Review: Canon 11-24mm f4 L USM (Canon EF)

If you were to tell me that I would honestly fall in love with a Canon lens like the Canon 11-24mm f4 L USM earlier this year, I would’ve told you that I’ve had my heart broken by the company many times in the past few years since the Canon 5D Mk III came out. But when I had the chance to play with the Canon 11-24mm f4 L USM, I was rather excited by its output. Not because Canon flew me and a bunch of other journalists out to the Hot Air Balloon festival in New Mexico, but because when it was first announced I was honestly intrigued. The lens is billed as being completely and totally rectilinear–and when bringing the images into Adobe Lightroom, Adobe’s algorithms seemed to agree.

As one of the company’s wide angle zoom lens options, this is a lens designed for architecture, real estate, and landscape photographers. Instilled with Canon’s weather sealing present in most L lenses, it’s an optic that you’re bound to enjoy if you love shooting wide.

Pros and Cons

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Pros

  • Excellent image quality
  • Great colors, though still a bit too muted for my liking vs Zeiss and Sigma
  • Little to no distortion
  • Fast and accurate focusing
  • Weather sealing

Cons

  • You’re surely paying for it.
  • It’s an overall jack of all trades but master of none, except when it comes to distortion control.

Gear Used

We tested the lens with the Canon 5D Mk IV and the Canon 6D.

Tech Specs

Specs taken from the company’s page listing

Focal Length & Maximum Aperture

11-24mm f/4

Lens Construction

16 elements in 11 groups

Diagonal Angle of View

126°05′ – 84°00′

Focus Adjustment

AF with full-time manual

Closest Focusing Distance

11 in. / 0.28m

Filter Size

Rear insert-type

Max. Diameter x Length, Weight

4.3 in. x 5.2 in., 41.6 oz.
108.0 x 132.0mm, 1180g

Ergonomics

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The Canon 11-24mm f4 L USM isn’t a small lens of any sort. It’s actually pretty large and you’ll need to make some extra room for it in your camera bag for sure. It’s mostly characterized by the two main rings: which are for zooming and focusing. In between these is the focusing distance scale. To the side is the lens’s only switch: AF/MF.

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The front element is very large. In fact, the lens cap goes over this entire piece including the lens good. When zooming, the front element moves back and forth very little, and never so much as to make you fear for the life of your lens.

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The lens hood itself is also permanently attached. Trust us, you’ll want it to be this way.

Build Quality

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This lens incorporates weather sealing,  but during our testing the worst that happened to it is a slight splash of water got onto it. Of course, an L lens can survive that. However, if you detach the lens from the camera you’ll find a rubber ring towards the back that gives it weather sealing. To that end, professional landscape photographers will have an all-in-one tool here along with a new other zoom lenses that Canon offers.

Autofocus

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Considering that this lens is so wide, the laws of physics dictate that it will be fast to focus especially when you consider that it is also an f4 aperture lens constantly through the zoom range. Indeed, it is speedy and accurate around 95% of the time with the Canon 5D Mk IV. When using the Canon 6D, I got pretty much the same result when working with the center focusing point.

Ease of Use

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To be honest, it’s hard to miss a subject with a lens this wide. You can keep it at f4 all day and night and shoot to your heart’s content. Like most of Canon’s L glass, it’s an autofocus lens that’s designed more to be a workhorse than deliver an image with a specific character to it the way most manual focus glass allows.

Image Quality

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The overall image quality of the lens is something remarkable. Sure, loads of other lenses deliver more contrast and that’s a look I love and that is inherently a part of digital photography. But these images and the colors from this lens don’t feel digital. They feel a bit more like well processed and carefully exposed medium format film.

Then there’s the sharpness; overall it’s very good. I’d still say there are sharper wide angle primes on the market, but those are primes. You have to expect that.

Bokeh

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One of the first things I thought when grabbing this lens to test it is that there is no possible way there could be any sort of bokeh. Indeed, I was wrong. When focusing close up, you can see exactly what those 9 aperture blades are capable of doing. They deliver very nice, out of focus areas. But also keep in mind that this is a super wide angle zoom lens and it has an f4 aperture; it’s not going to be all that creamy.

If you want better bokeh from a wide angle prime, I seriously consider you check out some of the options from Zeiss and Rokinon. Also, Sigma’s 20mm f1.4 is an absolute marvel.

Color Rendition

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If you’ve been in this industry for a while now, you’ll remember what Panasonic was like now vs then. Years ago, the colors on their lenses were very muted. Olympus was leaving them in the dirt in that area. Canon has always embraced this to some point, and the 11-24mm f4 is no different. The colors are pretty mute overall, but you wouldn’t be able to tell unless you saw something different.

In the hands of a skilled editor that knows how to work with Canon’s RAW files, you’ll get fantastic colors. But right out of the camera, not so much. You’ll need to massage the files to really get a vivid landscape.

Chromatic Aberration

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Is there distortion? Only when you get up super close to something–but then what do you expect. Otherwise, there is very little if any, and no purple fringing that I was able to spot in my test images.

The photo above has had the shadows brightened so you can see what’s going on here exactly.

Sharpness

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In my testing, I honestly barely stopped the lens down. There are obvious times where you’re going to want to do this, like with landscapes. But if you’re photographing on the ground in a more intimate setting, you’re not stopping down.

This lens’s results are quite sharp indeed, but again I’ve seen sharper. Zeiss has primes that are sharper than this at specific focal lengths. But then again, what do you expect?

Extra Image Samples

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Conclusions

Likes

  • Little to no distortion
  • Allows the user to have very versatile colors
  • Weather sealing
  • Feels great in the hands
  • Fun to use!

Dislikes

  • That outrageous price! $2,999

The-Phoblographer-Editor's-Choice-Award-Logo

Do I like this lens? Yes. You can have a whole lot of fun with it for sure! I’d also see it being very useful in the hands of extreme sports photographers, like those who shoot skaters. The Canon 11-24mm f4 L USM is a lens that boasts weather sealing, fast focusing, a beefy build, and overall great image quality. On every parameter of image quality though, I’ve seen lenses from other manufacturers perform better except when it comes to distortion. To be fair and clear here though, those were prime lenses. And no matter what, I will always believe that primes outdo zooms.

Phoblographer-Star-rating

The Canon 11-24mm f4 L USM receives five out of five stars the the site’s Editor’s choice award. Want one? Get ready to pony up nearly $3,000 for one.

Big disclaimer here: Canon has been doing things that have made me question how committed they are to photography. In fact, at Canon Expo last year, I had strong beliefs that they’re trying to get out of the photography industry and enter high resolution video and VR. Yes, they flew me out and paid for it all. But this happens all the time, and I’m more than professional enough to call a company out on their faults. Yes, you’re paying a lot for this lens, but a lot of what is problematic can be fixed in Lightroom.

Recommended Cameras

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Canon 5Ds: The company’s flagship 5D series camera is best for the landscape photography crowd who will love this lens.