Canon 11-24 f/4L USM

Real World Review

Until Canon released this lens, the only time you'd find 11mm in the focal range of a lens would be for a crop-sensor format or a fisheye. With the 11-24mm f/4 L, Canon have set out to build an ultra-wide to beat all other ultra-wides and to achieve that astonishing feat would require an an astonishing piece of glass. The prospect of this lens has had photographers, especially landscape photographers, drooling in anticipation.

I had three ever-so-short weeks to put this through its paces.

Read on to find out what I thought!

Out of the Box

I can't tell you what the official box is like - my review sample was delivered in a massive shoe box stuffed to the brim with bubble wrap and packaging :)  After digging my way through all of this I found it nestled inside. Over a kilo of metal, plastic and glass, barely holdable even in my giant hands... the lens is big. Huge in fact. Even the lens cap is massive and custom-fit to go over the bulbous front element. See the picture below next to the 50mm 1.8 to get an impression of what I mean!

Usage & Handling

I'm probably going to run out of adjectives related to size in this review. Likely I will need to google synonyms for "excellent" too. One of the reasons for the sheer size of this thing is that this lens is rectilinear - in simple terms, this means the lens will render a straight line in the scene as a straight line in your photo. The "opposite" is curvilinear and is most commonly seen in fisheye lenses. A curvilinear lens means straight lines in the scene will end up looking curved in your photo. For a lens to have a minimum focal length of 11mm with a maximum aperture of f/4 would lead to a big, but not enormous lens - to make it rectilinear is where the extra glass, size & weight comes into the picture. 

The 11-24mm is a large lens and with that comes the need for a different approach to shooting. You could hang it around your neck or on a shoulder strap and the weight wouldn't be so bad but the sheer bulk of the lens means it's a little uncomfortable to lug around. I used it extensively during the Canon Photomarathon event and it was hard, heavy work! I tried, but it's really not a "casual" lens. You'll want to take it out when you're prepared and with specific goals in mind. Maybe consider some personal training sessions beforehand too... the lens weighs a hefty 1.2kg!

Construction is as you'd expect from a modern L-lens, top notch throughout. Although the lens is made in parts from industrial-grade plastic this doesn't detract at all from the build-quality. The focusing ring is well damped, as is the zoom ring, and the whole thing feels dependable with the exception of the lens cap.

The custom designed lens-cap is almost like a small cereal bowl. As you can see from the image above, the built-in lens hood makes the front end of the lens even wider and the cap needs to be deep enough to cover all of this.

I did find that the plastic lens hood scuffed very easily taking the cap on and off. You can just about make this out in the image image, there's a faint line where plastic parts rub against each other. The lens cap was the only part of the build which I wasn't 100% confident in - although it pressure-clamps onto the lens hood I never felt completely sure it wouldn't fall off in my bag. It never did fall off, but it didn't exactly fill me with confidence!

I always try to use lenses in a range of different situations, ideally where you would expect to use them in the real world but also scenarios to stretch them a little. I found the 11-24mm stretched ME more than I expected! This is going to sound really stupid, but 11mm is very wide indeed. It's hugely fun to use, being able to take in a massive field of view in one frame, but I found it very difficult to shoot well composed images I'd want to keep. It's the same with all wide-angle lenses, you need strong foreground interest and to try to fill the frame with your subject, not always easy to do. At 11mm it becomes even harder. Shooting with it is a joy, getting useable results was hard.

Take care when mounting & removing it, the weight & size make handling tricky.

The front element is naturally too large & bulbous for regular filters but the camera does have a rear slot for gel filters. While the lens is weather-sealed, this does NOT apply to the front element and given how far the front element juts out you can expect it to get wet in bad weather.

Autofocus is fast, smooth & accurate though this isn't a huge surprise in a wide-angle lens. Manual focusing wasn't something I found myself doing an awful lot to be honest but the damping of the ring lets you control it slowly & smoothly.

Getting the best out of the lens requires much more planning & deliberating of how you frame & compose your shot but because of how awkward the lens can be to handle you are likely going to be in this frame of mind anyway. It's a lens that rewards a patient approach to photography more than any other lens I've used.

Image Quality

I'll let the images speak for themselves. I had planned a holiday trip outside of Singapore to let me spend some serious time shooting landscapes but unfortunately that fell through, necessitating a more "urban landscape" approach to the review! 

This was shot while I was reviewing the 11-24mm f/4 and the 5DS at the same time. Although the foreground is pretty vacant, the wide field of view has allowed me to use more of the railings as leading lines into the frame.

The colour rendition from the lens is lovely. This is a single shot under fluorescent lighting and the tonal range & contrast is great. Though I've tweaked it slightly in Lightroom, the adjustments in this case are very minor.

Impossible to resist, all the curving lines with the perpendicular bands of light & shade! The 11mm widest focal length let me capture the entire scene in one shot.

Using the 11-24mm at the Canon Photomarathon drew some envious looks :)

It's worth pointing out here I didn't include any gratuitous bokeh shots! For a lens this wide you'll struggle to generate any

Although the fact the lens is rectilinear means we get nice straight lines this doesn't mean the lens is free from distortion - at 11mm it's at it's most noticeable but as you zoom in through the range the effect diminishes. You can see it in this shot, the lady at bottom left is "stretched". You will need to bear this in mind when framing your shot.

A cropped-in shot, originally taken at 24mm.

Interior photography is another area the lens excels...

... as I had a lot of fun finding out!

An HDR composite to account for the super bright stage lighting and the dark surroundings. The chairs are unoccupied, reserved for the hungry ghosts.

Distortion from the 11-24mm is pretty inconsequential at any point in the zoom range and is easily fixed in lightroom with the exception that the extreme corners do stretch out lines a little. This is something you can only really avoid while out shooting when composing your shot, it's not easy to correct this. Coma is good except in the extreme corners at 11mm and even then it's not bad at all - something the astrophotographers will be happy to hear.

What impressed me the most was the sharpness, at all focal lengths, and even wide open. It's simply fantastic. Just remember to get the best out of this you're going to need to perfect your technique!

Other Options

Until now, the only other option to go as wide as this would be the 8-15mm f/4 fisheye and that comes with its unique set of image handling & distortion issues! Otherwise, the 11-24mm f/4 is in a class of its own.That said, not everyone needs 11mm of extreme wideness! 

  • Canon has the EF16-35 f/4 and EF16-35 f/2.8, both excellent lenses albeit at drastically different price points. The older EF17-40 f/4 is also excellent though now out of production. Keep an eye out for second hand copies.
  • Tamron has their 15-30mm f/2.8 VC lens. Regarded as optically very good, it's priced reasonably well but has a less impressive range than the other options.

Conclusion

Absolutely remarkable. The highest recommendation I can give is that I'd want one myself and this lens is just that! It ticks all the boxes we want as photographers. Whether you or I really need it is another question entirely of course! 

The lens has flaws of course. Most I've discussed above but the price is another consideration - $3000/S$4300/£2800 will put this out of reach of all but the most enthusiastic landscape photographers, but it's worth every penny.

If you want the widest, best quality ultra-wide angle lens out there it does not get any better than this!

Pros

  • Unrivaled focal range, especially at the widest end
  • Simply superb image quality!

Cons

  • Big & heavy, almost cumbersome
  • Top quality comes at top prices... it's expensive
  • Requires good technique to truly get the best out of it