Canon RF 70-200mm F4 L IS USM Lens Review

Canon RF 70-200mm F4 L IS USM Lens

The Canon RF 70-200mm F4 L IS USM Lens ranks near the top of my most anticipated of all lenses ever produced. This focal length range in the f/4 max aperture is one of my most frequently used lenses, and it seems that all photographers can make frequent use of at least one 70-200mm lens. These hugely popular lenses are generally produced in two variants, one with an f/2.8 max aperture and one with f/4, with both options in the kit being ideal.

Historically, 70-200mm lenses had a relatively long, heavy, fixed-size that commanded a significant chunk of space in the case, requiring a horizontal position in most backpacks. When the Canon RF 70-200mm F4 L IS USM Lens's sibling predecessor, the retracting Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens, was introduced, all were amazed at how small and light a lens with these specs could be. What I was especially excited about was that the Canon RF 70-200mm F4 L IS USM Lens brings the same advantages as its wider-opening sibling. As expected for a narrower aperture lens, the f/4 lens is considerably smaller and lighter than the f/2.8 version. The RF F4 is also significantly smaller and lighter than the previous 70-200mm f/4 lens version, the Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS II USM Lens.

Comparison of Canon RF 70-200mm F4 L and EF 70-200mm f/4L II USM Lenses

Which of these lenses would you prefer to carry?

What if your telephoto zoom lens was the size of your standard zoom lens? Remarkably, this 70-200mm lens is nearly the same size and weight as the Canon RF 24-105mm F4L IS USM Lens, requiring only a similar space for packing.

Canon RF 70-200mm F4 L IS USM Lens Compared to the RF 24-105mm F4 L IS USM Lens

The Canon RF 70-200mm F4 L IS USM Lens is incredibly compact and light, but there are no physical or optical compromises from this professional-grade L-series lens. Extremely high image quality is what we were told to expect, and that is what Canon delivered. All will highly value the lower-than-f/2.8 price of this lens version.

Canon RF 70-200mm F4 L IS USM Lens Top View

Focal Length Range

It seems forever that I've had a pair of Canon 70-200mm lenses in my kit. That this focal length range is incredibly useful is the reason that I so often turn to 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. If you are taking pictures of people, this focal length range 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. 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.

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. with adequate lighting or flash) 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. The 200mm focal length will usually be too wide for large field sports photography, but it works great for closer action such as that found at track and field meets and on the basketball court. While this focal length range is a good choice for indoor sports, the f/4 max aperture (more on this soon) is not optimal for this use.

By virtue of the longer focal lengths, the background of 70-200mm images can be strongly blurred. 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, we also refer to certain types of wildlife photos as portraits. These images typically include the animal minimally filling much of the frame, and for that task, this focal length range often falls short. Unless the wildlife subject is very large or very close, this lens's longest focal length will usually be found inadequate for this task (without cropping). If capturing environmental wildlife portraits or captive wildlife (such as at the zoo), this focal length range may be perfect.

Canon RF 70-200mm F4 L IS USM Lens Dog Leaping Sample Picture

The 70-200mm range is great for photographing pets, including dogs and cats. That is "Nala" the goldendoodle showing her running and leaping skills.

Canon RF 70-200mm F4 L IS USM Lens Dog Sample Picture

When landscape photography is mentioned, many immediately think of wide-angle lenses. However, it is easy to create excellent landscape compositions with a telephoto lens, and telephoto focal lengths are an essential part of a landscape kit (the example below was captured with the sibling f/2.8 lens). Telephoto focal lengths can emphasize a distant subject, rendering distant subjects such as mountains large in the frame. Telephoto lenses are optimal for filling the frame with the color of an even marginally nice sunrise or sunset.

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

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.

Cityscapes are essentially landscape images with cities in them, and this focal length range is often an excellent choice for more-distant city views. Street photography, usually done in cities, is another excellent 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 product images on this site were captured within the 70-200mm range, and this range is ideal for larger products, including vehicles.

A few months prior to this lens's arrival, I noticed a large, solitary oak tree in a field and thought it could be photogenic under the right scenario. A fresh snow and the Canon RF 70-200mm F4 L IS USM Lens were a perfect combination for capturing this oak.

Canon RF 70-200mm F4 L IS USM Lens 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 significantly 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 F4 L IS USM Lens Angle View

Max Aperture

As established, 70-200mm lenses are typically offered in f/2.8 and f/4 max apertures. That one-stop (2x as much light) difference is a big deal, and each option holds advantages.

F/4 allows half as much light to reach the imaging sensor as f/2.8. Less light means that slower shutter speeds (more challenging to stop subject motion) and higher ISO settings (with increased noise) are required to make up the difference. With a narrower max aperture, the AF system sees less light, increasing that function's challenge.

Consider your lighting conditions in the scenarios this focal length range will be used to determine when the wide aperture advantage is essential. If freezing low light action is on the requirements list, f/2.8 is the better option.

Another advantage a wider aperture holds is creating a shallower depth of field and correspondingly stronger background blur. While the telephoto focal lengths are well-suited for background blurring, the wider aperture increases this advantage.

The advantages of a narrow aperture are primarily related to the lens elements being significantly smaller in size. They include a smaller overall lens size, a lighter weight, and a lower cost. We all can appreciate those factors, and they apply to the RF 70-200mm F4 L IS.

Here are examples of the strongest blur this lens can create.

Canon RF 70-200mm F4 L IS USM Lens Maximum Blur Example

The details are gone in these images.

While the f/4 aperture is not wide relative to the f/2.8 option, many other telephoto zoom lenses sharing this focal length range cannot open to f/4 at all corresponding focal lengths. In some of these comparisons, the f/4 lens is nicely advantaged, and most of the other lenses have a variable max aperture.

Canon RF 70-200mm F4 L IS USM Lens Angle View with Hood

Image Stabilization

Image stabilization is a valuable feature to most lenses and tremendously beneficial to telephoto lenses. 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. While a 70-200mm lens does not have the longest focal lengths available, these focal lengths are long enough to make camera shake problematic.

Note that a downside to light weight is low inertia, which helps a lens remain still during the exposure.

While image stabilization does not stop subject motion, it allows handholding of the camera in extremely low light situations with relatively still subjects. IS also permits motion blurring of moving subjects such as flowing water with sharp surroundings.

IS is useful for stabilizing the electronic viewfinder, aiding composition, and IS substantially improves handheld video quality. Aiding AF precision is another image stabilization benefit that should not be overlooked. The camera's AF system can deliver increased focus precision if the image it sees is stabilized. Canon contends that this is true even with a subject in motion and at action-stopping shutter speeds.

The RF 70-200 F4 features an awesome-performing 5-stop image stabilization system that significantly increases this lens's already great versatility. Mount this lens on a Canon EOS R-series camera featuring IBIS (In-Body Image Stabilization), starting with the EOS R5 and EOS R6, and this rating increases to an incredible 7.5 stops. A specific advantage of the coordinated camera and lens image stabilization is the ability to reduce rotational movement.

On a somewhat shaky day, testing with the Canon EOS R5, the RF 70-200 F4 produced a decent sharpness rate at 70mm with a 0.3-second shutter speed and was still producing roughly 50% sharp images at 0.5-second exposures, the longest I tested. At 200mm, the sharpness rate at 1/6 second was very good, with a solid sharpness rate still resulting from 1/4 second exposures.

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.

Canon's image stabilization systems are mature and refined, and this one is impressive. This IS system has a very faint "hmmm," audible only from about an inch or two from the lens (even when IS is switched off) and only in a quiet environment. The viewfinder image does not jump during startup or shutdown with Canon's latest implementations. Fighting against IS while recomposing or recording video is not an issue. Image framing drifting while IS is active has not been noticeable in the latest Canon IS systems, including this one.

As with many of Canon's L-series telephoto lenses, three IS modes are provided. Mode 1 (general-purpose), Mode 2 IS (for panning with a subject, one axis of stabilization is provided), and Mode 3. Mode 3 is useful for tracking erratic action. In this mode, 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 erratic motion subject to be tracked without fighting against image stabilization trying to stabilize the view. IS Mode 3 is designed to detect panning motion, and when detected, the lens will only apply Image Stabilization at right angles to the direction of the detected movement (like IS Mode 2).

When you 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 F4 L IS USM Lens on Tripod Lower

Image Quality

As I said at the beginning of the review, extremely high image quality is what we are told to expect from the Canon RF 70-200mm F4 L IS USM Lens. After the impressive performance shown by the Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens and Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS II USM Lens, nothing less would be acceptable. Fortunately, Canon has impressed us again.

In the center of the frame, this lens is extremely sharp throughout the entire focal length range with a wide-open aperture. I see a slight sharpness improvement at f/5.6 at 200mm, but otherwise, stopping down has little effect on sharpness until diffraction begins to cause softening.

In general, lenses are not as sharp in the periphery, where light rays must be bent more strongly than in the center. This lens again turns in exceptional performance with corners that nearly match the impressive center of the frame sharpness, including at f/4. Stopping down to f/5.6 provides little improvement at the focal lengths extents. At 100mm and 135mm, a slight improvement is realized by a 1-stop-narrower.

Taking the testing outdoors, we next look at a series of center-of-the-frame 100% resolution crop examples. These images were captured using an ultra-high resolution Canon EOS R5 with RAW files processed in Canon's Digital Photo Professional (DPP) using the Standard Picture Style with sharpness at 1 on a 0-10 scale. 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 F4 L IS USM Lens Sharpness Comparison Example

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

Look very carefully for the center of the plane of sharp focus in these images as there is foreground and background that should be blurred.

Next, we'll look at a comparison showing 100% extreme-top-left-corner crops captured and processed identically to the above center-of-the-frame images. The lens was manually focused in the corner of the frame to capture these images.

Canon RF 70-200mm F4 L IS USM Lens Corner Sharpness Comparison Example

70mm: f/4.0 | f/5.6 | f/8.0
115mm: f/4.0 | f/5.6 | f/8.0
200mm: f/4.0 | f/5.6 | f/8.0

Samples taken from the outer extreme of the image circle, full-frame corners, in this case, can be counted on to show the worst performance a lens is capable of.

Corner sharpness does not always matter, but it does matter for many disciplines, including landscape photography, a frequent subject for my RF 70-200 F4 and architecture. This lens easily qualifies for those uses.

Focus shift, the plane of sharp focus moving forward or backward as the aperture is narrowed (residual spherical aberration or RSA), is mostly not an issue with this lens (many modern lenses automatically correct for it). I used the EF 70-200 f/4 as my primary studio product photography lens for years, and when photographing a subject near the minimum focus distance with a narrow aperture (f/11), compensation for a focus shift to the rear issue was required. Unfortunately, the RF lens exhibits a bit of the same behavior. Let me illustrate with two sets of examples captured at this lens's minimum focus distance

Canon RF 70-200mm F4 L IS USM Lens Focus Shift Example

70mm: f/4.0 | f/5.6 | f/8.0 | f/11.0 | f/16.0
200mm: f/4.0 | f/5.6 | f/8.0 | f/11.0 | f/16.0

Along with comparing the obvious characters, also look at the details higher on the heat sink. In both sets of examples, the details in the f/4 plane of sharp focus remain reasonably sharp at narrow apertures, but details behind this distance become noticeably sharper at f/11. Canon cameras focus with a wide-open aperture, so this effect is realized when using AF and MF unless DOF preview is used for manual focusing. Shifting the camera rearward after focusing resolves the problem, but focus shift should not be an issue today. At modestly longer focus distances, the depth of field increases, rendering the focused-on subject sharply (though the foreground does not sharpen as rapidly as the background).

When used on a camera that utilizes a lens's entire image circle, peripheral shading can be expected at the widest aperture settings. At f/4, the wider half of the focal length range shows a very low amount of shading, about 1-stop. At 135mm, f/4 shading increases to just over 1.5-stops, still a very low amount. The just under 3-stops of shading at 200mm f/4 is considerably more noticeable.

To reduce shading, use a narrower aperture. Reducing the aperture gradually reduces the shading until approximately 0.4-stops remain at f/11 with only slight variation over the focal length range.

APS-C format cameras using lenses projecting a full-frame-sized image circle avoid most vignetting problems. This lens on an APS-C camera would show no visible corner shading until the 200mm end, where just over 1-stop of shading shows.

One-stop of shading is often used as the visibility number, though subject details provide a widely varying amount of vignetting discernibility. Vignetting is correctable 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 how your images will be affected.

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 most significant amount as this is where the most significant 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. However, it is always better to avoid this aberration 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. These are 100% crops from the extreme top left corner of ultra-high-resolution EOS R5 frames showing diagonal black and white lines.

Canon RF 70-200mm F4 L IS USM Lens Lateral Chromatic Aberration Example

There should only be black and white colors in these images. Not unusual is for a zoom lens to have noticeable color separation in the corners at the focal length extremes (with reversing fringing colors), with mid-range focal lengths showing little lateral CA. The additional colors indicate the presence of lateral CA, and this lens produces enough of this aberration to warrant correction.

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 observe. Axial CA remains at least somewhat persistent when stopping down, with the color misalignment effect increasing with defocusing. 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, fringing color differences were introduced by the lens.

Canon RF 70-200mm F4 L IS USM Lens Spherical and Axial Aberration Example

The fringing color differences are mild at the wide end, growing to moderate at the long end.

Flare and ghosting are caused by bright light reflecting off the lens element surfaces, resulting in reduced contrast and sometimes-interesting but often destructive artifacts. Combating these issues is Canon's Air Sphere Coating (ASC). Still, with telephoto focal lengths and a relatively high 16 element count (in 11 groups) (the EF IS II has 20/15), some flare effects were expected. However, even with the sun in the corner of the frame at f/16, flaring from this lens remains very mild.

Flare effects can be embraced or avoided, or removal can be attempted. Removal is sometimes very challenging, and in some cases, flare effects can be quite destructive to image quality.

Two lens aberrations are particularly evident in images of stars, mainly because bright points of light against a dark background make them easier to see (note that a half-moon and a light haze brightened the background somewhat in the examples shared here). 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). Coma clears as the aperture is narrowed. 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 top-left corner of EOS R5 frames.

Canon RF 70-200mm F4 L IS USM Lens Coma Example

The stars in these samples are not rendered as perfect points of light, but they look good from a relative standpoint.

As common for a zoom lens, this lens has barrel distortion at the wide end, transitioning into negligible distortion (at just wider than 100mm) and into pincushion distortion at the long end. The amount of barrel distortion at 70mm is slight, and the amount of pincushion distortion at 200mm is modest. These amounts are low for this class of lenses.

Most modern lenses have lens correction profiles available, and distortion can easily be removed using these. Still, distortion correction is destructive at the pixel level as some portion of the image must be stretched or the overall dimensions reduced.

As seen earlier in the review, the amount of blur a lens can produce is easy to show, and telephoto lenses are advantaged in this regard. Assessing the quality is more challenging due in part to the infinite number of variables present among all available scenes. Here are some stopped down (for aperture blade interaction) examples.

Canon RF 70-200mm F4 L IS USM Lens Bokeh Example

70mm | 115mm | 200mm   70mm | 115mm | 200mm

The first set of results are 100% f/11 crops with defocused highlights looking good, showing good roundness and smoothly filled centers. The second-row results are reduced full images captured at f/8. These also appear nice.

Except for a small number of specialty lenses, the wide aperture bokeh in the corner of the frame does not produce round defocused highlights, with these effects 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 frame's corner, the shape is not round. That is the shape seen here.

Canon RF 70-200mm F4 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 rounder.

With a 9-blade count aperture, point light sources captured with a narrow aperture setting and showing a sunstar effect will have 18 points. In general, the more a lens is stopped down from its wide-open aperture, the larger and better-shaped the sunstars tend to be. This lens's moderate f/4 max aperture opening is not optimal for this effect.

Aperture is measured as a ratio of lens opening to focal length. This lens has a fixed max aperture yet does not become larger in diameter as the focal length is increased. Therefore, maintaining the fixed max aperture (the ratio) on a zoom lens requires the aperture to narrow as the focal length decreases. You can see the aperture opening change in size when looking into the front of the lens while zooming. Taking us back to the point, this lens's aperture is closed more at the wider focal lengths than the longer. Thus, the 70mm stars look better than the 200mm stars.

Canon RF 70-200mm F4 L IS USM Lens Sunstar Effect Example

The f/16 examples shared above show the 70mm focal length producing attractive stars, while the 200mm stars are rather ugly.

Canon RF 70-200mm F4 L IS USM Lens Design

The design of the RF 70-200mm F4 L IS is illustrated above, and the design of the EF 70-200mm f/4L IS II is below. Note that these images are not scaled to each other. Also, note the RF lens's reduced element count.

Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS II USM Lens Design

The RF 70-200mm F4 L IS lens design includes four UD lens elements. The shorter lens design consolidates the elements closer to the camera, creating a better handling lens, with great balance even at 200mm.

Optically, this lens performs impressively. The focus shift is my only complaint.

Canon RF 70-200mm F4 L IS USM Lens Extended Top View with Hood

Focusing

Like the Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8, the RF 70-200mm F4 gets an advanced, very high-performing AF system driven by dual Nano USM (Ultrasonic) focus motors.

Canon describes the focusing characteristics of this lens's AF system as: "The RF70-200mm F4 L IS USM features two independent Nano USM motors, providing an even greater level of high-speed autofocus for still image shooting as well as quiet and smooth autofocus for video shooting. The lens also incorporates a floating focus control that drives the two lens groups individually while using the two aforementioned Nano USM motors. The floating focus lens element shortens the focusing distance and helps reduce breathing, providing users with fast, consistent and reliable performance."

Nano USM acts as 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 and shuffling being audible. Also, like the other Nano USM lenses, this one focuses very smoothly.

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 choice for high-end lens AF systems. While most Ring USM lenses are fast and accurate performers, they generally do not focus smoothly in Movie Servo AF and produce considerably more focus chatter. Nano USM (and STM) lenses autofocus considerably more smoothly and are much quieter than Ring USM lenses.

Of utmost importance is AF accuracy, and from that perspective, all of the Nano USM-driven AF systems to date, including this one, have performed impressively. Even with a big dog running directly at the camera at short distances, the RF 70-200 F4 didn't seem challenged while tracking focus.

While wide aperture lenses are optimal for low light AF, the EOS R5 can autofocus this lens in a very dark environment. For example, handheld with IS enabled, the R5 was locking focus on a contrasty subject when autoexposure calculated 30 seconds at f/4 and ISO 800. As always, AF is slower in low light, but this is excellent performance.

Canon RF 70-200mm F4 L IS USM Lens Side View with Hood

This lens features a focus distance range limit switch that, in addition to making the full focus range available, enables distance selection to be limited to 8.2' (2.5m) - ∞. When the subject is expected to stay in the limited range, this feature can potentially decrease focus lock times via reduced hunting.

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.

This lens produces a moderately strong change in subject size through full extent focus distance adjustment.

Canon RF 70-200mm F4 L IS USM Lens Focus Magnification Example

70mm: Far | Close   200mm: Far | Close

As illustrated in the first set of 100% crops below, the reviewed lens exhibits rear parfocal-like characteristics. When focused at 200mm, good focus is retained throughout the zoom range without refocusing. In the first set of examples, the stem goes slightly out of focus at 100mm, but otherwise remains sharp. The second set of examples, captured at a longer focus distance, show a stronger blur at 100mm, suggesting the refocusing after zooming is a good idea.

Canon RF 70-200mm F4 L IS USM Lens Parfocal Example

The RF 70-200mm F2.8 Lens design included a departure from Canon's long-time and advantageous forward-positioned 70-200mm L lens focus rings. Moving the zoom ring forward was not a positive change from an overall usability standpoint, and great news is that the RF 70-200mm F4 returns to the front-positioned focus ring design.

Canon RF 70-200mm F4 L IS USM Lens Top View with Hood

The RF 70-200 F4's ribbed-rubber-covered focus ring is modestly-sized and positioned snugly in front of the zoom ring. The tight spacing and the Control Ring just up the lens mean the focus ring is not especially easy to tactilely locate, especially with gloves.

The manual focus ring provides nice resistance, and adjustments are smooth and remain solidly centered.

Like STM, Nano USM utilizes a focus-by-wire, electrical manual focus design (vs. a direct gear-driven system), with the manual focus ring electronically controlling the lens's focus. 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's 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 imparted 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 F4 L focus is adjusted slowly, with approximately 320° of ring rotation from MFD to infinity. It seems that rotation amount would allow for high precision focusing. However, I found manual focusing on our test chart challenging and would prefer a slower rate, especially at 200mm.

Enable variable adjustments, and a fast 140° ring or slow 240° rotation imparts a full extent focus distance change at 70mm. The numbers change to 270° and 240° respectively at 200mm. Why does the fast 200mm rotation affect distance change slower than the slow rotation? That is a good question.

Canon RF 70-200mm F4 L IS USM Lens Angle View Extended with Hood

With a minimum focus distance of 23.6" (600mm), this lens has a strong 0.28x maximum magnification spec.

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 RF 70-200mm F4 L IS USM Lens23.6"(600mm)0.28x
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
Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS Lens37.8"(960mm)0.25x
Sony FE 70-200mm f/4 G OSS Lens39.4"(1000mm)0.13x

At 70mm, a subject measuring approximately 12.1 x 8.1" (307 x 205mm) fills the frame of a full-frame camera at the minimum focus distance. At 200mm, a subject measuring approximately 9.9 x 6.6" (251 x 167mm) does the same.

The orchid below measures approximately 2.8" (71mm).

Canon RF 70-200mm F4 L IS USM Lens Maximum Magnification Example

While the RF 70-200mm F4 focuses very closely, doing so significantly impacts corner image quality at the wide end of the focal length range. At 70mm and focused to the minimum focus distance, this lens renders center of the frame details sharply, but the midframe and periphery are blurry at f/4. This is an upper left quadrant from a 70mm f/4 image.

Canon RF 70-200mm F4 L IS USM Lens Maximum Magnification Image Quality

Even at a greatly-reduced resolution, the corner blur is obvious.

As the aperture is narrowed, the sharp image quality pushes outward, but the corners remain very soft at f/16, where diffraction is also making the rest of the image soft. As the lens is zoomed to the mid focal lengths, corner image quality improves significantly, though lateral CA shows strongly by 200mm.

You may have noticed that the RF 70-200mm F4 has a maximum magnification spec nearly the same as the EF 70-200mm f/4L IS II, yet the RF lens must focus 40% closer to generate that figure. Here is a table showing our standard 47.25" x 31.5" (1200mm x 800mm) subject framing distance measurements (find these in our lens specifications tool).

Focal LengthRF 70-200mm F4 L ISEF 70-200mm f/4L IS II
70mm7.92'(2414mm)8.63'(2631mm)
100mm11.07'(3374mm)11.83'(3606mm)
135mm14.68'(4475mm)15.82'(4823mm)
200mm22.60'(6511mm)21.36'(6889mm)

Focal lengths are rated at infinity focus distance, and especially zoom lens focal length range number are sometimes rounded. In our example, focus breathing is likely to blame. Do these differences matter is the big question. For most, no is the answer. When working close, the RF lens requires a longer focal length or a closer working distance to provide the same subject size as the EF lens.

Need a shorter minimum focus distance and higher magnification? An extension tube mounted behind this lens should provide a very significant decrease and increase, respectively. Extension tubes are hollow lens barrels that shift a lens farther from the camera, allowing shorter focusing distances at the expense of long-distance focusing. Electronic connections in extension tubes permit the lens and camera to communicate and otherwise function as normal. As of review time, Canon does not have RF mount-compatible extension tubes available, but third-party options are available.

This lens is not compatible with Canon extenders.

Canon RF 70-200mm F4 L IS USM Lens Side View

Build Quality & Features

As I said in the F2.8 lens review, I've been privileged to use a vast range of lenses, but picking up a new Canon L-series lens always puts a smile on my face. It was hard to believe that a 70-200 f/2.8 lens could be so small. Admittedly, after that big reveal, it is less shocking that the F4 lens is even tinier.

Comparison of Canon RF 70-200mm F4 L IS and RF 70-200mm F2.8 L IS USM Lenses

The red ring and the "L" in the moniker indicate this lens's inclusion in the exclusive Canon L-Series, the company's best-available, professional-grade lens models. These lenses are strongly constructed and ready for the rigors of daily professional use.

Canon's RF L lenses take on a slightly updated look from the EF variants, but this lens's build quality remains superb. Those familiar with Canon's EF 70-200mm L lenses will not be disappointed with this one.

Canon RF 70-200mm F4 L IS USM Lens Product Images

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

The Canon RF 70-200mm F4 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 rubber-covered zoom ring is substantial in size and positioned perfectly for fingertip access while balancing in the hand. This ring is very smooth in rotation, has no play, and the 70° rotation is ideal. Zooming to 200mm extends the lens by 2.2" (56.3mm), with the extended barrel remaining solid with no play.

Canon's RF lenses feature a knurled "Control Ring," able to be configured for fast access to settings including aperture, ISO, and exposure compensation. Positioning this ring at the front of the lens is optimal for avoiding inadvertent use, though I often rotate it when attempting to manual focus. Use the lens hood diameter transition to tactilely find the Control Ring fast. Note that the control ring is clicked by default, and this ring's clicks will 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 larger predecessors. A white lens may be less stealthy, garnering more attention than a black lens, but 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 and dust better than black.

Canon RF 70-200mm F4 L IS USM Lens Switches

This lens's switches have a shallow profile. A slightly raised area around the two image stabilizer switches aids in tactilely differentiating these from the two AF-related controls. Just enough raised surface is provided in the center of each switch to make them easily usable, even with gloves on. Four of the five switches are easy-to-use two-position types, making it easy to achieve the desired setting by fully sliding the switch. A little extra care is required to select the mode 2 IS setting in this 3-position switch's center position. The switches firmly click into position, providing an assuring feeling from both positional and quality standpoints.

A zoom extension lock, holding the lens in the retracted position, is conveniently placed on the lens's right side. My lens shows no gravity extension tendencies.

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 F4 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. Cleaning problematic issues, such as fingerprints, is considerably easier with fluorine coating, a difference especially appreciated in the field.

Canon RF 70-200mm F4 L IS USM Lens Mount

Notice these game-changing numbers: The RF 70-200mm F4 L Lens has a retracted size of only 3.3 x 4.7" (83.5 x 119mm) and weighs a mere 24.5 oz. (695g). That size and weight are similar to the Canon RF 24-105mm F4 L IS USM Lens. That size will fit vertically in packs that required horizontal orientation for all previous lenses in this class. That size and weight will require little effort to carry all day.

In addition to weighing less, this shorter lens's weight is shifted rearward for a better overall balance.

ModelWeight oz(g)Dimensions w/o Hood "(mm)FilterYear 
Canon RF 24-105mm F4 L IS USM Lens24.7(700)3.3 x 4.2(83.5 x 107.3)772018
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 RF 70-200mm F4 L IS USM Lens24.5(695)3.3 x 4.7(83.5 x 119.0)772019
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)672010
Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS Lens52.2(1480)3.5 x 7.9(88.0 x 200.0)772016
Sony FE 70-200mm f/4 G OSS Lens29.7(840)3.1 x 6.9(80.0 x 175.0)722014

For many more comparisons, review the complete Canon RF 70-200mm F4 L IS USM Lens Specifications using the site's lens specifications tool.

Here is a visual comparison:

Canon RF 70-200mm F4 L IS USM Lens Compared to Similar Lenses

Positioned above from left to right are the following lenses:

Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens
Canon RF 70-200mm F4 L IS USM Lens
Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS II USM Lens
Sony FE 70-200mm f/4 G OSS Lens

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

Canon RF 70-200mm F4 L IS USM Lens Compared to Similar Lenses with Hoods

Extended and with their hoods in place, these lenses appear considerably more similar.

Use the site's product image comparison tool to visually compare the Canon RF 70-200mm F4 L IS USM Lens to other lenses.

The RF 70-200 F4 has 77mm filter threads. This filter size is somewhat large, modestly-high priced, and ubiquitous, allowing effects filters to readily be shared, including with the next-wider f/4 sibling, the RF 24-105 F4 L. Consider a Breakthrough Photography X4 Circular Polarizer for this lens.

Notably missing on the RF 70-200 F4 is a tripod mount ring, and, unlike any of the EF 70-200mm f/4 lenses before it, a tripod mount ring is not optionally available. While tripod rings are advantageous, they add size and weight. The RF 70-200mm F4's size and weight make a tripod ring considerably less important, and we can appreciate the smooth design not being modified to incorporate such a ring. I am not finding lens sag to be an issue after tightening a ball head with this lens mounted to the camera.

Canon RF 70-200mm F4 L IS USM Lens Hood ET-83G WIII

Canon includes the Lens Hood ET-83G (WIII) in the box. The slightly flexible (helpful for absorbing impact) plastic hood 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 hood is relatively large, adding 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.

Canon RF 70-200mm F4 L IS USM Lens Case

Canon always includes a case with their L-series lenses, and the RF 70-200 F4 comes with the Canon LP1319 Lens Case. Again emphasizing the compact retracted size of this lens, the LP1319 is the same model included with the Canon RF 24-105mm F4 L IS USM Lens and numerous other similarly-sized lenses. While the pouch protects against scratches and dust, only the bottom is padded against impact. For increased protection, consider a Lowepro Lens Case or Think Tank Photo Lens Case Duo for a quality, affordable single-lens storage, transport, and carry solution.

Canon RF 70-200mm F4 L IS USM Lens Cap

Price, Value, Wrap Up

The best lenses bear price tags reflecting their status. While this lens is considerably less expensive than its f/2.8 sibling, it is moderately priced and noticeably more expensive than the EF predecessor.

The usefulness of the RF 70-200 F4 is very high, and the effort required to have this lens along is very low. Both of those factors increase the use this lens will see, and high amounts of use increase the lens's value. I find the RF 70-200 F4 to be a good value.

As an "RF" lens, the Canon RF 70-200mm F4 L IS USM Lens is compatible with all Canon EOS R-series cameras. This lens comes with a 1-year limited warranty.

I purchased the reviewed Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens online-retail.

Canon RF 70-200mm F4 L IS USM Lens on Tripod

Alternatives to the Canon RF 70-200mm F4 L IS USM Lens

At review time, there are two lenses that stand out as 70-200 F4 comparables. The first is the Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens. These two lenses are quite similar yet very different.

My expectation was that image quality would not be a differentiator between these lenses, with similarly superb performance seen at the same aperture and focal length settings. That is how the EF variants compare, but the RF 70-200 F2.8 performs so incredibly well that it holds a modest advantage in the f/4 vs. f/2.8 lens image quality comparison at f/4. The two lenses perform more similarly at f/5.6. The f/2.8 lens has less lateral and spherical CA overall, shows modestly less flare effect at narrow apertures, and stopped down 1 stop, has less peripheral shading at 200mm f/4. The f/2.8 lens has slightly better bokeh, creates better sunstars, and has less pincushion distortion at 200mm.

We discussed the significant max aperture difference between these lenses earlier in the review. The Canon RF 70-200mm F4 L IS USM Lens vs. Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens comparison shows the benefits of the f/4 aperture, smaller size and lighter weight (about 2/3 as much). The F2.8 lens has a tripod mount ring. The F4 lens has a modest maximum magnification advantage (0.28x vs. 0.23x) and a substantial cost advantage. If the size, weight, and price differences are not an issue, get the f/2.8 lens. Otherwise, the F4 lens has your name on it.

The ideal kit will include both lenses, as I mentioned at the beginning of this review. Choose the f/2.8 version when the f/2.8 aperture is needed, including freezing low light action, creating a stronger background blur, and creating starburst effects. Take the f/4 version when small and light are more important than f/2.8, such as when hiking.

The other lens I was anxious to compare is the EF predecessor, the Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS II USM Lens. The EF lens is such an impressive performer that I expected the image quality comparison between these two lenses to be non-differentiating.

In the image quality comparison, as we saw in the RF f/2.8 comparison, these lenses are essentially equivalents. The EF lens may have a slight advantage in the 135mm corners, and the f/4 lens may have a slight advantage in the 200mm corners. The EF lens has less peripheral shading at 200mm f/4. The EF lens exhibits slightly more barrel distortion at 70mm and slightly more pincushion distortion at 200mm. With fewer lens elements (16 vs. 20), the RF F4 lens better avoids flare effects.

The Canon RF 70-200mm F4 L IS USM Lens vs. Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS II USM Lens comparison shows the RF lens noticeably lighter and, when retracted, dramatically shorter. The EF lens is fixed in size and slightly narrower in diameter, which results in a smaller filter size (72mm vs. 77mm). You may find the RF vs. EF visual comparison at the beginning of this review helpful. Note that the EF lens requires an adapter to mount on an RF-mount camera, an item that adds size, weight, and cost. The RF and EF lenses have similar maximum magnification specs (0.28x and 0.27x), but as shared earlier in the review, those numbers area reached at considerably different minimum focus distances — 23.6" vs. 39.4" (600mm vs. 1000mm), respectively. The EF lens has an optional tripod mount ring and a lower price.

Those considering a Sony camera should compare the Sony FE 70-200mm f/4 G OSS Lens. In the image quality comparison, the Canon lens is the sharper option at 70mm f/4. The two lenses perform similarly in the mid-range focal lengths. At 200mm, the Sony lens is slightly sharper in the center of the frame, and the Canon lens is slightly sharper in the periphery, including less lateral CA. The Sony lens has slightly more vignetting at f/4 but very slightly less by f/8. The Sony lens has slightly stronger barrel distortion at 70mm, but more noticeably less pincushion distortion at the long end of the range. The Canon lens has significantly fewer lens elements (16/11 vs. 21/15) and shows fewer flare effects.

The Canon RF 70-200mm F4 L IS USM Lens vs. Sony FE 70-200mm f/4 G OSS Lens comparison shows the Canon lens noticeably lighter and, when retracted, dramatically shorter. The slightly narrower Sony lens uses 72mm filters vs. 77mm. The Canon lens aperture goes to f/32 vs. f/22, though few will care. The Sony lens comes with a tripod mount ring and has a fixed size. The Canon lens has a significantly higher maximum magnification (0.28x vs. 0.13x). The Sony lens list price is modestly lower.

Use the site's comparison tools to create additional comparisons.

Canon RF 70-200mm F4 L IS USM Lens Angle Close View

Summary

The Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens was a game-changer, and the Canon RF 70-200mm F4 L IS USM Lens is the same, taking the game down to a new size and weight low. Those carrying this frequently-needed telephoto zoom lens for extended periods will love this lens's new size and weight.

As part of the elite L-series, the RF 70-200 lens is extremely well built, including environmental sealing. As said before, this lens is ready for the rigors of daily professional use. The smooth external design, smooth-functioning rings, crisp switches, and tight tolerances make this lens a pleasure to use.

Driven by the Dual Nano USM AF system, this lens focuses fast, quietly, smoothly, and accurately, ensuring the ultimate image quality is realized, even in very dim light. The RF 70-200 F4's 5-stop image stabilization system (7.5-stops combined) is very impressive, contributing significantly to image quality in the handheld circumstances invited by this lens's small size and light weight. As mentioned, the focus shift at narrow apertures and close focus distances is my complaint.

The price tag is moderate, and the value and versatility of this lens are extremely high. The Canon RF 70-200mm F4 L IS USM Lens will be a much-moved and highly-used model. I added this lens to my kit.

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