Review of the Irix 11mm f/4 Lens: A Beast of a Lens (In More Ways Than One)

Review of the Irix 11mm f/4 Lens: A Beast of a Lens (In More Ways Than One)

Do you want to know if the Irix 11mm f/4 lens is right for you?

You’ve come to the right place.

Because in this hands-on Irix 11mm f/4 review, I’m going to tell you everything you need to know about the lens:

How well it’s built.

Whether its optical quality can stand up to professional scrutiny.

And who should buy it.

So if you’re interested in the Irix 11mm f/4 lens, keep reading.

Irix 11mm f/4: Overview

Irix 11mm f/4 (Firefly)
Best for landscape and architectural photographers on a budget
The Irix 11mm f/4 offers outstanding image quality, a great field of view, and a rugged build that will be appreciated by landscape photographers, astrophotographers, and more. If you’re in need of an ultra-wide focal length, then the Irix 11mm f/4 is a great choice.

CHECK PRICE

Fantastic 11mm field of view
Reasonably priced
Strong optics

Big and heavy
Stiff manual focus ring can be hard to work with

Irix is a relative newcomer to the third-party lens manufacturer scene. The company only offers 3 lenses for still cameras: an 11mm f/4, a 15mm f/2.4, and a 150mm f/2.8 macro lens.

But while Irix is something of a fresh face, the company has been making headlines as of late. Irix lenses have a reputation for being tack-sharp, well-built, and low-priced (always a great combination!).

Based on these expectations, I was eager to see how the 11mm f/4 would hold up. Would it be sharp enough to impress professionals? Would it be well-built enough to handle the rigors of serious photography?

So I put it to the test.

I received Irix’s Firefly version, which is one of two options that you can choose from when purchasing the 11mm.

The Firefly version of Irix’s 11mm f/4 lens.

The alternative is the Blackstone, which features a rugged magnesium-alloy build compared to the rubber and plastic of the Firefly.

The Blackstone version of the Irix 11mm f/4 lens.

Irix calls the Blackstone its “Premium” version, based on this and a few other improvements. But note that optically, the Firefly and the Blackstone versions are identical.

So everything I say in this review, minus the comments on build-quality and ergonomics, apply to both lenses.

And where things diverge, I make a note of it. If you do want the Blackstone over the Firefly, you’ll still take a lot from this review.

Anyways:

After putting this lens through its paces, I can say without hesitation:

It’s one impressive piece of glass.

It’s extremely sharp, both wide open and when stopped down.

Build quality is phenomenal. I don’t know what the Blackstone feels like, but the Firefly version is up there with some of the most solid pieces of kit I’ve ever used. It’s plastic, yes, but really, really well-put-together plastic. The lens feels like a tank straight out of the box.

But I’ll be honest:

The Irix 11mm f/4 isn’t for everyone. What the lens does, it does very well–but a number of issues make it impossible to recommend for a certain class of shooters out there.

While I’ll delve into more details later, I’ll just briefly mention a few of the sticking points:

First, the lens is heavy. And I don’t just mean run-of-the-mill heavy, I mean barbell heavy, so that it felt like it might pull my entire setup over when I first mounted it onto my camera.

Second, the lens only focuses manually. And while there are some landscape, architectural, and astrophotographers who won’t mind this, there are others who like the ability to at least set focus using their lens’s motor, then adjust with the focus ring as needed.

And speaking of focus rings:

This one is tough to use. I’m not sure if this is by design, in order to give you the utmost control, but I really had to engage my muscles to turn that thing.

(Which is another reason, by the way, that I kept wishing for autofocus.)

And finally:

The Irix 11mm f/4 is massive. As soon as I pulled it out of the box, I was struck by its size. This includes the large barrel, but also the bulbous front element, which takes up half the lens hood.

So, bottom line:

This is a great lens in a lot of ways, but it isn’t going to work for everyone.

And the rest of this review will be devoted to explaining, in more detail, what this lens can do–and who should think about buying it.

The Irix 11mm f/4: Key Specifications

Here are some of the key specs for the Irix 11mm f/4:

Focal length: 11mmAperture: f/4-f/22Aperture blades: 9Focusing: Manual onlyMinimum focusing distance: 0.9 feetWeight: 730g (Firefly)/790g (Blackstone)Compatible Mounts: Canon EF, Nikon F, Pentax KFilters: Rear gel filtersFocus lock: Yes

Irix 11mm f/4: Build Quality and Size

There’s no use beating around the bush here:

The Irix 11mm f/4 is built like a tank. This is both good and bad, depending on what you’re after and what you can handle. On the one hand, I certainly wouldn’t worry about damaging the Irix 11mm f/4 (and bear in mind that I was using the less-well-built Firefly version, not the premium Blackstone version, which boasts even better build quality). It’s made of plastic, but it certainly doesn’t feel like one of those cheap, plasticky kit lenses sold by Nikon and Canon.

On the other hand, the Irix 11mm f/4 is ridiculously heavy–far heavier than I expected, and enough to make anyone hoping to use the Irix for casual photography think twice.

The lens is 730g, or 790g if you get the Blackstone version. While that may not sound like a lot of weight, note that it’s only slightly lighter than a Canon 5D Mark IV full-frame body, and slightly heavier than a Sony a7R IV full-frame body. And when the weight of either one of those cameras is converted into lens form, it immediately becomes far less balanced, and–at least in the case of the Irix 11mm f/4–feels like it’s about to pull your entire camera setup over.

Honestly, without a sturdy tripod, I doubt I could use the Irix 11mm f/4 for more than a few minutes. There’s no image stabilization, which makes handholding such a lens just all-around difficult, but the bigger issue is that it just requires a lot of strength. Admittedly, I used this lens with a tripod every time I took it out, but I feel pretty confident I wouldn’t have lasted just carrying it around (and I certainly wouldn’t want to put it on a camera hung around my neck!).

Also note that the 11mm f/4 isn’t just heavy, it’s big, both in terms of length and diameter. It makes my Canon 24-70 f/4 look tiny by comparison, and it’s the length and the weight together that’ll make pretty much any setup feel top-heavy with the Irix 11mm f/4.

Given the ultra-wide field of view, you also have to contend with a huge, bulbous front element, one that makes it nearly impossible to use standard filters. Fortunately, Irix has added a rear filter mount, so you can use gel filters–just something to bear in mind (which cannot be done on ultra-wide competitors such as the Canon 11-24mm f/4L).

All in all, the build quality of the Irix 11mm f/4 is great. It just comes with the caveat that the lens is both bulky and heavy, which isn’t ideal for anyone hoping to use this lens for any type of walkaround photography (or landscape photography that requires long treks).

However, if you’re an architectural photographer, landscape photographer, or astrophotographer who always works with a stable tripod, and you don’t mind lugging around such a heavy piece of equipment, then the Firefly version of this lens can certainly handle a lot of abuse (and the Blackstone version is presumably even better).

Irix 11mm f/4: Ergonomics

The Irix 11mm f/4 is built with a particular type of photographer in mind:

Deliberate photographers who do manual focusing with precision.

Ultimately, this translates to a lens with a very stiff manual focus ring, one that’s designed for accuracy over speed. As I noted above, it takes some serious work to move that thing–but this can be a huge benefit if you’re aiming for a highly-specific focus point and you’re worried about accidentally bumping your lens and losing focus in the darkness.

In addition to the stiff manual focus ring, you also get a nice focus locking mechanism, so that you can set your focus, lock it, and forget about it. The locking mechanism is built into a small ring at the front of the lens (just behind the lens hood), so it’s easy to reach when you need it, but it’s easy to avoid if you’re not interested. The locking mechanism is especially useful for photographers who frequently shoot at infinity (e.g., astrophotographers); you can grab focus, lock it, and shoot all night without worrying about any unwanted adjustments.

Now, the Irix 11mm f/4 is manual focus only. This means that you’ll need to always use the lens’s manual focus ring to get your subject in focus. This shouldn’t be a big deal for most photographers considering this lens–when shooting landscapes or in low light it often makes sense to focus manually, anyway–but if you’re after a fast-focusing lens, you’ll want to look elsewhere.

While both the Blackstone and Firefly versions of this lens offer useful markings for evaluating apertures and depth of field, note that the Blackstone version does include engraved, UV-reflecting markings (as opposed to merely printed markings on the Firefly version), which is a bonus if you’re frequently shooting in low-light scenarios.

The Irix 11mm f/4 is also designed with a huge lens hood and lens cap. Due to the bulbous front element, I’d highly recommend leaving the lens hood on whenever the 11mm f/4 is in use (you certainly can’t protect the lens with a standard UV filter!). And I’d also recommend popping on the lens cap, which is designed to slide on over the front of the lens, as soon as you start to pack your equipment away.

Irix 11mm f/4: Image Quality

The Irix 11mm f/4 isn’t especially pricey, but you wouldn’t know it from the image quality.

The center of the frame is tack-sharp at all apertures, which makes this lens optically suitable for photographers of all stripes, including any pixel-peeping professionals. The corners lag slightly behind the center of the frame, though you can significantly improve their sharpness by stopping down to the f/6.3-f/8 range.

With a lens this wide, you’re going to expect some distortion, but it’s surprisingly well-controlled. While I’m not sure I’d recommend the 11mm f/4 for real-estate style interior photography (where the goal is to depict features accurately as well as beautifully), I’m a fan of the look that this ultra-wide lens provides, and it’s certainly usable for more artistic forms of architectural and landscape photography.

Chromatic aberration and vignetting are present, but it’s far from severe. And you can manage both these issues pretty easily in a program such as Lightroom, so I wouldn’t worry too much.

Of course, if you’re thinking about purchasing this lens, you have to ask yourself:

Do I really need that 11mm focal length?

If you’re a portrait photographer, event photographer, street photographer, product photographer, or travel photographer, your answer should really be “Absolutely not,” unless you have a very, very unusual style, because 11mm is almost always overkill in those genres.

On the other hand, if you’re a landscape photographer, astrophotographer, or architectural photographer, and you’re looking for that ultra-wide perspective, then the Irix 11mm f/4 is an excellent option. You’ll want to use it with a full-frame camera (an APS-C camera will push it to around 16mm with the crop-factor applied, which gives a significantly less interesting perspective).

Bear in mind that distant objects will look quite small at 11mm, while close objects will become gigantic. In fact, this lens’s minimum focusing distance is tiny–just under a foot–which means that you can get up close and personal with your foreground elements (which is always useful in landscape photography!).

Despite the Irix 11mm’s impressive image quality, it does come with one key drawback:

The f/4 maximum aperture.

While this shouldn’t be a problem for most landscape and architectural photographers, if you plan to shoot at night, you’ll generally want to use the widest aperture possible–and f/4 just isn’t that wide, which means that you’ll be forced to work with less light and you’ll require longer exposure times.

Does this disqualify the Irix 11mm f/4 from astrophotographers’ gear bags?

I don’t think so. You can still get away with using the 11mm f/4 at night. It just won’t be as convenient as working with an f/2.8 lens.

Irix 11mm f/4: Price and Competition

The Irix 11mm f/4 is surprisingly cheap.

You can grab the Firefly version of the lens for just $495 USD, and the Blackstone version costs only slightly more ($550 USD).

Note that this is for any of the mounts (Canon EF, Nikon F, and Pentax K). And while some competitors are cheaper, such as the Rokinon 12mm f/2.8 (which comes in around $350 USD) and the Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 (which you can grab for just $300 USD), if you’re after a quality lens that goes to 11mm, your best alternative is the Canon EF 11-24mm f/4L USM–which costs a jaw-dropping $2899 USD.

If you’re willing to sacrifice slightly on focal length, you can grab the Sigma 12-24mm f/4, which will get you far more focal length flexibility but will cost around triple the price ($1449 USD).

Ultimately, the Irix 11mm f/4 is the most reasonable way to reach 11mm while still getting high-quality optics. And while it’s worth checking out the Rokinon 12mm and 14mm alternatives, if you can handle the size and weight of the Irix 11mm f/4, you’re bound to be very satisfied.

Who Should Buy the Irix 11mm f/4?

The Irix 11mm f/4 is no standard lens.

Instead, it’s designed for astrophotographers, landscape photographers, and architectural photographers, which means that it’s huge, it’s well-built, and you should always use it with a tripod.

The Irix 11mm f/4 is relatively inexpensive, especially given the image- and build-quality. And the ergonomics are perfect for photographers who don’t mind full-time manual focusing.

So while I certainly wouldn’t recommend the Irix 11mm f/4 to the average photographer, it’s an excellent purchase for anyone looking to get that ultra-wide perspective without breaking the bank!

Irix 11mm f/4 Lens Review Summary

Build Quality

Handling

Optics

Price

4.5

Summary

The Irix 11mm f/4 is a hefty lens, but it’s built like a tank and offers a beautifully wide field of view at a great price. 

Pros

Top-notch build quality
Sharp optics
Big manual focus ring
Ultra-wide field of view

Cons

Heavy
No autofocus

Get the Irix 11mm f/4

You can purchase the Irix 11mm f/4 here:

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What cameras can you use with the Irix 11mm f/4? The Irix 11mm f/4 is designed with three different mount options: the Nikon F-mount, the Canon EF-mount, and the Pentax K-mount. So you can use the Irix 11mm f/4 on full-frame (or APS-C) Nikon, Canon, and Pentax DSLRs, though you cannot use it on mirrorless models without an adapter.

How much does the Irix 11mm f/4 weigh? The Firefly version of the Irix 11mm f/4 is 730g, while the Blackstone version of the Irix 11mm f/4 is 790g.

Does the Irix 11mm f/4 include autofocus? No, the Irix 11mm f/4 is a manual focus only lens. This shouldn’t be a problem if you’re looking to shoot in low light, because you’ll often be forced to use manual focus anyway. But you’ll want to keep this limitation in mind, especially if you’re not used to manual focusing (though it’s easy to learn, trust me!).

How much does the Irix 11mm f/4 cost? You can purchase the Blackstone version of the Irix 11mm f/4 for $550 USD, while the Firefly version is a slightly cheaper $495 USD.

What’s the difference between the Irix 11mm f/4 Firefly and Blackstone versions? The Firefly and Blackstone versions are optically indistinguishable. The only difference is in terms of design; the Firefly version is plastic, rather than magnesium-alloy, and the Blackstone version has engraved markings that are UV-reflective, rather than printed markings (in other words, it’s easier to use the Blackstone version in the dark).