One Lens to See Them All
The world is a big old place. So every now and then you gotta try to get as much of it into a picture as possible!
Enter this beast from Canon, a lens purpose-built to do exactly that. The Ultrawide USM 11-24 mm f/4L.
A Few Days of Fun
I don’t own this lens, nor do I really have plans to. But I have shot with it a few times and am glad to know about it because it sure does come in handy. Most recently I rented it for a long weekend and I walked away thinking, once again, that there is really nothing else quite like it.
This post is a quick shake-down of this ultra wide-angle lens. Introduced in 2015, there is a ton of technical info elsewhere on the interwebs for those looking to get into the nitty gritty.
I’ll just be reporting on my brief time with this ultra wide, offering a few thoughts, and sharing a few images from the lens itself.
Out of the (Camera) Bag
This is what this 11-24 looks like when you throw it on a 5D camera body.
That, my friends, is a $25 lens cap that you REALLY don’t want to lose because it’s protecting a $3,000 lens!
While 3k is a serious chunk of change, if you step back a bit and consider the fact that this is the widest, sharpest, a-whole-lotta-est lens around (and a L series, Canon’s priciest series, to boot), maybe they’re cutting you a deal.
Like I said, I rented it.
Back to the amazingness. In addition to being wide and sharp, the 11-24 is Canon’s widest rectilinear lens:
In photography, a rectilinear lens is a photographic lens that yields images where straight features, such as the walls of buildings, appear with straight lines, as opposed to being curved. In other words, it is a lens with little or no barrel or pincushion distortion. (Mahalo Wikipedia)
Rectilinear lenses exist in contrast to fisheye lenses (which you can find at similar focal lengths), which bend straight lines and are therefore known as curvilinear.
In order to pull this incredible feat of optics off a lot of glass is required. Here’s what you’re confronted by when you remove the lens cap.
Look at Me Now
This thing is honking huge. The front of the lens is a curved dome of glass that probably weighs over a pound in and of itself (the entire lens weighs ~2.6 lbs or 1.18 kilos). It front-weights the camera quite a bit.
It may not take fisheye photos but it sure looks like one! Luckily this is not the kind of lens that you’re likely to often stick in somebody’s face.
Getting Inside and Wide
What the 11-24 IS amazing at, and the reason I rented it, is for doing work in tight spaces. The extremely short focal length results in images that depict relatively small areas with an expansive sense.
Here’s a quick interior shot of our “guest room,” a 12-foot diameter yurt we built in our yard, taken from within the doorway.
Trying to shoot inside the yurt even with my 17 mm wide-angle lens leaves much to be desired — the 11 mm is indeed very, very wide. Ultra, I suppose (ha).
Let’s move on, shall we?
Into the Field
This wasn’t what I had picked up the lens for, but over the weekend I happened to be working with an ethnographic field school on the North Shore. They were doing some interviews and my job was to capture some stills.
In the midst of interviewing I threw the 11-24 on but didn’t leave it there too long. I was dealing with people at the edges of my frame and the ultra wide perspective was OK but not ideal.
A bit later I was glad I had the lens, though. We walked by an old pumphouse with an interviewee. She told us about her memories of the building and her life when the area was a functioning ranch.
The accessible windows were all boarded up but there was an opening above the sill of one just large enough to set the camera on.
The 11-24 wasted no time opening up the space and offering an expansive interior view of the structure.
The Real Deal
The reason I had the lens was that I had a house to shoot. Tucked away in a little neighborhood in Waialua I knew that it had some constrained interior spaces so the 11-24 was my way of coming prepared.
I was not disappointed. The 11-24 offered me shots that otherwise would not have been an option.
While tighter interior spaces are where this lens really shines, I was also able to capture the majority of the front of the house with the lens even though I was right up on a flowerbed (and with the carport right behind me).
Taking It Inside
I love being able to crank it up (down?) to 11 mm. Inside it’s even better. While it takes some practice, time, and attention to get your vertical lines straight (if the lens is not level things can get askew pretty quick) and your composition solid (the tiniest movement left or right, up or down changes everything), all the way wide you can easily depict entire rooms that would have been otherwise impossible.
The zoom is also convenient. I took a few detail shots at 24 mm as I worked my way through the house.
The Bottom Line
This is not an everyday lens. While I love me some wide-angle action the sheer size and weight of the 11-24 will preclude it from spending too much time on the front of my camera.
Not to mention how that dreamy bulb of perfect glass is just begging for a deep nasty scratch if you start to run around with it much. YIKES.
What this ultra wide-angle lens seems exemplary for is methodical work, where you anticipate wanting to distill some very expansive scenes into one carefully composed image.
Think tight interior spaces and capturing the extent of large objects (such as structures) while close to them. These were tasks that this lens did amazingly well for me.
It pulls this off with little to no vignetting or fall-off in sharpness across the images it produces at any aperture. Wow. This is technology so seamless that it’s almost hard to appreciate fully once you have it.
Fuel for the Future
I’d love to take some time with the 11-24 mm chasing down some epic ultra wide-angle landscapes, but that will have to be another day. I’ve had my fun for now.
Here’s Canon’s USM 11-24 mm f/4L out in the wild once again. It’s calling you. Do it.