the extreme corners.
In these indoor shots, at f/4, the 24-70L II is much sharper than the other two. The 11-24L comes in second, with the 16-35L II coming in a close third. At f/8, the results are closer, with the 24-70L II still remaining the best in terms of sharpness, with the 16-35L II being only very slightly sharper than the 11-24L.
Results in the corners for each of the three lenses match that of the center. At f/4, the 24-70L II is the sharpest, followed by the 11-24L, and the 16-35L II being the least sharp of the three. Oddly, these same results carry over at f/8, where in the center at f/8, the 16-35L II looked slightly sharper (to me) than the 11-24L.
In the extreme corners, at f/4, the 24-70L II is remarkably sharp, with the 11-24L a close second. The 16-35L II is the least sharp at f/4 in these shots. At f/8, the 24-70L II is again the sharpest, followed by the 16-35LII, and lastly, the 11-24L.
Again, revisiting the distortion and/or fields of view between these three lenses at 24mm, here are a couple GIFs:
We can see here that the 24-70L II exhibits some noticeable barrel distortion at its wide end, but the field of view is roughly the same for each of the three lenses. One thing to note here is that the indoor shots with the 16-35L II are registered as being shot at 25mm.
Gallery of all images (full-sized images are available in a flickr gallery here):
Flare seems very well controlled on this lens, due in large part to Canon's lens coating sorcery -- ASC, SWC, and Fluorine are used in this lens -- and i'm not even going to try to pretend like I understand what they do, but they're supposed to combat flare and ghosting and increase contrast -- ASC, or "Air Sphere Coating" is the newest coating from Canon...and it sounds.....fancy.
I shot a couple images with the sun right in the corner of the frame and you'll see how well the lens controls flare. I know it's something many were worried about with a lens this wide, but it seems to be just fine, or even excellent at managing flare and ghosting.
While I have not had a chance to use this lens on an assignment yet, I feel like the extra 3mm at the wide end will afford owners some unique advantages simply from the increased field of view. The relatively slow f/4 maximum aperture isn't quite a concern for me, as I have not often found myself in situations where I wouldn't want to/couldn't just bump up ISO to make up for lost light. I like to consider myself fairly steady, so hand-holding at the wider end of this lens at even extremely slow shutter speeds is unlikely to result in images that I would deem unusable. I can always use a tripod if I have to, unless i'm shooting an event.
In short, this seems like a really specialized lens. Unless you absolutely need 11mm for real estate, architecture or landscape, you'd be better served by a 16-35L (either one -- the f/2.8L II or the f/4 IS) at half, or less than half the cost of the 11-24. You could even add the Rokinon 14mm and still be under $2k -- for when you need wider than 16mm for any reason. And the Rokinon is a great performer for the price.
I'll definitely have to revisit the indoor shots as there were some apparent issues with focusing or stability for those shots, because the results were inconsistent, and a bit confusing/misleading. I'll have an update soon.
In retrospect, I should have included 12mm in the tests. I might visit 11mm vs 12mm vs 14mm in a future post.
I'm traveling to New Orleans at the end of the month, and I plan on bringing the 11-24L along. Expect some more sample images soon, and some more following my trip. I may even do a write-up of my thoughts on this lens after i've had a chance to live with it for a while. Stay tuned!