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Hands on: Canon RF 16mm f/2.8 STM review

The Canon RF 16mm f/2.8 STM is tiny, fast, and ideal for vlogging, interiors, landscapes, architecture and astro

Hands on: Canon RF 16mm f/2.8 STM review
(Image: © Future)

Our Verdict

The Canon RF 16mm f/2.8 STM, like the RF 35mm, 50mm and 85mm primes before it, this looks to be another affordable essential for any R-system owner. As the second-cheapest lens in the RF lineup, even those who would otherwise skip a niche focal length can pick it up and start exploring a new field of view. We'll reserve judgment on image quality until our full review, but right now we've no reason to believe this will be anything other than a must-have for astrophotography, videography, vlogging, landscapes and interiors.

For

  • Ultra compact
  • Ultra affordable
  • Ultra wide

Against

  • A tad slow, at f/2.8
  • No weather sealing
  • No stabilization

When Canon announced the Canon RF 16mm f/2.8 STM lens – alongside the Canon EOS R3, no less – a few people were left scratching their heads. Why launch a tiny f/2.8 lens budget lens next to a six-grand professional sports camera? Technique editor for PhotoPlus: The Canon Magazine, Dan Mold, recently got hold of a sample and was eager to answer this question. 

The timing was curious, and the Canon EOS R3 isn't exactly an obvious bedfellow. However, in the context of the entire RF lens ecosystem, the Canon RF 16mm f/2.8 STM lens makes perfect sense. 

• Read more: PhotoPlus: The Canon Magazine

It's a truly pocketable prime lens with a fast f/2.8 aperture that, while it doesn't match the speed of its similarly pint-sized siblings the Canon RF 35mm f/1.8 IS Macro STM and Canon RF 50mm f/1.8 STM, is still more than fast enough for applications like architecture, landscapes, interiors… and vlogging. Vlogging is the key one.

Ever since the original Canon EOS R launched, with its 1.7x crop in 4K video, the issue of a wide enough lens to vlog on the R system has been a hot one. Thankfully, then, this new 16mm prime gives you a very affordable way to vlog without having to shell out for the Canon RF 15-35mm f/2.8 L IS USM trinity lens. 

• Read more: Best Canon RF lenses

Canon RF 16mm f/2.8 STM: Specifications

Mount: Canon RF
Full frame: Yes
Lens construction: 9 elements in 7 groups
Diaphragm blades: 7
Minimum aperture: f/22
Closest focusing distance: 0.13m
Maximum magnification: 0.26x
Filter size: 43mm
Weather sealed: No
Stabilization: Yes, 5.5 stops (6 stops with IBIS bodies)
Control ring: Yes
Electronic contacts: Yes
Dimensions: 69.2 x 40.1mm
Weight: 165g

(Image credit: Future)

Canon RF 16mm f/2.8 STM: Key features

Canon's RF 16mm f/2.8 STM isn't the most feature-packed lens on the market but, by stripping it down to the most essential core features, Canon has been able to produce a remarkably small and portable lens.

Optical Image Stabilization has been left on the cutting room floor, though the number of EOS R cameras with in-body image stabilization (IBIS) now outweighs those without it. And camera shake is fairly well compensated by the wide 16mm focal length itself. 

There's a single ring on the lens barrel, which can be used to set manual focus or toggled into the standard Control Ring to quickly set shutter speed, lens aperture, ISO or Exposure Compensation.

(Image credit: Future)

Canon RF 16mm f/2.8 STM: Build and handling

The RF 16mm uses an almost identical chassis to the RF 50mm f/1.8, measuring just .4mm wider at  just 69.2 x 40.1mm and weighing just 5g more at a featherlight 165g.  As such, it behaves fantastically well as an all-day lens for shooting wide-spanning photos and videos. 

The 16mm focal length is ideal for vloggers shooting selfie videos, as the wide viewing angle is great for including more of your surroundings when doing a piece to camera to add context – and the f/2.8 aperture is still enough to create subject separation while filming. 

That super-wide angle also enables to crop in using digital image stabilization, meaning that even the IBIS-free EOS R and Canon EOS RP (with which this makes a great, compact combo) can benefit from stabilization. 

The build isn't up to L-series snuff, so there's no red ring or weather sealing, but like the RF 50mm and RF 35mm this feels like a very premium lens that's lightyears better built than some of its plasticky EF predecessors.

(Image credit: Future)

Canon RF 16mm f/2.8 STM: Performance

We haven't been able to fully field or lab test the lens yet, aside from a few samples indoors, so we'll reserve judgement until we get a sample to properly play with. However, we've made some observations from our brief time with the optic.

One small is that the widest available aperture is just f/2.8 – we'd have loved to seen it stretch to f/1.8 like the RF 50mm and RF 35mm. A wider maximum aperture would help when shooting vlogs in low light, and especially with astrophotography where this lens will surely shine – though admittedly this can be compensated by the impressive high-ISO performance in the EOS R range.

The filter thread is a very small 43mm, which should mean that screw-in filters are more affordable than those on larger lenses. However, as this lens has been designed for video, this might make it trickier to get a good grip on a variable ND filter. We're also curious to test the lens to see if vignetting is presented with screw-in filters attached due to the super-wide viewing angle.

(Image credit: Future)

Canon RF 16mm f/2.8 STM: Early verdict

Canon's has been rapidly, if not particularly quickly, populating its line of non-L series lenses for the EOS R system. And like the RF 35mm, 50mm and 85mm before it, this looks to be another affordable essential for any R-system owner.

It's currently the second-most affordable lens in the RF lineup at just $299.99 / £319 / AU$549, meaning that even those who would otherwise skip a relatively niche focal length like this can pick one up and start exploring a new field of view.

We'll reserve judgment on the image quality until our full review, but right now we've no reason to believe this will be anything other than another excellent entry level lens that's going to demand a place in your bag.

Read more: 

PhotoPlus: The Canon Magazine 
Canon RF 35mm f/1.8 IS Macro STM review
Canon RF 50mm f/1.8 STM review
Canon RF 15-35mm f/2.8 L IS USM review
Canon RF 85mm f/2 Macro IS STM review
Canon EOS R review
Canon EOS RP review

Dan Mold

The Technique 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 8 years, having previously served as technical writer and technical editor on Practical Photography magazine, as well as Photoshop editor on Digital Photo


Indeed, 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.