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Hands on: Canon RF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM review

This is the RF-mount lens that everyone has been waiting for. But how does the Canon RF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM perform?

Canon RF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM
(Image: © Digital Camera World)

Our Verdict

The debate about whether this lens should extend in length as you zoom is sure to rage on forever. There is no arguing this is a light lens for its type, and great that it fits in your shoulder bag upright. However, it is a change in handling that some users converting from more conventional 70-200mm f/2.8 zooms are going to hate. And the narrowing of the barrel at the far end means a change in handling characteristics. In our limited hands-on test, autofocus is fast - although sometimes this is let down by the accuracy of eye-tracking focus. Pictures taken with it look amazing though - particularly as we took all 200 or so of our test shots at the maximum f/2.8 aperture. The five-stops of image stabilization also seemed impressive too. We can't wait to get a sample into our lab to give a full rundown of the optical performance.

For

  • Must-have lens for any pro photographer
  • Great size and weight
  • Optical image stabilization

Against

  • Length of lens extends as you zoom
  • High price

For anyone who wants to use the Canon EOS R or EOS RP for professional photography, then the Canon RF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM is a lens that you have been waiting for over a year for this lens. The 70-200mm f/2.8 has become such a must-have lens, and not just for portraiture or action; it this fast telephoto zoom is found in practically any pro photographer - whatever her or his speciality or genre.

It is the last of the so-called "f/2.8 trinity" of lenses too to arrive... following the arrival of the Canon RF 15-35mm f/2.8L IS USM and Canon RF 24-70mm f/2.8L IS USM. It is, of course, also the first white bodied Canon RF lens - the color reserved for Canon's telephoto L-class optics.

Now the Canon RF lens roadmap has delivered a core spine of a serious lens system... and helps give us hope that other more pro-oriented Canon full-frame mirrorless cameras are to come.

Handling

Canon RF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM review

When collapsed, the mirrorless Canon RF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM (left) is 27% shorter than the previous EF-mount DSLR version

(Image credit: James Artaius / Digital Camera World)

The Canon RF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM, however, arrives with some controversy. Unlike its EF-mount DSLR counterpart, this zoom extends as you zoom out...  The lens therefore feels different in use - and the lengthening of a zoom, is something that, to put in bluntly, is something that we only see on cheaper optics.

The rationale from Canon, however, is worth listening too. The new telephoto is significantly smaller and lighter than the EF version, weighing 1,070g compared to the 1,480g of its older brother. Further more it is smaller when collapsed - and when stored in your camera bag; at its shortest focal length it is 146mm long, compared to 199mm on the EF-mount equivalent. In summary, the new lens is 27% shorter and 28% lighter.

Canon RF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM review

(Image credit: Digital Camera World)

We managed to get our hands on a production sample of the lens at PhotoPlus Expo 2019, using it on a Canon EOS R at a catwalk fashion show. And here it did feel like a lens that is lighter than we might expect. The girth of the lens, however, is still substantial, and the fact that the far of the end has a smaller diameter when extended did feel a bit alien (although we might get used to this)

The lens comes with a bank of switches along its side. From top to bottom, there is a focus limiter switch, the standard AF and stabilizer on/of switches, and then a stabilizer mode switch. This last switch modifies optical stablization to suit general shooting (Mode 1) , panning (Mode 2), and a new mode that only engages the IS when the shutter is released (Mode 3). As with other RF lenses there is a programmable control ring too (to adjust ISO, for example) - and a tripod collar (which can be removed if you don't need it, or if it gets in the way).

Shooting at 70mm, the Canon Canon RF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM f/2.8L IS USM is compact, but is still chunky

(Image credit: Digital Camera World)

Sample images

Here is a selection of images that we shot during our short time with the Canon RF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM. To see the image at full resolution, click on the top right hand corner of the image, and the high-res version will open in a new browser window.

Canon RF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM with Canon EOS R.
1/250sec at f/2.8, ISO1000

(Image credit: Chris George/Digital Camera World)

Canon RF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM with Canon EOS R.
1/400sec at f/2.8, ISO1000

(Image credit: Chris George/Digital Camera World)

Canon RF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM with Canon EOS R.
1/250sec at f/2.8, ISO800

(Image credit: Chris George/Digital Camera World)

Canon RF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM with Canon EOS R.
1/200sec at f/4.5, ISO1600

(Image credit: Chris George/Digital Camera World)

Canon RF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM with Canon EOS R.
1/160sec at f/2.8, ISO800

(Image credit: Chris George/Digital Camera World)

Canon RF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM review

Canon RF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM with Canon EOS R.
1/250sec at f/2.8, ISO800

(Image credit: Chris George/Digital Camera World)

(Image credit: Chris George/Digital Camera World)

Early verdict

The debate about whether this lens should extend in length as you zoom is sure to rage on forever. There is no arguing this is a light lens for its type, and great that it fits in your shoulder bag upright. However, it is a change in handling that some users converting from more conventional 70-200mm f/2.8 zooms are going to hate. And the narrowing of the barrel at the far end means a change in handling characteristics. 

In our limited hands-on test, autofocus is fast - although sometimes this is let down by the accuracy of eye-tracking focus. Pictures taken with it look amazing though - particularly as we took all 200 or so of our test shots at the maximum f/2.8 aperture. The five-stops of image stabilization also seemed impressive too. We can't wait to get a sample into our lab to give a full rundown of the optical performance.

Read more:

Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM review
Canon RF lens roadmap: everything we know so far
Canon EOS R review
The best Canon lenses
The best 70-200mm lenses