Canon 11-22mm f/4-5.6 Lens Review

bythom canon 11-22mm

What is It?
The 11-22mm f/4-5.6 is Canon's wide angle zoom for the EOS M series. It's a small, modest priced lens, and has a built-in IS system (3 stops CIPA rating). 

At 7.8 ounces (220g) and only 2.3" (58.2mm) in length, the 11-22mm f/4-5.6 is a fairly small and light lens. I often carry it in a jacket or vest pocket due to its small size and weight. 

Internally there are 12 elements in 9 groups, with two aspherical and one UD elements. Not exactly a simple optical formula, but also not a highly complex one, either. The aperture diaphragm is 7-bladed, though rounded. There's no depth of field scale. The lens has a focus ring out front that is thin; so thin it seems like it's barely there.

The lens uses 55mm filters. An optional EW-60 lens hood is available and recommended.

Surprisingly, the lens focuses quite closely at 5.9" (.15m), which provides a maximum magnification ratio of 1:3.3 at 22mm. While Canon labels this "Macro," it's just barely into what I would call basic macro range (1:1 to 1:3). Nevertheless, the ability to move in that close to a subject at these focal lengths does allow a great deal of perspective versatility you don't always find in the wide angle zooms. 

Given the EOS M cameras' 1.6x crop ratio, this lens works out to be about an 18-35mm equivalent lens. That pretty much covers the wide angle range that most people would be interested in. The full zoom is produced in about 1/8th of a turn of the zoom ring.

The lens is made in Taiwan and retails for US$400.

Canon's Web page for the lens

How's it Handle?
I don't like the "extend lens before using" style this lens uses. It seems that I'm always forgetting to hold that button and rotate the zoom ring before shooting. We're really only saving about a half inch in transport size with this function, so I just don't see it as being worth the frustration.

Other than that there's no much to say. Both the zoom and focus ring on my sample are exceedingly smooth and quiet, and the overall build quality for a lens of this low price seems fairly high.

How's it Perform?
Autofocus: Nothing to complain about here. There's not a lot of mass moving very far (the lens is rear focus, by the way). Given the Canon M5/M6 focus systems and the wide angles we're talking about with this lens, I'm not even sure I noticed it focusing most of the time. Especially outdoors the focus just tends to snap into place. Indoors, the amount of light can come into play and I can get this lens to hunt in really dim conditions.

IS: Canon only claims about 3 stops CIPA for this lens, and that seems to be about right in terms of my testing. So going inside a dim church and trying to photograph the full breadth of the interior is actually outside the boundary of handholding at f/4-5.6 at base ISO. Just be forewarned that this isn't "correct just about anything IS" as some camera marketing departments like to suggest. You have to think about what the capability really is and adjust your shooting habits accordingly.

In bright daylight, sure, the IS will probably be saving your shakes pretty much all the time. But indoors, you're going to want to boost the camera's ISO because 3 stops is not the 4.5+ stops that most IS systems produce. 

Sharpness: In the center, nothing to complain about. This lens is pretty darned sharp in the central area, producing what I'd call excellent+ results wide open and one stop down (this lens performs best at or near wide open). Surprisingly, the corners don't droop as much as I expected. There's definitely a drop, but I'd rate the corners as good (wide open) to very good (stopped down). 

11mm is the sharpest focal length, 22mm the weakest, but not by a lot. Everything seems to be pretty straightforward in sharpness: Wide open at 11mm is strong in the center, less so in the corners, and that trickles down to 22mm strong in the center, slightly better in the corners. Stopped down two stops, the lens is less sharp in the center at all focal lengths, but still very good or better, but the corners start to pull in a bit at 11mm and stay the same at the other focal lengths. 

Optically, then, this is a really great candidate for shooting at or near wide open, less so for landscape-type photos stopped way down. I wasn't expecting that, but overall I can still say that the acuity the lens produces is very good or better, with perhaps a caveat for the extreme corners at 11mm.

Linear distortion: no real lens corrections here. At 11mm the lens produces about 3% barrel distortion, and it seems pretty simple (no mustache). Barrel distortion is still visible and need of correction at 15mm (about 1%). At the fully zoomed in position of 22mm there's maybe a tiny hint of pincushion distortion, but I'd say completely ignore it. 

Vignetting: Something has to give, and vignetting is where it happens. This may be the highest level of vignetting I've recorded (11mm at f/4 is about 3 stops down). Even at 22mm you've got about a stop-and-a-third wide open. 11mm never settles down into low levels: it stays at or above one stop at all apertures. 22mm does get to ignorable levels at f/8. 15mm is somewhere in between.

The good news is that this is a relatively smooth vignetting that is somewhat side-to-side (not just corners). There's a wide bright region that extends well towards to the sides of the long axis before starting to get problematic. But the transition from bright to dark is relatively smooth, and likely easily fixable with the right corrections.

Chromatic aberration: It's there, though the in-camera correction will remove it. I'd say there's a pixel's worth of lateral CA pretty much across the focal range at the two widest stops, and this only mitigates slightly as you stop down further. I didn't see any meaningful longitudinal CA, and didn't expect to. 

Final Words
I think the big surprise here is that this is a highly competent lens for the modest price. Plus it has IS built in, making it even more valuable to some. I wasn't expecting much from the lens given the price and specs, but found something that I felt pulled above its weight class. It's not a perfect landscape lens, but it is a near perfect travel lens. By that I mean that if you're trying to pull in the corners at 11mm for a big landscape print, you might be a bit disappointed. But for most travel work, the corners are good enough to not distract, even in a larger print. 

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