Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens Review

Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens

The Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens is a game-changer. A 70-200mm f/2.8 lens is a nearly mandatory member of any professional or serious amateur photography kit and these lenses are often among the most frequently used. Combine a rather large and heavy lens model with very frequent use and that lens will be among the greatest sources of photographer fatigue. This RF lens changes the game by shaving a very significant amount of weight and reducing the retracted size significantly to 5.75" (146mm) leading to less space consumed in the case, even fitting vertically where this lens model used to fit only in horizontal orientation.

As I've said before, Canon engineers promised that RF lenses would have a smaller size, lighter weight, and/or new features with image quality at least as good as or improved upon the equivalent EF-series lens. Obviously, this model received the first two benefits in a big way. Most big-name 70-200mm f/2.8 lenses are great performers optically, the current Canon EF model is excellent, and few serious photographers would accept anything less. Despite the RF lens' reduced size and weight, it is optically at least as great as its predecessor.

As part of the elite L-series, the RF 70-200 lens is extremely well built, ready for the rigors of daily professional use. The smooth design combined with smooth-functioning rings and switches makes this lens a pleasure to use. This lens focuses quickly, quietly, smoothly, and accurately, assuring the ultimate image quality is realized. The 5-stop image stabilization system in this lens is very impressive, contributing significantly to image quality in handheld circumstances.

The Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens completes the trio of Canon RF f/2.8 zoom lenses to hit the streets. This lens along with the Canon RF 15-35mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens and the Canon RF 24-70mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens are often referred to as the trinity of essential lenses for most pro and serious amateur kits. Like the other two lenses, the RF 70-200 delivers the full package and should be a first choice for photographers using a compatible Canon R-series mirrorless interchangeable camera. It is also one of a growing number of reasons to select a camera with this mount.

Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens Angle View

Focal Length Range

Practically since DSLRs came into existence, I've had a Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 lens in my kit. That this focal length range is incredibly useful is the reason that I so often choose a 70-200 lens for whatever my need is.

At the top of my favorite uses list for a 70-200mm lens is portrait photography and if you are taking pictures of people, this lens has your name on it. Containing a superset of the classic 85-135mm portrait focal length range, 70-200mm lenses are ideal for capturing pleasing perspectives of people. This lens invites subject framing ranging from full body portraits at 70mm to tight headshots at 200mm and these mid-telephoto focal lengths naturally push the focus distances far enough away to avoid perspective distortion, including large-appearing noses, yet not so far that communication with the subject becomes difficult.

A set of focal lengths illustrating portrait use is shown below (captured with a different lens).

Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 Di VC USD G2 Lens Focal Length Range Example

The "portrait photography" designation is a broad one that covers a wide variety of potential still and video uses at a wide variety of potential venues, including both indoors (home, church, school, etc.) and outdoors (yard, beach, park, parade, playground, etc.). Portrait subjects can range from infants to seniors, from individuals to large groups (if enough working distance is available). Engagements, weddings, parties, events, theater, stage performances including concerts and recitals, speakers, kids' events, families, small groups, senior adults, graduating seniors, fashion, documentary, lifestyle ... all are great uses for the 70-200mm focal lengths. There is often adequate space in even a small studio for portraiture with the focal length range provided by this lens. It is not hard to use this lens exclusively for portrait shoots.

That portrait photography is one of the best revenue-producing photography genres helps justify the acquisition cost of this lens (you cannot buy stock photos of most people) and you likely noticed the paid applications in the just-shared list of portrait uses.

People are also frequently photographed participating in sporting and other action scenarios using this focal length range. While the 200mm focal length may be modestly too wide for large field sports photography, it works very well for closer action such as that found at track and field meets and on the basketball court. Basketball is typically played indoors and with the f/2.8 aperture (more on this soon), indoor action sports are within this lens' capabilities.

By virtue of the longer focal lengths and aided strongly by the wide f/2.8 aperture, the background of 70-200mm images can be diffusely-blurred and that attribute is especially great for portraits captured where the background cannot be fully controlled, including at sporting events and performances captured from a seat in the audience.

While portrait photography generally refers to images of people being captured, some of us also refer to certain types of wildlife photos as portraits. These images typically include the animal at least nearly filling the frame and for that task, this focal length range often falls short of the need. Unless the wildlife subject is very large and/or very close, the longest native focal length in this lens will usually be found too short for this task (without cropping). If capturing environmental wildlife portraits or captive (zoo) wildlife, this focal length range may be perfect. This is a great focal length range for photographing pets, including dogs and cats.

When landscape photography is mentioned, many immediately think of wide-angle lenses. However, telephoto focal lengths are an extremely important part of a landscape kit. Telephoto focal lengths can create excellent landscape images, especially when there is a distant subject to be emphasized, rendered large in the frame, such as a mountain. It is so easy to take great telephoto landscape images that it feels (slightly) like cheating.

Another great use of telephoto lenses for landscape photography is to focus on closer details, allowing a strong background blur to isolate those within the image. This focal length range is especially great for capturing clouds and sunsets/sunrises, allowing the frame to be filled with color from an even a modest show in the sky.

Cityscapes are essentially landscape images with cities in them and this focal length range is often a great choice for more-distant city views. Street photography, often done in cities, is another great use for the 70-200mm range.

A 70-200mm lens is my most-used studio lens, working especially well for product images and many other general studio applications. Most of the product images on this site were captured within the 70-200mm range and this range is ideal for larger products including vehicles (this example set was captured with a predecessor lens).

70-200mm Focal Length Range Example

At review time, there are no APS-C imaging sensor format cameras able to mount RF lenses. Should that combination become possible, this 70-200mm lens would have an increased angle of view equal to that of a 112-320mm lens on a full frame camera. While the narrower angle of view does not greatly change the uses list for this lens, these angles of view make wide-framed portraits less ideal and most will prefer this angle of view range for sports and wildlife pursuits.

Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens Front View

Max Aperture

This lens has a very wide f/2.8 max aperture and that this fixed max aperture is available over the entire focal length range is a big asset. What are the advantages of a wide aperture? More light reaches the imaging sensor, allowing action (both subject and camera) to be stopped in lower light levels via a faster shutter speed and/or a lower, less-noisy ISO setting to be used. In addition, a wide aperture permits a shallower, better-subject-isolating depth of field to be created.

While those photographing landscapes with this lens may not find the wide f/2.8 aperture mandatory, those capturing portraits or photographing low light events, including sporting events, will definitely appreciate the faster shutter speeds and/or lower ISO settings made possible by the additional light reaching their imaging sensors. F/2.8 is the widest aperture available in a 70-200mm zoom lens and the step up to the next longer focal length Canon f/2.8 prime lens is an expensive one. Even with the improvements we've seen in DSLR cameras' high ISO performance, f/2.8 remains the narrowest aperture I want to use when photographing many indoor activities. In addition to stopping action in low light, the wide aperture invites handholding the camera in much lower light levels.

I often talk about the compositional advantages of a clean border and one way to achieve such is to blur the background and this lens has that feature. Zoom to 200mm, open the aperture wide to f/2.8, move in close to your subject and watch the distracting background melt away.

The extra light a wide aperture provides to a camera's AF system is very advantageous to that function.

What are the disadvantages of a wide aperture? Increased size and weight accompany this attribute. The other wide aperture disadvantage one can count on is increased price over similar focal length range lenses with narrower apertures. Usually, the advantages outweigh those disadvantages.

Here are examples of the maximum background blur this lens can produce:

Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens Maximum Blur Example

Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens Top View with Hood

Image Stabilization

Image stabilization is a huge asset to most lenses and especially to a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens. The RF 70-200 features an awesome-performing 5-stop image stabilization system that greatly increases this lens' already great versatility.

While image stabilization does not stop subject motion, it allows handholding of the camera in extremely low light situations with relatively still subjects (or permits motion blurring of subjects with sharp surroundings such as flowing water). The image quality difference made by IS is potentially dramatic.

IS is useful for stabilizing the viewfinder and IS is very useful for video recording, substantially improving the quality of handheld recording. Another image stabilization benefit that should not be overlooked is the aid in AF precision. The camera's AF system can produce better focus precision if the image it sees is stabilized. Canon contends that this is true even with a subject that is in motion and at action-stopping shutter speeds.

Canon's image stabilization systems are very refined and this one is awesome. IS makes a very faint "hmmm", audible only from about an inch or two from the lens (even when IS is switched off) in a quiet environment. The viewfinder image does not jump during startup or shutdown and I do not find myself fighting against IS while recomposing or recording video. Image framing drifting while IS is active has not been noticeable.

This lens has three IS modes available. Mode 1 is the general purpose mode and the latest word I've heard from Canon is that this mode should be used for nearly all situations including while using a tripod, monopod, and while photographing action. Mode 2 IS is used for panning with a subject (only 1 axis of stabilization is provided, allowing the linearly-moving subject to be tracked). In mode 3, image stabilization is active and ready for use the moment the shutter releases, but actual stabilization is not in effect until that precise time. The view seen through the viewfinder is not stabilized, allowing an erratic subject to be tracked without fighting against image stabilization trying to stabilize the view. IS Mode 3 is designed to detect panning motion, applying stabilization at right angles to the direction of the detected panning movement (like IS Mode 2).

As mentioned, this lens' IS system is rated at a very-high 5-stops of assistance with the improved communications between the lens and the camera via the new RF mount helping to achieve this impressive rating. Consider the difference that a 5-stop lower ISO setting makes in terms of image noise. For example, based on this rating and with a still-enough subject being photographed, ISO 100 can be used instead of ISO 3200 or ISO 800 instead of ISO 25600. The image quality difference between these settings is huge.

In testing with the Canon EOS R, the RF 70-200mm produced a solid sharpness rate (over 80%) at 0.5 second shutter speeds at 70mm and was still producing some sharp images at 1 second exposures, the longest I tested. At 200mm, the sharpness rate at 1/8 and 1/6 second shutter speeds was very good and about 40% of the images were sharp at 1/5 and 0.3 seconds. These are very impressive results for me.

While I don't consider myself to be the steadiest photographer, this testing is done under ideal conditions, indoors on a concrete floor. Quickly hike up a big mountain and shoot from an unstable position in strong winds and a significantly faster shutter speed is going to be needed. However, the amount of assistance should remain similar and that is very important.

When you need/want to leave the tripod behind, IS has you covered, helping to ensure sharp images and adding significant versatility to this lens.

Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens on Tripod

Image Quality

With such a drastic size and weight reduction, would image quality be impacted? That was one of the first questions in my mind with the words of Canon's engineers offering strong encouragement in this regard.

In the center of the frame, the Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens turns in very sharp results with a wide open f/2.8 aperture. This sharpness description holds throughout the entire focal length range including at 200mm where some 70-200mm lens models fall short. Improving image sharpness is almost universally obtainable by stopping a lens down one or two stops from wide open, but this lens is so sharp in the center at the wider apertures that the difference made by stopping down to f/4 is barely recognizable. Little difference is seen even in f/2.8 vs. f/.5.6 comparisons.

Image quality typically degrades as the image circle's radius is traversed, meaning that corners are seldom rendered as crisply as the center of the frame. That statement has low applicability for this lens. This lens' corner image quality is quite impressive at f/2.8 and, aside from some improved contrast due to peripheral shading clearing, shows little sharpness benefit from stopping down to f/4 or narrower. A minor exception is the 100mm corner lagging just slightly behind the others and picking up slightly more benefit from f/4. Again, this is excellent performance.

In addition to our standard lab tests, I like to share some real-world examples. The images below are 100% resolution center of the frame crops from images captured in RAW format using a Canon EOS R. The images were processed in Canon's Digital Photo Professional using the Standard Picture Style with sharpness set to "1" (Note that images from most cameras require some level of sharpening but too-high sharpness settings are destructive to image details and hide the deficiencies of a lens).

Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens Sharpness Comparison Example

70mm: f/2.8 | f/4.0   f/2.8 | f/4.0
115mm: f/2.8 | f/4.0   f/2.8 | f/4.0
200mm: f/2.8 | f/4.0   f/2.8 | f/4.0

Note that the second set of images for each focal length were captured from a relatively long distance. Outdoor testing under the clear skies required for meaningful results means the sun is out and that means that heatwaves are present and the 200mm focal length will especially show their impact. In the closer-captured results, be sure to evaluate the image quality only at the center of the plane of sharp focus.

In the closer-captured 200mm results, the depth of field increase at f/4 is primarily to the rear of the f/2.8-established plane of sharp focus. The focused-on subject stays within the depth of field and the foreground noticeably gains sharpness at f/5.6 and narrower apertures. The plane of sharp focus moving forward or backward as a narrower aperture is selected is called focus shift (residual spherical aberration or RSA), it is seldom (never?) desired, and this lens does not otherwise exhibit such.

To see the worst possible performance from a lens, look to the extreme corner. The following are 100% extreme-top-left-corner crops captured and processed identically to the above center-of-the-frame images. These images were manually focused in the corner of the frame.

Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens Corner Sharpness Comparison Example

70mm: f/2.8 | f/4.0 | f/5.6   f/2.8 | f/4.0 | f/5.6
115mm: f/2.8 | f/4.0 | f/5.6   f/2.8 | f/4.0 | f/5.6
200mm: f/2.8 | f/4.0 | f/5.6   f/2.8 | f/4.0 | f/5.6

The 70mm extreme corners are a touch soft at f/2.8 and improve nicely at f/4 and f/5.6 where the performance is very good, especially for a zoom lens. The 155mm and 200mm corners are rather sharp at f/2.8 and become impressively so at narrower apertures.

Does corner sharpness matter? Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn't. Landscape photography is one photographic discipline that has frequent scenarios requiring sharp corners; however, those scenarios usually require apertures narrower than f/4. When shooting at the widest apertures, including for portraiture, depth of field is often shallow and the plane of sharp focus less-frequently includes a corner, making corner sharpness less important. Videos captured at normal wide-aspect ratios also avoid use of the corners. I always prefer my lenses to be razor-sharp in the corners in case that feature is needed, but each of us must consider our own applications to answer this paragraph's initial question.

Early in the review process for this lens, I made some full-size images available for download and will include them here. Keep in consideration that the models being photographed in these images were moving constantly. The handheld shutter speed was 1/500 (marginal for the action) and the lighting was not optimal, changing in brightness and often strongly-colored for effect (do not use these images for critique of color rendering). While these are not lab-grade samples, the results are still quite impressive.

Be sure to observe the sharp plane of focus for your judgments. Note the faces of the models are considerably off-center, showing performance toward the periphery of the image circle. All images were processed in DPP using the standard picture style with sharpness strength set to "2" (0-10 scale) with all lens corrections disabled. Images were saved as 70-quality JPGs in Photoshop. ISO settings were mid-level (not optimal for image quality discernment), light noise reduction has been applied (2,3 or 3,3), and I opted to brighten all images shared here (see the settings and adjustments listed for each image). Still, I think you will like what you see.

In a 70-200mm lens, the 200mm focal length has the potential to deliver the softest results. Thus, I was especially interested to see how 200mm performed in this lens. The first example was captured at ISO 1000 and processed with +0.33 EV. Click on the image to download the full size file.

Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens 200mm Sample Picture

Check out the sharpness of the model's face and follow the sharpness of the dress circles falling in the plane of focus.

The second 200mm example was captured at ISO 1200 and processed with +0.67 EV. Again, click on the image to download the full size file.

Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens 200mm Sample Picture 2

As before, check out the sharpness of the model's face and follow the sharpness of the black sweater along the plane of focus. Also, check out the lack of color fringing that would be made apparent in the foreground and background blur of the white hairpiece and the reflective silver pieces on the dress.

The 70mm focal length is also important and it is the other full extent of the zoom range, potentially another weak setting. While the details being rendered smaller in the frame is disadvantageous from an apparent-sharpness perspective, the results still look great. Look at the netting in the hat. This example was captured at ISO 500 and processed with +0.82 EV.

Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens 70mm Sample Picture

The physical properties of light passing through a lens prevent the same amount of light from reaching the edges of the circle as the center, resulting in a darkening of the corners, referred to as vignetting or peripheral shading. When used on a camera that utilizes a lens' entire image circle, peripheral shading can be expected at the widest aperture settings. Wide open aperture peripheral shading from this lens ranges from 1.6 stops at 70mm to 3 stops at 200mm. At f/4, corners brighten to 1.2 stops throughout the range with just slightly more, about 1.5 stops, remaining in 200mm corners. About 0.7 stops of shading remain in the f/5.6 corners at the focal length extents with less, about 0.4 stops, remaining in the mid focal length range corners. Few will notice the f/8 corner shading ranging from 0.5 stops at 70mm through 0.3 stops at 200mm.

One stop of shading is the amount often used as the visibility number, though subject details provide a widely-varying amount of vignetting discernibility. Vignetting can be corrected during post processing with increased noise in the brightened areas being the penalty or it can be embraced, using the effect to draw the viewer's eye to the center of the frame. Study the pattern showing in our vignetting test tool to determine if your subject (subject's face) will be darkened or if it will be emphasized by the darker periphery. If ever supported by the RF mount, APS-C format cameras using lenses projecting a full-frame-sized image circle avoid most vignetting problems.

The effect of different colors of the spectrum being magnified differently is referred to as lateral (or transverse) CA (Chromatic Aberration). Lateral CA shows as color fringing along lines of strong contrast running tangential (meridional, right angles to radii) with the mid and especially the periphery of the image circle showing the greatest amount as this is where the greatest difference in the magnification of wavelengths typically exists.

With the right lens profile and software, lateral CA is often easily correctable (often in the camera) by radially shifting the colors to coincide though it is always better to not have the problem in the first place. Any color misalignment present can easily be seen in the site's image quality tool, but let's also look at a set of worst-case examples, 100% crops from the extreme top left corner of EOS R frames showing diagonal black and white lines.

Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens Lateral Chromatic Aberration Example

There should be only black and white colors in these images with the additional colors indicating the presence of lateral CA. At 70mm, there is a minor amount of lateral CA and the other focal lengths look remarkably good, especially for a zoom lens.

A relatively common lens aberration is axial (longitudinal, bokeh) CA, which causes non-coinciding focal planes of the various wavelengths of light, or more simply, different colors of light are focused to different depths. Spherical aberration along with spherochromatism, or a change in the amount of spherical aberration with respect to color (looks quite similar to axial chromatic aberration but is hazier) are other common lens aberrations to look for. Axial CA remains at least somewhat persistent when stopping down with the color misalignment effect increasing with defocusing while the spherical aberration color halo shows little size change as the lens is defocused and stopping down one to two stops generally removes this aberration.

In the real world, lens defects do not exist in isolation with spherical aberration and spherochromatism generally found, at least to some degree, along with axial CA. These combine to create a less sharp, hazy-appearing image quality at the widest apertures.

In the examples below, look at the fringing colors in the out of focus specular highlights created by the neutrally-colored subjects. Any color difference is being introduced by the lens.

Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens Spherical and Axial Aberration Example

The colors in the 70mm and 115mm samples look great with the 200mm sample showing a bit of color.

Flare and ghosting are caused by bright light reflecting off of the surfaces of lens elements, resulting in reduced contrast and sometimes-interesting artifacts. Combating these issues is Canon's Subwavelength Structure Coating (SWC) and a significantly reduced number of lens elements – the EF III lens has 23 elements in 19 groups while the RF lens has only 17 elements in 13 groups. Our sun in the corner of the frame testing shows a very low amount of flaring even at f/16 and the difference from the EF III is substantial. Telephoto focal lengths generally show significant amounts of flare at narrow apertures in this test and the RF lens does show a noticeable amount of flare effects at 200mm f/16.

Flare effects can be embraced, avoided, or removal can be attempted. Removal is sometimes very challenging and, in some cases, flare effects can be quite destructive to image quality. This lens' performance in this regard is a significant advantage.

There are two lens aberrations that are particularly evident when shooting images of stars, mainly because bright points of light against a dark background make them easier to see. Coma occurs when light rays from a point of light spread out from that point, instead of being refocused as a point on the sensor. Coma is absent in the center of the frame, gets worse toward the edges/corners, and generally appears as a comet-like or triangular tail of light which can be oriented either away from the center of the frame (external coma), or toward the center of the frame (internal coma). Astigmatism is seen as points of light spreading into a line, either meridional (radiating from the center of the image) or sagittal (perpendicular to meridional). Remember that lateral CA is another aberration apparent in the corners.

The images below are 100% crops taken from the extreme top-left corner of EOS R frames.

Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens Coma Example

Especially from a relative perspective, these stars are looking good.

This lens has a small amount of barrel distortion at the wide end. The barrel distortion quickly transitions into negligible distortion and gradually into modest pincushion distortion by 200mm. While most modern lenses have lens correction profiles available for the popular image processing software and distortion can be easily removed using these, distortion correction is destructive at the pixel level. Some portion of the image must be stretched or the overall dimensions must be reduced in the process.

The amount of blur a lens can produce is easy to show and as illustrated earlier in the review, this lens can create a very strong blur. Assessing the quality of the blur is a much harder challenge due in part to the infinite number of variables present in any scene. That said, I really like what I see from this lens.

Following are a set of 100% crops containing defocused specular highlights captured at f/11.0. In the first set of results, notice how round the bokeh circles are despite the aperture being stopped down significantly and also note how smoothly filled these circles are.

Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens Bokeh Example

The second set of results are full f/11 images reduced in size with the exception of the 70mm example being a 100% crop. The 115mm and first 200mm examples are of especially bokeh-problematic subjects that this lens handles very nicely.

With the exception of a small number of specialty lenses, defocused highlights in the corner of the frame captured at wide apertures are not rendered round, taking on a cat's eye shape due to a form of mechanical vignetting. If you look through a tube at an angle, similar to the light reaching the corner of the frame, the shape is not round and that is the shape seen here.

Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens Cat's Eye Bokeh Example

As the aperture narrows, the entrance pupil size is reduced and the mechanical vignetting absolves with the shapes becoming round.

Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens Front View on Camera

With a 9-blade count aperture, point light sources captured with a narrow aperture setting and showing a star-like effect will have 18 points. Wide aperture lenses tend to have an advantage in this regard and this lens, especially at wide focal lengths, is capable of producing beautiful stars featuring long, sharp points.

Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens Starburst Effect Example

Why are this lens' stars better at wide focal lengths? The aperture value (f-stop) is the ratio of the focal length to the diameter of the entrance pupil. This is a fixed max aperture lens but the opening required to create f/2.8 at 200mm is much wider than at 70mm. So, as the focal length is decreased, the wide-open aperture narrows, bringing the aperture blades deeper into the lens. As a rule, the more the aperture blades, the source of the star effect, are narrowed, the better the starburst effect appears.

Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens Design

The Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens design includes two aspheric lenses (correcting distortions) along with a UD element and a Super UD element (reducing chromatic aberration). Overall, the results from this optical formula are stellar – quite impressive.

Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens Extended Top View with Hood

Focusing

For most of us, AF performance is an extremely important factor in realizing the image quality a lens is capable of, especially when the lens is capable of creating shallow depth of field and the lens is likely to be used for action photography. To that point, the Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens gets an advanced, very high-performing AF system driven by dual Nano USM (Ultrasonic) focus motors.

While Canon has been designing Nano USM AF systems into the latest L-series RF lenses, this dual-motor design is a Canon first. "The lens also incorporates a floating focus control, another Canon first, that drives the two lens groups individually while using the two aforementioned Nano USM motors. The floating focus lens element shortens focusing distance and helps reduce breathing, providing users with fast, consistent and reliable performance." [Canon]

Nano USM acts like an ultra-fast version of STM AF, combining the benefits of a high-speed Ring USM actuator with an STM system stepping motor's quiet and smooth, direct, lead screw-type drive system. Like Ring USM driven AF systems, Nano USM focuses extremely fast – nearly instantly. Like STM AF systems, Nano USM focuses almost silently, with only faint clicks heard with one's ear next to the lens. Also, like the other Nano USM lenses, this one focuses very smoothly.

Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens Dual Nano USM

Canon U.S.A.'s Rudy Winston states: "Canon’s new Nano USM technology uses a completely different form factor, but achieves focus results within the lens via the same principles of ultrasonic vibration energy, transmitted here into linear (rather than rotational) movement within the lens. This tiny new Ultrasonic motor achieves the combination of fast, near-instant response during still image shooting, with the smoothness required for good focus during video recording."

Ring USM was Canon's former preference for high-end lens AF systems. While most Ring USM lenses are great performers, they generally do not focus so smoothly in Movie Servo AF, and the Ring USM EF lenses produce considerably more focus chatter. Nano USM (and STM) lenses autofocus substantially smoother and quieter than Ring USM lenses.

Of ultimate importance is AF accuracy and from that perspective, all of the Nano USM-driven AF systems to date, including this one, have performed impressively. That is with one exception: the initial RF 70-200mm firmware has this lens front focusing by a small amount (a few mms) at the long end of the focal length range. This issue is noticeable at focal lengths longer than 135mm and is primarily obvious at the closest focus distances. Canon USA has issued a service notice, indicating that this issue will be corrected by a firmware update in early Jan 2020.

The RF 70-200 provides a focus limiter switch, permitting the autofocus range to be limited to 8.2' (2.5m) - ∞ or the full range. If subjects are known to be within the narrower range, focus lock times may be decreased by using this switch.

The mid-sized, ribbed-rubber-coated manual focus ring is positioned behind the zoom ring, a departure from Canon's long-time and advantageous forward-positioned 70-200mm L lens focus rings. I often complain about rear-positioned focus rings being near the lens balance point, making them too easy to inadvertently turn with the left hand while operating the zoom ring and changing composition (including leveling the camera) and I'm still not fond of this design choice. Position your left hand slightly forward of the manual focus ring or disable electronic manual focusing after One Shot AF in the camera's menu to avoid this problem.

Like STM, Nano USM utilizes a focus-by-wire or electrical manual focus design (vs. a direct gear-driven system) with the manual focus ring electronically controlling the focus of the lens. FTM (Full Time Manual) focusing is supported in AF mode with the camera in One Shot Drive Mode, but the shutter release must be half-pressed for the focus ring to become active. Note that FTM does not work if electronic manual focusing after One Shot AF is disabled in the camera's menu. The lens' switch must be in the "MF" position and the camera meter must be on/awake for conventional manual focusing to be available.

With electronics driving AF, the rate of focus change caused by the focus ring can be electronically controlled and it can be variable, based on the ring's rotation speed. I prefer a linear adjustment speed and have the camera configured for such. In this mode, the RF 70-200 F2.8 L focus is adjusted slowly, with approximately 348° of ring rotation from MFD to infinity, allowing for very precise focusing capabilities.

The manual focus ring has light resistance and adjustments are smooth and solidly centered with no unusual framing shift occurring.

An interesting feature mentioned is this lens' focus system design aids in reduced breathing. Normal is for the composition to change size in the frame (sometimes significantly) as focus is pulled from one extent to the other. This is referred to as focus breathing, a change in focal length resulting from a change in focus distance. Focus breathing negatively impacts photographers intending to use focus stacking techniques, videographers pulling focus, and anyone very-critically framing while adjusting focus. While I still see some breathing occurring with this lens, the amount is mild.

The review lens exhibits near parfocal behavior. If focused at 200mm, images captured at wider focal lengths without refocusing remain mostly sharp with the center of the plane of sharp focus moving slightly rearward at the wide end. This feature is provided by the lens electronically adjusting focus while zooming and a strong defocusing can be momentarily seen with a fast zoom adjustment.

Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens Parfocal Example

Cameras featuring Dual Pixel CMOS AF and Movie Servo AF make video recording very easy and Nano USM lenses are very well-suited for this task. The smooth focusing makes focus distance transitions easy on the viewer's eyes and the sound of the lens focusing is not picked up by the camera's mic. Even the lens' aperture changes are quiet (faint clicks) and smooth.

No focus distance scale is provided on the lens, but a digital scale can be enabled in the electronic viewfinder or on the rear LCD.

Make an emphasized mental note of this: the RF 70-200 has a minimum focus distance of only 27.6" (700mm). Compare that to the EF predecessors' 47.2" (1200mm) and it looks especially impressive. Despite the very significantly shorter focus distance, the RF 70-200 has an only modestly improved maximum magnification of 0.23x. While not best in class for the maximum magnification spec (the Sony FE lens bests it), the 0.23x number is relatively high and very useful.

Here is a chart showing the minimum focus distance specs of many similar lenses.

ModelMFDMM
Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens27.6"(700mm)0.23x
Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens47.2"(1200mm)0.21x
Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS II USM Lens39.4"(1000mm)0.27x
Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM Lens47.2"(1200mm)0.21x
Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8E AF-S FL VR Lens43.3"(1100mm)0.21x
Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM Sports Lens47.2"(1200mm)0.21x
Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS Lens37.8"(960mm)0.25x
Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 Di VC USD G2 Lens37.4"(950mm)0.16x

At 200mm, a subject measuring approximately 5.9 x 3.9" (150 x 100mm) will fill the frame at the minimum focus distance and at 70mm, with a similar minimum focus distance, the largest subject measurement drops to about 12.5 x 8.3" (318 x 212mm).

Magnification from telephoto lenses is generally modestly increased with the use of extension tubes which are basically as their name implies, hollow tubes (with electronic connections) that shift a lens farther from the camera. Doing so allows the lens to focus at closer distances, though at the expense of long-distance focusing. As of review time, Canon does not offer RF mount-compatible extension tubes, but third-party options are available.

Canon RF 1.4x and 2x Extender Comparison

Extenders / Teleconverters

Is the Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens compatible with extenders. No. Sorry, but a limitation of the Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens is that it is not compatible with extenders/teleconverters. This lens was designed to be as compact as possible, and that design positioned the RF 70-200's rear lens element very shallow when the lens is retracted, leaving little space for an extender to be inserted into the back of the lens. Canon does have RF extenders, the Canon RF 1.4x Extender and Canon RF 2x Extender, but again, they are not compatible with the RF 70-200.

Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens Angle View with Hood

Build Quality & Features

I've been privileged to use a huge range of lenses but picking up a new Canon L-series lens still puts a smile on my face. This particular L lens put a smile on my face when I first saw it at a Canon press event earlier in its release year. It was hard to believe that a 70-200 f/2.8 lens could be so small. We couldn't touch it then but picking up this lens the first time didn't take that smile away.

The red ring and the "L" in the moniker indicate this lens' inclusion in the exclusive Canon L-Series, the company's best-available, professional-grade lens models, built tough for the rigors of daily professional use. Those familiar with Canon's EF 70-200mm L lenses will not be disappointed with this one. Canon's RF L lenses take on a slightly updated look from the EF variants and this lens' build quality is superb (Roger Cicala's teardown shows the smart internal design).

Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens Product Images

MFD |    MFD |    w/ Hood:  MFD |    MFD |    Rotated        Compare »

The Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens has a beautiful design featuring a smooth exterior diameter that is very comfortable in hand. The barrel exterior is high-quality engineering plastic.

The forward-positioned rubber-coated zoom ring is substantial in size, smooth in rotation, has no play, and the 90° rotation is ideal for easy use.

New on Canon's RF lenses is the knurled "Control Ring", able to be configured for fast access to settings including aperture, ISO, and exposure compensation. Positioning this ring behind the tripod ring makes it very easy to find while keeping it out of the way of the other two rings. Note that the control ring is clicked by default and this ring's clicks are going to be audible in camera-based audio recordings. Canon offers a control ring click stop removal service (at a cost).

This 70-200 L lens retains a white color like its predecessors. While a white lens might be less stealthy, garnering more attention than a black lens, white remains cooler under a bright sun, reducing the temperature change and any negative issues that such contributes to, including part expansion. I'll let you decide if white appears more professional. White hides dirt better than black.

This lens' switches are very low profile. A slightly raised area around the two image stabilizer switches aids in tactiley differentiating these from the two AF-related switches. Just enough raised area is provided in the center of each switch to make them easily usable, even with gloves on.

Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens Angle Other View

A zoom extension lock, holding the lens in the retracted position, is conveniently placed on the right side of the lens. Four of the five switches are two-position types, making it easy to achieve the desired setting by fully sliding the switch and a little extra care is required to select the mode 2 IS setting in this 3-position switch's center option. The switches firmly click into position, providing an assuring feeling from both positional and quality standpoints.

Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens Mount

While not waterproof (water damage will void the warranty), this lens is weather-sealed and built for outdoor professional use in conditions that are not always favorable.

Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens Weather Sealing

The front and rear elements are fluorine-coated, helping dust and water drops to shed off (or easily blow off) of the front and rear lens elements and makes cleaning other more problematic issues, such as fingerprints, much easier. The fluorine coating makes a noticeable difference that is especially appreciated in the field.

Creating a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens means that the design, including many large-diameter lens elements, is going to be rather large and heavy. Well, at least we used to think that. The size and weight of this lens are game-changing. Like no 70-200mm DSLR lens before it, the RF 70-200mm lens extends, adding 2.33" (59.3mm) in length at 200mm. The advantage of this design is a far more compact retracted size than previous models. The extending barrel has impressively little play.

Measuring 3.5 x 5.7" (89.9 x 146.0mm) and weighing 37.8 oz (1070g), this is still a mid-sized, mid-weight lens. However, the 14.4 oz (410g) weight savings over the EF III models is going to be very noticeably felt at the end of a wedding. With this weight reduction, I'm going to more frequently opt for taking the RF f/2.8 lens over an EF f/4 model.

ModelWeight oz(g)Dimensions w/o Hood "(mm)FilterYear 
Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens37.8(1070)3.5 x 5.7(89.9 x 146.0)772019
Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens52.2(1480)3.5 x 7.8(88.8 x 199.0)772018
Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS II USM Lens28.2(800)3.1 x 6.9(80.0 x 176.0)722018
Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM Lens37.1(1050)3.5 x 5.6(89.0 x 143.0)67
Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8E AF-S FL VR Lens50.5(1430)3.5 x 8.0(88.5 x 202.5)772016
Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM Sports Lens63.5(1800)3.7 x 8.0(94.2 x 202.9)822018
Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS Lens52.2(1480)3.5 x 7.9(88.0 x 200.0)772016
Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 Di VC USD G2 Lens52.9(1500)3.5 x 7.6(87.9 x 193.0)772017

For many more comparisons, review the complete Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens Specifications using the site's lens specifications tool.

Here is a visual comparison.

Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens Compared to Similar Lenses

Positioned above from left to right are the following Canon lenses:

EF 70-200mm f/4L IS II USM Lens
RF 70-200mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens
EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens

It is this lens' retracted size that is dramatically smaller than all of the other lenses in its class. While the fixed lens size has some advantages, the amount of space consumed in a camera backpack or other case is not one of them. That the RF 70-200 can be placed into many backpacks and cases in an upright position vs. being placed on their sides is a huge advantage.

The same lenses are shown below with their hoods in place.

Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens Compared to Similar Lenses with Hoods

Use the site's product image comparison tool to visually compare the Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens to other lenses.

The above visual comparisons are especially relevant for those comparing between camera systems. Those committed to the R-series need to also account for the mount adapter size as illustrated below.

Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens Compared to Similar Lenses

Tripod rings provide balanced tripod mounting, avoiding tripod head and camera strain, avoiding sag after lock-down, and allowing easy camera rotation. Canon does not include a tripod ring with their EF 70-200mm f/4 lenses (an optional one is available) and with the RF lens weighing only modestly more (and measuring shorter when retracted), I'm guessing that the engineers were having the tripod ring inclusion debate in their design meetings. Fortunately, Canon opted to include the Tripod Mount Ring E (WIII) with this lens.

This lightweight tripod mount ring is somewhat tall, leaving adequate room for fingers over the foot, yet compact — compact enough that I feared it would lack rigidity. Fortunately, that fear that was unrealized; this is a very solid mount. When the locking knob is tightened with relatively light pressure, the ring locks very tightly. The Mount Ring E is not riding on steel bearings and the friction fit is not especially smooth during rotation until the locking knob is rather loose. I initially didn't like this ring's smoothness but have acclimated to using a less-tight knob setting than seems right to obtain smooth rotation (I have a tendency to over-tighten anything that screws down).

It is often beneficial to have a tripod ring locked in a precise 90° angle increment. While this ring does not have click stops to indicate these positions, the collar has indicator lines that can be aligned with a tiny notch the top of the lens barrel.

Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens Tripod Ring

This tripod mount ring is removable. Fully loosen the lock knob and then pull it out to release the tripod collar completely, unhinging it while the lens is still mounted to the camera. The foot is not removable and replacement lens feet will require the entire ring to be replaced. A Wimberley P20 Lens Plate is shown in some of the product images shared in this review.

Lens design 101 says that 70-200 f/2.8 lenses must have 77mm filter threads – at least that seems to be the rule. Filters of this size are somewhat large, but a huge number of lenses using 77mm filters makes effects filter options such as circular polarizer and neutral density filters easy to share. Larger filters cost more, but sharing is cost-reducing and fewer filters consume less space in the backpack.

Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens Side View with Hood

Standard is for the lens hood to be included in the box with Canon L-series lenses and this one gets the ET-83F (WIII) lens hood. Most 70-200 f/2.8 lenses have petal-shaped lens hoods but this lens hood breaks that mold, opting for a round design that may not look as cool but has a notable advantage – it better facilitates using the hood as a camera stand. The slightly flexible (helpful for absorbing impact) ET-83F has a very smooth, matte finish with a mold-ribbed interior and a stylish black finish on the front (this is not a rubberized surface). This is a relatively large hood that adds significant protection to the front lens element – protection from bright flare-causing lights, protection from scratch-causing impacts, and protection from dust and rain. The push-button release makes installation and removal smooth and easy.

A door is provided on the side of this lens hood for filter rotation access. The door often gets opened inadvertently, especially from the camera being inserted into or removed from a case. I only have slim circular polarizer filters and I'm not able to rotate them at all through the opening. Even if my filters were rotatable, the amount of rotation possible through the small opening is minimal with many full-width swipes required for the most common rotation amount, the 90° rotation required when switching the camera from horizontal to vertical. I epoxied the hood window closed on my EF 100-400 L II hood and will probably do the same with this one.

Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens Case

Standard is for Canon to include a lens case with all L-series lenses and this one gets the LP1424. Unlike the zippered padded nylon case included with the EF 70-200 f/2.8L lenses, this is a drawstring pouch style case. The bottom has significant padding, but the sides lack protection from significant impact.

Canon does not offer a USB dock accessory for their lenses but with lens firmware being updatable via the camera, there is little reason to need an accessory dock.

Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens Cap

Lens caps are a very-frequently-used accessory that is included and Canon's current lens cap models are great.

Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens Extended Top View

Price and Value

This is a top-of-the-line lens and the price tag reflects that status.

With this lens being a most-used model, professionals and serious amateurs will not have a problem justifying the RF 70-200 investment. I also see a huge number of parents using 70-200mm f/2.8 lenses at their kids' events. While this lens is not inexpensive, the next longer Canon f/2.8 option is the Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM Lens, a very significantly more expensive lens. This price differential holds many photographers desiring great imagery to the 70-200 option and parents wanting to capture valuable memories are a huge part of that group.

As an "RF" lens, the Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens is compatible with all Canon EOS R series cameras. This lens comes with a 1-year limited warranty.

The reviewed Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens was on loan from Canon USA.

Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens Top View

Alternatives to the Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens

As the RF 70-200 hits the streets, there are no native-mount alternatives and this lens is going to be the ideal option for most Canon R-series camera owners. Add a Canon Mount Adapter EF-EOS R into the equation and many Canon and third-party lens options become available. The Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens and its nearly identical predecessor, the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM Lens, are the most obvious comparison choices. These EF lenses are high-performing and very refined.

In the image quality comparison (use discernment with the differing test camera resolutions), the two lenses deliver sharpness so similar that few will find this a differentiating factor. The EF option has noticeably less peripheral shading, especially at 200mm. With fewer lens elements, the RF lens is considerably more flare resistant.

Looking at the specs and measurements, the Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens vs. Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens comparison shows the RF lens being considerably shorter (when retracted) and considerably lighter. Adding the R-series-required adapter increases the size and weight differential. The RF lens has a narrower focus ring and a wider zoom ring than the EF lens. The RF lens focuses to a much shorter distance and has a slightly higher maximum magnification capability. The RF lens' dual Nano STM AF system is quieter and smoother than the EF lens' also-high-performing Ring USM system. The RF lens' focus ring has a much longer rotation available and its zoom ring rotates 50% more. The RF lens has 9 aperture blades vs 8, creating slightly rounder defocused highlights and 18-point starbursts instead of 8-point. The RF lens has a high-performing IS system rated for 5 stops vs. 3.5. While the RF lens takes a huge advantage in this comparison, the EF lens has a considerably lower price to its benefit.

Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens Side View

Summary

Practically expected by now is that each new RF lens is a game-changer and the Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens is that. Canon first shared a preproduction mockup of the Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens at a media event where we were all drooling over the possibility of this lens model being so compact. That lens was only able to be touched by Canon staff wearing white gloves but holding the production lens in your hands really drives home how compact and light this lens is.

All of the 70-200mm f/2.8 lenses I'm familiar with as of review time have a fixed-size design with the RF 70-200 being the exception. The retracting design means a far more compact retracted size that is especially useful when packing in a case. The RF 70-200 fits into slots designed for standard zoom lenses. While the reduced size is great, it is the reduced weight that will have a bigger physical impact on those carrying this lens, either in hand or in the case, for long periods of time. That this focal length range and aperture combination are among the most-used means it will frequently be carried for long periods of time.

Despite the reduced proportions, overall image quality was not sacrificed (a bit more peripheral shading) and even improved in some regards (better flare resistance). The impressive-performing 5-stop image stabilization system will help realize impressive image quality even when shooting handheld.

Ensuring the optimal image quality is this lens' fast, smooth, nearly silent, and accurate (pending promised firmware tweak) Dual Nano USM AF system. The rugged L-series build grade promises reliable service to those using their lenses constantly and environmental sealing aids in that use outdoors. While not small or light, this lens is quite comfortable to use and the zoom and focus rings perform optimally. The price tag is not low, but the value and versatility of this lens are extremely high.

All of Canon's L-series RF lenses introduced to date are really impressive and the Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens is as awesome as expected and alone a great reason to add an R-series camera to the kit. A 70-200mm f/2.8 lens is practically a mandatory member of any professional or serious amateur photography kit and the Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens is easily my new favorite in this lens class.

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My Recommended Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens Retailers

Where you buy your gear matters. You expect to get what you ordered, and you want to pay a low price for it. The retailers I recommend below are the ones I trust for my purchases. Get your Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens now from:

B&H Photo
Adorama
Amazon.com
Canon USA (new or refurbished)
Check used inventory at MPB
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Rent the Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens
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Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens
Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens
Bryan Carnathan
by Bryan Carnathan
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Manufacturer ID:
3792C002

Review Date: 2019-12-30
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