Lens review Canon 8-15 L series zoom


This lens was first announced in 2010 and first shown to the public at Photokina 2010 in Cologne.

This was where I first set eyes on it and I published a photo of the lens on this blog last September.

For some reason Canon had decided to put the lens in a locked glass showcase on it’s own at Photokina meaning there could be no hands on assessments of it there.

Rumours were circulating that they maybe something that Canon didn’t want you to see, perhaps they were still working on some performance issues, who knows.

Finally in early 2011, the lens started to appear on dealer listings but stock always seemed to be on the low side, so this week I have finally got my hands on one and have had a couple of days to see if it is up to the job or not.

So what do we have, it is listed as an 8-15mm L series zoom meaning optically it should be excellent and also having the better build qualities of the L series lenses.

Interestingly it is shown as being able to produce both full frame and fisheye images which is something I have never come across before and I wasn’t sure how this was achieved.

My first impression upon un packing it was the sheer size of the front element and I wouldn’t fancy having to pay to replace that piece of glass, the reflections that come off the coating of the front element do give a hint that optically it should be up with the best of lenses of this focal range.

There is a lens hood supplied but can only be used between 13-15mm otherwise it will appear in the image, at 15mm the angle of view is 173 degrees and at 8mm it goes to 180 degrees which means that everything that is in front of the sensor will be captured !

The lens can be used on both full frame and crop sensor cameras although on a small sensor camera every image will be fisheye, which really is another reason not to choose this type of camera.

Shooting with wide angle lenses is always the hardest discipline to get right of all the focal lengths and this definitely applies to this lens, it’s all very easy to shoot big wide vista’s but getting the right composition takes a lot of practice.

Then bear in mind the amount of optical distortion you are going to get at these focal lengths means the lens has to be used with care.

In fact the distortion  can be so obvious you don’t need a spirit level on the tripod, just 1 or 2 degrees off the horizontal and you will end up with some very strange effects.

The pictures below show four images shot at Sanaigmore, the first from my 24-105 at 32 mm then the following three from this lens, keeping yourself out of the shot has to be considered as well.


With all images shot between 13mm and 15mm, the image will fill the frame then as the lens is zoomed out the fisheye effect will increase till you achieve the full effect as above at 8mm.

At least now Sanaigmore bay can be shot in one frame without having to stitch images together.

So optically the lens is very sharp and used with care, horizons can be  perfectly level, depth of field obviously can be pretty amazing even at fairly wide apertures.

I’m not sure I could justify one as a landscape lens especially as I did a quick check recently to see what sort of focal length I use on average, I was a little although not completely surprised to learn it was 40mm, being as our own eyes see the planet at an equivalent of 50mm.

So anything wider than 50mm is in effect a distortion of our eyes.

Therefore my conclusion is, it is not a good landscape lens (especially for small sensor cameras as you would soon get fed up with everything as a fisheye) but it does have some good and very creative possibilities as a lens for PR and advertising photography if you can keep a little control over optical distortion.

Bear in mind I am writing this after only a couple of days of use, next week I shall be taking it to the Burgundy region of France for some intensive use, it will be interesting to see if I still feel the same after this.

Perhaps my favourite shot so far…..How to turn Islay into an American prairie !

At 13mm, the lens is so wide I am kneeling in the water and the wave appears a fair way away but in fact the camera was just inches above the wave.


2 thoughts on “Lens review Canon 8-15 L series zoom

  1. Eva September 23, 2011 / 8:09 am

    wow – what a lens! I usually do not like fisheye-lenses. But this zoom looks very nice at around 13-15mm. Really like the prairie-shot. How does it work for you in the corners? The images above look pretty sharp and without any blur or distortions. When I use my 17-40 at 17mm the edges tend to look horrible. So I always end up cropping or not shooting at that length at all.
    I’m looking forward to seeing more images taken with this lens. Might get some great images when you’re in a warehouse with that one.

    • islaystudios September 23, 2011 / 9:40 am

      Like you fisheye shots were overdone in the 1980’s with lens adaptors which put me off them for life !
      There is no optical distortion at the edges of the frame at 15mm, I too have the 17-40 and find the same as you.
      Obviously it is all about keeping the camera completely horizontal to the ground, only a degree or so off the horizontal and any verticals go very wild indeed.
      The depth of field is pretty amazing as you would expect, in fact so good it probably wouldn’t matter how far off correct focus you were as DOF would keep everything in focus.
      I am off to France this afternoon so hope to spend more time with the lens there as so far it’s only been one afternoon, will perhaps post an update here if anything comes to light that I haven’t discovered so far.

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