Ultra Wide Landscape Photography – Behind The Lens with Jarrod Castaing
Irix 11mm f/4.0 Blackstone Lens Review
I’ve been an avid wide angle shooter for many years. As a landscape photographer, it’s an essential part of my photography. Being based in Sydney Australia I’m surrounded by coastline and shoot a lot of seascapes, so I was excited when Irix asked me to try out their Irix 11mm f/4.0 to see how it performs in the field under these conditions.
When I first got my hands on the Irix 11mm I was impressed. One of the first things you notice about the lens is how solid it feels. The zoom ring is super smooth to the touch, and the rest of the exterior is what you come to expect from top end glass. While it’s not a light lens, it’s well built and what a lens should feel like. The lens come in two versions. The Firefly is a lightweight version and the Blackstone a full metal construction. Optically both are identical. The lens is also weather-sealed, which is a pretty big deal for the work I do. Ideal for shooting in wet conditions, whether it’s seascapes, waterfalls or rainforests. A nice addition since most lenses in this price range generally don’t include it.
In The Field
I tested the Irix 11mm on a full frame Canon 5D Mark IV. The lens supports mounts for Canon, Nikon and Pentax. Full electronic contacts at the back of the lens means that the aperture can be controlled by the camera and will save the metadata to your RAW files. The lens also is compatible with in-camera metering however exposure can vary so be sure to pay attention and use exposure compensation if you need it. Only the focus is manual.
So just how wide is 11mm? Is there much difference between a regular 16mm? The answer is yes. When it comes to wide angle lenses, every millimetre of focal length counts – a lot. It’s definitely not a standard focus length. This is great for landscapes, interiors and architecture but central subjects do become smaller, so you have to take care with your compositions and get close to your foregrounds.
It’s sharp. As obvious as it sounds, one of the most important aspects of a lens is simply the quality of details that it can produce, and this lens is very sharp. Centre-sharpness is excellent, and still good at the corners of the frame. Details are crisp, contrast is great. This lens also performs very well wide open at f/4. Corners drop off but to be fair all ultra wides do. Once you stop the lens down to f8.0 the corners sharpen up well. In fact, I found f/8 to be the sweet spot for this lens. At f/16 things still look good, but you can see that sharpness starts to drop off and more so at f/22 which shouldn’t be a surprise.
Distortion, Vignetting and Chromatic Aberration
When it comes to wide angle lenses, common issues are distortion and vignetting. Distortion is essentially stretching the size of elements in your image. Vignetting is darkening the edges of the frame as light begins to fall off, both common problems with ultra wide angle lenses. Being a rectilinear lens, the Irix 11mm isn’t a fisheye, and will render the scene with minimal distortion. All of the frame edges look good, and any elongation is minimal. While I do see a touch of vignetting or light dropping off around the edges, it too is minimal, which is a testament to the quality of the design of this lens. Fortunately, both of these can be completely removed by applying a Len Profile to the images inside of Lightroom. Ultra wide lenses also have a tendency of showing chromatic aberration in the corners because of their extreme optical design, and the Irix 11mm is no different. Now-a-days this is easily fixed in Lightroom. Unless you shoot JPG, it’s a non-issue.
With such an ultra wide lens, composition needs to be carefully considered as your subjects in the middle of the frame will render further away but the results can be quite dramatic. It offers fresh perspectives on scenes, and gives us the opportunity to achieve results in the field which otherwise would be impossible. Especially the way it can make rather dull foreground elements more interesting. The minimum focus distance is 27.5cm. For best results, try incorporating an interesting, close foreground subject along with a supporting midground and finally a background element in the scene.
For many landscape photographers, the practice of capturing sun stars is highly sought after. To do this, you have to stop down to f/22, allowing the aperture blades in your lens to get close enough to create the sun star as light moves through the lens. The look of the sun star all comes down to the lens itself, in particular, the number and type of aperture blades dictate the shape of the star itself. The Irix 11mm has a 9 rounded blade aperture, which creates a 18-point sunstar, and flaring is well-controlled when shooting into the sun.
I often find myself shooting in manual focus when capturing landscapes. Manually focusing such a wide lens is reasonably straightforward as it has plenty of depth of field and I found that refinements are best made by magnifying the LCD. The Irix 11mm has two adjustable rings. A focus ring which is super smooth, albeit a little stiff, and a locking ring that will prevent you from accidentally changing the focus. Another nice touch which I really like is the Infinity Click which helps you feel when the lens hits infinity which is extremely useful focusing in the dark or in pre-dawn light.
Capturing seascapes, it is hard not to underscore the importance of using filters when it comes to creating dynamic images of moving water. One of the most important filters I recommend every landscape photographer has in their gear bag is a Neutral Density Filter. A Neutral Density or ND filter helps you slow down your shutter speed and smooth the water by putting a darkened filter in front of your lens. Since the Irix 11mm has a bulbous front element, protected by a built-in lens hood, a Gel Filter slot at the rear of the lens allows you to insert 30x30mm ND filters.
A very impressive performance. Being a team of photographers themselves, Irix have managed to pack in a ton of optical quality into this lens. Not only is it incredibly sharp but the build quality of this lens is gorgeous. It’s an ideal lens for tripod shooters and I’m sure I will find myself using this lens in a variety of landscape and travel situations. Overall, the Irix 11mm f/4 is an amazing lens when compared to what’s out there, not to mention for the price. While there are other ultra wide angle lenses on the market, there are no other lenses at this sort of focal length at this sort of price.
About Jarrod Castaing
Jarrod Castaing is an award-winning travel and landscape photographer from Sydney’s Northern Beaches in Australia. Having travelled through more than 50 countries guiding photography workshops to places like Iceland, Arctic Norway, Patagonia and New Zealand, Jarrod’s passion is for sharing the beauty of nature with others. His work has been featured in National Geographic publications and exhibitions worldwide including the South Australian Museum, the Sydney Powerhouse Museum and the Smithsonian Natural History Museum in Washington D.C.