Canon RF 200-800mm F6.3-9 IS USM Lens Review

Canon RF 200-800mm F6.3-9 IS USM Lens

The RF 200-800mm lens is expected to arrive in December. In the meantime, here are the expectations for this lens.

The Canon RF 200-800mm F6.3-9 IS USM Lens is destined to be one of the all-time favorite wildlife lenses.

Why? A significant number of photographers, both amateurs and professional, are going to find this lens's long range of telephoto focal lengths, reaching an exceptionally and differentiatingly long 800mm, in a relatively compact, handholdably light, weather-sealed body with great image quality, Nano USM AF, high-performing Image Stabilization (5.5 stops of assistance) with auto panning detection, and an affordable price measures up to the ideal choice for pursuing wildlife and numerous other subject types.

Canon RF 200-800mm F6.3-9 IS USM Lens Top View

Focal Length Range

While this lens has many great features, it is the 200mm through super-telephoto 800mm focal length range that should especially grab your focus. For the lens to be useful, the angles of view provided by the focal length range must work for you, and the extreme range provided by this lens takes in a wide range of needs.

As I said in the RF 800mm F5.6 L Lens and RF 800mm F11 Lens reviews, when you need to frame a subject tightly and can't get closer, due to:

  • physical barriers (streams, cliffs, fences, etc.)
  • legislated barriers (lines on a field, property boundaries, etc.)
  • a subject that does not tolerate closer photographers (skittish birds, for example)
  • impacting subject behavior (such as the natural activity of wildlife)
  • safety reasons (dangerous wildlife, high-speed vehicles, etc.)
  • stealth requirements (such as for law enforcement missions)
  • a requirement to avoid being a viewing obstruction (such as getting in front of the audience at a venue)

— you might need an 800mm lens.

When you want to capture a compressed look from a distant perspective, you might want an 800mm lens. When you want to create a strong background blur, isolating a subject from an otherwise distracting background, an 800mm lens might be just right.

If you simply don't want to get closer, an 800mm lens might be just right. Sit in the comfort of your car, avoid the need to cross a creek, stay back from the surf, stay out of view, etc.

Many lenses reach 600mm, but few zoom to 800mm. Here is the 600mm vs. 800mm difference:

600mm vs. 800mm Comparison

The 800mm angle of view is considerably tighter than that of 600mm.

800mm IS STM Lotus Sample Picture

The sample pictures shared in this section were captured with the RF 800mm F11 lens (at f/11).

800mm IS STM Lens Little Green Heron Sample Picture

Making this 800mm-capable lens considerably more versatile than the primes is the addition of the 200-799mm focal length range.

The most popular use of 200-800mm is wildlife photography. This range is optimal for large animals close to small animals far away, including birds.

The light weight of this lens, along with the long focal length, makes it a consideration even for birds in flight. While keeping a moving subject in the narrow 800mm angle of view is challenging, this lens can be zoomed wide for viewfinder subject acquisition and zoomed long for the desired tight framing.

Though 200mm is not especially wide for environmental portraits, it still works well for that use.

800mm IS STM Dragonfly Sample Picture

While portraits are on this lens's capabilities list, this lens will more often be used to photograph people participating in outdoor sports. I say "outdoor" because the max aperture is insufficient for stopping most indoor action. This focal length range is optimal for watersports, such as surfing, and it will reach deep into a large field, such as for baseball and soccer, while still providing close subject coverage.

Photojournalists and others covering events may find this lens's focal length range useful. Photographing over large crowds such as at outdoor concerts is easy with an 800mm lens mounted.

This lens is an outstanding choice for photographing air shows. Many details are ideal for 200-800mm capture.

800mm IS STM Lens Flower Sample Picture

This focal length range is valuable for capturing compressed landscape images. Want to add some color to your portfolio? Direct this lens at an even modestly colorful sky just before sunrise or just after sunset.

800mm IS STM Lens Crescent Moon Sample Picture

This lens is an excellent option for photographing the moon.

The video uses for this focal length range mirror the stills uses.

An ASP-C sensor format camera model's 1.6x FOVCF (Field of View Crop Factor) will see an angle of view like a full-frame-mounted 320-1280mm lens. This narrower angle of view has similar uses but with smaller subjects or longer working distances. Bird photographers rarely have too much focal length, and distant wildlife can often make full use of this focal length. Keeping a moving subject in the 1280mm angle of view is challenging.

Just because you have an 800mm-capable lens doesn't mean that you can create sharp images at that focal length, even when using the fastest shutter speeds and best techniques. When present, heat shimmer/haze/waves will create optical distortion that will diminish the quality of long-distance-captured photos. Artificial turf sports fields and asphalt tracks are among the most notorious venues for heatwaves — sun on artificial turf ensures terrible image quality at 800mm.

Canon RF 200-800mm F6.3-9 IS USM Lens Angle View

Max Aperture

How much light does the lens provide to the imaging sensor? Usually, that question is the second most important when selecting a lens.

The f/6.3-9 in the name refers to the maximum aperture, the ratio of the focal length to the entrance pupil diameter, available in this lens.

The lower the aperture number, the wider the opening, and the more light the lens can deliver to the imaging sensor. Each "stop" in aperture change (full stop examples: f/5.6, f/8.0, f/11.0) increases or decreases the amount of light by a factor of 2x (a substantial amount).

Want a long range of long focal lengths in a zoom lens without a large size, heavy weight, and high price? Expect that lens to have a variable and narrow max aperture. Because this lens's maximum opening does not increase sufficiently with focal length increase to maintain the same aperture measurement ratio, the max aperture is efficiently variable, smoothly ranging from f/6.3 to f/9.0 as the focal length range is increasingly traversed. A smaller aperture opening facilitates using smaller, lighter, and less expensive lens elements, and, from a relative standpoint, the Canon RF 200-800mm F6.3-9 IS USM Lens has those attributes with emphasis.

While the aperture change is continuous (not stepped), narrowing as the focal length increases, the camera rounds the EXIF-reported aperture to the nearest 1/3 or 1/2 stop. Here are approximate focal length ranges estimated by Canon for the RF 200-800mm F6.3-9 IS USM Lens's reported 1/3 stop apertures.

200mm = f/6.3
300-400mm = f/7.1
500-600mm = f/8.0
800mm = f/9.0

I know, the focal length ranges are not contiguous. I'll fix that issue when the lens arrives, but the numbers give us a solid expectation.

For reference, here are the RF 100-500's reported apertures:

100-150mm = f/4.5
151-253mm = f/5.0
254-362mm = f/5.6
363-471mm = f/6.3
472-500mm = f/7.1

While f/9 on the 200-800's long end sounds narrow, the difference at the RF 100-500's equivalent focal lengths is not so big, mostly 1/3 or 2/3 of a stop.

With its narrow max apertures, this lens is not a good choice for photographing low-light motion, including indoor sports or even outdoor sports on dark cloudy days. Setting the ISO to a very high number is the narrow aperture option for sharp dim light in-motion images, and the resulting significant noise is an image quality factor. A narrow aperture is detrimental to low light autofocus performance, slowing or inhibiting focus lock.

Only a 1/60 second shutter speed (twice the framerate) is needed for 30 fps video capture, and wide apertures are not often required to get 1/60 in normally encountered ambient lighting.

A downside to the variable max aperture is that the widest max aperture cannot be used over the entire focal length range. The camera automatically accounts for the changes in auto exposure modes (including M mode with Auto ISO), but using the widest-available aperture in manual exposure mode is somewhat complicated by the changing setting (an in-camera function may also accommodate the changes).

Despite having relatively narrow apertures, the long focal lengths provided by this lens can create a diffusely blurred background.

Canon RF 200-800mm F6.3-9 IS USM Lens Extended Top View

Image Stabilization

The longer the focal length, the larger subject details (captured at the same distance) are rendered, and the more still the camera must be held to avoid subject details crossing imaging sensor pixels, the cause of motion blur. Image stabilization is an extremely valuable feature in any lens and an especially valuable feature in a telephoto lens, especially one with narrow apertures.

The Canon RF 200-800mm F6.3-9 IS USM Lens features an image stabilization system rating of 5.5 stops at 800mm. I never fully gain the CIPA-rated advantage, but this IS system will make a huge ISO setting and resulting noise difference in handheld-captured images of still subjects (subject movement still requires faster shutter speeds to avoid blur). Coordinated IBIS (In-Body Image Stabilization) does not increase the rating. Auto panning detection is provided (a mode switch is not provided) and the lens has an IS On/Off switch, a feature I appreciate.

Remember that sensor-based AF takes advantage of the stabilized view for improved accuracy.

When you want to leave the tripod behind, IS is there for you, helping to ensure sharp images (of still subjects) and adding significant versatility to this narrow aperture lens.

Image Quality

The first apprehension I have with a compact, lightweight, affordable Canon lens with an extreme focal length range and no "L" series designation is the expected image quality. The word from Canon is that my concerns are unnecessary, and the theoretical MTF charts back up that expectation.

Here are the Canon RF 200-800mm F6.3-9 IS USM Lens's MTF charts, along with those from an outstanding performer, the RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1 L IS USM Lens. The RF 800mm F5.6 L IS USM Lens and RF 800mm F11 IS STM Lens charts are also included.

Canon RF 200-800mm F6.3-9 IS USM Lens MTF Chart Comparison

The black lines indicate contrast, and the blue lines show resolution. The solid lines are sagittal, and the dashed lines are meridional. The higher the lines, the better the performance.

The RF 100-500 is one of my most frequently used lenses, and I love the incredible quality it provides. While the RF 200-800 MTF chart lines are not as high as the RF 100-500's lines at the compared widest and longest focal lengths, the comparison is likely closer at 500mm vs. 500mm, and the 200-800 chart still promises sharp images.

While the wider 800mm L prime lens shows itself a sharper lens, primarily only professionals and well-funded enthusiasts will find this lens's advantage worth the nearly 9x higher price.

In addition to having a 2/3-stop narrower max aperture (that shows softening effects from diffraction) at 800mm, the F11 prime is not as sharp as the 200-800 zoom.

The image quality expectations set by Canon and the MTF charts are promising.

The Canon RF 200-800mm F6.3-9 IS USM Lens design is illustrated below the RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1 L IS USM Lens.

Canon RF 200-800mm F6.3-9 IS USM Lens Design Comparison with RF 100-500mm

The RF 200-800mm design includes 3 UD (Ultra Low Dispersion) glass elements and features Canon SSC (Super Spectra Coating).


As hinted by "USM" in the moniker, the Canon RF 200-800mm F6.3-9 IS USM Lens's AF system is powered by an Ultrasonic Motor. More specifically, this is a smooth, fast, quiet, and internal focusing Nano USM system.

A focus limit switch, often available on telephoto lenses, is not provided.

Non-cinema lenses usually require refocusing after a focal length change, and this lens is not parfocal. If you adjust the focal length, re-establish focus (this rule usually applies).

Two Lens Function buttons are provided at convenient positions for horizontal and vertical orientation use. By default, the buttons provide the AF stop function, locking focus at the currently selected distance, permitting a focus and recompose technique. However, they can be programmed for numerous other functions.

Here is a partial list of functions assignable to the Lens Function buttons:

  • AF Stop (default)
  • Metering/AF start
  • Switch to saved AF function
  • One-Shot AF / Servo AF
  • Eye detection
  • Switch to saved AF frame
  • AE lock
  • AE lock (hold)
  • Exposure compensation (turn main electronic dial while button is depressed)
  • Activate IS function
  • Aperture
  • Many more ...

The RF 200-800 does not have a dedicated focus ring. Instead, the knurled plastic control ring serves dual purposes, acting as a manual focus ring when that functionality is selected via a provided switch. While the ring is relatively small, it is not positioned near other features, making it easier to find.

This lens has a minimum focus distance of 2.62' (0.8m) at 200mm, where it generates its maximum magnification, a good 0.25x spec. Here are additional minimum focus distances:

200mm: 2.62' (0.8m)
400mm: 5.91' (1.8m)
600mm: 9.19' (2.8m)
800mm: 10.83' (3.3m)

Let's compare some other lenses:

Canon RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1 L IS USM Lens35.4"(900mm)0.33x
Canon RF 200-800mm F6.3-9 IS USM Lens31.5"(800mm)0.25x
Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG DN OS Sports Lens22.8"(580mm)0.34x
Sony FE 200-600mm F5.6-6.3 G OSS Lens94.5"(2400mm)0.20x
Tamron 150-500mm f/5-6.7 Di III VC VXD Lens23.6"(600mm)0.32x

At the stated focal length, a subject measuring approximately the respective size will fill a full-frame imaging sensor at the minimum focus distance.

200mm: 5.3 x 3.5" (135 × 90mm)
550mm: 7.5 x 5.0" (192 × 128mm)
800mm: 6.8 x 4.5" (173 × 115mm)

Substantially improving the maximum magnification capability is this lens's compatibility with Canon RF extenders.

Canon RF 1.4x and 2x Extender Comparison

Extenders / Teleconverters

While the Canon RF 200-800mm F6.3-9 IS USM Lens already provides an outstanding focal length range, it is compatible with the Canon RF 1.4x Extender and Canon RF 2x Extender. The lens retains its native minimum focus distance and weather sealing with the extenders mounted, and image stabilization continues to aid steadiness.

The addition of a 1.4x extender creates an extremely attractive full-frame 280-1120mm OSS lens. Extend the focal length without increasing the aperture opening, and the effective aperture is reduced by 1-stop with the 1.4x mounted, making this a not-as-attractive f/9-13 lens. While the focal length versatility provided by the extender is outstanding, magnifying the image by 1.4x and adding lens elements to the optical path modestly impacts image quality.

Typically, the RF 1.4x adds a small amount of barrel distortion to the image but has little effect on lateral CA.

The addition of a 2x Extender creates an impressive 400-1600mm focal length lens. In this case, the aperture is reduced 2-stops to a dauntingly narrow f/13-18. Autofocusing that combination is a superpower brought to us in the EOS R-series cameras.

Adding the 2x extender to the optical formula significantly degrades image quality. The RF 2x usually adds a small amount of barrel distortion to the image and magnifies (blurs?) the lateral CA.

The extender-reduced aperture value significantly reduces the available focus area in some cameras. The EOS R and RP AF area drops to 40 x 60% (Horizontal x Vertical) of the imaging sensor with the 1.4x, and all current full-frame R-series have 40 x 60% available with the 2x mounted. The current crop of APS-C R-series cameras have a 60 x 80% AF area when using the 2x with this lens.

Design & Features

Aside from a pair of 400mm DO lenses, I've never used a white Canon lens that didn't have a red ring indicating L-series membership prior to this one. This high-quality lens has many of the L-series requirements covered, so let's ask the question.

Why is the Canon RF 200-800mm F6.3-9 IS USM not an L-series lens? To be considered an L-series lens, all aspects of design and performance, including optical quality, design, and construction, weather resistance, durability, and more, must adhere to an undisclosed and fluid set of internal standards.

On the missing list are:

  • Fluorite lens elements
  • Advanced optical coatings, including Air Sphere Coating (ASC) and Fluorine
  • IR-reflecting white coating
  • Dedicated MF ring
  • IS Mode switch
  • Professional target audience
  • Case included

Thus, this lens does not quite fit into the L-series of RF lenses.

While this lens does not get the ready-for-professional-use designation, it is well constructed.

Canon RF 200-800mm F6.3-9 IS USM Lens Retracted and Extended

The RF 200-800 features an extending design normal for its class. The straight exterior body design aids in holding comfort.

The large rubber-covered zoom ring has a relatively short rotation, making focal length changes fast.

While this is a white lens, the color is slightly different from the RF L-series white, and the specialized IR-reflecting white coating is not featured. While a white lens might be less stealthy, garnering more attention than a black lens, white remains significantly cooler under a bright sun, reducing the temperature change and any negative issues that such contributes to, including part expansion, for consistent operation in high temperatures. I'll let you decide if white appears more professional, but white does hide dirt and dust better than black.

With the AF/Control/MF switch positioned to "Control", the knurled Control Ring provides fast access to selectable settings, including aperture, ISO, and exposure compensation. While MF and the Control Ring cannot be used simultaneously, sharing functionality means there is one less ring to confuse. Three-position switches require a bit of care to select the middle position, but fully forward and full rearward make AF/MF selection easy. Note that this control ring turns smoothly — it is not clicked.

Canon RF 200-800mm F6.3-9 IS USM Lens Switches

This lens has only two switches. Canon's usual flush-mount switch design is used, with sufficient raised area for use with gloves. Expect a sure click into each position.

Like the RF 100-500, the RF 200-800 features a zoom ring tension adjustment ring. Positioned just behind the zoom ring, the tension adjustment ring allows the zoom ring resistance to be set as desired, though not completely locked. While many lenses provide a zoom lock switch that is usable only with the lens in its most retracted position, the torque adjustment ring offers far more flexibility. Rotate the ring a short amount to adjust the focus ring resistance between smooth and tight, the latter permitting any focal length settings to be firmly held, greatly enhancing a strong upward or downward angle shooting experience.

This lens design features the same dust and moisture resistance design as the RF 100-500 L lens, including at the critical point where it extends.

Canon RF 200-800mm F6.3-9 IS USM Lens Weather Sealing Comparison with RF 100-500mm

This lens does not have the Fluorine coatings useful for repeling fingerprints, dust, water, oil, and other contaminants and making cleaning considerably easier.

While the RF 200-800 is a relatively compact and light lens, it has a significant size and weight.

ModelWeight oz(g)Dimensions w/o Hood "(mm)FilterYear 
Canon RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1 L IS USM Lens48.2(1365)3.7 x 8.2(93.8 x 207.6)772020
Canon RF 200-800mm F6.3-9 IS USM Lens72.4(2050)4.0 x 12.4(102.3 x 314.1)952023
Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG DN OS Sports Lens74.1(2100)4.3 x 10.4(109.4 x 263.6)952021
Sony FE 200-600mm F5.6-6.3 G OSS Lens74.8(2120)4.5 x 12.5(115.5 x 318)952019
Tamron 150-500mm f/5-6.7 Di III VC VXD Lens60.9(1725)3.7 x 8.3(93.0 x 209.6)822021

For many more comparisons, review the complete Canon RF 200-800mm F6.3-9 IS USM Lens Specifications using the site's lens specifications tool.

The RF 200-800mm lens has 95mm front threads. 95mm filters are rather large, heavy, and expensive, and they will not fit most other lenses without a step-up filter adapter ring.

Tripod rings provide balanced tripod mounting, avoiding tripod head and camera strain and sag, and they make camera rotation easy. This lens needs a tripod ring when used on support, and it gets a non-removable one that smoothly integrates into the lens body.

Lens strap attachment points are provided on the tripod ring, and we are advised to use them vs. a camera-attached strap. Canon makes taking that advice easy by including Lens Strap 40 in the box.

Canon Lens Hood ET-101

Did you notice that the lens hood was not on the L-series missing list? This lens has no red ring, and therefore, it is a welcome surprise to learn that the lens hood is included.

The ET-101 is the same model used by the Canon RF 800mm F11 IS STM Lens. This large plastic lens hood provides significant front element protection from impact and flare-inducing light.

Canon Lens Case LZ1438

Sorry, the dual-zippered, padded nylon Canon Lens Case LZ1438 is nice but not included and expensive.

Canon RF 200-800mm F6.3-9 IS USM Lens Cap

Price, Value, Wrap Up

The Canon RF 200-800mm F6.3-9 IS USM Lens promises to be an excellent value.

As an "RF" lens, this lens is compatible with all Canon EOS R-series cameras, including full-frame and APS-C models. Canon USA provides a 1-year limited warranty.

Alternatives to the Canon RF 200-800mm F6.3-9 IS USM Lens

While there is no direct alternative to the RF 200-800 at review time, the Canon RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1 L IS USM Lens is on the radar for similar uses.

The focal length range difference is obvious and significant. While the 100-199mm range is welcomed for many uses, including environmental wildlife imagery and portraits, the 501-800mm range holds great advantages, especially for wildlife photography.

Based on the MTF chart comparison, the RF 100-500 should produce modestly sharper images.

Canon RF 200-800mm Lens Compared to RF 100-500mm Lens

The Canon RF 200-800mm F6.3-9 IS USM Lens vs. RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1 L IS USM Lens comparison shows the 100-500 about 66% as long, narrower, and 24.2 oz (685g) lighter. The 100-500 has a Dual Nano USM AF system vs. Single Nano USM, 77mm filter threads vs. 95mm, a focus distance range switch, and a 0.33x max magnification vs. 0.25x. The 200-800 has a 5.5 stop-rated IS system vs. 5.0, but the 100-500's coordinated IBIS rating goes to 6.0 stops. Of course, these CIPA ratings are calculated at the long end of the zoom range, and the 200-800's rating is likely higher than the 100-500's at 500mm.

If the 100-500mm focal length range is adequate for your needs, and you can afford the RF 100-500's moderately higher price, that lens is my recommendation. Otherwise, the 200-800 is the better choice.


The Canon RF 200-800mm F6.3-9 IS USM Lens offers a long range of telephoto focal lengths, reaching an exceptionally and differentiatingly long 800mm, in a relatively compact, handholdably light, weather-sealed body with great image quality, Nano USM AF, high-performing Image Stabilization (5.5 stops of assistance) with auto panning detection, and an affordable price.

This lens is the ideal choice for serious amateurs and professionals pursuing wildlife photography, outdoor sports, and many other subjects needing the reach of a telephoto lens.

Bringing you this site is my full-time job (typically 60-80 hours per week). Thus, I depend solely on the commissions received from you using the links on this site to make any purchase. I am grateful for your support! - Bryan

My Recommended Canon RF 200-800mm F6.3-9 IS USM Lens Retailers
B&H Photo
Canon USA
 Wex Photographic
 Camera Canada
Check the used inventory at B&H | KEH | MPB
Rent the Canon RF 200-800mm F6.3-9 IS USM Lens
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