Archive for April, 2018

Two Weeks to go!

Interesting these Projection lenses…

PhotoFair Camera Shows

picture of dog Maggie with 140/1.8 projector lens held in front of camera body

In two weeks it will be May 5th and that is show day! One of the many cool things you can do at a camera show is look at old and strange cameras and lenses. Sometimes you can take a lens from something like a projector and adapt it to use on a camera for a cool effect. I am working on adapting an old 140/1.8 projector lens to my Canon EOS 5D Mk III, in the mean time I took some photos through it by holding the lens in front of the body and snap! I like these! That projector lens was only $75 and I figure I’ll cobble together a mounting system for it with $30 in parts. It is way cooler than a the hundred bucks it will cost. I have always liked fiddling around with…

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Widerest? Yep, I wrote “widerest” and yes, I am fully aware that ‘widerest’ isn’t a proper usage here. But widest just isn’t enough for the subject of this article. My subject is the widest lens you can mount to an SLR. Ever since Canon launched their absolutely amazing EF 11-24mm L zoom lens I have had a severe case of ‘jonesing’ for it. That desire of ownership has been offset by my ever so stingy wallet. I made most of my ultra-wide shots through Canon’s outstanding 16-35mm IS L zoom lens. On those occasions where the 16mm was wide but not wide enough, I elected to use my Stereographic 12mm fish eye from Samyang and straightened the lines in Photshop. I wrote that excellent lens up here. 

Then I discovered the subject of this review, the Irix 11mm 4.0 Firefly. Irix had already made a big entrance to the SLR lens market when they introduced the 15mm 2.4 Firefly and Blackstone lenses a couple of years ago. That lens was a fair challenger to the King of 15s, the Zeiss. And that Irix 15 is much less expensive. But now we are into seriously wide-angle when we start playing in the 11mm range. Friends this is a full frame lens! Canon’s 11-24mm L was the solo player in the SLR widest lens in the world club, until now. Now I know some of you are thinking, “Hey Rod, Voightländer makes a 10mm rectilinear lens.” Yes they do, but that will only work on Leica M rangefinder film cameras and mirrorless bodies. This works on DSLRs. The Irix 11mm 4.0 is available to fit a variety of SLRs including Nikon, Canon, and Pentax.

Irix offers two levels of build quality. The Blackstone is a premium build with all magnesium alloy engraved print with luminous paint. The Firefly which uses an ABS plastic with standard painted print. The optics and internals are otherwise identical. I hit the stingy button and saved a $250 by getting the Firefly.

Both the Firefly and Blackstone lenses feature weather sealing and the same high-grade optics and quality coatings that are smudge resistant, Irix calls them “neutrino coatings.” The lens is fantastic. It is amazingly well corrected for such a wide lens, and only needs a medium tweak in PhotoShop to correct mild-medium barrel distortion. The lens is very resistant to flare and ghosts which in itself is a major accomplishment considering that giant bulbous piece of glass sticking out. I have the Canon EF version and it features the proper electronic connection to communicate with the camera body and control the aperture diaphragm. So it is nice that you need not used the lens in stopped down mode. In fact with the exception of focus, which is manual only, the lens will operate like any Canon EF lens in any of the camera’s modes.

Optically this lens is amazing. No it isn’t as amazing at the corners as the 11-24mm L, but it is very good. I got mine at Adorama for about $500 and you can find it at B&H, Amazon, and at the Irix website. High quality camera shops like Seawood Photo in San Rafael, CA, Blue Moon Camera in Portland, OR, and Pro Photo Supply also in Portland, may carry lenses like this as well. At the next PhotoFair sellers like Seawood and Bryan SoCal also could have them. The Blackstone version is selling for well over $700. I absolutely love this lens and considering the Canon 11-24mm L zoom is probably only a little better, it is $2,700, literally five times the price. I would likely be shooting that lens at 11mm almost all the time so the zoom feature is less attractive for me. If Canon had put in their amazing image stabilizer, that would be one thing, but without that, the 11mm Irix is just too good to be ignored.

This lens is offering up an expansive rectilinear image covering 126° across the diagonal of the 35mm / FF frame. My primary use of this lens is real estate photography. I tend to use my mirrorless camera for my travel and fun outings, but this lens is so awesome, I may start schlepping the big 5d around for some dramatic landscapes. The lens is razor-sharp in the center down a stop and decent in the corners. It has excellent color and contrast and controls distortion very well.  I shot the photo of the kitchen in one of my listings. This shot is one I chose NOT to use. The great fiery ball of the sun was literally in the window on the right side of the photo. I knew this was the case and shot it anyway as this was a fairly new lens for me and I just wanted to see how it would handle that kind of lighting. The shot I used was taken a couple of minutes later when the sun had moved just a bit further down and to the right. But to my great surprise this lens shook off big bad ‘El Sol’ like it’s just another day at the office. Now I am not saying this lens won’t flare, because it will, and I have had it ghost in a few shots, but it is very hard to induce flare with this lens. JJ Abrams won’t be using one of these 😉 I could have used this shot if I had to, the other shot with less sun was a bit more contrasty and popped a touch better. Take a close look at the sharpness. It holds up well out to the corners. In fact this lens will challenge the $900 Sigma 12-24mm zoom and the aforementioned and even more expensive Voightländer 10mm.

The lens has a few nice features. Like I mentioned above, it has the neutrino coatings that are designed to resist finger prints and cleaning marks along with minimizing ghosting and flare. That is a nice high-end feature. It is also weather sealed to help resist dust and moisture from getting into the lens and the camera body. This is an also a high-end feature seen on lenses like the Canon L series. One thing I really love is the focus lock. This lens has a hyperfocal distance of about 1.7 meters at f/8. This yields sharpness from about 0.85 meter to infinity. I set the lens at about 2 meters and lock it down. Now I don’t have to worry about focus at all. Even at f/5.6 I’m still good from 1.0 meter to infinity. I love that feature.

The Firefly is billed as the lightweight alternative but really it’s only a 60 g difference between the premium finish Blackstone and the Firefly. That’s a hair more than two ounces on a lenses that weigh, 26 oz and 28 oz. Can you really even notice? Maybe, but the real difference is the premium feel of the Blackstone. I have held a 15mm Blackstone and it feels as finely crafted as much more expensive glass from Zeiss and Voightländer. The Firefly by no means, feels cheaply made, but it does not have the premium feel of a Canon L lens. The Blackstone however in many ways feels MORE premium than many Canon L lenses.

In summary, I shoot with some pretty solid lenses both with my old school film cameras, my Mirrorless Canon M5, and my Canon EOS 5d Mk III. I have several L series Canon lenses. This Firefly may not quite feel as solid as those L lenses, but it performs optically right up there with them. Pixel peepers will see some difference, but most of us won’t. Irix hit a walk off home run with this lens and I highly recommend it for anyone looking for a seriously crazy wide lens. This is a true exotic for the same price of a fairly pedestrian camera maker lens.

Here are a few other shots made with the lens.

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