T.Stops Blog

An Examination of: Duclos 11-16mm Ultra Wide Zoom

In this installment of Tstops, i will be examining the Duclos 11-16mm T2.8 Ultra wide angle lens.  (Yes yes… i ve been promising this one for over 2 years…..)

 

This lens, originally a still lens ment for APS-C DSLR cameras, has been “perfected” by none other than the Master of Glass, Matt Duclos.  It started life as a Tokina 11-16mm.  Matt has worked the body considerably to accomodate a more robust Metal housing, that is seemingly affixed to the core structure of the original Tokina Design.  It is an exceptionally high quality conversion job.  No expense spared.  Far superior in fact to the standard “Cinevisation” process he provides for Zeiss ZF lenses.  The core components are changed for new ones, the mount is now PL and the price reflects this.  $3,495.00

Until recent history, few lens manufacturers took the care to create a lens that went ultra wide.  Nikon has an extremely rare 8mm fisheye, Peleng made a 8mm Fish eye and there have been a few other ultra wide lenses with ultra high price tags to match. Off the top of my head I can think of the Cooke S4 12mm, the Arri Master Prime 12mm and the Legendary The Zeiss Ultra Prime 8R.  With the advent of the APS-C Sensor size for Still image photography the need for even wider lenses to match the field of view of the full frame counterparts was necessary.  Thus the newer series of Ultra wide lenses from Canon, Rokinon, Nikon, Samyang, and Tokina.  This led to a unique by product.  The APS-C frame is remarkably similar to the S35mm Cine frame.  Suddenly, inexpensive ultra wide lenses are available for the cine format….. this is good.

What differentiates the Tokina (Duclos) from the rest of the DSLR lens pack is simply put, performance.  It’s sharp, it’s truly rectilinear, tiny, light, relatively fast, had the right manual mechanics and is miraculously CHEAP!   It seems Matt Duclos recognized the potential in this little champion and took to converting it for Cinema Use.

Truth be told, I have only used this lens a hand full of times in two years.  Once on a Documentary, once on a test video and on a couple small personal projects.  It rents out so often, that I never have the chance to use it.  Its gone literally all the time. That said, its so extreme in its optics, that there are only a few places to use its features.  Below, was the test I shot: Mixture of MiniS4’s and The Duclos 11-16mm.

 

Optics:

This lens is marked T2.8.  I know the original Tokina version is F2.8, and I personally asked Matt if the lens is a true T2.8 or more like a T3.1?  His answer was that on a test bench its a true T2.8.  Well thats set to rest.

The lens is UNBELIEVABLY wide.  We are talking over 99 degrees of field of view here.  You can practically see your feet at the 11mm mark on the Zoom on a RED Epic.   In this setup I could see the ends of the rails in the shot.

I was fortunate enough to test out an Arri Ultra Prime 8R a couple years ago.  Since then,  I have not  had an experience anything like this.  Reality distorts.  The Duclos 11-16 is very specific, as it has unique characteristics.  It’s lack of distortion creates the sensation of the world being in a tiny box that you are peering through a peep hole into it.   I used this look on a documentary I shot last year.  I shot primarily on a F3 and a 5D, and had only 2 lenses.   The 11-16 on F3, and the 70-200 on 5DmkII. The subject matter was sensitive.   A bicycle race benefiting “The Center”; a resource center for people living with HIV.   The riders, were the friends and family of those stricken, and amazingly some of the HIV patients themselves.  I felt the need to see, the whole goings on of the ride in context to the people involved.  I went with the Ultra wide to bring the background into the portrait/interviews.  Below are some stills from the Ride, all shot on the Duclos 11-16mm:

You will notice how little distortion there is considering such incredibly wide focal lengths.

The 11-16 has a beautiful flare pattern, long and stretching across the whole frame, in alternating green and magenta apertures ghosts.   However its interesting reaction to light means that despite long distinct flares, this lens has very little veiling flare, so it retains contrast quite well, and along with it;  good color rendition when facing a bright source.  Only when the source reaches the middle does it begin to flatten the image.  See image #4 above, of the bicycle repair crew, As compared to image #2.  Both have strong flares, but only when the sun is practically center frame does the image get milky.

The lens is somewhat warmer than neutral, nothing a bit of color correction cant remove.

Sharpness:

This lens is a good performer in the corners and center.  You can compare it against other lenses in its class here: The Digital Picture Site  This site is a great resource to see what still lenses are actually doing, and how they compare to each other.

The Duclos does well, considering its the fastest lens of the bunch. Most other ultra wides are F3.5+

The corners are sharp as well as the Center:

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Mechanics:
The internal mechanics, according to Duclos’ site, indicated that it is reinforced beyond what comes from the factory.  I have only had one issue with the 11-16 in the two years i’ve owned it. The front section came a tiny bit loose, from rigorous rental use.  Duclos, immediately repaired it free of charge, as it was under warranty.  Since then I’ve had little problems.

The iris is fully manual, de-clicked, and has .8 Pitch gear teeth.  It is VERY close to the PL mount, so I cant imagine being able to place a motor control on it.  Still good to have none the less as a follow focus with a narrow gear can reach it, like my Arri FF4.  This makes Iris pulls exact.

The PL mount is solid with no play.

The mechanics is where some of my issues with the lens come up.  I can forgive it a lot, since its a converted still lens, thats PL, T2.8 and 11mm for $3500.  That said, it does a few things totally “wrong”.  The lens because its a still converted zoom, has no reliable focus marks.  AT ALL.  The Focus marks at 11mm, are totally different than at 16mm. The scale is useless.  The AC has to manually set marks every time  Also since the focus throw is so short, it makes critical focus difficult to attain.  Now, I know you are thinking, but at 11-16mm isnt everything in focus?   No.  Its not. Somehow the optics create a distinct in and out of focus zones in the image.  Part of its charm really. Notice, image #2 above, of the man laying in the grass.  This is at 11mm, yet the shot has a shallow DOF.  So focus is an important issue, you cant set and forget.  It will hit infinity; thankfully.  So long as it does that, everything else is a moot point really.  Any decent AC can adapt.  At least it has built in focus gears…. That helps a lot as you can use the follow focus properly.

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In conclusion:

This is an interesting little lens.  Specialized, wild, wacky, beautiful, fun and unique. What more can you ask for from a piece of glass.  It truly is a lens on the world.  It offers a perspective, a point of view so removed from reality, the viewer has to stand up and take notice.  Ultimately, thats what we want from our images.  A voice.

Thank you for reading, and until next time
-Timur
Follow me on Twitter @TimurCivan

Coming up Soon:

An Examination of: Rokinon Fast Primes

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4 Comments on "An Examination of: Duclos 11-16mm Ultra Wide Zoom"

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Hey Timur, Thanks for the post. In that particular price range and performance seems like a no brainer at that price. I have never had the chance to use the Duclos or see one. What would you rate the overall durability of that particular lens? Is it going to stand the test of time like some of the other PL mount lenses. Or do you think it will suffer from the rehousing structurally?

Best Regards,
Nate Balli

I think it needs to be handled a bit more care fully. Its not built like a panchro by any means. The core is still a tokina.

Great readup. The focus issues surprised me, since the Tokina is supposed to be one of the few parfocal stills lenses:
http://www.lensrentals.com/blog/2011/02/photo-lenses-for-video/4

Hi Timur,
Big fan of your work. Wondering about how this lens color matches to others. Is it warm like a Canon for instance, or cooler like a Zeiss….thoughts?

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