Canon RF 35mm f/1.8 Lens for the EOS R Mirrorless Camera: An Initial Review

In September 2018 Canon announced its first full-frame digital mirrorless camera, the EOS R. The initial lens line up of this camera includes an RF 35mm f/1.8 Macro IS STM lens. If you are curious about how good this 35mm lens is and my (most certainly biased) opinion, please read on.

Overview of the Canon RF 35mm f/1.8

What I like about this lens: Sharpness, good control of aberration, nice bokeh from 9 aperture blades, above average autofocus, interesting customisable ‘control ring’ design

What I don’t like about this lens: still bulkier than 35mm lenses from a few other brands, the macro ability may not be enough for serious macro photographers.  Price may be at a high point given it is the ‘latest and greatest’.

Will I buy: Yes if I intend to invest my first full frame digital camera in a Canon EOS R.

What other lenses will I consider:  Sony FE 35mm F/2.8 ZA;  Sony 35mm F2.8 Sonnar T;  Pentax FA 31mm f/1.8;  7artisans 35mm F2.0 Full Frame Lens

The below table summarizes the lens specification specifications well. The RF 35mm f/1.8 is the most compact 35mm lenses on offer with the EOS R.

Comparing it to the DSLR version EF 35mm f/2 IS USM, the RF 35mm f/1.8 is almost identical in size (3mm shorter and identical in diameter) yet 1 stop faster. It lacks the ultrasonic autofocus motor but the STM motor is sufficiently fast and quiet. The lens comes with image stabilization, an acceptable macro mode with the closest focus length of 0.17m. In comparison, the closest focus length of the EF 35mm f/2 is 0.24m). Probably benefited from the new larger EOS R mount, the 52mm filter size is very modest amongst Canon lenses. The 305g weight is also more than acceptable as a walkaround lens. To validate my point about the compact size of this lens, you should really check out the other three monsters RF lenses released together with the EOS R camera in the photo below. They sure bear the red rings however they double, triple and quadruple the size of the RF 35mm f/1.8. Standing next to the big brothers, the RF 35mm feels like the hobbit in the family of giants.

How does Canon want you to use the RF 35mm

EOS R with RF 35mm f/1.8

The sizes of the other 3 RF lenses released with the EOS R (two standard zooms and one huge 50mm) made it apparent that although the EOS R system is mirrorless (which should mean compact), it is not meant to be a camera that you can take with you every day. To someone with untrained eyes, the EOS R with these gigantic lenses may look a bit… out of proportion. Check out the size of the RF 28-70mm f/2 lens in the below photo: the photographer seems to be taking photos with just a lens and no camera at all! It made me wonder what is Canon’s point in making a full frame mirrorless camera if the overall photographic system is not much different from its full-frame DSLR system.

The RF 35mm f/1.8 is the only true ‘walk around’ lens released with the EOS R mirrorless camera. My guess is that Canon became aware it cannot reduce the size of the two most versatile RF standard zoom lenses or even the RF 50mm f/1.2 lens. The 35mm f/1.8 lens is the little brother that has been designed with mobility in mind. It is the only lens, to me, that looks ‘in proportion’ with the EOS R camera body and makes people want to entertain the idea of taking the EOS R out on a casual Saturday afternoon. It is made for the social documentary type of photographers and journalists out there who understand that being in the right place with a camera is half the game won in photography. A lightweight system certainly makes a huge difference in these situations. The EOS R may be still bulkier than the FujiFilm and the Panasonic APS-C compact cameras but it has better image quality after all. When comparing the EOS R with the Sony a7, things do get a little complicated. Canon seems to be betting on photographers out there willing to trade size with functionality: the customisable aperture ring, the lens stabilization, the STM motor, they all take up valuable space inside the lens. If your pursuit is pure photo quality with top glass but can live without autofocus, go for the Carl Zeiss manual lenses Sony offers.

the zoom lens looks big relative to the camera body

Would I buy this lens and the camera?

For those that have already own a full-frame DSLR, the answer would clearly be NO. The EOS R is a very new system lacking lens line-up and user support at the moment. Apart from being a little smaller, whatever EOS R is good at right now, chance are your full-frame DSLR can probably match or do better. Hold on to your EOS lenses they are some of the best money can buy.

The current Canon APS-C camera users wanting to upgrade to a full frame would probably need to decide on whether to go with the mirrorless or the DSLR full frame system. The mirrorless does not have lenses covering the entire focal length at the moment. This means if you invest now, you will most likely need to buy a converter to allow EF lenses to be used on the mirrorless camera. Canon did provide an EOS to EOS R converter, however, with a converter the EOS lenses would be even longer and bulkier Than using native lenses. (You would know by no that I am not a fan of a small camera body with a monster lens.)

Users of mirrorless APS-C cameras (including rangefinders) are advised to check out two things before changing over to the Canon EOS R: Firstly, what is your preference in balancing camera size and image quality? EOS R is likely to be a more ‘work-oriented’ camera than your smaller mirrorless cameras. Secondly, what lenses do you use? EOS R is very new and have only limited number of lenses now. Be sure you are happy that it will meet your needs in the next few years.

The Canon EOS R is suitable for those that only want to keep one relatively small, but capable full frame camera system for multiple types of photography uses while on the move. The photographer’s requirement for image quality is high, he may already have a collection of Canon EF lenses that can be used on the mirrorless body with an adaptor.

The Canon EOS R is also an attractive upgrade for the Canon full frame DSLR users. Using EOS R will lower the overall weight of the system he has to carry.

Travel ,wedding, event photographers and photo journalists, the EOS R camera is built for you.

Conclusion

What I like about this lens: Sharpness, good control of aberration, beautiful bokeh from 9 aperture blades, above average autofocus, interesting customisable ‘control ring’ design,

What I don’t like about this lens: still bulkier than 35mm lenses from a few other brands, the macro ability may not be enough for serious macro photographers.  Price may be at a high point given it is the ‘latest and greatest’.

Check price here

What do you think?

Please feel free to leave me a comment and tell me if I’ve missed something, or if you have some experiences to share. I will reply to you soon.

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