This is a fun lens that is also a great value. The Irix 11mm f/4 Firefly and Blackstone Lenses feature the widest rectilinear (not a heavily-barrel-distorted fisheye perspective) focal length available in a full frame compatible lens. That piece of information alone makes this a highly-desirable lens and with only 1 other lens sharing this feature, that attribute makes this lens quite unique. While an 11mm lens is not going to be the most-used member of most kits, having the ultra-wide-angle of view available is quite valuable and using it is, again, very fun.
Irix offers two versions of this lens, the Blackstone and the Firefly. These lenses share the same optical design with the Firefly model (used for this review) being low in price and light in weight, though still a quality lens.
Note that this is a manual focus lens. While this lens reports EXIF information to the camera and has an auto/camera-controlled aperture, accurate focusing is up to you. In a lens this wide, most can easily manage without the autofocus feature.
Extremely-wide focal lengths are not usually among the first to be added to even serious photographers' kits and, as just mentioned, they are not often among the most-used option, but ... they are seriously-fun to use and they have serious value in most photographers' kits. I often say that one way to have your images stand out, garnering notice, is to use an extreme lens and an 11mm rectilinear lens easily qualifies as such. The Irix 11's 126° diagonal angle of view takes in an incredibly vast scene. I knew how wide 11mm was going to be the first time I mounted this focal length on a camera, but I was still blown away by the view.
All that said, while 11mm is an extreme focal length, it is not as radically-wide as the 15mm and wider fisheye lenses. However, I find the far-lower amount of distortion of the rectilinear design to be much more useful in my everyday life. Also note that, when used on an APS-C 1.5x/1.6x imaging sensor-format camera, 11mm provides a less-extreme angle of view, one similar to a 17mm lens mounted on a full frame camera model.
To visualize how 11mm compares to other available focal lengths, I'll borrow a comparison from the Canon EF 11-24mm f/4L USM Lens review.
Compare the widest focal length currently in your kit with 11mm to see the difference (to see what you are missing). To say that a 16mm max-wide lens owner will be very impressed by the 11mm angle of view is a big understatement.
What is 11mm useful for? Some of the most popular 11mm uses include landscape, real estate, interior and architecture photography.
Because of the perspective this lens provides, real estate photographers will find it especially valuable for making their properties appear large. With distant objects appearing very small relative to the foreground subjects, even small rooms appear spacious when photographed at 11mm.
Real estate often includes architecture and architecture is often large, quite often affording only limited space from which to photograph it void of obstructions including trees, signs, power lines and other buildings. The 11mm focal length allows large subjects to be captured at short distances, just what is needed in this situation. Of course, tilting the camera upward may be necessary and that brings up another common ultra-wide-angle lens trait, perspective distortion, or the convergence of naturally-parallel lines.
When the camera is tilted up, buildings will appear to get narrower at the top (with the opposite also being true).
Keeping vertical lines parallel in the frame requires keeping the camera level and that leads to another use of an ultra-wide-angle focal length. While it is often not practical to find an adequately-elevated position from which to photograph large (or sometimes even small) buildings ideally centered in the frame with a level camera, it is sometimes possible to move back far enough to contain the building in the frame with a ground-level-positioned camera. The image can then be cropped to center the building if desired. Here is an illustration of this concept as captured with the slightly-longer Venus Optics Laowa 12mm f/2.8 Zero-D Lens:
While there is less resolution remaining after cropping, the lines are straight. A tilt-shift lens is the ideal solution to this issue, but ... if one doesn't have such a lens in the kit (or in the pack), the wide-angle option can be used.
Directly related to real estate and architectural photography is interior photography. A fisheye look is seldom desired for formal interior photography and that means this focal length is the widest available for the job. This lens is able to capture more of a room in a single image than any other available rectilinear focal length.
The Pennsylvania Capitol Senate Chamber is shown in the above image. Moving out of the chamber and into the rotunda, looking up then presents this also-impressive view:
Walking down the street from the capitol finds this church interior:
And, this church also has an amazing ceiling:
Here is the church ceiling from another vantage point:
OK, I got a little carried away there, having too much fun. Architects have historically created great ceilings and an 11mm focal length is an excellent choice for capturing this part of the interior architecture.
While telephoto focal lengths are more commonly used for sports, wide angles have their place at these events, enabling the venue to be seen along with the participants. This lens is a good option for attaching to a remote camera at sporting events, capturing the start and/or finish of a race, covering the goal, mounted over the basket, etc. It will also capture the big image of the arena and it will work for the overhead shot of the MVP sports figure being mobbed for interviews after a big game. Viewers of these close-perspective images will be made to feel like they are present in the scene.
Wedding photographers will find this lens useful for capturing the venue. Place the bride and groom in the foreground, the wedding party behind them and allow the entire cathedral to fill the rest of the frame for a stunning album cover photo. Note that it may be best to not get too close to your subjects as the perspective distortion is not found attractive by most.
No, this horse's head is not really as large as its entire body. But, its head is much closer than its body and thus appears much larger. Avoid that issue with people, but still, 11mm environmental portraits with the subject at least somewhat centered (to avoid a stretched appearance) can look great.
Extreme-wide angles are popular with landscape photographers who especially like the deep depth of field that permits a close foreground subject and a distant background subject to be simultaneously in focus.
The uses for an 11mm lens extend vastly beyond those I've shared here, but hopefully your 11mm list has been inspired.
Be aware that composing with an ultra-wide-angle lens presents some challenges. One is keeping unwanted subjects such as your shoes, shadow and tripod out of the frame. With the extreme angle of view, another challenge is to find a vast scene void of unwanted subjects.
Do you ever feel like you are in a photographic rut? The challenge of creating compelling extreme wide-angle compositions may pull you out of it. While it is easy to go out and simply shoot images with an ultra-wide focal length, these images will, more often than not, look like snapshots. An ultra-wide-angle of view pushes the background away, making it much smaller in the frame relative to close foreground subjects and ideal compositions often embrace this attribute. For striking ultra-wide-angle imagery, try incorporate an interesting, close foreground subject along with a complementary/supporting midground and background in the scene.
There are currently only two manufacturers producing 11mm rectilinear lenses and both offer a maximum aperture of f/4. Thus, this lens has the widest aperture available at 11mm. Of course, it also has the narrowest.
In the overall lens landscape, f/4 is a moderate max-aperture. Considerably wider apertures are available and the 1-stop narrower f/5.6 is also common.
A wider max aperture would be advantageous for stopping action in low light, notably for night sky photography (with the earth's rotation providing the referred-to action). Increasing this lens to an f/2.8 max aperture would significantly increase its size, weight and price. So, there is a balance happening here. With the very low magnification of 11mm keeping in-motion subjects from quickly crossing imaging sensor pixels, f/4 at 11mm can be adequate even for photographing the night sky.
For many (especially indoor) scenarios, adding your own light to the scene is also an option. Keep in mind that, even with the flip-down diffusor in place, most shoe-mount flashes will not cover angles wider than 14mm. An accessory flash modifier is required to cover the wider angles. This diffusion of course reduces the flash's effective power level and distance.
An attribute of low magnification is that backgrounds are not significantly enlarged and that means they are not strongly-blurred even when out of focus. A wider aperture would be helpful in this regard, but not significantly so. I'll share an example of the strongest background blur this lens is capable of later in this review.
When a smaller lens company introduces an extreme lens at a low price, Mr. Skepticism immediately shows up and starts waving his hands in the air for attention. Certainly, the image quality would be marginal at best, right?
Although they are a smaller lens company, Irix technology is not entry-level. Advanced lens elements included in the Irix 11 design include three aspherical, four high-refractive index, and two extra-low dispersion elements.
A Neutrino coating has been applied to limit lens flare and ghosting for improved contrast and color fidelity.
To answer the "How sharp is the Irix 11mm f/4 Firefly/Blackstone Lens?" question, we first tested it in the lab and my first reaction was to be quite impressed. This lens shows great sharpness from the center deep into the full frame corners wide-open at f/4.
I became a bit confused when I saw the mid and periphery image quality degrade a bit at f/4.5, but sharpness snapped back in at f/5.6. Strange also is that f/8 showed another slight drop in sharpness performance. The better/worse cycle was unusual and I felt the need to be able to explain the anomaly, couldn't, and so we opted to completely re-set up and tested the lens again. The results were the same.
Our test chart is very large, but even so, the framing distance at 11mm is rather short. Moving to real world scenes permitted testing at longer focus distances. Taking the testing outdoors, we next look at several sets of center-of-the-frame 100% resolution crops examples. These images were captured using an ultra-high-resolution Canon EOS 5Ds R with RAW files processed in DPP using the Standard Picture Style and sharpness set to only "1" (0-10 scale).
In the flowers, I see very sharp image quality starting right at f/4 with a slight drop-off at f/8. The same analysis applies to the needles, rocks and leaves scene. The more-distant-captured sample shows fine details becoming too tiny to be resolved even at 50 mp and in this set of samples, the f/5.6 image quality is a touch better than in the f/4 and f/8 results.
Positive is that I did not notice any focus shift at narrower apertures.
Moving to the corners ... the first set of extreme corner results is from the bottom-right, the second set is from the top-left and the last set is from the top-right.
Especially for a lens this wide, the full frame corner performance we see at f/4 is not bad. With some vignetting clearing and contrast increasing, the f/5.6 corners are looking rather good with only a minor difference seen at f/8. I'll talk about lateral CA (Chromatic Aberration) soon, but much of the difference between rather good and excellent in this case is due to that particular lens issue resolving.
If the lens has an ultra-wide-angle focal length, it is highly likely that the lens will have strong peripheral shading at its wide-open aperture and we see that here. The amount of shading at f/4 is about 4-stops in the corners and that amount is quite noticeable. Stop down to f/5.6 and the corners see about 2.5 stops of shading and just over 2 stops remains at the narrower apertures.
Those using APS-C format cameras will see only a just-noticeable 1-stop of shading in the corners at f/4.
Vignetting can be corrected during post processing with increased noise in the brightened areas being the penalty. Vignetting can also be simply embraced, using the effect to draw the viewer's eye to the center of the frame. None of the images shared on this page have had this correction applied.
I mentioned lateral (or transverse) CA above. Lateral CA refers to the effect of different colors of the spectrum being magnified differently and it shows as color fringing along lines of strong contrast running tangential (meridional, right angles to radii) with the mid and especially the periphery of the image circle showing the greatest amount as this is where the greatest difference in the magnification of wavelengths exists. This lens has a solid amount of lateral CA and the corner crops shared above are showing degradation due to the color shift.
While I find lateral CA readily noticeable in many images, it is also readily correctable in software by radially shifting the colors to coincide. Irix has produced lens profiles for Adobe Camera RAW and Lightroom, making this task easier. Lateral CA correction is not available in-camera with JPG format image capture or video recording.
Let's look at a worst-case example (100% crop from an extreme corner of an ultra-high resolution 5Ds R frame). This is the top left corner.
There should be only black and white colors in this image, with the additional colors clearly showing the lateral CA. Again, this is correctable via software.
A relatively common lens aberration is axial (longitudinal, bokeh) CA, which causes non-coinciding focal planes of the various wavelengths of light, or more simply, different colors of light are focused to different depths. Spherical aberration along with spherochromatism, or a change in the amount of spherical aberration with respect to color (looks quite similar to axial chromatic aberration, but is hazier) are other common lens aberrations to look for. Axial CA remains at least somewhat persistent when stopping down with the color misalignment effect increasing with defocusing while the spherical aberration color halo shows little size change as the lens is defocused and stopping down one to two stops generally removes this aberration.
In the real world, lens defects do not exist in isolation with spherical aberration and spherochromatism generally found, at least to some degree, along with axial CA. These combine to create a less sharp, hazy-appearing image quality at the widest apertures.
The above two images show an out-of-focus silver bracelet. If these aberrations were present in any significant amount, color fringing would be seen in the specular highlights. In this case, the bracelet looks the same, correct color in both the foreground and the background, indicating very good performance in this regard.
With an angle of view this wide, it is not hard to get bright lights, including the sun, in the frame and under these circumstances, the Irix 11 is going to show some flare effects. While the amount of flare is on the high side for a lens of this class, the difference is not much and not likely meaningful to most. Flare effects can be embraced, avoided or removal can be attempted. If not embraced, flare effects can be destructive to image quality and it is sometimes extremely difficult to remove in post processing.
Coma is generally recognized by sharp contrast towards the center of an image and long, soft contrast transitioning toward the image periphery. Coma becomes quite visible mid-frame and in the corners of images captured at wide apertures and significantly resolves when the lens is stopped down. Astigmatism is another lens image quality attribute that is apparent in the corners and the pin-point stars in the night sky are a subject that makes these aberrations, along with some others, easily recognizable to me.
In this case, it is the strong lateral CA that obscures any other issues that may be present.
It is an ultra-wide-angle focal length and that often means barrel distortion is expected. In this regard, the Irix 11 does not let us down. While the Irix 11 has an extreme advantage over the fisheye alternatives in this regard, it does show moderately-strong barrel distortion. Geometric distortion makes optically framing a scene with a straight horizon, such as the ocean, or that has straight lines that need carefully aligned (such as the ceiling images shared above) challenging as there are no lines parallel to the edges of the viewfinder or viewfinder gridlines.
Most modern lenses have lens correction profiles available for the popular image processing software and distortion can be easily removed using these, but it should be noted that distortion correction is destructive at the pixel level and using a distortion-free lens is preferable, if you can find one.
If you are looking for a lens to strongly blur the background, this isn't the right one for you. An 11mm f/4 lens focused at 10.8" (275mm) simply does not blur the background into nonrecognition. Evaluating the background blur quality is challenging in this case.
Let's start with an example showing a distant scene using the just-mentioned settings. This example shows of the maximum background blur this lens can produce:
It is not hard to tell what is in this photo. Still, the blur is noticeable and especially noticeable is the radial blur that becomes stronger into the image circle perimeter.
Getting a sample of background out-of-focus specular highlights using a stopped-down aperture is more challenging (stopped down to f/8 to capture diaphragm blade interaction).
The only-modestly-blurred highlights shown above appear somewhat harsh/busy.
When stopped down significantly, the 9 rounded diaphragm blades create 18-point stars, though not dramatically-large ones.
An observation related to image quality is that the camera behind this lens often meters a scene with a 1/3-stop brighter exposure at f/4 than at f/5.6 with the center of the frame being brighter in the image. And, while the exposures are metered similarly at f/8 and f/11, the f/11 image is sometimes slightly (about .1-stop) darker.
While this lens is not turning in perfection in regards to image quality, it produces very nice images, especially from a sharpness perspective. Most of the other issues can be corrected in post if found objectionable.
Image quality is highly dependent on accurate focusing and, with all manual focus lenses, including the current Irix Firefly and Blackstone, that accuracy is up to you. That this lens provides a high performing MF system is a great asset to this lens. Also advantaging sharp image capture is the relatively deep depth of field at 11mm. For some purposes, focusing this lens can be set-and-forget simple.
The very smooth focusing ring has a huge 158° of rotation with no play for very precise manual focusing available at all focus distances. This flush-mounted ring is significantly-sized and, especially with the square-dimpled rubber surface, it is easy to find and grasp.
Unique in the Firefly version of this lens is that a lever is incorporated into the focus ring. Before actually using the lens, my expectation was that the lever was going to be annoying. However, I've come to greatly appreciate it. This lens' focus ring has hard stops at infinity and minimum focus distances, meaning that focus distances are repeatable (an attribute highly valued by videographers). The lever tactilely aids in knowing where the focus currently is set and makes establishing precise focus while rocking back and forth easier. Many photographers buy accessory focusing aids to get this built-in feature.
Another unique feature of this lens is a light click stop at the infinity mark. Most lenses focus past their actual infinity setting to account for needs in extreme temperatures, but the click stop makes normal-infinity easy to find without looking at the lens. Turn the ring until the click stop is felt and a significant portion of the world is in focus.
One more unique feature of this lens is the focus scale calibration adjustment. "The focus calibration hole can be found under a detachable cover and provides access to the rings regulating the focus scale position." [Irix]
In addition to bold distance markings, the Irix Firefly 11 provides a full DOF (Depth of Field) scale including aperture marks covering f/4 through f/16. Alternatively, use the provided hyperfocal setting marks.
One more Irix feature unique among wide-angle lenses is the focus lock ring. Set the focus distance and adjust the friction ring to the locked position to ensure that the selected focus distance remains unchanged, aiding in the set-and-forget simple focusing potential of this lens. A real-world use example would be a landscape photographer using a narrow aperture and a focus distance setting that keeps infinity in focus with as much depth of field as possible locking in this focus distance setting. The lens can then be quickly used for all scenarios requiring this focus distance setting without attention to focus required. While this ring is raised slightly above the focus ring, it is narrow and firm to turn, so care must be taken to avoid changing the focus distance setting when locking it down. It can be used at any available position with focusing ring friction gradually increasing as the focus lock ring is rotated from unlocked to the locked.
Videographers pulling focus, photographers intending to use focus stacking techniques involving focus distance adjustment, and anyone very-critically framing a scene need to be aware that subjects change size significantly during full-extent focus distance adjustments with this lens.
Irix specifies the reproduction ratio for this lens as 1:13, equating to an 0.077x MM (Maximum Magnification) spec. These are unimpressive numbers, but the 10.8" (275mm) minimum focus distance, measured from the imaging sensor plane, is rather short.
In the chart below, the sort order is by focal length-primary and manufacturer-secondary.
|Canon EF 8-15mm f/4 L USM Fisheye Lens||5.9"||(150mm)||0.39x|
|Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM Lens||9.4"||(240mm)||0.17x|
|Canon EF 11-24mm f/4L USM Lens||11.0"||(280mm)||0.16x|
|Irix 11mm f/4 Firefly Lens||10.8"||(275mm)||0.08x|
|Sigma 12-24mm f/4 DG HSM Art Lens||9.4"||(240mm)||0.20x|
|Venus Optics Laowa 12mm f/2.8 Zero-D Lens||7.1"||(180mm)||0.20x|
|Canon EF 14mm f/2.8 L II USM Lens||7.9"||(200mm)||0.15x|
|Nikon 14mm f/2.8D AF Lens||7.9"||(201mm)||0.15x|
|Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8G AF-S Lens||11.0"||(280mm)||0.15x|
|Sigma 14mm f/1.8 DG HSM Art Lens||10.6"||(270mm)||0.10x|
|Irix 15mm f/2.4 Blackstone Lens||11.0"||(280mm)||0.11x|
|Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8 Di VC USD Lens||11.0"||(280mm)||0.20x|
|Zeiss 15mm f/2.8 Milvus Lens||9.8"||(250mm)||0.11x|
The image below contains 3" (76mm) flowers that were captured with the Irix 11mm f/4 at minimum focus distance. I was impressed at the f/4 image sharpness at this short distance, so I also shared a 100% crop in addition to the full-sized, reduced image. This image was 5Ds R-captured in RAW format and processed to the same low sharpness standard shared earlier.
Mounting an extension tube behind a lens is often a good way to reduce the MFD and thereby increase the MM. However, ETs are generally not very useful on lenses with ultra-wide focal lengths. In this case, a 12mm ET reduces the focus distance so much that the maximum infinity focus is somewhere behind the front lens element. The combination is completely useless.
Manufacturers have realized that we like the products we buy to look good and Irix has created a very attractive design for the 11mm Firefly and Blackstone, one very similar to the Irix 15mm f/2.4 Firefly and Blackstone Lenses. These lenses feature a bold graphic design and equally-attractive matte finish along with an alluring shape.
The Firefly version of this lens utilizes an ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) engineering plastic exterior barrel design, ideal for thermal stability, light weight and low cost while the Blackstone features a more-rugged magnesium-aluminum construction.
The Irix 11's barrel is relatively straight in diameter with a molded-in rib grip surface at both the mount and the slightly-raised lock ring. The objective end of the lens flares rapidly outward beyond the lock ring. Overall, this lens is quite comfortable in the hand with the flared end creating an especially sure grip.
While the Firefly 11mm lens appears nicely-built, the Blackstone version is promoted as the more-durably-built model. Both lenses feature weather sealing with dust and splash-resistant seals including around the focus lock ring, focusing ring and camera mount with the Blackstone adding sealing for the front element (no front filter is required).
The Irix 11 has a size and weight that is comfortable for even long-term handheld use. There is adequate space to grip the lens but the lens is not so large that it gets in the way.
Again, the sort order of the below-compared lenses is by focal length-primary and manufacturer-secondary.
|Model||Weight||Dimensions w/o Hood||Filter||Year|
|Canon EF 8-15mm f/4 L USM Fisheye Lens||19.1 oz||(540g)||3.1 x 3.3"||(78.5 x 83.0mm)||n/a||2010|
|Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM Lens||13.6 oz||(385g)||3.3 x 3.5"||(84.0 x 90.0mm)||77mm||2004|
|Canon EF 11-24mm f/4L USM Lens||41.6 oz||(1180g)||4.3 x 5.2"||(108.0 x 132.0mm)||n/a||2015|
|Irix 11mm f/4 Firefly Lens||25.8 oz||(730g)||4.6 x 4.7"||(118 x 118.9mm)||n/a||2017|
|Sigma 12-24mm f/4 DG HSM Art Lens||40.6 oz||(1150g)||4.0 x 5.2"||(102.0 x 131.5mm)||n/a||2016|
|Venus Optics Laowa 12mm f/2.8 Zero-D Lens||21.5 oz||(645g)||2.9 x 3.3"||(74.8 x 82.8mm)||n/a||2007|
|Canon EF 14mm f/2.8 L II USM Lens||22.8 oz||(645g)||3.1 x 3.7"||(80.0 x 94.0mm)||n/a||2007|
|Nikon 14mm f/2.8D AF Lens||23.7 oz||(670g)||3.4 x 3.4"||(87.0 x 86.5mm)||n/a||2000|
|Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8G AF-S Lens||34.2 oz||(969g)||3.9 x 5.2"||(98.0 x 131.5mm)||n/a||2007|
|Samyang 14mm f/2.8 IF ED UMC Lens||19.5 oz||(552g)||3.4 x 3.8"||(87.0 x 96.1mm)||n/a||2012|
|Irix 15mm f/2.4 Blackstone Lens||24.2 oz||(686g)||4.5 x 3.9"||(114 x 100mm)||95mm||2016|
|Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8 Di VC USD Lens||38.8 oz||(1100g)||3.9 x 5.7"||(98.4 x 145.0mm)||n/a||2014|
|Zeiss 15mm f/2.8 Milvus Lens||33.4 oz||(947g)||4.0 x 3.9"||(102.3 x 100.2mm)||95mm||2016|
For many more comparisons, review the complete Irix 11mm f/4 Firefly Lens Specifications using the site's Lens Spec tool.
Below is a visual side-by-side extreme-wide-angle lens comparison.
Positioned above from left to right are the following lenses (aligned on their mounts – not lens cap bases):
Use the site's product image comparison tool to visually compare the Irix 11mm f/4 Firefly Lens to other lenses.
Like all of the other lenses this wide, the Irix 11 has a convex front lens element and lenses with convex front lens elements usually have some shared traits.
The first shared trait is that they have a permanently-attached, petal-shaped lens hood. The Irix 11's hood is constructed of semi-rigid plastic with a matte interior to avoid reflections. The hood is sized adequately to offer good light and impact protection to the protruding front lens element.
The next commonly-shared trait is that front filter threads are not provided. The protruding front lens element gets in the way of this desirable feature and a large external filter system is required to circumvent the issue for circular polarizer and split ND filter use. Note that uneven darkening of a scene, especially one with a blue sky, can be an issue with CPL filter use at 11mm. For neutral density filter use, a gel filter slot is provided on the mount end of this lens, accepting 30 x 30mm cut gel filters.
Another shared trait: lenses with convex front lens elements generally utilize a wrap-around-style lens cap and the Irix 11 has one of these. This lens cap model is a very light, semi-rigid plastic design that clips into place inside of the hood. While the spring-loaded clipping mechanisms do not exude high quality, they work fine and the cap has remained in place quite well for me.
Note that I am noticing some light plastic dust on the lens hood where the cap aligns onto it, showing some at-least-initial wear.
Irix lens mount caps are both stylish and functional, with an easy-to-grasp design that offers a shallow, yet wide stance for use as a base for the lens to sit on.
The Firefly 11mm lens comes in a stylish box and in the box ... only from Irix ... is a tin.
Only good things come in a tin, right?
Inside the tin is a soft-sided drawstring lens pouch that offers dust, scratch and light impact protection on the sides with more significant padding protecting the bottom of the case.
What I've presented here is a very good, though not perfect lens. When you see the price, especially the price compared to the other lenses reaching rectilinear 11 or 12mm, you will be very impressed with what you get for your money and likely willing to overlook any flaws that caught your attention.
Swiss design, made in Korea – that is what it says on the lens. The Irix 11mm f/4 Firefly Lens is available in Canon (reviewed), Nikon and Pentax mounts.
With hesitation, I'll include my standard disclaimer here: There are potential issues with third party lenses. Since Irix reverse engineers (vs. licenses) manufacturer electronics and algorithms, there is always the possibility that a DSLR body might not support a (likely older) third party lens. Usually a lens can be made compatible by the manufacturer via a firmware update, but this cannot be guaranteed. There is also the risk of a problem that results in the lens and body manufacturers directing blame at each other. Though this lens reports EXIF information to the camera and features an auto-aperture, the manual focus-only attribute decreases the risk of compatibility issues and thus abates my hesitation.
Irix is a relatively new lens company and I inquired about service of this lens when recently reviewing the Irix 15. Irix USA informed me that they plan to open a repair facility in the USA this year (2017) and until then, any lens with a problem is simply being replaced.
Irix USA provided this review lens at no charge.
As of review time, there are exactly three rectilinear full frame lenses covering the 11mm focal length. Thus, if 11mm is what you want/need, the selection process is not going to be terribly difficult.
The most-comparable 11mm option is the Firefly's sibling, the Blackstone. From many standpoints, these two lenses are the same. "Our Firefly lens offers the same optical performance and high quality mechanism as our Blackstone, but its ultra lightweight construction makes it the perfect choice for hikers, travelers, or anyone who simply likes to pack light." [Irix] The Blackstone adds an aluminum-magnesium alloy housing construction including a metal focus ring (sans the lever), a premium anti-scratch finish, engraved markings with UV light reactive paint, additional weather sealing around the front element and the soft case is traded for a rigid case. In addition to a 12% weight savings, the Firefly costs only 75% as much as the Blackstone and that difference is probably going to feel even more significant to most.
The other full frame lens currently covering 11mm is the Canon EF 11-24mm f/4L USM Lens. This Canon lens has been in my kit since it first hit the streets and I find it to be an incredibly-high-performing model. However, it has a very high price tag – one could buy 5 Irix Firefly 11mm lenses for the price of one Canon 11-24mm f/4L (using regular/non-rebate prices). Is the Canon the better and more-useful lens? Especially with AF and a solid range of focal lengths available, definitely. Is it 5x better? That is a harder sell.
Looking at the Irix 11mm vs. Canon 11-24mm lens image quality comparison, the Canon is slightly sharper in the center at f/4 and has less-brilliantly-colored lateral CA. However, the difference in image quality at f/4 is much less significant than the price differential between these two lenses would suggest. At f/8, the Canon has a more-substantial lead.
The Irix has slightly less vignetting at f/4, but by f/8 and beyond, the Canon has slightly less. The Canon shows slightly less flare effects. The Canon is significantly heavier (41.7 vs. 25.8 oz, 1180 vs. 730g) and larger. The Canon's maximum magnification ability, aided primarily by the 24mm focal length, is likely 2x higher. However, with similar minimum focus distances, these lenses should perform similarly in this regard at 11mm.
Those looking for the best of the best will continue to select the Canon. Those having a modest budget and those only infrequently needing 11mm are far more likely to opt for the Irix.
If the modestly narrower 12mm focal length will suffice for your needs (see the 11mm vs. 12mm angle of view comparison at the beginning of this review), several additional full frame lenses come into play. I'll start with the Sigma 12-24mm f/4 DG HSM Art Lens. Once again we find the zoom lens' obvious advantages to be AF and a range of focal lengths at your fingertips. Along with not opening as wide as 11mm, the Sigma bears a much higher price tag – nearly 3x higher in this case.
Looking at the Irix 11mm vs. Sigma 12-24mm lens image quality comparison at f/4, the Sigma appears to have a very slight advantage in the center of the frame and has less-obvious lateral CA, though the overall advantage is hard to call. At f/5.6, the Sigma takes the lead and holds it through f/11 with the Sigma's mid-frame and corner performance being notably better. Some focus shift must be accounted for with the Sigma. The Sigma has considerably-less peripheral shading, less barrel distortion and shows slightly less flare effects.
The Sigma is significantly heavier (40.6 vs. 25.8 oz, 1150 vs. 730g) and larger. The Sigma's maximum magnification ability, aided primarily by the 24mm focal length, is likely more than 2x higher. With the Sigma having a slightly shorter minimum focus distance and a slightly longer widest focal length, it should be able to best the Irix.
Costing considerably less than the Canon 11-24 L, the Sigma 12-24 Art is financially-obtainable for a greater number of photographers, though the cost-to-performance ratio of the Irix remains a very strong factor in this decision process.
The 12mm prime lens to consider is the Venus Optics Laowa 12mm f/2.8 Zero-D Lens. While the Laowa 12 is not as wide as the Irix 11, it has two big advantages mentioned in its name. The first is the 1-stop wider aperture that can be a big deal in some scenarios including stopping action in low light and photographing the night sky which is, technically, also photographing action in low light. The other big Laowa advantage is the "Zero-D", denoting this lens' very low amount of geometric distortion.
In the Irix 11mm vs. Venus Optics Laowa lens image quality comparison at f/4, we see the Laowa performing better in the mid and peripheral image circle, primarily due to the much lower amount of lateral CA. The Laowa's 1-stop wider aperture strongly advantages it in the vignetting comparison at f/4, where the Laowa shows about 1-stop less corner shading. The Laowa is smaller and weighs modestly less despite its wider aperture. The Laowa's considerably-shorter minimum focus distance generating a 0.20x maximum magnification spec is certainly an advantage it holds. As you may have guessed by this point in the comparisons, the Irix Firefly has a considerably lower price tag.
Sony-based kits have the Sony FE 12-24mm f/4 G Lens to consider. This lens is on my to-review list, but some selection considerations include: The Sony has obvious advantages in AF and a range of focal lengths. Like the rest of the lenses in the comparison, the Sony bears a much higher price tag – over 3x higher – and doesn't reach as wide as 11mm. The Sony is a bit smaller and lighter than the Irix. The Irix has 9 aperture blades vs. the Sony's 7. With a maximum magnification spec of 0.14x, the Sony has an advantage over the Irix, though the advantage likely evaporates at the wide end.
Want an even wider angle of view and not worried about barrel distortion? A fisheye lens, such as the excellent Canon EF 8-15mm f/4 L USM, is another option for you.
Those using APS-C imaging sensor format cameras have a large number of zoom lenses available to cover their 11mm needs. Still, the Irix 11mm competes strongly against this class of lenses.
If you do not have 11mm covered in your kit, it is time to think about plugging that gap. While this extreme-wide focal length is very useful, it is also very fun to use, inviting creativity. Those without a big budget (and even those with one), those needing a lightweight extremely-wide-angle lens and those without a frequent need for 11mm should strongly consider adding an Irix 11mm f/4 Firefly Lens to their kits.
This is a nicely-built and attractively-designed lens that is simple to use and delivers very nice image quality at a bargain price. This lens may be the ideal gift for a photographer who seems to have everything.
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