FOCUS ON: EF 11-24mm f/4L
July 01, 2015
Are great images a product of the photographer, or their camera equipment? The Focus On series explores the idea that it's BOTH: Featuring a professional photographer and a Canon lens, the Canon Digital Learning Center focuses on the relationship that artists can have with their gear.
In this Focus On installment, we interview Explorer of Light Tyler Stableford about his use of the EF 11-24mm f/4L lens.
Canon Digital Learning Center (CDLC): Up until now, what have been your typical go-to ultra-wide focal length choices? Can you give a few examples of the types of instances and ways you’ve used them?
Tyler Stableford (TS): As an outdoor adventure photographer, Canon’s ultra-wide lenses have been my go-to choices when I want to get close to the action and also share a wider environmental story. I have shot numerous skiing, rock climbing, motorcycling and running campaigns, etc., with the EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II and the EF 14mm f/2.8L II lenses. In my opinion, ultra-wide lenses create the most unique look and feel of any lens out there — they can provide a great sense of spaciousness of big sunset skies and the open road, etc.
CDLC: What was your first reaction when shooting with the EF 11-24mm f/4L lens? On paper, it’s only a few millimeters wider than something like an EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II, but it’s probably a world apart in terms of the effects.
TS: Yes, 11mm is SO much wider than 16mm! I know it’s “only” a 5mm difference, but when you’re working at extreme wide angles, every single millimeter reduction makes such a larger difference than going from, say, 50mm to 49mm (which is almost negligible).
When I first handled the lens, I knew it was going to be a winner simply by the lens diameter — there is a lot of glass on the front element! In many ways, it looks, feels, and acts more like a cinema lens, which is the highest compliment I can give to any lens.
CDLC: Where do you see possible applications for this ultra-wide look in the types of imagery you create? Can you review a few of the situations where you used it for these tests?
TS: I see three big applications for this lens in my workflow. The first is outdoor sports — I am constantly looking for a way to make my images more dramatic. By that, I mean I am striving to bring the viewer closer to the action and also to capture a majestic outdoor scene in the same frame. With the EF 11-24mm f/4L lens, I can get even closer to the action and get even bigger skies, etc. in the frame.
The second application with the EF 11-24mm f/4L lens that I am excited about is landscapes. This lens is amazing with its ability to keep horizons, buildings and trees level. I haven’t seen such a faithful, rectilinear lens that goes this wide, ever!
The third application is environmental portraiture. Because the lens is rectilinear and doesn’t warp the edges of the frame the way some lenses do, this EF 11-24mm f/4L lens has become a perfect choice for, say, full-body environmental portraits. I often photograph ranchers or athletes at dusk under a colorful sky and this is the perfect lens for the job.
CDLC: What camera(s) did you use this lens with?
TS: I used this lens with several of Canon’s full-frame cameras, including the EOS 5DS, EOS 5D Mark III and EOS-1D C cameras.
CDLC: Overall, how did you find the image quality? Any specifics about the optical performance you want to share here?
TS: Image quality is a big priority for me and so much of that rides on the lens. I can honestly say that the EF 11-24mm f/4L lens is one of the best lenses I have ever used. It seems Canon didn’t hold back when crafting this lens and it shows in both the build quality and, most importantly, in the final image quality. It is tack sharp wide open, as well as at more narrow apertures.
CDLC: What apertures did you tend to work at? Did you get to do any work at wide-open or extremely stopped-down apertures? If so, how’d the imagery look? Any significant problems shooting wide-open or stopped way down?
TS: I like to shoot primarily wide open and that for me is the acid test of a lens: Can it shoot well wide open and into the sun? Fortunately, the answer is “yes” to both of these criteria. I shot with the EF 11-24mm f/4L lens after sunset wide open at f/4.0 with motorcycle riders jumping and the images are completely sharp.
CDLC: How did the lens perform in strong backlit situations (if you worked in any)?
TS: Yes, I’d say I shoot well over half of my images backlit, straight into the sun. So the lenses I tend to use must perform well with a pleasing sun flare, which is an effect I really like, and they still need to be able to lock focus while shooting straight into the sun. The EF 11-24mm f/4L lens accomplishes both tasks very well. I could autofocus while shooting into the sun completely accurately and I really like the sun flare that this lens produces; it is a complement to the frame, not a distraction.
CDLC: Some experienced DSLR users may think this is a lens you can’t really use for “people shots.” Did any of your work with the EF 11-24mm f/4L involve any kinds of environmental portraiture or other forms of people shots? If so, how did the lens fit in with that kind of subject matter?
TS: Yes, indeed. As I mentioned above, I see a big use for this lens in both editorial and environmental portrait applications. Because the lens is so wonderfully rectilinear, even at wide angles, it opens the possibility of shooting environmental portraits and keeping your subjects straight in the frame! I will definitely continue to use this lens for environmental portraiture, often in the 20-24mm range, and I believe it is much better than the EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II lens due to image sharpness and the rectilinear qualities.
CDLC: Correction of linear distortion — the bending of straight lines, almost a “fisheye effect” — is a major point of this lens’ design. Any instances of shooting subjects with it where you can speak to its ability to minimize distortion?
TS: Yes, I took this lens to various Aspen tree groves here in the mountains of Colorado to see how the lens performed. I’m not exaggerating when I say I was blown away to see 11mm wide shots with perfectly straight trees! I don’t know how the engineers crafted the lens, but I’m thrilled with the results.
CDLC: Does this lens have the potential to change your imagery or, at least, with the types of subjects you shoot ultra-wide?
TS: Yes, this lens definitely has the potential to change my imagery for the better. The simple reason is that, until now, many of my best images were shot with the EF 14mm f/2.8L II lens and the EF 15mm f/2.8 fisheye lens (now discontinued) — i.e. the widest lenses I could get my hands on. I’m always drawn to wide angles to create a dramatic frame. I have no doubt that my favorite images going forward will employ the ultra-wide portion of this lens, at 11mm, because the look is just so unique and breathtaking.
CDLC: Did you do any work with the EF 11-24mm f/4L lens for video?
TS: I have not used the EF 11-24mm f/4L lens for video yet, but I certainly will. For the same reasons that it creates such a stunning still image, it will do the same in video — achieving a rectilinear 11mm wide image is just mind-blowing for video!
CDLC: Compared to the industry-standard EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II or EF 17-40mm f/4L categories, for the critical full-frame shooter, is this lens one that you’d strongly recommend to the critical, advanced DSLR user? For ultra-wide fans, is this a game-changer?
TS: Yes, for sure — the EF 11-24mm f/4L lens has become my new must-have lens in the lineup. So when I go on assignment, I take the EF 11-24mm f/4L, EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II, and EF 70-200mm f/2.8L II, plus as assortment of fast prime lenses for ultra-shallow depth of field applications. For almost all applications, the EF 11-24mm f/4L lens replaces my EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II lens; it’s sharper, wider and more dramatic.