Canon in 2021: The camera giant made huge moves for its mirrorless EOS R series

(Image credit: Future)

Canon laid down the gauntlet in 2020 with the incredible Canon EOS R5 (opens in new tab) and Canon EOS R6 (opens in new tab) as well as a flurry of other cameras and full-frame mirrorless RF lenses. There was certainly nothing holding Canon back this year, either, as we've seen the world's largest camera manufacturer release some truly incredible and innovative camera kit in the past 12 months.

If the R5 and R6 stole headlines in 2020, then Canon's announcement of the Canon EOS R3 (opens in new tab) in September, in a livestream dubbed by the manufacturer as "the most exciting announcement of the year (opens in new tab)" was undoubtedly the show-stopper in 2021.

• Read more: Best Canon cameras (opens in new tab)

Interestingly, though, the pro-level R3 was Canon's only interchangeable lens camera released this year – which means that its last DSLR was the Canon EOS Rebel T8i / 850D (opens in new tab), launched back in February 2020. With no DSLR or EF lens announcements made since, and nothing to suggest more will be made any time soon, it's clear to see that Canon's main priority lies with mirrorless cameras.

While the year was dominated by the R3 there were some other huge announcements from the manufacturer, including the arrival of six new Canon RF lenses. Here's how the year panned out…

January – Canon produces its 150-millionth lens

(Image credit: Canon)

Canon started 2021 with a bang! Announcing a huge landmark achievement for the company in January, it produced its 150,000,000th lens since production started on Canon optics in 1987. The lucky lens to tip the manufacturer over this milestone was a Canon RF 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS USM (opens in new tab) telephoto zoom. Canon's RF lenses selling like hot cakes would be a fitting precursor for the following announcements in the rest of the year…

April – Three new long lenses for the RF mount

(Image credit: Canon)
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April saw the company's first product announcements, and we were treated to three telephoto primes: the Canon RF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM (opens in new tab), Canon RF 600mm f/4L IS USM (opens in new tab) and the Canon RF 400mm f/2.8L IS USM (opens in new tab).

Canon's EF 100mm f/2.8L IS USM Macro lens is a favorite for EF-mount DSLRs, so full-frame mirrorless users had been crying out for a native RF mount version. Luckily, our prayers had been answered as Canon announced the RF 100mm Macro – and it didn't disappoint, with features like 1.4x magnification, up to 8 stops of image stabilization (on EOS R systems with IBIS), faster focusing, super-sharp images and a control ring that was the cherry on top. No surprise, then, that it received the highest award in our review (opens in new tab).

Another hole in Canon's RF lens range in desperate need of attention was native telephoto primes. Luckily, the company's top-end telephotos are a bit like buses and two turned up at the same time in the form of the $11,999 RF 400mm f/2.8L and $12,999 Canon RF 600mm f/4L.

June – Canon RF 14-35mm f/4L IS USM

(Image credit: Canon)

After numerous leaks earlier in the year, the Canon RF 14-35mm f/4L IS USM (opens in new tab) was finally announced – the second of the "unholy trinity" of f/4 zoom lenses for the manufacturer's RF-mount ecosystem.

The Canon RF 14-35mm f/4L stands as a slightly slower, slightly wider and much cheaper alternative to the Canon RF 15-35mm f/2.8L IS USM (opens in new tab) "trinity" pro lens. 

Notably, this is Canon's broadest ever zoom range for a full-frame autofocus lens and featured weather sealing, as well as three aspherical and three ultra-low dispersion elements, with ѕubwаvеlеngth ѕtruсturе соаtіngѕ to control flаrе аnd ghоѕtіng to boot.

Also on the spec sheet was a Nano USM for fast and "silent" operation, as well as optical IS for 5.5 stops of stabilization, expanding to 7 stops of compensation on the Canon EOS R5 (opens in new tab) and Canon EOS R6 (opens in new tab) (where the IS works in tandem with their in-body image stabilization systems). 

And of course, as standard for a Canon RF lens, it features a control ring on the nose that can be customized for aperture, shutter speed, ISO speed and exposure compensation – or de-clicked (at a Canon-authorized service center) for use as a video lens. 

September – Canon EOS R3 and more RF lenses

(Image credit: Canon)

In September Canon made "the most exciting announcement of the year (opens in new tab)" revealing not only the development of the Canon EOS R3 (opens in new tab) but two new lenses for the RF mount and raft of new accessories.

The EOS R3 took everything the company had built on so far with its mirrorless technology and state-of-the-art EOS R5 and EOS R6 cameras, and continued to push the boundaries even further. Sitting in-between the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III (opens in new tab) and the EOS R5, it resurrects the EOS 3 product line and featured some incredible specifications like a 24MP stacked back-illuminated sensor, 30fps burst shooting, up to 8 stops of in-body image stabilization, Eye Control AF and 4K video up to 120p. 

It also featured a new Multi Function Shoe, a 21-pin connection that enables you to power and communicate with hot shoe devices without the need for external cables or batteries.

One of two new lenses for the RF mount was the Canon RF 16mm F2.8 STM (opens in new tab), a new ultra-wide, ultra-light, ultra-cheap prime lens, that would retail for just $299 – making it very budget-friendly and ideal for vloggers looking to record themselves at an arm's length.

The other lens announcement came in the form of the Canon RF 100-400mm F5.6-8 IS USM (opens in new tab). A new compact, versatile and competitively priced telephoto zoom lens, it has an impressive reach of 100-400mm and would benefit from the IBIS on many EOS R series cameras – and packs an impressive $649 price point to match.

Read more: 

Canon EOS R3 review (opens in new tab)
Canon RF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM review (opens in new tab)
Canon RF 400mm and 600mm lenses (opens in new tab)
Canon RF 14-35mm f/4L IS USM (opens in new tab)
Canon RF 16mm f/2.8 STM review (opens in new tab)
Canon RF 100-400mm f/5.6-8 IS USM review (opens in new tab)

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Dan Mold
Deputy Editor

Deputy Editor on PhotoPlus: The Canon Magazine, Dan also brings his technical wizardry and editing skills to Digital Camera World. He has been writing about all aspects of photography for over 10 years, having previously served as technical writer and technical editor for Practical Photography magazine, as well as Photoshop editor on Digital Photo

Dan is an Adobe-certified Photoshop guru, making him officially a beast at post-processing – so he’s the perfect person to share tips and tricks both in-camera and in post. Able to shoot all genres, Dan provides news, techniques and tutorials on everything from portraits and landscapes to macro and wildlife, helping photographers get the most out of their cameras, lenses, filters, lighting, tripods, and, of course, editing software.