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Hands on: Canon RF 24-70mm f/2.8L IS USM review

Canon’s long-awaited standard RF zoom is here – is it good enough to win the naysayers over to the EOS R system?

Hands on: Canon RF 24-70mm f/2.8L IS USM review
(Image: © Future)

Our Verdict

The second of Canon’s RF mount trinity lenses is here to prosthelytize the benefits of the EOS R system – and, if our hands-on with this prototype sample is anything to go by, it will have users singing Hallelujah all the way to the nearest camera store. It’s snappy, it’s sharp, it’s stabilized and it even suppresses focus breathing. If the production model follows suit, this could well be the standard zoom by which all others are measured.

For

  • 5-stop Image Stabilizer
  • Improved minimum focus
  • No focus breathing

Against

  • Hefty price tag
  • Lens hood isn’t included in the price!

When the Canon RF 24-70mm f/2.8L IS USM is released, it will mark almost a year since the EOS R was first unveiled by the company. Much has been written and more has been said, good and bad, about Canon’s full-frame mirrorless in that time, but one criticism has gone unanswered for almost 12 months: ‘there are no proper lenses’.

It’s been a familiar refrain from early adopters and system skeptics alike; the Canon EOS R has relied almost exclusively on the crutch of EF-mount lenses since its launch. While the company has done an admirable job of fleshing out the Canon RF lens roadmap, the lack of the three ‘trinity’ zoom lenses has been a hard one to pave over.

The company did, in fairness, release the Canon RF 28-70 f/2L USM – but that hulking, super-specialist optic was never going to appease the everyman. Thankfully, then, Canon has at last given us the RF 24-70 f/2.8L – the standard zoom that everyone has been waiting for. 

We had the opportunity to take a pre-production sample for a spin, which unfortunately means that we can’t yet share our sample shots or lab tests. We can share our thoughts having shot with the lens, though – and we’re pleased to report that they’re quite positive…

The Canon RF 24-70mm f/2.8L is virtually indistinguishable from its 15-35mm cousin at first glance

The Canon RF 24-70mm f/2.8L is virtually indistinguishable from its 15-35mm cousin at first glance

(Image credit: Future)

Canon RF 24-70mm f/2.8L IS USM: Specifications

Full-frame compatible: Yes
Effective focal length: 24-70mm
Image Stabilizer: 5-stop, hybrid
Minimum focus distance: 0.21m (at 24mm) / 0.38mm (at 70mm)
Max magnification factor: 0.3x (at 32mm)
Manual focus override: Electronic
Filter size: 82mm
Weather seals: Yes
Supplied accessories: None
Length: 125.7mm

Canon RF 24-70mm f/2.8L IS USM: Build and handling

The Canon RF 24-70mm f/2.8L IS USM is longer than its DSLR counterpart, the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM, which measures 113mm. Still, the two lenses are comparable in size – and the RF iteration retains the 82mm diameter of its predecessor, meaning that you can port over your existing filters. (The same is true of the Canon RF 15-35mm f/2.8L IS USM, which also has an 82mm diameter.)

The difference here, of course, is that the RF version introduces Canon’s 5-stop Image Stabilizer – along with the RF 15-35mm, it is the first “wide-angle” L-series lens to incorporate the stabilization.

It also shares the honor, with its new sibling, of being the company’s first fast-aperture zoom lens to feature Nano USM – Canon’s premium tier of focus motor, which is able to muscle the large glass elements in the RF lens with both speed and precision. However, it also does so with stealth-like levels of noise, making it equally adept for shooting video.

This is an inherent consideration with all of Canon’s RF lenses, given the customizable nature of the control ring. While it can be programmed to control anything from white balance to metering modes, for videographers the most logical choice is to make it a manual aperture ring – which can be ‘de-clicked’ by Canon service centers for silent operation. 

Despite being slightly longer than its EF precursor, the RF 24-70mm feels very similar in the hand. It’s substantial and sturdy yet nimble and responsive, whether you’re focusing automatically or manually, with a pleasingly damped zoom ring – which has an extra trick up its sleeve…

(Image credit: Future)

Canon RF 24-70mm f/2.8L IS USM: Performance

Like the Canon RF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM kit lens, the RF 24-70mm possesses a focus breathing suppression system. As many videographers will tell you through gritted teeth, most zoom lenses ‘breathe’ as you push in or out – meaning that the angle of focus changes as you do so. 

The fact that the RF 24-70mm doesn’t breathe is a very fine feather to its bow – it’s easy to forget that a standard lens isn’t just important for stills, but equally important for shooting video. To have suppression baked into the lens, along with 5-stop stabilization, makes this very appealing indeed for cinematographers.

Of course, the image stabilization is equally useful for stills and video alike. In far less than optimal lighting conditions, we were able to handhold at 70mm down to 1/13 sec (at f/2.8, ISO400). This was run-and-gun shooting, with minimal care or camera craft, but it just goes to show how well Canon’s lens-based stabilization performs even without proper consideration. 

It pains us that we can’t share sample shots, but our images were equally sharp at both ends of the zoom range with no obvious signs of aberration. Low light performance was excellent, both in terms of image quality and the speed of acquiring focus – even in near-dark (we were using the lens with the Canon EOS R, which has slightly better low light focusing than the Canon EOS RP). 

In our time with the Canon RF 24-70mm f/2.8L IS USM, it performed like an amped-up version of the EF equivalent – in particular, focus seemed snappier, thanks no doubt to the improved capabilities of the EOS R system and the faster communication enabled by the RF mount. 

Even the minimum focus distance has been improved; at the wide end, close focusing is now possible up to 21cm – a substantial improvement from the 38cm of the EF version of the lens. Zooming to 32mm also reaches the RF lens’ maximum magnification of 0.3x, a similar improvement on the EF lens’ magnification of 0.21x (found at 70mm).

The Canon RF 24-70mm f/2.8L and 15-35mm share the same 82mm filter diameter

The Canon RF 24-70mm f/2.8L and 15-35mm share the same 82mm filter diameter

(Image credit: Future)

Canon RF 24-70mm f/2.8L IS USM: Early verdict

The full story will be told when we put a production sample through its paces in our lab. From our hands-on shooting and eyeball tests, however, it seems to outgun its EF older brother. It seems to have more ‘bite’ in the sharpness and contrast stakes, and its ability to acquire focus seems notably improved. 

The addition of image stabilization is a real game-changer, especially given that the two (current) EOS R bodies both lack IBIS. Throw in the fact that the lens possesses focus breathing suppression, and this looks very much like the must-have lens for both stills and video shooting alike. 

Indeed, if it backs things up in the lab, this could very well be the new yardstick by which standard zooms are measured by. 

Read more: 

Canon RF 15-35mm f/2.8L IS USM
Canon EOS R review
Canon RF lens roadmap: everything we know so far