We are calling these the best Canon RF lenses, but to be honest all the RF lenses released so far have been good. So what we'll do is pick out which lenses are best for different types of photograph and different budgets. Canon's RF lenses are good, but they can also be pretty expensive.
What's really shaken things up is Canon's big camera and lens announcements in July 2020. The Canon EOS R5 and EOS R6 are very exciting new additions to the Canon EOS R range, and will really give users confidence that this range is here to stay.
On top of that, there are four new RF lenses too! The Canon RF 85mm f/2 Macro IS STM is really interesting. It's an affordable portrait lens that can also be used for closeups. We really like the look of the new Canon RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1L IS USM super-telephoto, which looks both portable and practical – though pricey too.
The real surprises, though, are the Canon RF 600mm f/11 IS STM and Canon RF 800mm f/11 IS STM, which are affordable and portable telephoto primes that don't need a professional photographer's budget. The fixed f/11 aperture sounds like a real downer, but we're not so sure. The new cameras' AF will work fine at the this aperture and Canon claims the cameras' ISO performance can easily accommodate higher sensitivities to cope with the small aperture.
All of this is very exciting, but these lenses are brand new and we haven't seen or tested any of them yet, so let's get back down to earth and check out the best Canon RF lenses you can buy right now.
• Read more: The Canon RF lens roadmap
Best lenses for Canon EOS R cameras
Not only an ideal ‘kit’ lens to buy with an R-series camera body, this is an excellent optic in its own right. Typical RF attractions include a customizable control ring, in addition to the zoom and focus rings, which can be ‘de-clicked’ for step-less control. That’s preferable when shooting video, but you’ll have to send the lens away to a service centre to have the work carried out. L-series attractions include comprehensive weather-seals and up-market build quality.
The Nano USM autofocus system is super-fast for stills, while also delivering smooth, near-silent focus transitions for movie capture. Typical of RF-mount ‘IS’ lenses, the stabilizer has 5-stop effectiveness. Physically, it’s slightly smaller and lighter than the equivalent EF 24-105mm L-series lens for SLRs but still feels a bit chunky, especially when mounted on an EOS RP body. Money no object, Canon’s fully pro-spec RF 24-70mm F2.8L IS USM and RF 28-70mm F2L USM are the most exotic options but this f/4 lens is the sensible buy.
• Read more: Canon RF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM review
Especially well suited to the EOS RP, Canon’s latest RF 24-105mm takes downsizing to the extreme and makes a perfect travel companion. It’s little more than half the weight of its sibling RF 24-105mm f/4 L-series lens and much more compact.
Unlike some ‘compact’ standard zooms, it achieves its diminutive size without having a retractable design, so it’s always ready for duty. Handling is refined although, to help keep the size to a minimum, there aren’t separate control and focus rings, rather one ring with a switch for swapping the function.
A novel extra is the ‘centre focus macro’ facility, which enables focusing down to a distance of just 13cm at the centre of the image frame, with 0.5x magnification.
• Read more: Canon RF 24-105mm f/4-7.1 IS STM review
Canon’s RF lenses are often criticized for feeling big and heavy on mirrorless bodies, but this one remains reasonably slim and svelte. Compared with the latest EF 70-200mm f/2.8 IS lens for SLRs, it’s significantly smaller and only about two-thirds of the weight.
Unlike the EF lens, the RF edition has an extending inner barrel rather than a fixed physical length. Autofocus is amazingly rapid, based on dual Nano USM actuators, and it beats the EF lens for stabilization, with 5-stop rather than 3.5-stop effectiveness. Three switchable modes are on offer static and panning shots, plus a third option which applies stabilization only during exposures. This makes it easier to track erratically moving objects in the viewfinder, or via the camera’s rear screen.
• Read more: Our hands-on review of the Canon RF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM
There’s still no native RF mount budget telephoto zoom on the horizon. That’s a shame if you’re hankering after a traditional 70-300mm lens, which wraps generous telephoto reach into a relatively compact and lightweight package. However, fit an EF-EOS R mount adapter to your R-series camera and you have full access to Canon’s back catalog of EF mount lenses. From those, we’d pick the latest EF 70-300mm IS II USM. It has many of the same attractions as RF lenses, including super-fast Nano USM autofocus, and comes pretty close in terms of stabilization, with 4-stop effectiveness.
Image quality is very good overall, with impressive sharpness throughout the zoom range. A neat digital enhancement is the multi-mode LCD display which can cycle through information like focus distance, focal length and severity of camera shake at the press of a button.
If you want a native RF lens that goes wider than a standard zoom, this is currently the only own-brand Canon choice. Great for everything from landscape to architectural and travel photography, the lens is also brilliant for close-up sporting action, thanks to its super-fast Nano USM autofocus system. Especially at the short end of the zoom range, you can really exaggerate the perspective between foreground and background areas, although corner-sharpness drops off a bit when shooting wide-open at 15mm.
The f/2.8 aperture, which remains constant throughout the zoom range, combines with a 5-stop image stabilizer to enable great handheld performance under low-lighting conditions. Unlike with some ultra-wide-angle lenses, another bonus is that the hood is removable, so filters can be easily fitted via the 82mm attachment ring.
• Read more: Our comprehensive review of the Canon RF 15-35mm f/2.8L IS USM
So-called ‘superzoom’ lenses are often popular on APS-C format cameras, where they enable everything from wide-angle coverage to serious telephoto reach, without the need to swap lenses on the body, or to carry additional lenses with you. For full-frame cameras, they’re less prevalent because the larger size and weight reduces the benefit.
This RF lens manages to keep its dimensions and weight to easily manageable proportions, making it perfectly viable as a travel lens or for anytime you want to keep your walkaround kit to a minimum. Typical RF attractions include fast and highly accurate autofocus performance and 5-stop stabilization. As always with a superzoom lens, there’s some compromise in image quality but sharpness is nevertheless impressive and aberrations like lateral chromatic aberration and distortions are taken care of with in-camera corrections.
• Read more: The full Canon RF 24-240mm f/4-6.3 IS USM review
If you’re only going to buy one own-brand prime lens for your Canon R-series camera, this is the one to go for.
It’s wonderfully compact and lightweight, as well as only costing about a fifth of the price of Canon’s bulky f/1.2 lenses. Indeed, the relatively small and inexpensive build enabled by the more modest aperture rating makes you wonder why Canon hasn’t made more f/1.8 RF primes yet.
The 35mm focal length is perfect for street photography and gives an entirely natural viewing perspective that works well for landscape and architectural photography, as well as for environmental portraits where you want to include a person’s surroundings. The versatility doesn’t end there, as the lens has a short 0.17m minimum focus distance that enables 0.5x macro shooting, complete with a hybrid 5-stop stabilizer that corrects for x-y shift in addition to the more usual angular vibrations.
• Read more: Our in-depth Canon RF 35mm f/1.8 IS Macro STM lens review
There’s no sign of a 1.0x macro lens yet in native RF mount, capable of reproducing objects at full life-size on the image sensor, though the 1:2 ratio of the new RF 85mm f/2 Macro IS STM might be enough for casual macro photography. Even then, the best option for full macro photography is to use an EF-EOS R mount adapter and to go for Canon’s EF 100mm Macro IS USM lens.
It has a minimum focus distance of 0.3m, enabling a comfortable working distance for macro shooting, and features a hybrid 4-stop stabilizer. As in the 0.5x macro native RF 35mm lens, this corrects for side-to-side and up-down movement in the x-y planes, as well as for the more general angular vibration that’s taken care of by conventional in-lens optical stabilization systems. Even so, the stabilizer is no real substitute for a tripod in extreme close-up shooting.
Unless you’re a full-time professional portrait photographer, you’ll find it hard to justify splashing out on Canon’s RF 85mm f/1.3 lens or the even pricier ‘DS’ edition with its bokeh-enhancing coating. This manual lens costs just a tenth of the price, but is capable of highly impressive results with good sharpness where you want it, and a creamy smooth look to defocused areas.
• Read more: Our full Samyang MF 85mm f/1.4 RF / Z review
As with most manual-focus lenses, the focus ring has a long rotational travel that enables precise adjustments, aided by the option of a focus peaking display in R-series cameras. However, it’s a fully manual lens with no built-in electronics, so the aperture also has to be set via the lens’s aperture ring and won’t be recorded in the EXIF data of images.
Most of us use a standard zoom lens for most of our shooting. To go wider than a focal length of 24mm, one (very expensive) option is to go for the RF 15-35MM f/2.8L IS USM, which stretches to 15mm while giving a fair bit overlap in zoom range. However, many photographers end up only using ultra-wide-angle zooms at or near their shortest focal length.
• Read more: Our in-depth Samyang MF 14mm f/2.8 RF / Z review
This manual prime lens for RF mount cameras gives a similarly wide viewing angle as the Canon lens at its shortest zoom setting, but for only about a seventh of the cost.
It’s a fully manual lens, so requires manual focusing and you need to set the aperture with the lens’s aperture ring rather than from the camera body. Other downsides are that it has a built-in hood and therefore no filter attachment thread, and barrel distortion is clearly noticeable with no in-camera corrections being available. Other aspects of image quality are impressive, however, and it’s a fun lens to use.
Despite combining a generously wide viewing angle with a fast f/2 aperture rating, this Laowa lens is impressively compact and lightweight.
Like similar Samyang/Rokinon lenses, it’s a fully manual affair so there’s no electronic communication with the host camera body. You’ll therefore need to shoot in Manual mode and set the focus and aperture on the lens itself.
• Read more: A comprehensive review of the Laowa 15mm f/2 Zero-D
On the plus side, the focus ring has silky smooth operation with a long travel that enables good precision as well as smooth focus transitions when shooting video.
Better still, there’s a ‘de-click’ facility for the aperture ring, enabling similarly smooth aperture transitions during video capture. Further good news is that the 15mm focal length enables a natural perspective in 4K video settings, despite the aggressive crop factor of EOR R and RP cameras (the EOS R5 and EOS R6 offer uncropped video, so you'll get the full 15mm!). Image quality is very good overall and the lens pretty much lives up to its zero-distortion claims.
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