Canon RF 800mm F11 IS STM Lens Review

Canon RF 800mm F11 IS STM Lens

The Canon RF 800mm F11 IS STM Lens and Canon RF 600mm F11 IS STM Lens were simultaneously announced and available. With these lenses sharing so many features, it seemed fitting to review them simultaneously. Thus, these sibling lens reviews will sound similar, each tuned to the specific lens.

Never did I think I would be writing a review of a Canon 800mm lens with a fixed f/11 aperture, and, as with the RF 600, "Who is going to want this lens?" was the first question I pondered when learning about it. Image stabilization and Canon's STM AF were a very good combination, and after reviewing the size, weight, and price of this lens, my attitude toward this lens improved significantly. While this lens is not the best option for all serious wildlife and sports photographers, it opens a new world to those who need a lightweight, compact, very-affordable long super-telephoto lens. Because of its accessibility, this lens will capture images that otherwise would go uncaptured.

Canon RF 800mm F11 IS STM Lens Retracted Top View

Focal Length

While this lens has some nice features, it is the 800mm super-telephoto focal length that should especially grab your focus. For the lens to be useful, the angle of view provided by the focal length must work for you. Note that, despite the small size and low cost of this lens, the RF 800 provides the same angle of view as all of the other 800mm lenses (though there are not many). Primarily making 800mm lens options uncommon is the size, weight, and cost typically required to achieve this focal length. With this lens addressing those issues, what is the 800mm focal length's very narrow angle of view commonly used for?

When you need to frame a subject tightly and can't get closer, due to:

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

— you might need an 800mm lens, and, if this lens's f/11 aperture suits your need (more about that later), the RF 800mm lens might be the right choice.

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

Canon RF 800mm F11 IS STM Lotus Sample Picture

When you want to capture a compressed look from a distant perspective, you might want an 800mm lens. When you want to create a strong background blur, isolating a subject from an otherwise-distracting background, an 800mm lens might be just right (though the narrow f/11 aperture is not helpful in this regard).

Canon RF 800mm F11 IS STM Lens Little Green Heron Sample Picture

While an 800mm lens has a wide variety of uses, wildlife photography is at the top of the most-frequently-used-for list with most other 800mm uses occurring at a far lower frequency. Subjects ranging from small birds up to large game are readily captured with this focal length. The light weight of this lens, along with the long focal length, makes it a consideration even for birds-in-flight, though keeping a moving subject in this narrow angle of view can be challenging.

Canon RF 800mm F11 IS STM Dragonfly Sample Picture

While the 800mm angle of view is very narrow for sports photography, there are sports applications for this focal length. This focal length will reach watersports such as surfing and will reach deep into large field sports such as baseball.

Photojournalists and others covering events may sometimes find this lens's reach useful. Shooting over large crowds such as at outdoor concerts is easy with an 800mm lens mounted. This lens is a good choice for photographing single aircraft flying at air shows. Many details are ideal for capturing with the 800mm angle of view.

Canon RF 800mm F11 IS STM Lens Flower Sample Picture

As I write this review, Canon RF lenses are not compatible with any cameras having an APS-C-sized imaging sensor. Should this lens become compatible with an ASP-C model, the 1.6x FOVCF sensor format will see an angle of view similar to a full-frame-mounted 1280mm lens. This much narrower angle of view diminishes the number of scenarios this lens is ideally suited for. Bird photographers rarely have too much focal length, and distant wildlife can often make full use of this focal length. Keeping a moving subject in this angle of view is very challenging (even finding the subject in the frame can be that), and this angle of view is even too long for some wildlife photography. Moving back can be an answer, but obstacles can get in the sight path, and a longer subject distance means that heatwaves are more likely to be an issue.

While on the heatwaves topic: just because you have an 800mm lens doesn't mean that you can create sharp images with it, even when using the fastest shutter speeds and best techniques. When present, heat shimmer/haze/waves will create optical distortion that will diminish the quality of long-distance-captured photos. Artificial turf sports fields are among the worse venues for heatwaves — sun on artificial turf ensures terrible 800mm image quality.

I will share a focal length comparison that includes the RF 600mm and RF 800mm lenses later in the review.

Want to add some color to your portfolio? Just direct this lens at an even modestly colorful sky just after sunset or just before sunrise (never look at the sun through a telephoto lens unless an adequate solar filter is being used).

Canon RF 800mm F11 IS STM Lens Crescent Moon Sample Picture

This lens is an excellent option for photographing the moon, an especially bright subject when in direct sunlight.

Canon RF 800mm F11 IS STM Lens Front View

Max Aperture

F/8 and be there? Not with this lens. What is the Canon RF 800mm F11 IS STM Lens's biggest weakness? Few will argue that the fixed f/11 aperture is the answer to that question. Fixed? Correct.

That said, I feel better about the RF 800 being an f/11-only lens than the RF 600 being the same, primarily because there are no 800mm lenses wider than f/5.6 while there are f/4 600mm lenses commonly available. Two stops from best-available sounds better than three.

Affordability and light weight were primary goals behind this lens design. Removing the aperture blades and motor mechanism saves cost and weight. A round opening that equates to f/11, a very narrow aperture, is provided. A very narrow aperture requires significantly smaller lens element diameters and overall body size, which results in lower cost and lighter weight.

Canon's R-series mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras provide very clean high ISO images. That is very important because if the subject is moving, expect to be frequently reaching for those high settings. Figure roughly f/11, 1/125, and ISO 100 as the settings required in bright mid-day sunlight. While using this lens in the field, I seldom had the camera set below ISO 400 even when photographing still subjects. Motionless subject portraits aside, the best sports and wildlife photographs nearly always involve movement. Especially if the moving subject is relatively large in the frame, stopping that movement is going to require much faster shutter speeds such as 1/1000 to 1/2000. The light is dim early and late in the day, but those are the times that wildlife is active and sports events are often held. The fast motion and low light combination sends the necessary ISO settings very high.

Often, a compromise is being made between the shutter speed and ISO settings. As with the RF 600 f/11, I often found myself sacrificing the risk of motion blur (not usually a good decision) to keep the ISO setting below 6400, and using the camera's fast frame rate can help catch a moment the subject was in less motion. While the f/11 aperture is best suited for sunny day use, compromising bright sunlight results are heatwaves, always an enemy to sharp imagery.

A long focal length creates a strong background blur, but a narrow aperture has an increased depth of field. With the RF 800mm f/11, you get that single option. Fortunately, the 800mm focal length provides significant magnification that is able to create a nice blur. The next image illustrates the maximum background blur this lens can produce.

Canon RF 800mm F11 IS STM Lens Maximum Blur Example

A relatively long minimum focus distance is not helpful in this regard. Obviously, all of the other sample pictures included in this review (without an extender in use) also illustrate the f/11 aperture.

Flatlining the exposure triangle. Having only f/11 available simplifies exposure calculations — only shutter speed and ISO remain available for image brightness control. Think about how this affects your favorite camera modes. Unless auto ISO is selected, Tv mode acts the same as M mode.

Image Stabilization

The Canon RF 800mm F11 IS STM Lens is sized and weighted for handheld photography. Long focal lengths require fast shutter speeds to freeze the highly magnified camera shake, the narrow f/11 aperture is not helpful in this regard, and the low inertia of a light lens makes it easier to shake. Eliminating camera shake is the critical role played by image stabilization. The RF 800's image stabilization system is rated at 4-stops, one stop lower than the RF 600 f/11 IS system, perhaps due to the same system capability with an increased focal length.

With the R5 behind it, the RF 800 yielded a high majority of sharp images at 1/100 sec., still mostly sharp results at 1/80, and a low percentage of sharp images were still being captured at 1/20, the longest exposure tested.

I'm jumping ahead with a look at sharpness at this point, but this image is a 100% crop captured with the EOS R5 at 1/200 sec., ISO 1000, and processed in Canon's Digital Photo Professional (DPP) using the Standard Picture Style with a low ("2") sharpness setting and low noise reduction.

Canon RF 800mm F11 IS STM Lens Frog Sharpness Sample Picture

The IS system is very quiet, making faint whirling sounds with a hum always present, including when IS is off.

Another image stabilization benefit that should not be overlooked is the increased AF precision as 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 in motion and while using action-stopping shutter speeds.

This is an 800mm lens, and, especially with the compact size and light weight, it is easy to move the lens outside of the image stabilization capabilities. The image stabilization system does not work miracles, but it is a huge aid to sharp handheld images. Whether you need to leave the tripod behind or just want the speed and freedom afforded by handholding, the RF 800mm's image stabilization is there for you.

Canon RF 800mm F11 IS STM Lens Side View

Image Quality

Is the Canon RF 800mm F11 IS STM Lens a sharp lens? This question was a primary one most of us wanted answered.

Before answering that question, I want to mention that this lens utilizes a gapless double-layer Diffractive Optics (DO) design. Early DO lens models were marked by low contrast and sometimes-poor bokeh, two attributes to be mindful of as we review the latest in DO technology.

Next, we should discuss the diffraction impact on the image quality produced by this lens. While a 20 MP imaging sensor is just beginning to make the softening effects of diffraction apparent at f/11, a 45 MP imaging sensor started showing impact at f/7.1. That link shows a best-case scenario for 45 MP f/11 image quality using a known sharp lens. The Canon RF 800mm F11 IS STM Lens should not be expected to exceed that result, and it does not.

Here is the image quality comparison showing the RF 800 test results against f/11 results from the same very sharp lens, and here is the image quality comparison showing the RF 800 test results against f/11 results from a sharp 800mm lens. Your visualization skills will be required to discern between the significantly different camera resolutions used in the last comparison. The RF 800 image quality is not stellar but not bad — and the contrast appears good. Corner performance modestly trails center-of-the-frame performance with lateral CA being a primary culprit. Keep in mind that our lab test results utilize very low sharpening ("1" on a 0-10 scale), and bumping that setting to "2" makes a noticeable improvement. A 20 or 30 MP result is also going to appear sharper.

The standard lab test is brutal on image quality, and I like the RF 800's real-world results better. The images below are 100% resolution center of the frame crops from images captured in RAW format using a Canon EOS R5. The images were processed in DPP using the Standard Picture Style with sharpness set to "1", significantly lower than Canon's default setting of "4". 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 800mm F11 IS STM Lens Sharpness Comparison Example

While not razor-sharp, these results are usable, especially with a higher sharpness setting applied. Consider downloading the above images and increasing their sharpness in your favorite image editor.

With no aperture to change, there is no focus shift (residual spherical aberration or RSA) to be concerned about.

Samples taken from the outer extreme of the image circle can be expected to show the worst performance of a lens. Next, we'll look at a comparison showing 100% extreme corner crops captured and processed identically to the above center-of-the-frame images.

Canon RF 800mm F11 IS STM Lens Corner Sharpness Comparison Example

The corners are not tack-sharp, but they are not terrible. Corner sharpness does not always matter, and the corners are not typically in-focus when photographing wildlife and sports. I often want sharp corners when shooting landscapes, but primarily only distant landscapes support such use at 800mm. Videos captured at typical wide-aspect ratios also avoid the use of corners.

When used on a camera that makes use of a lens's entire image circle, peripheral shading can be expected at the widest aperture settings — or the only aperture setting in this case. This lens has only about 2-stops of peripheral shading in the corners. This amount is reasonable for wide-open aperture performance and not so good for stopped-down performance, both of which this number represents for this lens.

APS-C format cameras using lenses projecting a full-frame-sized image circle avoid most vignetting problems. If this lens becomes compatible with a camera with an APS-C format imaging sensor, under 1-stop of shading will be present in the corners.

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 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. "The use of gapless dual-layered diffractive optical elements helps reduce chromatic aberrations so your images are clear and detailed for high-quality results all around." [Canon]

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 not to 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 worst-case example. This is a 100% crop from the extreme top left corner of an ultra-high resolution EOS R5 frame showing diagonal black and white lines.

Canon RF 800mm F11 IS STM Lens Lateral Chromatic Aberration Example

There should only be black and white colors in these images, with the additional colors showing the moderate presence of lateral CA.

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 in the foreground vs. the background are introduced by the lens.

Canon RF 800mm F11 IS STM Lens Spherical and Axial Aberration Example

This result looks very good.

Flare and ghosting are caused by bright light reflecting off the surfaces of lens elements, resulting in reduced contrast and sometimes-interesting artifacts. Our standard flare testing uses the sun in the corner of the frame, and most lenses show noticeable flaring at narrow apertures in this test. Because magnified sunlight becomes a heat risk, we do not use this flare test on lenses over 400mm. In use, my impression is that this lens does not have a flare problem.

With only one focal length to design for, prime lens engineers can usually create low geometric distortion, and they have done this with the RF 800. I see a very slight pincushion distortion profile in our test chart. Most modern lenses have lens correction profiles available, and distortion can easily be removed using these. However, distortion correction is best avoided as it 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 in all available scenes. For the bokeh examples, I typically select a narrow aperture to show blade interaction. F/11 is the only option for this lens, and there are no blades to interact.

Canon RF 800mm F11 IS STM Lens Defocused Highlights Bokeh Example

Any time a lens is using a Diffractive Optics, onion ring bokeh (concentric rings within the defocused highlights) is an attribute to watch for. The above 100% crop example shows defocused highlights. While not bad, concentric circles are more noticeable than usual, and the 10-ring in the center is accentuated.

The following example shows the bokeh I more commonly saw in the field.

Canon RF 800mm F11 IS STM Lens Bokeh Example 2

That example and the next appear very nice:

Canon RF 800mm F11 IS STM Lens Bokeh Example 3

It is not unusual for any telephoto lens to create harsh bokeh in certain scenarios. This is a 100% crop illustrating some of the worst I saw this lens produce:

Canon RF 800mm F11 IS STM Lens Bokeh Example 4

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 corner of the frame, the shape is not round. That is the shape seen in the upper-left quadrant image shared here:

Canon RF 800mm F11 IS STM Lens Cat's Eye Bokeh Example

This lens shows some modest cat's eye effect, and with the aperture not able to be stopped down, this result is what you get.

With an aperture that is always perfectly round, the RF 800 cannot produce sunstars from point light sources. Omitting the "stars" part leaves the results appearing as suns (or planets?).

Canon RF 800mm F11 IS STM Lens Sunstar Effect Example

The owner's manual warns, "For scenes where a light source is inside the screen, colored flare may occasionally appear as a halo of light around the source."

Though this lens will not optically compare to a professional model such as the Canon EF 800mm f/5.6L IS USM Lens, the Canon RF 800mm F11 IS STM Lens's single aperture produces decent results, results that are very reasonable for the relative size, weight, and, especially, cost of this lens.

Focusing

The Canon RF 800mm F11 IS STM Lens's AF system utilizes a lead screw-type STM (stepping motor) design. This internal-focusing system provides good focusing speed, especially for short and medium distance adjustments. Focusing happens smoothly, ideal for movie recording, with a faint buzz heard during AF.

While the generous depth of field created by the f/11 aperture does not challenge AF precision, this lens has reliably focused accurately for me, an all-important detail.

Because of the narrow f/11 aperture, the AF area (on the review-time-current EOS R models) is reduced to 40% horizontally and 60% vertically. While the smaller area is limiting relative to wider aperture lenses used on mirrorless cameras and not welcomed, we must remember that we were once happy when a DSLR could focus an f/8 lens using only the center AF point. The "reduced" coverage equates to the AF point spread width covered by the Canon EOS 6D Mark II, and the height is significantly more than the 6D II provides. Thus, we are still far ahead of the recent past.

The RF 800 provides a focus limiter switch, permitting the autofocus range to be limited to 65.6' (20m) - ∞ or the full range. If subjects are known to be within the narrower range, that setting can decrease focus lock times.

Normal is for the scene to change size in the frame (sometimes significantly) as focus is pulled from one extent to the other, 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 shows a moderate change in subject size as full extent focus adjustments are made, though primarily seen are subjects going into and out of focus.

The RF 800 has a focus-by-wire or electrical manual focus system (vs. a direct gear-driven design) common for STM lenses, 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 (if electronic manual focusing is enabled in the camera menu), but the shutter release must be half-pressed for the focus ring to become active. With the lens' AF/MF switch in the "MF" position, the camera meter must be on/awake for manual focusing to be available.

The non-rubberized manual focus ring is significant in size with an appropriate amount of rotational resistance, and adjustments are smooth and solidly centered with no unusual framing shift occurring.

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 never acclimated to the variable feature, and with the R-series cameras, a linear (non-variable) adjustment speed can be configured. That option has been my preference, but this lens does not offer a choice. The variable MF speed is not available. The RF 800mm F11 IS STM Lens focus is adjusted very slowly with 440° of ring rotation required to go from minimum focus distance to infinity, permitting very precise manual focusing.

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.

With a minimum focus distance of 19.7'(6.0m), this lens creates a 0.14x maximum magnification spec. While that is a rather low number, it matches Canon's current 800mm f/5.6 lens's spec.

ModelMFDMM
Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens38.4"(975mm)0.31x
Canon RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1 L IS USM Lens35.4"(900mm)0.33x
Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS III USM Lens165.4"(4200mm)0.15x
Canon RF 600mm F11 IS STM Lens177.2"(4500mm)0.14x
Canon EF 800mm f/5.6L IS USM Lens236.2"(6000mm)0.14x
Canon RF 800mm F11 IS STM Lens236.2"(6000mm)0.14x
Sony FE 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G OSS Lens94.5"(2400mm)0.20x
Sigma 60-600mm f/4.5-6.3 DG OS HSM Sports Lens23.6"(600mm)0.30x
Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Sports Lens102.4"(2600mm)0.20x
Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM C Lens110.2"(2800mm)0.20x
Tamron 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD G2 Lens86.6"(2200mm)0.26x

A subject measuring approximately 9.8 x 6.5" (249 x 166mm) fills the frame of a full-frame camera at the minimum focus distance. The frog photo below approximately illustrates this lens's maximum magnification capability

Canon RF 800mm F11 IS STM Lens Maximum Magnification Example

Need a shorter minimum focus distance and higher magnification? An extension tube mounted behind this lens should provide a slight decrease and increase, respectively. Extension tubes are hollow lens barrels that shift a mounted 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.

Canon RF 800mm F11 IS STM Lens with Extender

Compatible with (and simultaneously introduced with) the RF 800 are the Canon RF 1.4x Extender and Canon RF 2x Extender. Retaining the lens's native focus distance range, these options offer far greater magnification impact than extension tubes. That these extenders cost a significant percentage of the base lens cost makes them harder to justify, but Canon alternatives to the resulting focal lengths are few and cost considerably more.

This black-crowned night heron proved the only living subject patient enough for me to make all of the lens changes necessary for a focal length comparison using this lens and also the RF 800. The thin crescent moon moved through the frame more rapidly (and the sky also darkened rapidly). Results from the RF 600 are included to help illustrate the available focal lengths.

Canon RF 800mm F11 IS STM Lens Focal Length Comparison with Extenders

The addition of a 1.4x Extender to the RF 800 creates an attractive 1120mm IS lens. Extend the focal length without increasing the aperture opening, and the effective aperture is reduced — by 1-stop with the 1.4x mounted. Few are going to find f/16 attractive for most 1120mm uses with diffraction impact showing even on lower-resolution R-series cameras. Magnifying the image and adding optics to the path are not helpful from an image quality perspective, but using only the center of the native image circle is advantageous. That said, in bright light, the 1120mm results from this lens can be usable. Here is the comparison.

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

The addition of a 2x Extender creates an impressive-sounding 1600mm focal length lens. In this case, the aperture is reduced 2-stops to a dauntingly-narrow f/22. Autofocusing that combination is a superpower of some R-series cameras, including the Canon EOS R5 and Canon EOS R6. Adding the 2x extender to the optical formula significantly degrades image quality — here is the comparison. The RF 2x adds a small amount of barrel distortion to the image and magnifies (blurs?) the lateral CA. While this combination works, I recommend getting closer without the 2x mounted.

Build Quality & Features

Various things we use regularly fold or retract to save space when not in use, but when was the last time you saw a prime (fixed focal length) lens retract aside for focusing? Some recently introduced standard zoom lens models retract to a shorter parked length, but not telephoto lenses. There is a lot of empty space in a long telephoto lens, so why not design it to retract? The RF 800, like the RF 600, takes advantage of this design concept, enabling a substantial transport and storage size reduction.

From the locked retracted position, rotate the substantially-sized locking collar counter-clockwise a short amount. Without loosening the hold, push the collar forward 2.7" (68.2mm) until the lens is fully extended, and then rotate the collar clockwise with the lens now ready to use. The collar provides a light click with haptic feedback to assure locked and unlocked positions. While the lens locks with only a slight rotation of the collar, the camera will not use the lens unless it is in the fully-click-locked position, complaining "Set the lens to the shooting position" otherwise.

Canon RF 800mm F11 IS STM Lens Angle View

The RF 800mm lens exterior construction is polycarbonate engineering plastic with a nice matte black finish. The end of the lens barrel has a leather-like texture and feel.

Fully extended, this lens exhibits no discernable play in the barrel.

Canon's RF lenses feature a knurled "Control Ring" that is able to be configured for fast access to settings, including aperture, ISO, and exposure compensation. The far forward position of this ring makes it a stretch to reach when handholding balanced on the left hand. As usual, 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).

Obviously, black was the chosen color for this lens (vs. white for Canon's large L-series telephoto lenses). This lens gets very hot in direct sunlight on a hot day.

Canon RF 800mm F11 IS STM Lens Switches

This lens's three switches have a very shallow profile. A slightly raised area around the image stabilizer switch aids in tactiley differentiating this one 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 800mm F11 IS STM Lens Mount

This lens is not weather sealed. If it is raining, the amount of light available will send your ISO setting into ugly range anyway. If you are at the beach, on the boat, or in another wet or dusty location, use strong caution or a rain cover.

"One DO lens has the optical characteristics of multiple lenses." [Canon] We already talked about narrower lens elements contributing to lighter weight, but fewer lens elements also mean lighter weight, and light weight is a key feature of this lens. For an 800mm lens, this one is a dream to carry and easy to handhold. Check out these numbers.

ModelWeight oz(g)Dimensions w/o Hood "(mm)FilterYear 
Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens56.1(1590)3.7 x 7.6(94.0 x 19.0)772014
Canon RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1 L IS USM Lens48.2(1365)3.7 x 8.2(93.8 x 207.6)772020
Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS III USM Lens107.7(3050)6.6 x 17.6(168.0 x 448.0)DI 522018
Canon RF 600mm F11 IS STM Lens32.8(930)3.7 x 10.6(93.0 x 269.5)822020
Canon EF 800mm f/5.6L IS USM Lens157.8(4470)6.4 x 18.1(163.0 x 461.0)DI 522008
Canon RF 800mm F11 IS STM Lens44.5(1260)4.0 x 14.2(101.6 x 361.8)952020
Sigma 60-600mm f/4.5-6.3 DG OS HSM Sports Lens95.3(2700)4.7 x 10.6(120.4 x 268.9)1052018
Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Sports Lens101(2860)4.8 x 11.4(121.9 x 289.6)1052014
Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM C Lens68.1(1930)4.1 x 10.2(105.0 x 260.1)952015
Sony FE 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G OSS Lens74.8(2120)4.5 x 12.5(115.5 x 318.0)952019
Tamron 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD G2 Lens71(2010)4.3 x 10.2(108.4 x 260.2)952016

For many more comparisons, review the complete Canon RF 800mm F11 IS STM Lens Specifications using the site's lens specifications tool.

Here is a visual comparison:

Canon RF 600mm F11 IS STM Lens Compared to Similar Lenses

Positioned above from left to right are the following lenses:

Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens
Canon RF 600mm F11 IS STM Lens (extended, then retracted)
Canon RF 800mm F11 IS STM Lens (retracted, then extended)

Use the site's big lens product image comparison tool to visually compare the Canon RF 800mm F11 IS STM Lens to other lenses. That link is preloaded with an interesting comparison.

The RF 800 uses the very large though somewhat common 95mm standard filters.

Canon RF 800mm F11 IS STM Lens Bottom Angle View

This lens is easily handholdable, but sometimes a tripod is desired to steady the camera while composing and capturing an image. Tripod rings provide balanced tripod mounting, avoiding tripod head and camera strain and sag while allowing easy camera rotation. This lens does not have a tripod ring. However, it has a small fixed foot with a threaded socket available for tripod mounting. I attached a small Wimberley Lens Plate (P20 or P30) to this foot. Positive was that this combination remained very low profile, but finger clearance over the plate was not accommodated.

Photographing in vertical orientation requires using a tripod head's drop notch, and using the drop notch can provide gimbal-like behavior if properly balanced. Most gimbal heads do not provide that versatility — select a gimbal head type for the orientation desired. Perhaps someone will introduce an L-bracket for this lens.

While the RF 800 can easily be mounted on a tripod, challenge remains. Common is for telephoto lenses to extend forward with some slight play in the extending part of the lens. The tripod mount being located behind the extension means that play is not noticed in the camera. In this case, the extension is behind the tripod mount. The lens does not have noticeable play when extended, but the pressure of moving the camera around is quite noticeable with the narrow 800mm angle of view. The camera and lens flex enough to challenge critical subject framing, with most of the flex originating at the tripod foot.

Vibrations also challenge tripod use of this lens. The vibrations are not easy to control without IS enabled, and with IS enabled, the scene drifts a significant amount as the system attempts to offset lens movement. Consider using the 10-second self-timer or a remote release to go completely hands-off.

The wind creates another issue, especially with the large lens hood attached. A light wind can set up continuous vibrations, and IS may be required to tame such. Canon's image stabilization systems usually self-adjust to tripod use, though the owner's manual indicates that the RF 800 system might not be fully effective on a tripod. Smaller, lighter camera and lens combinations do not require the tripod strength and rigidity that heavier setups require, but this lens and narrow angle of view will appreciate a rigid tripod.

Canon RF 800mm F11 IS STM Lens Cap

The Canon Lens Cap E-82II is included in the box, but the Canon ET-101 Lens Hood is optional.

Canon RF 800mm F11 IS STM Lens Angle View with Hood

While this plastic hood could not cost much to produce, Canon continues to omit lens hoods from most non-L lens boxes and continues to charge a substantial amount for them. This is a molded plastic hood with an interior ribbed to avoid reflections and a push-button release to make installation and removal easy. The ET-101 is very large, providing significant dust, moisture, and light protection to the front lens element.

Canon ET-101 Lens Hood

Sorry for the lack of with-hood comparison photos in this review. Canon did not provide the ET-101 hood, and this hood was out of stock at retailers during my time with this lens.

Canon LZ1435 Lens Case

A lens case is not included with the RF 800 f/11. Canon's suggested option is the LZ1435 Lens Case. Though not inexpensive, this is a nice case.

Canon RF 600mm and 800mm F11 IS STM Lens

The RF 800 and RF 600, each with a camera mounted, along with both RF extenders, fit comfortably together in the relatively small MindShift Gear BackLight 26L, the backpack I typically carry my landscape photography kit in.

Price, Value, Wrap Up

"Diffractive Optics technology helps to reduce the necessary number of lenses and greatly diminish the cost of the lenses, making them affordable for a broader group of photographers." [Canon] While this lens is not a high-end professional lens, it is hard to argue that the RF 800 is not a good value.

As an "RF" lens, the Canon RF 800mm F11 IS STM Lens is compatible with all Canon EOS R series cameras. Canon USA provides a 1-year limited warranty.

The reviewed Canon RF 800mm F11 IS STM Lens was on loan from Canon USA.

Canon RF 800mm F11 IS STM Lens Top View

Summary

Circling back to my first question in the Canon RF 800mm F11 IS STM Lens review, "Who is going to want this lens?" While the f/11 max aperture alone will send professional and serious amateur photographers off to other choices for their primary big lens, those wanting a significantly long focal length lens that is extremely compact, ultra-light, and impressively affordable have found the right choice in the RF 800. At about 7% of the price of the Canon EF 800mm f/5.6L IS USM Lens, the Canon RF 800mm F11 IS STM Lens, especially when used in bright light, creates very nice imagery.

Fun is a great reason to go out with a camera, and the low carry burden of this lens greatly adds to the fun. Carry it on your exercise walks in the park or take it kayaking with you on the lake, enabling you to take advantage of unexpected opportunities.

Do you have kids or grandkids? Photography is a great opportunity to spend time together, and this is a great starter lens for wildlife and sports photographers.

Even professional and serious amateur photographers may find the RF 800 getting some casual use if it is available. The image quality produced by this lens far exceeds what is required for social media imagery.

After delivering a wide range of expensive, incredible-performing RF lenses, Canon has been delivering some affordable, compact models. The Canon RF 800mm F11 IS STM Lens fits solidly into the latter category. This lens opens new opportunities for those with limited budgets.

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My Recommended Canon RF 800mm F11 IS STM 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 800mm F11 IS STM Lens now from:

B&H Photo
Adorama
Amazon.com
Canon USA (new)
Check used inventory at MPB
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Rent the Canon RF 800mm F11 IS STM Lens
Do you need/want the Canon RF 800mm F11 IS STM Lens for only a short period of time? Or, would you feel more comfortable buying after having a hands-on trial period? Consider renting. Renting is fast and easy. The rental companies I recommend below are excellent to work with. Schedule your rental now:
LensRentals.com
LensProToGo
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Canon RF 800mm F11 IS STM LensX
Canon RF 800mm F11 IS STM Lens
Bryan Carnathan
by Bryan Carnathan
Manufacturer ID:
3987C002

Review Date: 2020-08-26
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