The Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8 L IS USM ($2,699) is the company’s first pro-grade telezoom for its full-frame mirrorless camera system, currently headlined by the EOS R. The design is a must-have for photographers covering events, as it offers enough reach to keep your distance, and an f/2.8 aperture to blur out backgrounds and isolate your subject. It’s priced on the high side, a full $600 more than the Canon EF 70-200mm F2.8 L IS III USM for SLRs, but EOS R mirrorless owners may find the extra cost worth it, as the RF 70-200mm offers excellent optics and a compact, collapsible design.
The Compact 70-200mm
The RF 70-200mm is the first pro-grade zoom of its focal length and aperture to sport a collapsing design. It’s much shorter, just 5.8 inches long, at 70mm than at 200mm (8.2 inches), so it’s easier to find a home for it in your camera bag. It’s about 3.5 inches in diameter, and supports 77mm front filters.
Canon includes a reversible hood, complete with a retractable cut-out window so you can adjust the position of a circular polarizing filter without having to first remove it.
The collapsible design does have a cost—handling. You need to apply more torque to set the focal length versus models that zoom without extending, and there’s more potential for damage if you take a spill with the barrel zoomed out. There is a lock switch, so you can keep it set to the shortest 70mm position. Without it, gravity can cause the zoom to extend when it’s hanging at your side.
Canon EOS R, 200mm f/2.8, 1/60-second, ISO 1600
Despite its relatively small size, the 70-200mm is dense. It weighs 2.6 pounds with its tripod collar and 2.4 pounds when it’s removed. The tripod foot sits about an inch under the barrel. It’s a tool-free design, relying on a thumbscrew to tighten and lock into place, or loosen for adjustment and removal.
The tripod foot is not compatible with Arca standard tripods, though. That means you need to add a quick release plate or similar accessory before mounting it in a tripod. Not all tripods use the Arca dovetail plate, but it’s increasingly popular in pro and enthusiast gear, like the recent Peak Design Travel Tripod.
Canon hasn’t embraced it as some others have, though. The Sigma 70-200mm F2.8 DG OS HSM Sports has a foot that mounts right into a compatible tripod head, and costs a lot less, just $1,500. It’s an SLR lens, so you’ll need to use an adapter to mount it to your Canon RF mirrorless camera, though.
Aside from the quibble about the foot design, build quality is top-notch. Canon uses a mix of metal and polycarbonate materials for the barrel, and finishes the lens in light gray rather than the black. It gives the 70-200mm a decidedly pro look, and also helps to keep it cooler when working under bright lights—the gray material reflects more light than it absorbs.
Canon EOS R, 200mm f/3.2, 1/4,000-second, ISO 100
The lens is protected from the elements too. Internal seals prevent dust and splashes from getting inside, and the exposed front element has a fluorine protective coating. Fluorine repels grease and moisture, so drops of water and thumbprints wipe right off with a microfiber cloth.
Controls and Focus
The 70-200mm offers a customizable control ring, positioned just ahead of the lens mount, joined by a manual focus control mid-barrel and a wide zoom ring at the front. The control ring has detent stops, something photographers typically want, but videographers don’t like.
You can have Canon convert it for click-free, silent operation for video, but it’s something that has to be done at the factory for an additional fee. I noted a slight, but visible, change in the angle of view when adjusting focus, an effect called breathing, something that videographers care about but that won’t affect photos.
Canon EOS R, 200mm f/2.8, 1/1,600-second, ISO 100
The expected bank of toggle switches is on the left side of the barrel. There’s a focus limiter, so you can set autofocus to search over the entire range or limit it to locking onto subjects farther than eight feet away, as well as an AF/MF toggle. Manual focus is electronic and works quite well, and autofocus is instant and silent.
The first copies of the lens shipped with a firmware bug that caused some close-up shots to net slightly misfocused results. Make sure your lens has version 1.06 loaded via your camera menu if you do end up buying it. Focus is spot-on with the update installed.
Canon EOS R, 200mm f/2.8, 1/640-second, ISO 100
Focus is available much closer than eight feet. The lens has a decent 1:4.3 macro magnification rating at 200mm. It can focus on subjects as close as 2.3 feet (0.7m). It’s on par with alternatives—both the EF 70-200mm F2.8L IS III USM and the Sigma 70-200mm Sports have similar macro capabilities.
Two more control switches adjust stabilization. There’s a basic On/Off switch, as well as a Mode control with settings for Mode 1, 2, and 3. You’ll use Mode 1 for most shots, but you can switch to Mode 2 to properly correct for shake when panning along with a moving subject. Mode 3 works the same way, but only enables the system during an exposure, so you can more easily follow subjects that move erratically rather than predictably.
Canon EOS R, 200mm f/3.2, 1/8,000-second, ISO 320
The stabilization system is strong. Canon has yet to put IBIS into a camera body—the forthcoming EOS R5 will be the first to have it. Canon promises that the 70-200mm’s stabilization is good for five stops on its own, and our tests show the figure to be on-point. I netted handheld shots with very little visible motion blur at speeds as long as 1/8-second, and consistently sharp detail at 1/15-second. At those speeds, subject motion will blur your shots more readily than camera shake.
In the Lab
I tested the 70-200mm with Canon’s current top-flight mirrorless model, the 30MP EOS R and software from Imatest. The pair delivers strong resolution all through its zoom range, and is almost as sharp at f/2.8 as it is at its best, with clarity that’s as good at the edge as it is near the center of the frame.
Canon EOS R, 200mm f/2.8, 1/400-second, ISO 100
Its weakest resolution is at 70mm f/2.8, and it’s still solidly in the very good performance range for the EOS R (2,835 lines). At f/4 its better, crossing into excellent territory (3,229 lines) and holding steady through f/11.
Resolution starts to drop at f/16 (2,745 lines), and dips more noticeably at the smallest f/22 (2,300 lines) and f/32 (1,650 lines) apertures. When the iris is set that small it causes light to scatter as it passes through, cutting into clarity. This is the case with any modern digital system—it’s not a problem unique to Canon.
Canon EOS R, 158mm f/2.8, 1/640-second, ISO 100
Results tick up slightly at 135mm; we see about 3,100 lines at f/2.8 and 3,330 at f/4, both excellent results. At f/5.6 and f/8 it delivers outstanding resolution (3,585 lines). There’s a modest drop at f/11 and f/16, but scores are still in the excellent range. Again, skip f/22 and f/32.
Performance at 200mm is all but identical to 135mm—this is a crackerjack of a lens at the long end. It also sidesteps some pitfalls—I had a hard time spotting any color fringing or other evidence of chromatic aberration in photos, and in-camera corrections nix distortion and compensate for a vignette effect.
Canon EOS R, 147mm f/2.8, 1/160-second, ISO 640
Those corrections are only applied to JPG images. If you work in Raw, it’s up to you to compensate for modest distortion and a visible vignette at f/2.8. Adobe Lightroom takes care of both with a single click.
To date, the EOS R is the highest-resolution body available for use with the lens. The EOS R5 is expected to offer more resolution, and to end up in the hands of more pros. We plan on updating our testing when the R5 goes on sale.
A Great Lens for a High Price
Canon has held nothing back with the L series glass for its EOS R mirrorless system. The RF 70-200mm F2.8 L IS USM is a statement lens—none of Canon’s competitors offer one that retracts to such small dimensions, after all. And it’s built tough, with internal seals and very sturdy construction. We’ve not complaints as to optical performance, and stabilization is also excellent.
Canon EOS R, 70mm f/2.8, 1/4,000-second, ISO 100
But at $2,699, it’s the most expensive 70-200mm you can buy, beating Sony’s premium G Master by $100. There are no alternatives available in RF mount as of yet, but the system offers easy compatibility with Canon EF SLR lenses via an adapter.
If you’re on a budget, the Sigma 70-200mm Sports is an absolutely amazing value at $1,500, and the Canon EF 70-200mm F2.8 III can be had for about $2,100. Both are bigger lenses, and require you to add an adapter for use with an EOS R camera. They’re viable choices, though, and you may prefer their internal zoom designs.
But if you don’t mind paying for it, and aren’t taken aback by a telescoping 70-200mm, the RF 70-200mm F2.8 L IS USM absolutely lives up to its pedigree.