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Irix 15mm Ultrawide Lens Review

[DISCLAIMER ALERT: We contacted Irix requesting a demo lens for reviewing purposes, however due to high demand for the lens we were unable to secure one before the Peace on Earth and Global Countdown fireworks tags would have concluded.  Since these shows were to form a comparison point in this review, Ben purchased a copy of the lens out of his own pocket.]

I, like so many others, enjoy following PetaPixel on Facebook. A few months ago, I saw a posting about a lens that caught my eye. I hadn’t heard of the company before: a small Swiss company called Irix.

The Irix 15mm f/2.4 is an ultra-wide, manual focus prime lens. It comes in two styles, the Firefly and the Blackstone. It has a 110-degree field of view, 15 glass elements in 11 groups, all of various acronyms that describe the glass, 9 rounded aperture blades, the blades of which are controlled by the camera, and a minimum focal distance of just short of a foot. The more-expensive Blackstone is made of a magnesium-aluminum alloy and comes with engraved exterior markings painted in UV reactive paint, while the Firefly comes with a high-strength plastic exterior with printed markings. They both are weather sealed at three different points, the camera mount, the focus ring, and the focus lock ring (more on that later), while the Blackstone adds weather sealing at the front lens element, too. This review focuses specifically on the Blackstone, which retails for 695 euros on their website or $649 on Amazon, while the Firefly costs 475 euros on Irix’s website or $449 on Amazon. Both lenses accept 95mm filters on the front and drop-in gelatin filters in the back.

That last line is the real reason I took such an eye to the lens. I love my Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8, but because of the construction of the lens and glass, there is no way to mount filters without a $250 kit, plus the cost of the filters themselves. I tend to use my Nikon 14-24mm only at the 14mm end, anyway, so one millimeter narrower with six degrees less field of view was, for me, a decent trade-off for easy mounting of filters. That’s it for the background – time for the review.

Please don’t confuse this review with that of a seasoned professional. It does not contain any charts that show the distortion of the lens, or how harsh the vignetting is, or things along those lines. Photography is a hobby, as is writing, and my review reflects that. It will contain sample images, some you may have already seen, and my opinions of it from use at Disney. That being said, this lens has me seriously considering selling my Nikon 14-24mm. Considering how often I spend with it set to 14mm, I’m not reaping the benefit of the full range of focal lengths. I spend a lot of time shooting landscapes, where having instant auto-focus is not super important. For the situations I have used it in thus far, some daytime handheld, some nighttime off of a tripod, and some fireworks pictures taken with an ND filter, the Iris has met or surpassed my expectations in all regards.

First, the unboxing process. I didn’t expect to include this as part of a review when I first bought the lens, but I have to say, this is a treat! My previous Nikon lenses come into a big, gold cardboard box. This is an exciting box because it means a new toy, but once you pull back the flap on the top, your shiny new lens is in a cardboard box, suspended in foam and cellophane. When I removed the cardboard outer box when taking out my Irix lens, I was greeted with an inner metal box. I was greatly impressed with this box, especially the fact that it was also embossed on top. Inside this metal box was the lens’ hard case, a feature unique to the Blackstone version. The Firefly includes a soft case. There was also another surprise inside the box, under the lens: a second rear lens cap! In a world where every bit and bobble is an added extra, including a second rear lens cap was a treat. Unboxing this lens was a treat, and the process truly was made to feel special with the attention to detail Irix paid.

As a prime lens, it retains the wonderful sharpness that comes with not worrying about retaining sharpness across a range of focal lengths. As you will see in the below image, the Eiffel Tower remains clear when taking a picture from the bridge closest to the United Kingdom. You can also see the low amount (in my opinion, your mileage may vary) of distortion in the shot. And as far as the aforementioned vignetting is concerned, I don’t notice any in that shot.

Having to manually focus a lens does take some getting used to, coming from all autofocus lenses. The more I use it, however, the more I’ll get used to it. Thankfully, the camera body does report whether or not the shot is in focus using a series of arrows and a dot in the lower left corner of my eyepiece. Along the lines of the focusing system, however, Irix did not skimp on the manual bells and whistles. For the street photographer crowd, they included their Focus Lock Ring, which when turned, works as advertised. Spin this wonderful little ring at the front of the lens and it locks the focusing ring into place, allowing you to run and gun without worrying that you have accidentally brushed the focusing ring and will have to refocus at your next location. Additionally, there’s a great little feature when you’re focusing and hit infinity. As you are rolling through focus, there’s a tiny little click when you reach infinity. It isn’t big nor does it intrude if you need to head past infinity in either direction, but it’s fantastic in darkness where you can’t see the markings on the lens, or when you’re looking down the viewfinder.

For night photography, I am very happy with this lens. I haven’t noticed any flaring issues, night or day, but this is especially important for me at night, as Disney likes to put bright lights in the oddest places. The lens is wide enough to make a good sky with clouds seem epic, and also to capture almost all of the highest bursts in the IllumiNations: Peace on Earth tag while still getting a good amount of crowd at the bottom of the frame.

You can find a Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 lens direct from Nikon on Amazon for just under $1,900. The Irix 15mm f/2.4 Blackstone retails for around $1,200 less than that. It does not come with autofocus, and it does not zoom in to 24mm. But as an ultra-wide prime lens, this is a cracking piece of kit to add to your bag. It weighs less than two pounds, doesn’t take up much room, and does a great job taking landscape photos. I find it to be sharp lens, and I feel confident taking it out in the rain due to its weather sealing. As I mentioned before, the unboxing was an experience that I did not expect to enjoy as much as I did. All of that leads me to say that this is a fantastic value for the money, even more-so if you don’t need the full weather-sealing and purchase the Firefly version of the lens, which saves you an additional $200.

[Editor’s Note:  Another great post from Ben.  From the review and the images he’s posting from the lens, the Irix seems like a great lens at a great value.  For those of you who shoot Canon (like me) Irix has a version of the lens with a Canon mount for the same price as the Nikon one Ben has.]

Well, what did you get?

Ok, Christmas is over and we are through two days of Chanukah……did anybody get anything photography related as a gift this year?  Nothing specifically photography related under the tree but I did get a gift card so I think I’ll use that for something in my bag.  My stepson and his girlfriend got a Canon 50-250mm zoom lens for their upcoming trip to London and they’re saving up to upgrade the body on their older Canon Rebel XTi.

So if you got something photography related from a loved one (or even from yourself), what did you get?  Leave a comment in the comments section below (you have to click READ MORE to leave a comment).

Don’t forget the 2017 Photo A Day is up on the App Store.  If you already have the app, please leave a rating in iTunes.

If you are going to be ordering from Amazon.com anyway, please consider following this link.  It doesn’t cost you anything but we earn a very small commission and it helps support the site.

So you are going to shoot Canon…

Christmas is right around the corner and we thought we would put together three new blog articles this week.  One each about the brand choices you make when you decide to get something more than a Point and Shoot camera.  On Friday, Cory is going to cover mirrorless cameras as he is the Sony shooter among us.  Wednesday, Ben is going to tackle Nikon and today I’m going to tackle Canon.

First off, are any of these three camera bands better than the other.  Yes.  And No.  That’s not the answer I’m supposed to give right?  Like Apple versus Android, Mac versus PC, or Ford versus Dodge, I’m supposed to defend Canon to the death, right?  If you come to these three articles expecting that then you are going to be sadly disappointed.  To be sure, Canon gets a lot of things right, but so does Nikon and so does Sony.  You’ll certainly hear Ben and Cory extol their virtues later in the week.

So if they each have their good points, how did I end up with Canon?  A friend of mine had one of the Canon EOS Rebel film cameras in high school and I got to use it when we were working on yearbook together.  So when it came time to get my first DSLR I naturally gravitated toward the Canon.   When that first DSLR died in 2011, I could have switched to a different system at that point.  Well, mirrorless really wasn’t that big of a thing back then.  Photography is a very expensive hobby.  I already had a couple of lenses and a flash….and I guess I could have made the switch at that point.  But I wasn’t ready for that kind of financial hit.  To be honest, I really can’t understand how people like Cory can go from Canon to Olympus and then to Sony.  But then again I’m no where near the photographer Cory is.  So when he says that the Olympus and Sony are giving him more than he could get elsewhere, who am I to judge?

Now that all the preliminaries are out of the way and you either are already a Canon shooter or are soon to be one.  Where do you start?  I’m going to assume that if you really are a pro photographer and are in the market for the Canon 1D line of cameras there’s no reason for you to be reading this article at this point.  You really have three choices…..the entry line is the Canon T6.  You can get a nice basic kit for under $600 that comes with an 18-55mm lens and a 70-300mm lens.  If you are just starting out, this isn’t really a bad choice but you are going to run into the limitations of the camera pretty quickly.  The next step up from that is the Canon 80D for double the price of the T6(I bought my camera several years ago, the 60D I have is equivalent to the 80D that is out now).  What do you get for the step up?  The 18-135mm lens that comes with the basic kit is much better than the 18-55 in the T6 kit I mentioned above for one.  The body on the 80D is weather sealed so if you get caught in a bit of the elements you are more protected (though the camera is not water-proof and you won’t be taking it underwater anytime soon).  The next big step up to the 80D is in the number of images the 80D can get at a time.  The T6 can only get you 3 frames per second while the 80D is more than double that at 7 frames per second.  This is a great feature when you are trying to get a lot of shots (like say on the Kilimanjaro Safari) or tracking fast action shots.  
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If you have money to burn, you can always give the Canon 5D mk IV a shot.  At almost triple the price over the 80D you the 24-70mm f/4L lens, a larger LCD screen, even more megapixels, and a ton of video capability.  If you aren’t going to be shooting video the 5D Mk IV is probably not the camera to get your first time out.

If you already have a kit set up and are looking for your next lens purchase in the Canon line, a lot of that depends on the kind of shooting you like to do.  Getting the Nifty-fifty for just over $100 is the no brainer.  Yes you most likely have this focal length already covered but the f/1.8 is what you are really looking for.  If you want to get shots on dark rides or in shows like Festival of the Lion King like the shot below you need a lens with a faster (lower) aperture number.  Canon also offers a Canon 50mm f/1.4 and a 50mm f/1.2L.  I’ve never shot with the f/1.2L (although Cory has), but the f/1.4 is a great lens.  The only question you have to ask yourself is it better enough to spend the additional $200.  I’m quite shocked actually that the f/1.4 lens is down to $300.  When I first looked at the lens a few years ago it was over $400 which was hard to justify.  But at $300 the extra low-light capability is extremely tempting.  If you like shooting in low light situations, the 50mm f/1.8 or f/1.4 is a must.

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Another great lens is the Canon 70-200 IS IIf/2.8 lens.  I don’t own this one but I’ve rented it twice.  I love this lens and if I had the funds (if anybody reading this wants to get it for me for Christmas, I won’t say no).  The lens is huge and weighs a ton.  You might think that it’s kind of long for theme park photography but 200mm is quite fun for parades and close up shots of the animals on the safari.

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If you have all that then you might want to look at a tripod.  I have the MeFoto Roadtrip which has since been replaced by the MeFoto Roadtrip Air.  A tripod is a must if you plan on taking fireworks shots.  Since the camera is going to be open longer you need something that will keep the lens steady.  I reviewed the MeFoto Roadtrip here. I’m hoping to hear back from someone from MeFoto about getting a review unit for the Air to see how the new model compares.  The Roadtrip is still available on Amazon, so you can always go with the original model I have.  The new model is half the weight of the original Roadtrip which is a big plus.  But the maximum drops from 17 pounds to 13.2lbs and the maximum height is 4 inches shorter at 61″.  The weight probably isn’t an issue.  My Canon 60D and even a big lens like the 70-200 would still be ok, but I’m not sure I like the idea of the shorter height.  I’m tall (at 6’3″) and when you are trying to shoot over crowds out in front of Cinderella Castle for Wishes every inch on your tripod counts.

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If you (or the person you are buying for) has the camera and lenses covered there are a lot of smaller gifts you can get that are must haves in any camera bag.  I’ll make this quick as this article is already getting quite long.

  • There are tons of places where tripods aren’t allowed (thankfully Walt Disney World isn’t one of them, but Tokyo Disneyland is) or times where you don’t want to bring your tripod into the park.  Thankfully there are garbage cans and other flat surfaces throughout the park and there’s the Green Pod to support your camera.
  • This was probably the best $7 I’ve ever spent on photography.  Yes most modern cameras have a built in electronic level, but this little hot shoe mount level is a great little addition.
  • If you want to shoot fireworks, you’ll probably want to use an ND filter.  They come in different sizes for different lens.  We always recommend getting the largest ND Filter available.  Then you can get a set of step-up / step-down rings like these ones.  Now your ND filter (and any other filter you get) can fit on any one of your lenses.

The links you see in the article above are Amazon affiliate links.   You don’t pay anything extra for the gear I talk about but the site gets a small commission to keep things running.  I look forward to reading Ben and Cory’s pieces later this week.

 

FoCal Lens Calibration Software

[Editor’s Note.  We hope everyone had an enjoyable three day weekend, and making sure to remember the men and women who gave their lives in service of our country.  Here’s another great piece by Ben Hendel, this time talking about an interesting bit of software used for calibrating your lenses.  You need to be following Ben on Instagram.  He got a chance to take two big lenses into Animal Kingdom recently and got some GREAT photos.  So jealous of the opportunity Ben had.  Thanks again Ben for the article! ].

 

High-end cameras cost a lot of money and you get a great product for them. Same thing goes with lenses. But what if I told you that if you just bolt your new-and-shiny lens to your new-and-shiny camera, that you aren’t getting everything you’ve paid for? Because of production variables and tolerances, not every camera and lens leaves the factory “perfect.” The camera body manufacturers know this, and they build in a way to fine-tune your camera body to your lenses. On my Nikon, this is called AF Fine-Tune, and is usually called AF Microadjustment (AFMA) on a Canon.

Disclaimer: NOT ALL CAMERAS SUPPORT THIS FEATURE. It is usually found in higher end models. My D7000 had it, my D60 did not. [Editor’s note, my Canon 60D does NOT have this feature. Guess that saves me from getting the FoCal software myself. Will keep this in mind for the next camera I get.]

Modern cameras can hold multiple lens profiles. As you can see, my camera can hold 12 different adjustment values in memory, each one tied to a particular lens. If you have more than 12 lenses, well, you’re richer than I am. Spread the wealth, eh? I accept PayPal. If you rent a lot of lenses, you may want to keep half an eye on how many values you’re storing and clear them out occasionally. I know I need to do that with the values from tuning the Sigma 150-600mm.

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In the past, this has been a manual process. You’d set up a target, take a picture, and decide whether you were back-focusing (your actual focus-point is behind where you wanted it to be) or front-focusing (just the opposite of back-focusing). Then, you’d dial in a setting that reflected this, and compare the images to see if it was better or worse. Repeat until you found a value you liked, or until you gouged out both of your eyes with a used grapefruit spoon.

However, there is now a company in the UK called Reikan who makes a wonderful piece of software called FoCal.

Double disclaimer: Reikan did not contact any member of the Disney Photography Blog and ask us to write this review. We were not provided with a free piece of software, and we are not compensated in any manner by Reikan or any company because of this review. Got it? Good.

FoCal is a piece of software that makes automatically calibrating your camera body to your camera lenses, so long as you shoot Nikon or Canon. And even then, not all cameras are supported by FoCal. To see if your body is supported, please visit this website: http://www.reikan.co.uk/focalweb/index.php/why/camera-compatibility/ . Even then, if you shoot Nikon, automatic calibration mode is not supported. This shouldn’t steer you away from the software, but it may save you a couple bucks not buying the super powerful full-featured edition when some of those fancy features don’t work for your camera.
First, you’ll need to set up a target. FoCal provides you with a PDF to print out, and recommends you print it on good card stock instead of plain white office paper. They say that ink bleeds into office paper too much, and this prevents FoCal from getting sharpness readings right. Once you’ve set up your target an appropriate distance away, you set your camera up on a tripod and go through the most frustrating process for me. When choosing where to place your target (mine is on the back of the front door of my house so I can use the long hallway to calibrate long lenses), you’ll want to choose an area with a lot of light. Alternatively, you can just have a 3 D-cell MagLight hanging around and point it at the target while FoCal is doing its thing. Don’t judge me. It works.
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I hate aiming the camera at the target. It must be aimed just-so, and I always tend to overshoot when adjusting the ballhead on my tripod. It also likely doesn’t help that most of the lenses I’ve calibrated recently are super-telephotos, and so I’m halfway across my house, trying to aim at a 2.5 inch center, with a heavy lens-and-camera combination.

That’s the hardest bit. FoCal will tell you when it is happy about your aim, and from there, does the vast majority of the work for you. Frankly, on a Canon, it likely does all the work for you. It takes pictures, changes the AFMA automatically, compares the shots, and repeats until it dials in the sharpest, most accurate possible autofocus value. If you’re shooting a Nikon, it’s a little bit more user-interactive. FoCal still takes pictures for you, and it still compares them for you, but you’ll have to adjust the AF Fine-Tune value on your own. Be gentle when you do, because if you nudge the camera off the target-point, your comparison data will be useless and you’ll have to start over.

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There is a fantastic amount of data that FoCal gives you while it is working. This particular lens required very little adjustment. It only required a +1 Fine Tune in order to be considered sharp and accurate. I’ve had other lenses that live in the +17 to +19 realm like my Nikon 80-200mm f/2.8. Before FoCal, I could focus on the nose of a Princess during a parade and “miss” focus because the lens was back-focusing so much. Adjusting that lens made a world of difference.
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After about 5 minutes of actual work, FoCal said it was done. It gave me a new value, and a lovely set of charts to go with them. I set that value in my AF Fine-Tune menu, and was ready to go for a day of shooting. There is also the option to Save Reports of what your lens correction looked like. I’ve attached, via links at the bottom of this review, those reports from the Sigma 150-600mm and the Nikon 200-500mm so you can see a little bit more of the data that FoCal can produce for you.

This is software I highly recommend, for anybody who is serious about getting the absolute most out of their camera and lenses. Whenever I get a new lens, the first thing I do is calibrate it. I’ll never miss another shot because my lens doesn’t understand what my camera body means by “in focus.”

Here are is a link to what the report looks like that FoCal generates.
Sigma 150-600:  150-600mm f_5-6.3_600mm
Nikon 200-500: 200-500mm f_5.6_500mm