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Canon EF 11-24mm f4L review

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Review of the Canon EF 11-24mm f/4 L USM zoom lens

A review of using the 11-24
on a Canon 1Ds3 Mk3



 

We’ve just received our new Canon 11-24mm zoom lens.

It’s a huge bit of glass, and offers a wider view on full frame than any other rectilinear lens.

Keith has been testing it out, to see how it performs, and just as importantly, how you might use such a lens and the issues you may face.

This is (mostly) not a review for the ultimate pixel peepers or lens sharpness fans – it’s about what the lens does and why you might get one.

EF 11-24 on 1Ds3

Original article written: March 2015 – Updates will add more examples over time, and when Keith gets a 50MP Canon 5Ds

The huge lens

Obviously, for a $3k lens, it does need to be pretty special, so I’ll be looking at some of the features that set it apart.

The very first thing you notice about the lens, after that massive front element, is its sheer bulk. The lens weighs some 1.2kg, not far off my old EF70-200 2.8L IS – note how it looks pretty big even on a large 1 series body.

That lens hood is fixed and an integral part of the structure of the lens. The inside is grooved to minimise reflections.

What you get

The lens comes in a large box – taking out the lens cap and soft bag immediately give an idea of what’s to come.

unpacking the EF11-24 lens

The lens cap is solid enough, but feels slightly lighter than you think it should – I’m not sure why, but others have noticed it too. I’ve also seen someone who’s already broken one – replacements are not currently available anywhere.

comparison of sizes: EF11-24 with EF14 and EF8-15 lensesHere’s the lens compared in size with the EF8-15 F4L and EF14mm 2.8L II

Features (listed by Canon)

L-series ultra-wide zoom lens with an 11mm starting focal length
New optical design and the use of one Super UD element and one UD lens element helps significantly reduce chromatic aberration.
Four aspheric lens elements help minimize distortion from the centre of the image to the periphery and across the entire zoom range.
Subwavelength Coating (SWC) and Air Sphere Coating (ASC) help to significantly reduce flare and ghosting.
Highly resistant to dust and water.
Inner focusing, ring USM, a high-speed CPU and optimised AF algorithms.
Circular aperture (9 blades) helps deliver beautiful, soft backgrounds.
Minimum focusing distance of 11 in./0.28m (at 24mm) is ideal for shooting in tight spaces.
Full-time manual focus allows manual focus adjustment while in AF Mode.
Fluorine coating on front and rear lens surfaces helps reduce smears and fingerprints.

Here’s the 11-24 with the rest of my wide collection.

comparison of 11-24 with other Canon wide lenses

Unlike the EF8-15, the lens hood does not come off, giving a bit more protection than the similarly bulbous TS-E17.

side view of lenses

This view of the front elements shows the amount of glass.

a lot of glass - large front element of ef11-24

The lens zoom mechanism is stiff, with a definite feel for the amount of glass being moved around.

The front element does not rotate, but does move in and out over the focal range, as shown in the series of shots below.

movement of main internal elements

Filters

The only lens in the collection above that will take a conventional filter is the TS-E 24mm 3.5L, and that needs a low profile one if you are using much shift.

use of gel filter with 11-24 lensFortunately, I tend to have little use for filters with these lenses, so have not tried some of the giant contraptions that have been made for use with them and large flat filters.

I’m told that filters for the 11-24 will be available in due course from the usual suspects.

Note – if you’re a filter maker and want a test/review with this and our other wide lenses, just give me a call.

As with many of these lenses there is a gel filter holder at the back – also something I’ve never really tried.

In looking at the lens manual [PDF], I note that it mentions that the gel filter holder gets in the way of the rear of the lens at its widest setting.

The rear element of the lens moves backwards at shorter focal lengths, so could potentially contact any filter.

A quick check of the actual lens shows that the problem is probably just Canon being over cautious (probably for legal reasons ;-)

movement at rear of lens.ordering

Using a very wide angle lens

Back when I used film, in the 1980’s, I decided to get an Olympus Zuiko 24mm f/2.8 lens for my OM2n. The sudden width available compared to my 50mm and 70-150mm completely changed my approach to landscape and led to a much greater appreciation of foreground/background relationships.

Jump forward to this century and my switch to digital. In late 2003 I got my first ‘real’ digital camera, a Canon 1Ds. One of the first lenses I got, was the EF 16-35 2.8L.

Once again, the jump from 24mm to 16mm was conceptually quite significant and needed quite a lot of experimentation to get a real feel for. This was also the time I went back to some of my old film images and realised that cropping for direct compositional impact, rather than correcting for a slight lean or other minor issue, was an important factor in expressing images the way I wanted them to look.

In many ways, when people ask when I ‘took up’ photography, I have two dates: 1974 at school, with B&W in the darkroom and; 2004 when I set up Northlight Images as a commercial photography business.

Many of the significant advances in my skills have come from acquiring a new wide lens and learning to use it effectively, so thanks to the EF16-35 2.8L, EF15mm fish-eye, TS-E24mm (Mk1), EF14mm 2.8L II and TS-E17mm. Now I’m adding the EF11-24mm F4L to the list…

If you’ve started out with a crop sensor camera and kit lens (the ubiquitous EF-S 18-55 for example) then 18mm is not actually that wide (~29mm).

There are plenty of EF-S wide lens options. Last year I got a 100D, both for macro work and also as a small spare camera to take on jobs. When Canon announced the EF-S10-18 (16mm-29mm equiv.), I bought one to test, and was rather impressed by its build and optical quality at the price (see my EF-S10-18mm IS review for more) – it also impressed Karen, my wife, who loves the compactness (and lack of weight) of the 100D/EF-S10-18mm combination.

I’ve used the EF14 2.8L II as my standard ‘wide’ rectilinear lens for the last few years and found that whilst it’s very nice to use for shots with strong lines in them or where I deliberately wanted to give real prominence to a foreground object, I generally preferred the TS-E17 tilt/shift lens (mostly for the shift), where for architectural work I could easily take two shots with different shifts and stitch them.

It so happens that the full coverage of the TS-E17 (through stitching images) is very similar to the EF11-24 at 11mm – Later, I’ll explore some of the options this might give, especially when the 5Ds at 50MP arrives, since it means that even a 50% crop yields more pixels than I’m currently getting with my 1Ds mk3.

Please do remember that this review is not a quantitative analysis of the performance of my lens – it’s mainly about what it lets you do with it.

Sample images

First up, a set of images of the houses across the street from me to give a feel for how wide the lens goes. These are all shot at f/8, which reduces any vignetting to reasonable levels.

11mm
11mm

12mm
12mm

14mm
14mm

16mm
16mm

18mm
18mm

20mm
20mm

24mm
24mm

It’s always a tricky thing to meaningfully display image quality in reviews, not least of which comes from people widely varying ideas of what looks OK (I’ve never been a ‘sharpness perfectionist’).

Look at this corner 200% crop at 11mm. I’ve opened up the image in Adobe Camera RAW (ACR) in Photoshop CS6.

The lens is too new to have any correction profiles, but as you can see if you move your mouse over the image, the automatic chromatic aberration (CA) removal does a good job. The amount of CA is really rather low, barely noticeable in most images.

Once this lens is supported by software such as DxO Optics Pro, it will be interesting to see what improvements can be wrought, especially once my 5Ds turns up.

>Note – I’ve some comparisons with the EF14 2.8L II later.

The amount of correction needed to correct the small amount of barrel distortion at 11mm is at the lowest setting.

lens corrections

It’s actually a hand-held shot, so you can see that I was a fraction of a degree off true – whilst I do use a tripod for most of my architectural work, I rarely use one for landscape photos.

Move your mouse over the image below to see the corrections before/after.

If you’re shooting very wide, then any movement away from the horizontal will give very strong convergence for vertical lines.

interior view of room using ef11-24 lens

This is fine if you’re looking for powerful dramatic lines, but perhaps not for trees…

Leicestershire countryside

Putting the horizon across the middle of the frame is one approach, such as this view across Victoria park, looking towards the University of Leicester.

trees and sun

This shot also shows how well the lens deals with flare. The 100% crop below is the only significant flare I found in the image above.

lens flare from having the sun in the photo

One other common problem when shooting wide – your own shadow…

  • having the sun behind you and the problem of the photographer's shadow

Both these shots are at f/8 and 11mm. I’ve not corrected either for vignetting.

  • viaduct and tree in Leicestershire

Back in the city, I tried a few shots around dusk. This one of Leicester railway station (14mm f/6.3) also shows the style of flare given by the lens’s 9 blade aperture iris for bright light sources.

  • station entrance at dusk - Leicester

Tilt the lens upwards and we’re back to a more dynamic feel (note the 18 point star)

Of course, the temptation with any new creative tool is to over use it – I always think of this as the ‘New toy effect’, something only worked through with practice – preferably not on the time of a paying client ;-)

  • Leicester railway station

A view inside Southwell Minster (11mm) in the Chapter House, gives a feel for what you can do.

inside the chapter house at Southwell minster

The view going back into the Minster looks more conventional.

Looking into Southwell Minster

view od Southwell Minster at 11mmI’ve never been impressed by any ‘use the whole frame’ ethos and regard cropping as a vital compositional tool.

This view of the Minster has a lot of grass in front of it.

Now, I could find an interesting gravestone or some other object to put into the frame up close, but that’s not what I want.

I’ve kept the camera horizontal, so the towers are not leaning at all.

I’d also note that with the sun just out of the frame, there was a tiny bit of flare.

This was easily fixed with holding my hand off to one side, shading the lens.

Like all the Southwell shots, it’s hand held – you just need to take care that your fingers don’t intrude into the shot.

Here’s the cropped version that I was after.

cropped view of Southwell Minster using lens at 11mm

A square crop of this (11mm) view of two buildings just next to the station in Leicester would have taken two shots with my TS-E17mm shift lens stitched together. Of course it would be higher resolution, but with a 5Ds, I’d still have 33MP after the crop.

square crop of image

I’ve some comparison shots with the TS-E later, but the single shot solution is a useful one if you’ve enough resolution and have moving objects in front of you.

St George's tower, Leicester

This particular shot was taken at f/6.3, where vignetting can be a bit more noticeable.

Move your mouse over the image below to see a correction applied in ACR.

How you handle the corners of wide images, particularly in the foreground makes a big difference to what you can use the images for (11mm in this instance).

tables set for evening event

I’ve seen people’s comments about such images saying that the ‘distortion’ in the corners renders them ‘useless’.

It’s important to consider just what people mean when they say this.

I suspect that it’s referring to the stretching effect you see in these salt and pepper containers.

detail showing distortion of circular objects with a rectilinear lens

The thing is, that this is a perfectly natural effect from having a rectilinear wide angle lens. Rectilinear means that straight lines are rendered straight, and this lens does that superbly well. If you want circular objects rendered circular, then you need a lens with a different projection geometry. If you’re curious about such things have a look at my reviews of the EF8-15 fish-eye lens and the fish-eye hemi plugin.

If you are going to have people in wide shots, then consider using anamorphic transforms such as you get in DxO viewpoint.

Or you could have photos like this of my pint of beer ;-)

At f/5.6, depth of field is pretty thin if you focus at minimum distance, but out of focus areas do have a nice smoothness to them.

This view of one of the famous stone carvings in the Chapter House at Southwell Minster was taken at 24mm (f/6.3) at not much more than minimum distance. The lens will work with a 12mm extension tube (at longer focal lengths) but objects will be getting rather close to that front element.

detail of stone carving in the chapter house at Southwell minster

If you’ve never seen it, Southwell Minster (Cathedral and Parish Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary) is a wonderful cathedral to visit, with it’s distinctive towers at the older end of the building (c.1150) The later chancel (1234) is in the more open Early English style, with the Chapter house dating from 1286.

view through enntrance arch, towards Southwell Minster

Compared to some other Canon Lenses

If you’re looking to use a lens like this, then it’s worth comparing it to what you can get using some of Canon’s other offerings.

Just to remind you – here’s the view across my street at 11mm.

field of view at 11mm - horizontal

The vertical view at 11mm

field of view at 11mm - vertical

A view with a fish-eye lens – I’ve used fish-eye hemi to straighten vertical lines.

wide view with a 15mm fish-eye lens

A left/centre/right set of three shifted images taken with the TS-E17 (portrait orientation +- 12mm shift)

composite image using three shots with TS-E17

Two TS-E17mm shots (landscape orientation +-12mm shift)

extra wide rectilinear view

I note a bit of vignetting in the view above (f/8). When shifting a lens, all the normal corrections (CA, distortion, vignetting) won’t work (well, not without a few tricks).

Canon’s best wide rectilinear lens before the 11-24 was the EF14 2.8L, which I got at the same time as my 1Ds mark 3 camera back in November 2007.

The obvious difference is size – the EF14 2.8L is quite compact and lighter (but very solidly built). It’s a full stop wider than the 11-24, which may be important to you. As an architectural/industrial/commercial photographer I tend to be shooting with a tripod and stopping down for sharpness and reduction of vignetting, so I’ve looked at how the two compare at 14mm.

Move your mouse over the image below to see the difference between the two at f/8

The difference between the two is quite apparent along the roofline. The 14mm has pretty minimal distortion, but the 11-24 has even less. If you’re looking for wide on a budget, see my review of the Samyang 14mm, which is manual focus and exhibits a distinctly more complex distortion (fixable with correction profiles).

This corner view at 100% shows the difference between the two uncorrected images.

Using the ACR lens profile for the 14mm and the default ‘Auto’ ACR correction for the 11-24 gives a better feel for kind of detail you can pull out of images.

Does the 14mm have a tad more contrast in the corners? I think that must wait for people with complex measuring equipment (and rather more patience) than I do ;-)

For my architectural work I’m still more inclined to choose a lens with movements rather than crop. However I’m very aware that many clients consider a 20MP image as huge, so cropping becomes much more of an option once I’ve a camera that outputs 50MP files.

Two views of the interior of Southwell Minster (11mm) and a third using stitched images from the TS-E17

Interior of Southwell minster

One with the camera level – note the very different architectural styles.

choir at Sothwell minster

Two shots with the TS-E17 stitched.

wide angle rectilinear view, using camera movements

Conclusions

 

Buying an 11-24mm

We make a specific point of not selling hardware, but if you found the review of help please consider buying a lens, or any other items at all, via our links with Amazon or B&H

In the UK, ours is from Park cameras
USA 11-24 at B&H | Adorama | Amazon US

The lens is impressive on so many levels – not least of which is the solidity when you pick it up.

I was initially expecting to see rather more basic distortion (barrel/pincushion) in the image at different focal lengths, I mean, this is what you often get with wider zooms?

Well no, the performance is what I’d expect from a decent prime lens right across the focal length range. We’ll have to wait for the detailed optical analysis to come in to see for sure, but from my initial week of using the lens, it’s performed excellently.

My only (slight) query was that the lens cap felt a bit light, but it’s already been stuffed into numerous pockets with no problems.

AF seems fast and effective although you do need to remember that focus changes as you zoom, so do it -after- setting focal length.

With all the exotic glass inside the lens, expect focus to vary with temperature more than simpler lenses. The focus distance marks are probably best used for guidance purposes only. This is important if you were wanting to use the lens at night with infinity focus (stars), where the focus could easily drift as temperature changes. This, to be fair, is a potential issue with many modern lens designs.

Whilst on the subject of astrophotography and night shooting, the widest aperture of f/4 might be an issue for some, although using the lens on our 1Ds3 I found it more than bright enough, even in the event venue pictures I tried.

Lack of filter attachment may be of concern to some, but I’m assured that suitably hefty attachments will be on their way to hold large plates of glass for you. If filter use is an important part of your photography then either try a different approach, or wait to see what turns up now the 11-24 is out ;-) There is of course the gel filter slot at the back, but that almost seems a holdover from the days that you’d want a filter to allow you to use tungsten film in daylight (a sort of white balance thing – for those of you who’ve never come across it). I couldn’t think of a particular use for gel filters – suggestions please in the comments?

Note – In the comments, it was mentioned that ND gel filters for video would be useful – thanks.

Vignetting was not intrusive by f/8, and was easily correctable (along with chromatic aberration and other minor distortions) in ACR. Add in custom lens profiles to a RAW converter like DxO Optics Pro and you’re only left with one real question.

What am I going to use this lens for?

very wide view of an event venue

With any extreme lens it’s up to you to find ways it can help your creative work.

I’ve included mostly shots taken at 11mm in this review, because that’s ‘what this lens does’. However it also does 24mm really well too, on a par with my TS-E24 F3.5L II.

Oh, and 18mm, and 14mm too, possibly better than my EF14 2.8L II.

I’m still a bit in ‘new toy mode’ with this lens (as will be anyone testing it now – don’t believe otherwise ;-) and I see the real challenge (after using that width) is to make effective use of all its capabilities.

Value for money?

What a question…

From my own point of view as a working photographer, I only need a few shots that pay, or get me work, to have covered the costs of this glass. If it inspires me to create new photos that get noticed, then it’s worked. During the time I’ve used it, I’ve not found it wanting in any technical area.

If you’re sufficiently well off and just want the widest lens possible for your hobby, then only you can come up with whatever justification/excuse suits ;-)

If you’re thinking of experimenting with ultra-wide angle shots, then perhaps a lens like the Sigma 12-24 or Samyang (Rokinon) 14mm would be a more economical place to start. Certainly, if you find a 14mm wide angle daunting, then 11mm is a whole big step further.

I’m curious to see how the lens is received by the more, shall we say, ‘careful’ lens reviewers and forum experts. To my mind it’s passed every test I’d want to throw at it, but then again, I’m only planning to use it for taking photographs ;-)

Article history – first published March 2015

Summary

Unique range of focal lengths combined with excellent optical quality, in a massive and hefty lens at a very non-trivial price.

Definitely one from Canon’s ‘because we can’ department.

Questions/comments? See the discussion section further down the review.

Specs – Canon EF 11-24mm f/4 L USM

There is a page about any 11-24 news/info that I’ll keep updated with any new reviews I come across.

This optical design layout is from a Canon patent in 2014 – it is likely very similar to the actual production lens

EF11-24 lens optical design

Optical Features/Specifications
Angle of view (horizontal, vertical, diagonal)117º 10′- 74º,
95º 10′ – 53º,
126º 05′ – 84º
Lens construction (elements/groups)16/11
No. of diaphragm blades9
Minimum aperture22
Closest focusing distance (m)0.28 (at 24 mm)
Maximum magnification (x)0.16 (at 24 mm)
Distance InformationYes
Image stabilizer
AF actuatorRing USM¹
Physical Specifications
Dust/moisture resistance*Yes
Filter diameter (mm)Filter Holder
Max. diameter x length (mm)108 x 132
Weight (g)1180
Accessories
Lens capLens Cap 11-24
Lens hoodBuilt-in
Lens case/pouchLP1424
Rear capLens Dust Cap E
Magnification w/ Extension Tube EF12 II0.73-0.53¹
Magnification w/ Extension Tube EF25 IINot Compatible
Extender CompatiblityNot Compatible
AF actuator¹ Full time Manual Focus
Magnification w/ Extension Tube EF12 II¹ Not Compatible at wide angles

*Lenses with dust/moisture resistance are fitted with a rubber ring on the lens mount which may cause slight abrasion of the camera mount. This in no way effects either the lens or camera performance.

MTF charts (from Canon)

MTF chart for 11-24 at 11mmMTF chart for 11-24 at 24mm

A quick guide to MTF charts (which only measure contrast and resolution. Canon’s guide to their MTF charts)

Black lines reflect lens performance at widest aperture.
Blue lines show the performance at f/8Thick lines indicate lens contrast
Thin lines indicate lens resolution
Dashed lines: Lens performance with meridional lines.
Solid lines: Lens performance with sagittal linesCloser sagittal and meridional chart lines indicate more ‘natural’ out of focus areas.

Remember that MTF charts are good for comparing similar lenses, so comparing ones from the 14mm f2.8L and 300mm 2.8L won’t tell you much at all, whilst comparing the EF14 2.8L with the EF14 2.8L II will show meaningful differences. Note that other manufacturers may have different ways of displaying such information that may or may not match up with the Canon figures.

More Info

Canon EF11-24 information page – any news and other reviews related to the 11-24
Canon EF8-15 Fish-eye review
Canon EF-S 10-18 review
Samyang 14mm review
Using tilt/shift lenses
EFLens.com – our site with information about every EF lens

  • ad venture

    Hello Keith . I did a search of your reviews, checking on the Zeiss Distagon 15mm T F2.8 lens. Is that one you might be reviewing in the future? I use a 16-35 2.8 II on a 5DII now for real estate and want to upgrade both camera and lens. I shoot wide and thought the Zeiss might be a worthy upgrade instead of the 11-24, both at the same price point. Otoh if the 11-24 has similar image quality as the Zeiss for the same money it would be the choice.

    • kacoooper

      Unlikely I’m afraid – most reviews here are of lenses I actually own.
      Now I’ve got the 11-24, and the TS-E17, there’s no real use for a 15mm in my line-up, even if it is exceedingly good (and the 11-24 is really good at 15-16mm).

      My EF14 2.8L II may soon be departing – it’s just not going to get much use, and is an excellent (and expensive) lens just to have sitting around as a paperweight ;-)

      • ad venture

        Thanks for the reply. Can’t wait to read your 5Ds/r review.