Posts Tagged ‘ultra-wide’

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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I decided to take a shot at a full frame fish eye lens and utilize the Adobe lens profiles in both Photoshop and Lightroom to correct the heavy barrel distortion prevalent in fish-eye designs. Years ago I had a Canon EF 15mm 2.8 full frame fish-eye. When I jumped to DSLRs I initially had APS/C crop sensor bodies. The 15mm made little sense on those bodies but performed well with my EOS film cameras. A few years ago I had all but abandoned film and have been shooting mostly with 5D variants which are full frame DSLRs and with the little EOS M series cameras for travel and fun.

I have a Sigma 8mm circular fish-eye that produces a full 23.5mm circle inside the 35mm frame or full frame sensor. This lens is similar to the Canon EF 15mm on the little APS/C cameras with slight vignetting at the very corners. I still have that lens but trying to shoot real estate photos with an 8mm lens and then using the distortion correction to get a full frame flat field photo is asking too much. First of all a 23.5mm circle crops away about half of the full frame. My 23 megapixel sensor is only using 11.5 mp with the 8mm. 11.5 mp is adequate until you start asking software to manipulate the pixels.


Samyang 12mm shot with Canon S110

Although most of my images are fun and made with my EOS M3, I do shoot professional grade photos of all my listings and the listings of several other local Realtors® in the area. For that, I use my 5D Mk II and a series of lenses including the amazing Canon 16-35mm 4.0 L IS. (reviewed here). I really want to buy the Canon 11-24mm 4.0 L. But honestly at $3000 clams it is a big pill to swallow. But that 11mm low distortion is amazing! I decided to consider a Canon EF 15mm 2.8 or another maker’s wide-angle lens with the intention of using the distortion correction in Lightroom to flatten out the field. Along the way as I searched for lenses I stumbled across an ad for the Samyang 12mm 2.8 full frame fish-eye lens. I had to check three times to make sure it was a full frame lens and not a lens made for APS/C. Sure enough it was a full frame lens! I had never seen a 180 degree full frame fish-eye with a focal length wider than 15mm.

This lens is much wider than the 15mm. Even though both lenses use optical barrel distortion to cover an identical 180 degrees at the corners, the 12mm Samyang has a wider horizontal and vertical coverage as it is in fact a 12mm lens. This also indicates that there is less barrel distortion and thus should be easier and sharper when corrected. I decided to try it out. It is not a cheap lens by any means, but it is less money than the EF 15mm 2.8 by a fair margin.

This lens directly mounts to any EOS camera body but does not offer any electronic coupling. But seriously if there is any lens you have to manual focus, a crazy wide fish-eye is the one to use! The depth of field even wide open is about 3 or 4 feet to infinity. The real question is: “is it sharp”? Well my friends, yes it is, very sharp. In fact this lens is noticeably sharper than my old Canon EF 15mm 2.8. The lens is very crisp right to the ragged edge of that 180 degree corner. When correcting the distortion you do lose some resolution, but compared to the 15mm Canon lens it is night and day. The Samyang just kicks ass.

So now I have a lens that makes full frame fish-eye shots with all that crazy barrel distortion which can be loads of fun in cities and dense forests, and I have a lens that offers similar, possibly wider, “straight line” ultra wide-angle coverage to the Canon 11-24mm. All for about $500 give or take. In all fairness the Canon 11-24mm L lens is superior, especially when making the distortion correction, but the Samyang 12mm performs better than any fisheye I have ever tested and I have owned a FD 7.5mm, FD 15mm, Sigma 16mm FD, Sigma 8mm FD, Canon EF 15mm, Sigma 8mm EF and this Samyang 12mm. The Samyang is the best, it’s just that good.


Samyang 12mm on 5d Mk II at f 8.0 ISO 400, closest leaf is 2 inches from lens, focus set to @8 inches.

What I understand about this lens is that they use a “stereographic” projection rather than the typical “orthographic” projection for the fish-eye effect. This lens does not have as much of the crazy fish-eye look as a Nikon 16mm or Canon 15mm. But it is sharper right out to the edges than either of those lenses.

I took a couple of quick shots in the living room to showcase the 12mm lenses coverage. Now there are a few caveats, first I had to hit the room with a flash pop as it is a dark room and I did not want to drag the shutter and blow out the windows. For the shots taken at 16mm, no worries as the flash diffuser covers down to 14mm. The 12mm both corrected and full 180 has some strong vignetting. This is flash vignetting, not lens vignetting. The lens it self only seems to lose about 1/2 to 1 stop wide open at the corners which is easily correctable and barely noticeable on film. I did attempt to correct the flash vignetting as best as possible. Also I haven’t downloaded Adobe’s updated lens profiles as I need to update my copy of Lightroom. I used the Canon EF 15mm lens profile for the distortion correction. It is good but tends to slightly overstretch the image near the edges, but with the new Samyang 12mm profile it will be much better!

So here are the shots taken in the living room, just quick snaps although mounted on tripod to keep camera in fixed location. The Canon 11-24mm lens offers 126 degrees of diagonal coverage at the 11mm setting. The 16mm setting shown below offers a touch over 108 degrees. The Samyang 12mm uncorrected yields a full 180 degrees corner to corner. I am not sure what the diagonal coverage is when the distortion is corrected but it is much wider than the 16mm and it is wider than 14mm because the flash still vignettes.


Canon 16-35mm 4.0 L IS at 16mm f8.0


Samyang 12mm at f8 distortion corrected


Samyang 12mm at f8 uncorrected

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