Along with many other Canon users I have been anxiously awaiting the arrival of the 11-24mm and it’s finally here! These are just a few of my initial thoughts so far and not a full in-depth review. Having a fair amount of experience with other Canon wide-angles, my use so far with the 11-24mm has given me a good sense on its quality and capabilities.
First off it’s big. This lens weighs close to my 70-200mm 2.8L IS II and its front heavy balance is very noticeable when handholding. The lens comes in at 2.6lbs, certainly a beast for a lens of this size, but necessary considering its huge front element and design.
Speaking of front element, this thing is enormous! Its bulbous element protrudes out quite a ways, but is protected by the lens’s built in hood. Canon states this is the largest front element of this design they have ever created. You definitely don’t want to have to replace this one! However Canon has applied its fluorine coatings to both front and rear elements which provide excellent protection from smudges, fingerprints, etc. I’ve really been impressed so far with these coatings on some of their other lenses and it makes cleaning so much easier.
As far as handling goes the zoom ring is pretty stiff to turn, which makes sense as you are moving quite a bit of glass back and forth. The focus ring is also smooth and everything about the construction and design feels solid and precise.
Obviously the big news with this lens is its rectilinear wide-angle focal length that goes where no wide-angle zoom has gone before. Going all the way down to 11mm is quite an experience, considering most photographer’s widest focal lengths have been around 14mm (which is pretty wide in itself). You might think the difference of 3mm isn’t that much, but when you start getting this wide even 1mm makes a huge increase in angle of view.
The big question on everyone’s mind however has been optical quality. Going this wide creates major issues with distortion, soft edges and corners, and can be challenging to overcome when designing a lens of this nature. When you approach 11mm, which has an 128 degree angle of view, edge performance becomes a major concern.
This last week I put this lens through its paces in Yellowstone National Park shooting in a variety of situations, focal lengths, and extreme environments. The lens performed flawlessly even down to about zero degrees fahrenheit in the park’s interior. I noticed no major issues with flaring, even when shooting directly into the sun and every focal length seemed to produce equal results for image quality.
Optically this lens blew me away. If you’ve been surfing reviews online recently you may have come across Canon’s MTF charts and noticed they are very close to the 16-35mm f4L IS. The MTF charts are a great technical reference to a lens’s potential performance, but it’s the real world use that really gives us a more accurate sense of its capabilities. With that said all I can say is that they are spot on from what I’m seeing. The 11-24mm performs very similar to the 16-35mm f4L IS and that in itself is very impressive. Even at 11mm, edge and corner performance remain sharp, chromatic aberration is very minimal, and the image throughout the entire frame is excellent. This lens as well as some of Canon’s other recent releases are going to be great contenders for the upcoming megapixel monsters, the 5Ds and 5Dsr that are being released this June.
A couple questions I had going into this was whether or not the 11-24mm f4L would replace my 16-35mm. I knew it would cover the most used focal lengths and give me the option to go wider, but its usability in harsh environments and portability was more in question. After having some experience this last week shooting in and around Yellowstone, I am inclined to hold onto my 16-35mm for two reasons: One, I’m just going to be too paranoid shooting in extreme environments with the 11-24mm. Especially in situations where I might be pelted with mud, dust, sand, etc. while having that huge front element exposed. Also when wanting to travel light and having the flexibility for handheld situations, the 11-24mm is just too big and heavy.
The 11-24mm in my bag is going to be strictly a high quality landscape lens and most obviously Canon has designed it for this purpose along with architecture work. Its image quality is outstanding and build is on par with most of Canon’s other “L” series lenses.
The only gripes I have found so far with this lens is its front-heavy awkward handling, but I knew this going into it and it’s not really a huge deal, just something to note for those that are concerned with balance between the camera and lens. The other gripe is the lens cap. For a $3000 lens you would think Canon could have designed something a little more robust than the flimsy plastic one this lens comes with. Its very thin and also doesn’t protect from dust very well, at least in my experience so far.
Beyond that the 11-24mm is an amazing piece of glass and I’m super excited to have it with me as my travels and workshops begin. As you step into the world of super wide-angle lenses you really have to have some patience when setting up your shots. Composing an image at 11mm definitely requires some extra thought and careful approach. So far I’m extremely impressed with the 11-24mm and would highly recommend it for wide-angle landscapes.