The Canon RF 35mm f1.8 is an incredibly versatile prime lens designed for the Canon RF camera system. The lens features image stabilization as well as close focusing macro capabilities with silent focusing in video mode. The 35mm focal length is one of the most useful focal lengths lending itself to many different styles of photography and the f1.8 delivers very good low light performance with some very shallow depth of field.
The size, weight and performance of the RF 35mm f1.8 makes it one of the most versatile and capable prime lenses out there and it’s also the best value when you compare it to all the full frame mirrorless 35mm lenses available today.
Canon has really stepped up their game with their non-L lenses and it really shows here.
Focal Length: 35mm
Aperture Blade: Rounded 9-Blades
Aperture: f1.8 – f16 electric
Elements: 11 elements in 9 groups
Coatings: Super Spectra Coating
Weather Sealed: No
Minimum Focus Distance: – 6.69″ / 17 cm
Filter Threads: 52mm
Weight: 10.76 oz / 305 g
Pros: Nearly silent video AF, Nice build quality, good corner to corner sharpness, great contrast and color, Excellent IS performance ( slightly better than Sony IBIS), $500.
Cons: Barrel distortion, vignetting at f1.8 and f2, not weather sealed, no lens hood, some swirling bokeh, noticeable astigmatism at f1.8 and f2.
Canon RF 35mm f1.8 Review | First Impressions
First off I have to say, this lens is an incredible value. This is why so many people love Canon because of lenses like this. $500 dollars for an solid 35mm f1.8 lens that has amazing close focus capabilities, nice sharpness at all apertures and better than IBIS image stabilization. It’s great and it’s definitely worth that price.
If you only care about sharpness, you’ll love this lens as it performs well.
The Good And The Bad
When looking at the grand scheme of things, this is just an o.k. lens, a great $500 full frame lens, but if money and size were no object and you were to compare this lens to bigger more expensive lenses, it’s just an o.k. lens. I’m talking about optics here, and I only say that because it’s a Canon, and you just expect them to pull off miracles and always drop show stoppers, and this lens, that is not. Optically, it’s only just ok but it also doesn’t have blazing fast autofocus or weather sealing. And when I say ‘optically,’ I’m not just talking about sharpness. There is a lot more to a lens than sharpness and to me sharpness makes up only about 30% of what’s important when talking about overall image quality.
I think the best way to sum up this lens is, it’s an amazing f2.8 lens that happens to shoot at f1.8 when you need it. It is only $500 dollars and it is fairly compact for a full frame 35mm f1.8 lens, so you have to expect a few compromises and a few issues. The cheapest Sony 35mm is the Sony Zeiss 35mm f2.8 lens and it costs $798.00. The only thing that lens has going for it is a small size, good center sharpness, micro contrast, and fast AF.
These issues I have with the Canon 35mm f1.8 probably won’t bother most people since you don’t always notice them, but it starts with a pretty bad astigmatism at f1.8 and f2, so it’s a no go for astro photography. It’s also got some fairly bad vignetting at f1.8 and f2, and some noticeable distortion. Distortion and vignetting are all fixable in-camera with JPG or video but if you shoot RAW you have to fix in post.
About that astigmatism . . .
The astigmatism makes the bokeh weird when at far distances, bokeh looks great when the subject is close, but it get nasty once the subject is about 10 feet (3 meters) and beyond, so you really need to go to f2.8 in these situations and then everything looks great. But any sort of stars or twinkly lights in the corners just go crazy at those faster apertures, f1.8 and f2.
This lens is a ton of fun. On my EOS R is probably the most fun I’ve ever had shooting with a full frame system. The size and weight of this lens with the R camera is perfect. The IS is amazing, focusing is good (could be better though), and the control ring makes it way easier to access my ISO settings.
I do wish this lens came with a lens hood to protect the front element that’s always going on little protruding adventures, but it kind of doesn’t need a hood as it only flares if you’re pointing into the sun at direct angles that a lens hoods would not protect from.
If you have used the RF 24-105 f4 and like the build, you’ll be happy to know that this feels identical. Exactly the same plastic shell with a high quality finish. There is some nice weight to it and it by no means feels cheap.
When the lens focuses the front barrel extends until you reach the minimum focus distance of 6.69″ / 17 cm.
Here is what it looks like this fully extended.
There are two switches on the lens, IS and AF, and we do get Canon’s new control ring that you can program to adjust a few different settings. I have mine set to ISO and set to only take commands if the shutter is half pressed. This way I never hit it by accident. This also might be the best camera out there for adjusting all three exposure settings quickly, since everything is now right at your fingertips.
There is no lens hood for this lens but there is this ring on the front barrel. I’m not sure what this ring is for, it seems like a weird design if it has no future purpose, but maybe it’s to hold some sort of hood or mount. Weird right?
This lens is being called a macro lens because it can focus very close. But you won’t have the 2x or 4x magnification or anything like you would expect in a close focusing insect macro lens, you only get a .5x magnification, which works great for flowers, but you’ll struggle to get an ant or anything small like that to fill the frame.
When looking at the optical formula, you can see Canon is taking advantage of the short flange distance of the RF mount by protruding the rear element past the lens mount. This allows for a shorter system when the lens is mounted to the camera since the lens sits inside the camera by a few extra millimeters.
They’ve also put the majority of the elements behind the iris which is not a very common thing to see. Usually it’s a little bit more even with about half the groups in front of the iris, half behind. It could be that the 35mm f1.8 was designed from scratch to take advantage of the new flange distance but it does loosely resemble the same heritage of the Canon ultra fast 50mm lenses which is why we are also seeing some edge astigmatism like with some of those legacy lenses.
The focus system is fairly quick although it can be loud when taking photos. When switching over to video it is almost completely silent and you only hear the electric moan of the motor if you put your ear right up to it. A mounted mic will not detect this but the in-body mic might. I’ve yet to hear it in day-to-day real world shooting.
I have had a few issues with missed shots but the lens is a macro, so when you’re shooting things very close it can take some time before focus is acquired or sometimes tracking will lag if something is moving towards you, especially in video. My biggest issues with missed focus usually happen when I’m zone focusing with tracking, which I think is more of a Canon R issue than a lens issue.
Is Canon IS better than IBIS? The answer, yes, sometimes. I did hours of testing versus the Sony A7rIII and I have definitive results. The issue with IS is that it doesn’t correct for tilt shake which IBIS does, but this is only a noticeable issue really with video.
When trying to use the camera to vlog, both IS and IBIS systems can’t take the big shake hits from walking like you can with smaller sensor IBIS systems (Olympus, Panasonic GH6, X-H2), but if you ninja walk, you will be ok.
Small shakes, from shaky hands or large vibrations are noticeably better with the IS lens compared to the Sony IBIS. Also, if you’re shooting video, IS + Digital IS is noticeably better than IBIS and the digital IS does correct the tilt take. When using Digital IS you will have to watch your shutter because of the motion blur that is introduced. If you’re shooting 1/50 you may want to turn off Digital IS if you’re dealing with a lot of shake, because you can still see the motion blur even though the image is stabilized.
In reality, lens and camera stabilization is almost completely useless when shooting photography of people on the move, like with street photography, as you need to maintain a very high shutter speed to stop motion blur, not camera motion blur . . . their motion blur. There are a few creative exceptions like this shot below, but I mostly find the IS incredibly useful for video.
There is a lot of hype about stabilization right now, but I find for photos, it’s not as important as people think, unless maybe you’re older or have medical issues, or shoot a lot one handed because your other hand is holding a coffee. I fall into that last category.
Canon RF 35mm f1.8 IS Macro | Technical Overview
Center and corner sharpness performance is very nice and actually very good compared to most 35mm lenses I’ve tested and better in the corners than most 35mm lenses in this price range.
The lens is sharpest at around f5.6 up to f11 and it’s possible we could even see better performance with higher resolution cameras without an optical lowpass filter, since that does cut some of the performance. However, I do start to see a reduction in quality at f16 due to diffraction.
I shoot and test a lot with APS-C cameras and one thing I love about the full frame Canon 30MP system is the lenses continue to improve in output even up to f11 because the camera sensor isn’t yet hit by diffraction, and apertures are larger on longer lenses which also helps. So an f16 aperture on a 35mm lens, is larger than an f16 aperture on a 23mm APS-C lens which is a 35mm equiv. This means with larger sensor cameras, you can often get improved optical performance at higher apertures because they allow you to stop down more which can improve performance.
This lens in particular handles diffraction very well compared to some other full frame lenses I’ve tested like the Sony Zeiss 35mm f2.8 which is limited by diffraction at f8.
Center sharpness is very impressive with the Canon RF 35mm f1.8. It’s a little softer at f1.8 but it improves significantly even up to f11. The sweet spot is between f5.6 and f11 but you do start to see some very minor diffraction at f11 on the Canon R.
Corner sharpness is very nice. There is a bit of vignetting here but it performs very well at f1.8 and steadily improves until about f11.
You can see an astigmatism here at f1.8 and f2 in the corners which doesn’t clear up until f2.8. Look at how in the circle in the chart has more contrast in the top left and bottom right quadrants. Also, vertical lines are softer than horizontal lines.
Corners sharpness sweet spot f5.6-f11.
To get the maximum sharpness and output out of this lens, it’s best to shoot no higher than f11 on the Canon R and no less than f4, and f2.8 if you want a nice balance between sharpness and bokeh with as few issues as possible.
There is quite a bit of vignetting at f1.8 and f2 but it clears up almost completely at f2.8. I’m still waiting on Lightroom profiles for this lens to work out the vignetting. You can set the camera up to correct it when shooting JPG and video, but I like to shoot RAW on Canon since the Canon RAW files already have such a nice look and you can shoot cRAW and have RAW files that come out smaller than JPGs.
I wish Canon baked in lens profile correction into the RAWs like Fujifilm does.
There is some barrel distortion when uncorrected. For the most part, lens profiles will clear this up without a problem either in-camera or in Lightroom, when they become available. You can also clean it up by hand fairly easily.
You will see some chromatic aberrations along high contrast edges. Some cameras correct for this with built-in profiles, Canon for some reason does not so you’ll have to make sure the “remove chromatic aberrations” check mark is turned on in Lightroom.
In real world shooting conditions I don’t have any issues with CA.
There is a pretty noticeable astigmatism that will cause the corners and edges to do some strange things with point lights like stars, Christmas lights and sometimes bokeh.
This lens will be useless for astrophotography.
Art & Character
The character of the 35mm f1.8 has some nice qualities and there is a little bit of magic to this lens in terms of focus falloff, but you will have to watch out for the funky bokeh at f1.8 and f2.
Canon, Nikon always do a really nice job of balancing their lenses. They don’t over stuff elements to over correct which kills the natural tonality of the image, rather they often built their lenses to have a nice balance between character and correction. 11 elements is pretty standard for a nice corrected 35mm, but it doesn’t have as much pop as say an 8 element Fujinon 35mm f1.4, which is an APS-C lens, or the full frame 7 element Sony Zeiss 35mm f2.8 which is loaded with more technical issues.
Often lenses that perform technically very well, often under perform with character. The Canon RF 35mm f1.8 sits somewhere in the middle. It doesn’t blow you away with technical performance as seen by the vignetting, distortion and less than perfect corners, but it does still maintain some cool character.
Bokeh looks nice if you’re close enough to the subject, it is a macro lens after all so it makes sense that it was designed this way. When you move further back from your subject there are some issues with bokeh along the corners and edges. You’ll see almost this split ghost image sometimes which causes a very uneasy look. There is also some minor swirl to the bokeh.
You’ll also see a slightly shallower depth of field in the center that deepens as it expands out towards the edges which does help with the illusion of depth. The legendary Fujinon 35mm f1.4 also does something similar and a lot people love it.
The best looking bokeh often takes place in a distance sweet spot, especially with 35mm lenses. When you get past 10 feet with this lens you start to see some issues with bokeh in the corners. You almost get this split image that happens and it can give a very distracting nervous feel. So at f1.8 you’ll want to stay within 10 feet (3 meters) for the best looking bokeh.
This is pretty standard though. I include this in my reviews now because people will often complain about nervous bokeh, or this bokeh or that bokeh, but the quality of bokeh varies massively with distance on most lenses so this lens will be suited well for head shots, but for full body portraits you will get a distracting bokeh.
Coma & Bokeh Balls
This lens does have some swirling bokeh that is very apparent at f1.8 and f2 and the coma isn’t terrible.
The 9 rounded aperture blades really helps bokeh shape as you stop down to those higher apertures and you don’t really notice the geometry until about f5.6.
Real World Bokeh Samples
So what does the bokeh look like in real world samples when I’m not dissecting it to find any flaws? It looks pretty good! You can see some of the ghosting or swirling in some shots, but for the most part, images look really smooth with great falloff. Overall it’s very fun to work with but f2.8 does give the cleanest results.
Some people think no flaring is a good thing, I personally like a little flare.
Like most of Canon’s new lenses, this one is a little difficult to make flare. I had to wait a week for the sun to come out before I could get any results. It really doesn’t flare at all from the sides, but mostly you get some flaring when the sun is in the shot towards one of the edges.
Contrast / Micro Contrast / Color Rendering
The Canon RF 35mm f1.8 outputs some really nice contrast and color, even at f1.8.
Micro contrast also known as ‘lens pop’ is just about average for a modern prime, it’s not as good as some lower element lenses like the Sony Zeiss 35mm f2.8 which have a ton of technical problems or even any of those cheap Chinese lenses, but it’s better than most high element primes and zooms.
For me the low micro-contrast is probably my biggest disappointment with this lens, as I love lens pop.
Straight Out Of Camera Samples
These are straight out of camera RAW and cRaw. They’ve had no color and effects added to them. Just imported into Lightroom and scaled for presentation.
I’ll post some more samples soon. I’ll be in California for a few months where it should be sunny so I can get some shots that aren’t just grey overcast lighting.
Canon RF 35mm f1.8 IS Macro | Bottom Line
The Canon RF 35mm f1.8 is all around solid lens in terms of build and performance. There are a few flaws that are easy to work around like the vignetting at f1.8 and f2 and some noticeable barrel distortion. You can correct for all of this in-camera if you’re shooting video or JPG, but RAW shooters will have to use post corrections.
I like to shoot a lot at f2.8, which gives me great looking bokeh without the vignetting and astigmatism. I stop down to f5.6 and f8 when I want the most sharpness, and I shoot f1.8, when I need a fast shutter speed in low light or when I want very shallow depth.
Performance at f2.8 is just incredible. You don’t see any geometry yet in the bokeh at f2.8 and it cleans up all the issues in the corners and edges.
The IS is fantastic for video shooters especially when you pair it with Canons incredible Digital IS system. You really do outperform IBIS with this combination. I haven’t tested the Nikon IBIS system yet, which some are saying is better than the Sony IBIS, but it could very well be that Canon IS lenses with their Digital IS bodies offer the best full frame prime lens image stability out of all the camera systems. So you don’t get stability on every lens with the Canon R, but when you do get stabilization through the IS lenses, it’s the best money can buy.
Corners sharpness performs is decent at all apertures with the best sharpness seen at f8 to f11. You will need to watch out for the astigmatism and vignetting at f1.8 and f2.
My favorite thing about this lens is the price. You get an absolutely incredible lens with a ton of capabilities for only $500.
Overall, I really like the lens and I’m very impressed with the output considering it is a shorter lens. My only complaints are the funky bokeh at f1.8 and f2 when shooting at distances and the low micro-contrast compared to my Fujinon and Voigtlander primes. I do wish there was a little less distortion, but distortion and vignetting are easy to fix in post.
Canon RF 35mm f1.8 Sample Photos