Canon EF 11-24mm f/4L USM
Lab Test Results
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April 17, 2015
by William Brawley
Special update: The Canon EF 11-24mm ƒ/4L was named Best Zoom Lens in our 2015 Lenses of the Year awards!
Prior to the release of the Canon EF 11-24mm ƒ/4L lens, the widest full-frame rectilinear lens Canon offered was a 14mm ƒ/2.8L II prime lens; and for a zoom, it's a pair of 16-35mm L zoom lenses. If you wanted a wider field of view, you found yourself pretty much in fisheye territory and all the exaggerated distortion that comes with it. However, Canon has gone rather extreme with the new 11-24mm, which is now the world's widest rectilinear lens for a full-frame camera, with a 126-degree angle of view, at the time of this review.
The Canon 11-24mm ƒ/4L lens is a rather stunning feat of optical engineering. As the L-series designation indicates, the lens is very robustly built and houses 16 total lens elements organized into 11 groups, with one super UD element, one UD element and four aspheric elements. The front elements, as one can see from the product shots, is quite bulbous and the lens features a fixed petal-shaped lens hood (without any front filter threads, though there is a gel filter holder on the back of the lens).*
The Canon EF 11-24mm ƒ/4L, a serious, professional-level lens designed for everything from landscape and architectural photography to cinematography applications, comes with a serious, professional-level price tag: $2,999. The lens ships with a large front lens cap, a rear cap and a soft case.
With both full-frame and sub-frame cameras, the Canon 11-24mm produces very sharp images. Center sharpness on full-frames is excellent, even wide-open, though we noticed some minor corner softness at ƒ/4 that was slightly more pronounced at the wider focal lengths, but nothing too severe. In fact, given that it's such a wide lens, we were very surprised and very impressed at the corner sharpness of this lens, especially at 11mm. When you stop down some, the corner sharpness does improve -- the blur graphs aren't entirely flat, but image sharpness is nevertheless very good. We do find diffraction coming into play around ƒ/16 and smaller, but it's mostly evident at ƒ/22.
On a sub-frame camera, the results are excellent, corner-to-corner, which isn't surprising given the nature of using a full-frame lens with an APS-C sensor. Wide-open at 11mm, the center and corner sharpness is basically tack-sharp across the entire frame. Stopping down to ƒ/5.6 at 11mm improves sharpness slightly, but we see tack-sharp images at the other focal lengths both wide-open and stopped down. Again, minor diffraction-related softness appears around ƒ/16, but the image softness is mainly registered around ƒ/22.
On an ultra-wide to wide-angle lens, it's not surprising to find some evidence of chromatic aberration, and that's the case here for the Canon 11-24mm. We find low to moderate CA at all focal lengths and on both full- and sub-frame cameras. As expected, the CA is slightly stronger at the wider focal lengths and the brighter apertures. We see a slight decrease in CA as you stop down at most focal lengths, though. At the longer focal lengths, CA is lower and stays practically constant throughout the aperture range. Overall, CA is not severe, and a quick adjustment in some post-processing software can generally clear it up.
For such an extremely wide-angle lens, it's also not surprising to find strong vignetting with the 11-24mm lens on a full-frame camera. Indeed, at 11-12mm, the vignetting at ƒ/4 (and even slightly stopped down less than a full stop) is literally off the charts -- it's well beyond 1.25 EVs of light loss. At 14mm, vignetting hits just under 1.25 EVs, and wide-open vignetting gets progressively less severe as you zoom out to the longer focal lengths, though vignetting is still over 0.5 EVs of light loss at 24mm. Stopping down at all focal lengths helps reduce vignetting, with most focal lengths experiencing vignetting below 0.5 EVs once you hit ƒ/8 (though it take until ƒ/11 for 11-12mm to display vignetting at or below 0.5 EVs).
As expected, vignetting is significantly less severe on a sub-frame camera due to the smaller, central image circle captured by the APS-C sensor. Even wide-open at 11mm, vignetting -- though not completely eliminated -- is only around 0.5 EVs of light loss, while around 20-24mm, vignetting is under 0.25 EVs. Stopping down to ƒ/5.6 and further, at all focal lengths, brings vignetting well under 0.25EVs of corner shading.
The Canon 11-24mm displays moderate barrel distortion between 11mm and up until around 18mm, with 11mm having the strongest measured value at around +0.5%. The maximum measured distortion, typically seen out in the corners, tops out right around +1% at 11mm. While on average, the distortion remains ever-so-slightly in the barrel category, we did measure some slight pincushion distortion out in the corners beyond 18mm.
On a sub-frame camera, the distortion characteristics are somewhat similar to what we saw with full-frame. On average, however, distortion is much less pronounces -- bordering on nonexistent. In the corners, we observed slight barrel distortion at focal lengths wider than 14mm, but then, to an even more minor degree, some pincushion distortion at 14mm and longer.
As we've experienced with many Canon USM lenses, the 11-24mm's ring-type ultrasonic focusing system is very fast, taking well under a second to shift from minimum focus distance to infinity. Like other USM lenses, the 11-24mm features full-time manual focus override with a simple twist of the focus ring. Of course, the lens features a dedicated manual focus mode with just a flick of the AF/MF switch on the side of the lens. The approximately half-inch-wide rubberized focus ring rotates very smoothly just like Canon's other L-series lenses. The 11-24mm includes a focus distance window with scale, and like all of Canon's USM lenses, has soft stops at either end of the focusing range with a decent amount of focus throw (a little over 90 degrees).
While the ultra-wide angle 11-24mm is far from a dedicated macro lens, it has a rather respectable close-focusing distance of 11 inches (~28cm) -- but a magnification of only 0.16x at 24mm. The close-focusing capabilities makes it great for dramatic, close-up wide-angle shots and great for tight interior shooting. The lens is also compatible with the Canon EF12II extension tube (but not the bigger EF25 II tube) for even closer focusing capabilities, but only while zoomed to 24mm. Canon recommends using manual focus when using the extension tube.
Build Quality and Handling
First and foremost, this lens is surprisingly massive! At over 5 inches long and about 2.6 pounds, this is far from your average walk-around, landscape wide-angle zoom. Like Canon's other L-series lenses, the build quality is impeccable with super solid construction. The Canon 11-24mm is weather-sealed and includes a rubberized gasket on the lens mount as well as fluorine coating on the large, bulbous front element to reduce smudges and fingerprints. The exterior design falls in line with Canon's previous black L-series lenses, with a metal barrel construction with a matte black finish, white lettering and markings, and that distinctive red ring.
Both the zoom and focus rings feature ribbed, rubberized coverings for easy grip, and both rotate very smoothly and easily with just a couple fingers. The other exterior features are very straightforward for a Canon lens, with a simple AF/MF switch on the left side of the barrel between the zoom and focus rings, and there is a small focus distance window with a scale right on top. With the large, curved front element, the petal-shaped lens hood is built into the lens.
While the ultra-wide field of view of the 11-24mm lends itself nicely to landscape photography, the Canon 11-24 doesn't have front threads for screw-on filters due to the large, bulbous shape of the front element. The lens does have a small gel filter holder on the rear of the lens like a number of other Canon wide-angle lenses. *Canon advises, however, not to zoom out fully to 11mm while using a gel filter, as the rear lens element could contact the gel filter.
As mentioned earlier, the Canon 11-24mm is comprised of 16 total lens elements organized into 11 groups, with one super UD element, one UD element and four aspheric elements. The 9-bladed circular aperture should makes for nice out of focus backgrounds.
The handling characteristics of this lens are rather interesting. The large front element really makes up a large chunk of the weight, and the lens itself is very front-heavy, which can make hand-holding this lens on smaller Canon DSLRs somewhat awkward. The lens balances much more nicely on larger 5D-type bodies and 1D-series cameras, but these pairing make for a rather large and heavy setup.
The Canon 11-24 is a rather unique lens without a direct competitor at this time that offers the same ultra-wide focal lengths, at least at 11mm. Canon offers a wider lens, with the 8-15mm ƒ/4L, but it's a dedicated fisheye lens with its distinctive distortion effects.
The next-widest current Canon lens is their impressive 14mm ƒ/2.8L II prime lens. This single-focal length lens offers a much wider, brighter ƒ/2.8 aperture for better low-light performance. It also has very good sharpness, though the corners on full-frame cameras are a bit softer at ƒ/2.8, which is understandable. Optical characteristics are fairly similar to the 11-24mm, but the 14mm is notably smaller and less expensive.
If you still want some zoom versatility, but can do with a significantly less "wide" wide-angle view, Canon offers a trio of wide-angle zooms. The 16-35mm ƒ/2.8L II offers a brighter ƒ/2.8 aperture, but a not-as-wide 16mm focal length on the wide lens, and a bit more reach at 35mm. Image quality is very good, but corners are very soft wide-open at 16mm, as is distortion and vignetting compared to the 11-24mm. The 16-35mm is also noticeably smaller, lighter and less expensive than the 11-24.
Then, there is also the 16-35mm ƒ/4L IS, which now offers a less bright ƒ/4 aperture, but very good sharpness, even in the corners, plus the added versatility of image stabilization. Lastly, Canon offers the rather budget-friendly 17-40mm ƒ/4L, which is even less wide, but slightly longer at 40mm. The image quality is very good, but at merely 17mm, you lose a lot of the dramatic, ultra-wide perspective that the 11-24mm offers.
For something more in the focal length range of the 11-24mm, Sigma offers a full-frame-formatted 12-24mm ƒ/4.5-5.6 lens. Off by one millimeter at the wide end, this variable aperture zoom offers only moderately sharp images wide-open, but stopping down helps. Vignetting is off the charts and much more pronounced than the Canon, though CA and distortion are rather well controlled. The cost and weight are significantly less than the 11-24, too, which makes it an interesting offering. We reviewed the first version of this lens, but Sigma introduced a "Mark II" version of the lens back in 2011, though we have yet to review it.
The image quality for such a wide angle lens is nothing if not impressive. The Canon 11-24mm ƒ/4L exhibits excellent center sharpness at all focal lengths, even wide open. And while the corners aren't super tack-sharp wide-open, we were certainly impressed by just how good corners looked for such an ultra-wide lens. Vignetting was present, but that was to be expected for this type of lens, too. On the build-quality side, the 11-24mm shares the same excellent L-series construction and feel that Canon is known for. The lens is certainly a hefty piece of gear that's approaching the three-pound mark, which makes it a bit challenging to use handheld, especially on smaller camera bodies. However, for serious shoots, this lens will probably get a lot use on a tripod, so the weight becomes less of an issue.
All in all, the Canon 11-24mm ƒ/4L is one heck of a lens. A super-specialized, high-end, professional lens -- with the price tag to prove it -- that offers an extremely wide-angle view, making it a key piece of gear for pro landscape and architectural photographers. The lens can also be an important option for astrophotographers, so long as they crank up the ISO to compensate for the ƒ/4 aperture.
>>> Real world samples gallery <<<
The VFA target should give you a good idea of sharpness in the center and corners, as well as some idea of the extent of barrel or pincushion distortion and chromatic aberration, while the Still Life subject may help in judging contrast and color. We shoot both images using the default JPEG settings and manual white balance of our test bodies, so the images should be quite consistent from lens to lens.
As appropriate, we shoot these with both full-frame and sub-frame bodies, at a range of focal lengths, and at both maximum aperture and ƒ/8. For the ''VFA'' target (the viewfinder accuracy target from Imaging Resource), we also provide sample crops from the center and upper-left corner of each shot, so you can quickly get a sense of relative sharpness, without having to download and inspect the full-res images. To avoid space limitations with the layout of our review pages, indexes to the test shots launch in separate windows.
Canon EF 11-24mm f/4L USM
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Canon EF 11-24mm f/4L USM User Reviews
9 out of 10 points and recommended by chweyd (2 reviews)superwide, sharp, no distortion2999 USD, 1.1 kg
The canon 11-24 is world's widest ultra wide lens, the only rectilinear lens with a 90 degree in portrait format. - ideal for landscape, architecture or interiors. Assuming you own a 24-70 then all other wide angle zoom have a significant overlap in zoom range - however you need to cary almost the double compared to a 16-35.reviewed July 10th, 2015 (purchased for $3,000)
This lens is the closest lens for a human eye angle of view of 114 degrees - landscape picture especially if cropped to 16:9 look much more realistic compared to other lenses.
The lens is expensive, but if you work professionally then it's probably a must.
The only disadvantage is the fact that you cannot protect this lens with an additional filter.