Canon RF-S 55-210mm F5-7.1 IS STM Lens Review

Canon RF-S 55-210mm F5-7.1 IS STM Lens

The full Canon RF-S 55-210mm IS STM Lens review will be completed as soon as this lens hits the streets. In the meantime, learn what I know from using a preproduction lens.

The 55-210mm F5-7.1 IS STM is Canon's third "RF-S" designated lens, with the "-S" referring to the APS-C imaging sensor-sized image circle it provides.

With the reduced element size required by the APS-C format, APS-C lenses tend to be small, light, and affordable. Those attributes are strongly supported by all Canon RF-S lenses to date, including this one.

The inexpensive Canon RF-S 55-210mm IS STM is a nicely constructed little lens with optical image stabilization and decent construction quality. The telephoto zoom focal length range holds great utility, and this simple lens is lots of fun to use. Of course, the memories and art captured by the RF-S 55-210 hold the biggest value.

Canon RF-S 55-210mm F5-7.1 IS STM Lens Top View

Focal Length Range

The focal length range is the first consideration for zoom lens selection. Focal length drives subject distance choices or meets distance-related requirements, and subject distances determine perspective.

The imaging sensor in the APS-C sensor format cameras this lens is designed for are smaller than those in full-frame models. The smaller sensor uses a narrower image circle, framing a scene more tightly. 1.6x is the angle of view equivalence multiplier, and the 55-210mm focal length range provides an angle of view similar to an 88-336mm lens on a full-frame camera.

A short to medium telephoto zoom lens is often the second most used lens in a kit, with only a Canon general-purpose RF lens typically getting more use. With their magnification capability, these lenses enable tighter subject framing or longer working distances for the same framing compared to normal focal length lenses.

What are the uses for a 55-210mm APS-C lens?

Canon RF-S 55-210mm IS STM Lens Portrait Sample Picture

Let's start with people, because this lens features a superset of the ideal portrait focal length range (traditionally considered 85-135mm). Before delving into the portrait use discussion, note that this lens's narrow max aperture is a limitation for low-light portrait uses (more about this soon).

Back up and use the wider angles for full-body portraits. With enough working space, this range can even handle small groups. Move closer and use the longer angles for tight headshot portraits.

Canon RF-S 55-210mm IS STM Lens Headshot Sample Picture

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 55-210mm focal lengths. There is often adequate space in even a small studio for portraiture with the focal length range provided by this lens. Again, lighting considerations may be a factor for those uses of this lens.

People are also frequently photographed participating in sports are a good target for this focal length range. While the 210mm focal length may be modestly too wide for large-field sports photography, it is ideal for closer action such as that found at track and field meets or on the tennis court.

While it will sometimes be found short for photographing wildlife portraits, the 55-210mm range does have wildlife photography application, especially when the environment is included in the frame or the subjects are large and close. If capturing environmental wildlife portraits or captive (zoo) wildlife, this focal length range may be perfect. This is a great focal length range for photographing pets, including dogs and cats.

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

Use a telephoto lens to focus on closer landscape details, allowing the long focal length to blur the background blur, isolating the details. This focal length range is especially great for capturing clouds, sunsets, and sunrises, allowing the frame to be filled with color from even a modest show in the sky.

Cityscapes are essentially landscape images with cities in them, and this focal length range can be a great choice for more-distant city views. A 55-210mm lens has my most-used studio focal lengths, working especially well for product images and many other general studio applications. Most of the product images on this site were captured within the 88-210mm range and this range is ideal for larger products including vehicles.

Let's head to the swamp to illustrate the 55-210mm focal length range:

Canon RF-S 55-210mm F5-7.1 IS STM Lens Focal Length Range Example

This range has many uses, and it nicely complements wide-angle and normal zoom lenses.

Max Aperture

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

The f5-7.1 in the name refers to the maximum aperture, the ratio of the focal length to the entrance pupil diameter, available in this lens.

The lower the aperture number, the wider the opening, and the more light the lens can deliver to the imaging sensor. Each "stop" in aperture change (full stop examples: f/2.8, f/4.0, f/5.6) increases or decreases the amount of light by a factor of 2x (a substantial amount).

Want a long focal length range that includes telephoto focal lengths in a zoom lens without a large size, heavy weight, and high price? Expect that lens to have a variable and narrow max aperture. Because this lens's maximum opening does not increase sufficiently with focal length increase to maintain the same aperture measurement ratio, the max aperture is efficiently variable, ranging from f/5 to f/7.1 as the focal length range is increasingly traversed. A smaller aperture opening facilitates using smaller, lighter, and less expensive lens elements. The Canon RF-S 55-210mm F5-7.1 IS STM Lens has all of those attributes.

While the aperture change is continuous, narrowing as the focal length increases, the camera rounds the EXIF-reported aperture to the nearest 1/3 or 1/2 stop. Here are the focal length ranges for the Canon RF-S 55-210mm F5-7.1 IS STM Lens's reported 1/3 stop apertures.

55-62mm = f/5
63-84mm = f/5.6
85-142mm = f/6.3
143-210mm = f/7.1

The max aperture steadily reduces to a dark f/7.1 by only 143mm.

With these narrow max apertures, this lens is not a good choice for photographing low light motion, such as indoor sports or outdoor sports on cloudy days. Setting the ISO to a very high number is the narrow aperture option for sharp low light action images, and the resulting significant noise is an image quality factor. Narrow apertures also slow or inhibit low-light autofocusing.

Narrow apertures do not afford the strong background blur that wide apertures avail. Still, this lens's short minimum focus distance and telephoto focal lengths can make a strong blur happen.

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

Canon RF-S 55-210mm F5-7.1 IS STM Lens Side View

Image Stabilization

Despite the tiny size, light weight, and low price of the Canon RF 24-50mm F4.5-6.3 IS STM Lens, it features optical image stabilization, a feature especially welcomed on a lens expected to be often used handheld.

This IS system is rated for 4.5 stops of assistance on non-IBIS cameras and 7 stops of coordinated control assistance on stabilized cameras. While these ratings are not among the highest being produced at review time, 4.5 of assistance is very helpful and the 7-stop rating is outstanding.

This IS implementation is quiet and well-behaved.

Image Quality

The Canon RF-S 55-210mm F5-7.1 IS STM Lens's image quality will be tested when this lens hits the streets.

Canon RF-S 55-210mm F5-7.1 IS STM Lens Design

The design of this lens is illustrated above.

Canon RF-S 55-210mm F5-7.1 IS STM Lens Side Extended View


Accurate focus is critical for most images, and we usually rely on autofocus for that task. Driven by a leadscrew-type stepping motor (referenced by the "STM" in the moniker), the Canon RF-S 55-210mm F5-7.1 IS STM Lens autofocuses accurately and fast (unless a vast focus distance change is required). The focus is internal and quiet, with only a light hum and faint clicks.

Generally, wide-aperture lenses enable AF systems to perform their best in low-light environments, and this lens is not the low-light AF king. Still, it is impressive to see the latest camera models lock this lens's focus on adequate contrast in a very dark environment. As usual, AF is slow in low light.

Canon's STM AF systems' smooth focusing is a highly desired trait for movie recording.

The RF 55-210 STM's control ring serves dual purposes, acting as a manual focus ring when that functionality is selected in camera (I prefer a switch on the lens). From a focus ring perspective, this tactilely distinct knurled plastic ring is compact and positioned in front of the non-extending portion of the lens, where it is easy to find.

The RF-S 55-210mm IS STM Lens has a minimum focus distance of 28.7" (700mm) for a very respective 0.28x maximum magnification spec. Interesting is that this lens has a longer minimum focus distance at the wide end, with 39.4" (1000mm) to 55mm spec. Combined with the reduced focal length magnification, the maximum magnification at the minimum focal length is only 0.05x.

Canon RF-S 18-150mm F3.5-6.3 IS STM Lens6.7"(170mm)0.44x
Canon EF-M 55-200mm f/4.5-6.3 IS STM Lens39.4"(1000mm)0.21x
Canon EF 55-200mm f/4.5-5.6 II USM Lens55.1"(1400mm)0.17x
Canon RF-S 55-210mm F5-7.1 IS STM Lens39.4"(700mm)0.28x
Canon EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS STM Lens33.5"(850mm)0.31x
Canon RF 70-200mm F4 L IS USM Lens23.6"(600mm)0.28x

At 55mm, a subject measuring approximately 14.9 x 10.0" (379 × 254mm) fills a full-frame imaging sensor at this lens's minimum MF distance. Zoom to 210mm, and a 3.1 x 2.1" (78 × 53mm) subject does the same.

Canon RF-S 55-210mm F5-7.1 IS STM Lens Maximum Magnification Example

Need a shorter minimum focus distance and higher magnification? Mount an extension tube behind this lens to significantly decrease and increase those respective numbers at the wide end, and modestly at the long end. 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 function normally. As of review time, Canon does not offer RF mount-compatible extension tubes, but third-party options are available.

This lens is not compatible with Canon extenders.

Canon RF-S 55-210mm F5-7.1 IS STM Lens

Design & Features

All of Canon's RF-S consumer zoom lenses seem nicely constructed with tight tolerances, and the Canon RF-S 55-210mm F5-7.1 IS STM Lens is no exception.

The RF-S 55-210 closely resembles the Canon RF-S 18-150mm F3.5-6.3 IS STM Lens.

This lens features a quality plastic external construction. With smooth external dimensions, the Canon RF-S 55-210mm F5-7.1 IS STM Lens is comfortable to hold and easy to use.

Canon RF-S 55-210mm F5-7.1 IS STM Lens Extended

The ribbed zoom ring is large (1.82", 46.2mm) and easy to find, and is smooth in function. This lens extends 1.62" (41.1mm) when zoomed to 210mm.

The knurled Control Ring can be configured for fast access to settings that include aperture, ISO, and exposure compensation. Both cannot be used simultaneously, but sharing functionality means there is one less ring to confuse. Unfortunately, a camera menu option (or switch in some models) is required to switch between AF/MF and Control Ring functionality.

This lens has no switches or buttons. A camera menu option is required to enable or disable IS.

The simplified interface will be welcomed by casual photographers.

Canon RF-S 55-210mm F5-7.1 IS STM Lens Mount

This lens is not weather sealed, and the front and rear elements are not fluorine-coated to repel dust and water drops and facilitate cleaning.

At 2.7 x 3.7" (68.6 x 94") in size and 9.5 (270g) in weight, this lens is exceptionally compact and lightweight. Ignore the mount diameter, and this lens measures only 2.44" (61.9mm).

ModelWeight oz(g)Dimensions w/o Hood "(mm)FilterYear 
Canon RF-S 18-150mm F3.5-6.3 IS STM Lens10.9(310)2.7 x 3.3(69 x 84.5)552022
Canon EF-M 55-200mm f/4.5-6.3 IS STM Lens9.2(260)2.4 x 3.4(60.9 x 86.5)522014
Canon RF-S 55-210mm F5-7.1 IS STM Lens9.5(270)2.7 x 3.7(68.6 x 94)552023
Canon EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS STM Lens13.2(375)2.8 x 4.4(70 x 111.2)582013
Canon RF 70-200mm F4 L IS USM Lens24.5(695)3.3 x 4.7(83.5 x 119)772020

For many more comparisons, review the complete Canon RF-S 55-210mm F5-7.1 IS STM Lens Specifications using the site's lens specifications tool.

This lens uses 55mm front filter threads. 55mm filters are small and affordable, but lenses using this size are not abundant.

Canon does not provide a lens hood in consumer-grade lens boxes, making the Canon RF-S 55-210mm F5-7.1 IS STM Lens's ET-60B hood an optional accessory. The ET-60B is a modest-sized, round-shaped, semi-rigid plastic hood.

Also excluded from the lens box is a case. This lens requires only a small case, and Canon suggests their Lens Case LP1016, a drawstring pouch that adds dust and minor impact protection (the bottom is well-padded).

Price, Value, Wrap Up

At review time, only four RF-mount Canon lenses are less expensive than this one. The RF 55-210's utility-to-price ratio is very high.

As an "RF-S" lens, the Canon RF-S 55-210mm F5-7.1 IS STM Lens is compatible with all Canon EOS R-series cameras, including full-frame and APS-C models. Full-frame cameras will automatically crop the angle of view to the covered APS-C image circle. Canon USA provides a 1-year limited warranty.

The initially reviewed (pre-production) Canon RF-S 55-210mm F5-7.1 IS STM Lens was on loan from Canon USA, and the review will be completed with an online-retail sourced model.

Canon RF-S 55-210mm F5-7.1 IS STM Lens Extended Top View


As likely already made clear, the Canon RF-S 55-210mm F5-7.1 IS STM Lens is a compact, lightweight, and affordable telephoto zoom lens. Despite those features, this lens has optical image stabilization, decent build quality, and a good AF system.

Of utmost importance is that this lens's focal length range is extremely useful, especially for families.

The Canon RF-S 55-210mm F5-7.1 IS STM Lens is a good choice for travel, for kids, for long carrying periods, and for any other time the primary features of this lens are needed.

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