The Best Canon RF Lenses for Travel and Outdoor Photographers

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In preparing to update my photography quiver for the new line of Canon’s mirrorless lenses, I went through a period of researching and testing the new lens line. My questions about each lens and how they compare to each other were not sufficiently answered online, and so I thought I should publish my summarizations of each lens, including their strengths and weaknesses. I will plan to keep this document current as new lenses are released.

The New Canon RF Lenses: which are the best for you?

By all accounts, the new RF mount mirrorless-specific lenses are a breakthrough for Canon, ending the 31 year reign of Canon’s hugely popular and high-quality EF lenses. The RF lenses advance Canon lens technology in several significant ways. The most important change is simply superior image quality through better glass, better glass coating and better lens design. The large mount diameter allows for larger maximum apertures; a key for several lenses with particularly wide apertures. Shorter flange distance (or the distance from the image sensor and the first piece of glass) allows the lenses to be built in a more compact format. In-lens image stabilization technology as well as communication between the lens and the camera on in-camera stabilization allows for more stable images. Canon RF lenses also come with a control ring, which allows the user the ability to make customized exposure changes from the lens itself.

Canon RF 24–105mm F4 L IS USM Lens

This lens has an enormous range from wide-angle to telephoto, and a photographer could use this as reason to justify a kit without a middle-range prime or zoom lens. This is an “L” build lens, and so it has very good quality. However, often, the image quality is less than superior, which is what you’d expect with such a long focal range. Also, this lens seems designed more for videographers than still photographers, with a build that seems designed more for zooming while filming. Ultimately, this lens is a jack-of-all-trade lens, and it can work for general purpose travel, outdoor, sports, nature, cityscape and portraiture work.

Strengths of the RF-24-105MM Lens

  • Cost is better than most RF lenses
  • Encompassing range from wide-angle to telephoto in a single lens
  • Consistent minimum aperture of F4 at all focal ranges.
  • Travel photographers needing to cut down on heavy kits will appreciate the general purpose and lightweight nature of this lens.

Weaknesses of the RF-24-105MM Lens

  • Better lens for video than still
  • Doesn’t have that solid build often preferred by photographers.
  • Image quality is very good rather than excellent.

Canon RF 28–70mm F2 L USM Lens

I consider this lens to be the current flagship of high quality zoom among the new RF lenses. It is breathtakingly sharp, and features a uniquely wide maximum aperture.

Strengths of the RF 28–70mm Lens

  • Amazing maximum aperture of F2.
  • Solid, large and heavy lens is beneficial for photographers who appreciate solid build
  • Image remains extremely sharp at various apertures.
  • Outperforms EF prime lenses.

Weaknesses of the RF 28–70mm Lens

  • Lack of wider zoom makes a
  • Very heavy lens, making it a difficult choice for backcountry and travel photographers.
  • No in-lens image stabilization
  • Expensive

Canon RF 50mm F1.2 L USM Lens

Nifty-fifty’s are usually affordable, but this RF 50mm lens is nothing of the sort. The cost is justified by the amazing image quality and extraordinary wide aperture. 50mm prime lenses are not for everybody, and with the many zooms that already cover this range, this lens seems to be made specifically for the photographers who love this standard focal length.

Strengths of the RF 50mm Lens

  • Great bokeh
  • Excellent image quality
  • Solid prime lens

Weaknesses of the RF 50mm Lens

  • No in-lens image stabilization.
  • Focal length covered by other lenses

Canon RF 70–200mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens

The first thing you notice about this lens is how compact it is compared to its EF equivalent. It is much smaller than earlier medium telephoto lenses, which makes it much more interesting as a travel photographers lens.

Strengths of the RF 70–200mm Lens

  • Amazing contrast and resolution at all focal lengths
  • Very light: weighs only 2.35 pounds
  • Much more compact than its predecessor
  • Improved image quality over its predecessor

Weaknesses of the RF 70–200mm Lens

Canon RF 15–35mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens

This ultrawide zoom replaces Canon’s wildly popular EF 16-35, and is coming up as superior in every test on image quality and sharpness. For anybody who uses ultrawide, the advancements on this lens are hard to ignore.

Strengths of the Canon RF 15–35mm F2.8 Lens

  • Incredible image quality, a sound improvement over its popular EF equivalent.
  • Weather sealed and other technology against water and dust
  • In-lens image stabilization
  • Constant F2.8 maximum aperture at every focal length.
  • Control ring

Weaknesses of the Canon RF 15–35mm F2.8 Lens

  • Very large for an ultrawide zoom.
  • Photographers report that the plastic build on this model feels substandard
  • Vignetting at 15mm

Canon RF 35mm F1.8 Macro IS STM Lens

This is the least expensive of the new Canon RF lenses, but it has very good image quality. Since the image quality of some of Zooms (such as the 28-70) are superior to this lens, I see the advantage of this lens its light weight and affordable cost. As a long-time macro user, I don’t imagine many cases where this focal length would work for me, although it is the only macro RF lens to date.

Strengths of the RF 35mm Lens

  • Inexpensive
  • Very good image quality
  • The only macro RF lens that has been released
  • In-lens Image stabilization
  • Light enough to easily allow single hand use
  • Amazing maximum aperture

Weaknesses of the RF 35mm Lens

  • Unusual focal length for a macro lens
  • Image quality generally inferior to the more expensive Zoom lenses that cover this focal length.

Canon RF 85mm F1.2 L USM Lens

The 85mm lens has long been prized as the ideal all-purpose portraiture and human subject and fashion focal length. The RF version of the 85mm is an exceptional lens, surpassing its Canon predecessors and probably the competition. A solid, heavy lens, the RF 85mm uses only 13 lens elements, which corrects many issues compared to similar lenses which need more elements.

Strengths of the RF 85mm F1.2 Lens

  • Unprecedented image quality
  • Impressive maximum aperture of 1.2
  • Quality remains high at different apertures

Weaknesses of the RF 85mm F1.2 Lens

  • Expensive
  • Focal range generally has very specific uses
  • No in-lens image stabilization
  • Large, heavy lens that will weigh down an outdoor photographer’s kit

Canon RF 85mm F1.2 L USM DS Lens (The Bokeh Lens)

This lens, almost identical to the Canon RF 85mm F1.2, has one key difference: it uses a defocusing technology to create more intense, clean and smooth bokeh effects when used in the widest apertures. I love the fact that Canon is releasing creative lens concepts such as this one, and if I had a choice between the two lenses, I would opt for this version, as Bokeh is so important in many of the people shots this focal length is used for.

Strengths of the 85mm F1.2 L USM D Lens

  • Unusual premise and a very creative lens concept
  • Unprecedented image quality
  • Impressive maximum aperture of 1.2
  • Quality remains high at different apertures

Weaknesses of the 85mm F1.2 L USM D Lens

  • Even more expensive than the regular RF 85mm
  • Focal range generally has very specific uses
  • No in-lens image stabilization
  • Large, heavy lens that will weigh down an outdoor photographer’s kit

Canon RF 24–240mm F4–6.3 IS USM Lens

This single lens contains most of the focal lengths used regularly by photographers. It simply has an amazing range. The problem, of course, is that this incredible focal length diversity comes at the price of image quality. Nevertheless, consumer photographers should be impressed by image quality compared to earlier superzoom models.

Strengths of the RF 24–240mm Lens

  • Light and compact for its range
  • A contender for photographers with weight and space requirements of a single lens
  • Good weight distribution on RF cameras

Weaknesses of the RF 24–240mm Lens

  • Lower image quality
  • Maximum aperture is not ideal

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