[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.]