Let’s go wider.
How wide, you might ask?
How about 11mm-with-a-big-glass-dome-wide?
Isn’t that just a fisheye?
No. No, it’s not.
Meet the amazing new Canon EF 11-24mm f4L. It’s a beast of a lens, with its leviathan eye grabbing an unbelievable field of view without the circular distortion of a fisheye lens. The girl holding the lens is me, Hawaii-based photographer Dallas Nagata White. I am no technical expert on lens specifications and the nuance of optic technology, but I do like to take photos, and took this new lens out for a spin on my recent trip to San Francisco with my husband Ed (who gets photographer credit for any photos of me from here on out), so here are some of my thoughts on this unique piece of glass. My usual walk-around/travel lens is the Canon EF 16-35 f2.8L II on my Canon 5D Mark III, and when I’m using it I usually am shooting at 16mm, so going even wider was a whole new adventure for me.
First of all, I’d like to preface this post with the admission that my “review” is more a selection of sample shots I took on my trip with my thoughts attached. Also, most of the images were taken at 11mm, because let’s be real, that’s what this lens is for. And finally, all of the images were edited in Adobe Lightroom – there was my usual color/contrast editing, as well as the removal of chromatic aberration, but at the time of writing Lightroom didn’t have a profile for this lens available yet, so any distortion to the images is how it looked straight out of camera. Okay, let’s get on with it!
My first shot with this behemoth of a lens was at Honolulu International Airport before our flight out to the mainland. When I took the photo, Ed was standing next to me looking out over the beautiful Honolulu sky. I told him, “Hey, check out that heart-shaped cloud above us!” He looked out and said, “What heart-shaped cloud?”
It turns out that this lens is so wide, it captured the cloud from where I was standing, but Ed had to physically lean out to see the cloud past the overhang above us. That’s pretty darn wide! We also noticed that despite the wide focal length, the lens is designed to keep the horizon pretty straight. There’s vertical bend toward the left and right edges of the frame, but the horizon itself is fairly flat, unlike a fisheye lens. Also, the clarity and colors out of this lens were amazing from the moment we looked at the LCD preview. There is some chromatic aberration with the lens, but it’s nothing Lightroom can’t clean up with a single click.
Once we were in San Francisco, I did the following super-technical focal length test while waiting for the Caltrain:
Here, at 11mm, you can see how great horizontal lines can be with this lens. There’s minimal vertical distortion because everything was far away from me when shooting this image.
The same shot at 15mm. I did not move, just kept zooming in the lens from the same spot I was standing at.
Again, at 20mm.
Despite the fact that my walk-around lens used to be the Canon EF 24-105mm f4L, this final 24mm shot now feels downright claustrophobic to me! I’m a photographer that loves wide-angle lenses to capture the environment I’m in as a whole. I find myself attracted to capturing wide scenes with a lot of negative space, especially when traveling, and the 11-24mm lens is perfect for that.
However, it is a little trickier when it comes to portraits, as shamelessly demonstrated by Ed (who admittedly was bending his torso toward the camera)…
…so make sure you take a few steps back from whoever you are traveling with, or your travel buddies might hate you a little bit. Wide-angle lenses such as this are absolutely fantastic for taking the most unflattering, distorted portraits…which can be quite fun when the occasion calls for it!
Speaking of close-up, the lens does focus decently close (though not macro-close), so you can take detail shots with it if you want to. Just be careful not to bump into things with the glass, because objects in the viewfinder are much closer than they appear! This shot of a delicious “mojito” coffee was taken at 24mm and f4.
Environment and landscape shots are where the 11-24mm truly shines. Even in tight, crowded spaces you can capture the feeling of where you are. From a composition standpoint, if you enjoy vanishing lines in wide-angle shots, this is the lens that keeps on giving. The main problem this lens has is that if you’re traveling or shooting with other people who are next to you, you’ll be constantly asking them to get out of your frame, because it can see everything. So, as long as you’re mindful of the edges of your frame, keeping this lens on your camera body for spontaneous shooting is perfect.
As a photographer who loves to have massive skies in her photos, this lens also gives me the ability to enjoy the sky while still featuring a grounded scene, such as this scene with the Bay Bridge:
Despite being an overall fantastic landscape lens, it does get a little tricky when you’re at unconventional angles to your subject, such as being at Fort Point under the Golden Gate Bridge. With the bridge being so big, and the lens being so wide, it actually diminishes the size and impact of the bridge on wider end of the focal length. The following image is at 12mm, but I actually mostly shot around 24mm for this area:
Large glass on lenses helps them perform in low light, as they physically are letting more light in than a piece of smaller glass, and the 11-24 is no exception. I brought the lens into a friend’s bar during the late afternoon, and shot this image by placing the camera on the counter at the end of the bar:
You’ll notice that it’s best to keep your subjects within the middle third of your composition in order to avoid the distortion on the sides if you’re shooting at 11mm – and even dead center, if you want! I’m all about breaking composition “rules”.
The lens is also really sharp. Even wide-open in low light, the clarity is fantastic. Here’s a random image I snapped in the bar at f4, with the focus point on the left side of the image, toward the back of the room. However, in the crop, you can see the focus shift along the shelves, with decent sharpness until the foreground counter.
With 50MP Canon 5Ds and 5DsR cameras being released soon, I believe this lens has the capability to to produce maximum sharpness in the gigantic images that will come from those sensors, especially in landscapes.
So, besides the optical quality of the lens, and its ability to take extremely wide images, I most enjoyed the lens for the ability to try new perspectives on frequently photographed scenes. The unique properties of this lens let you find compositions that might not have been possible for you before, such as this exaggerated shot of a statue outside the AT&T Park stadium. I was standing right next to the statue with barely any space between me and its pedestal, but was able to position myself to make it into a giant itself, towering above the stadium.
We also visited San Francisco’s famous “Painted Ladies” across from Alamo Park, which are constantly photographed, so I took full advantage of the 11mm focal length and experimented with new views.
After studying my options, I first chose to try to incorporate the little wildflowers of the park lawn in with the composition. Of course this meant getting down in the grass, but that’s nothing new for me. Here was my first attempt, the result of my positioning in the previous photo:
Sadly, that day’s sky and light weren’t the most interesting to work with, but my plan pretty much worked. I adjusted to feature a different patch of flowers, and am more satisfied with the following image, except for that darn dandelion stalk I should have pulled:
After getting myself up off the ground, I went down to the street, and was able to take this image while sneaking into the road between cars.
Considering the street wasn’t terribly wide, it was great that I could get the whole row of houses in one shot. Too bad they allow street parking there, and I wish that apartment building didn’t exist, but such is the life of a photographer.
Finally, I went right up to the row of famous homes, and while I couldn’t take a horizontal image of all the buildings in a row, I did manage this vertical shot. The clarity and detail captured by the lens really celebrates the pretty Victorian architecture.
I want to finish up this post with some sunset and evening eye-candy. While the sky throughout the day had been fairly grey, it lit up for sunset, and the 11-24mm lens handled the flare beautifully. We went up to Hawk Hill to shoot both sunset and the Golden Gate Bridge after dusk.
Don’t worry, you don’t have to only dream about playing with this lens – Hawaii Camera (obviously) has it available to rent! It’s definitely a fun lens, where you can get some perspectives that just would not be the same with a fisheye lens, but even more dynamic than at 14mm or 16mm. It is fairly heavy though, weighing in at 2.6lbs, so walking around with it takes some real dedication. Also, because it is a rounded dome, filters would be tricky – definitely no circular threaded filters on the front. I really can’t wait for summertime so I can try shooting the Milky Way with this one!
Mahalo to Hawaii Camera for letting me play with their new toy!
I’ve been working in the photography industry as a full-time freelancer for about seven years now, and have done everything from portraits and weddings to editorial stories and advertising campaigns. My current focus is on travel and lifestyle photography for local Hawaii companies. When I’m not shooting for work, my favorite thing to do is wander around with my Canon 16-35mm f2.8L II and B+W Kaeseman Circular Polarizer shooting landscapes. Seriously, rent that polarizer – I’m the one who convinced Josh to carry it, because it is on my camera lens 90% of the time.
If you’d like to see more of my work, please check out the following: