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Canon RF 35mm 1.8 Gear Reviews

The Nifty 35 | A Review of Canon’s New RF 35mm F1.8 Lens

By Jay Henington on December 5th 2018

The Canon RF 35mm F1.8 IS Macro is the widest prime lens Canon has released to date for the new EOS R line of mirrorless cameras. It’s also the first native lens I bought for the camera due to it’s relatively affordable price tag of $499.00. While its price and plastic build befit an amateur level lens, I wanted to test it out and see if it might be good enough for professional use, especially because of its versatile focal length, image stabilization, and macro abilities.

In this review, I’ll provide a summary of the lens’ features and break down the positive and negative points. While it’s not a perfect 35mm lens to be sure (is there such a thing?), there are many reasons that I’ve enjoyed using it and will keep it in my kit for both personal and professional use.

The new Canon RF 35mm F1.8 weighs only 10.67 oz and includes image stabilization, macro capability, and the new RF mount control ring.

Quick Specs

  • Aperture Range: f/1.8-f/22
  • 11 Elements in 9 Groups
  • Optical Image Stabilizer
  • Macro
  • Super Spectra Coating
  • Customizable Control Ring
  • Rounded 9-Blade Diaphram

Things I Loved About This Lens

The Canon RF 35mm F1.8 is a great little lens with impressive image quality and features galore. It’s about as light as a hamster (seriously, I looked this up), and with image stabilization and macro, this thing does a bit of everything.

1. Impressive Image Quality

The image quality on the RF 35mm F1.8 is surprisingly very good. The lens is sharp in the center at F1.8 with some vignetting and softness towards the corners. At F4, there’s still some vignetting and softness in the corners but the sharpness is fine. By F8, vignetting is minimal and the lens is very sharp across the scene. I actually found this lens at F1.8 to be sharper in the corners than my Sigma 35 at F1.8 and just as sharp in the center. In real world testing, the lens performs well for portraits, detail shots, and just about anything you could think to use it for.

Canon RF 35 1.8 Image Sample

2. Dreamy Bokeh

This lens produces beautiful bokeh, with out-of-focus elements looking smooth and creamy. When shooting details close up using the macro ability of the lens, the bokeh was insane as you can see in the image below. Since the widest aperture on this lens is F1.8, you’re not going to get the kind of smooth bokeh that you might with the Canon or Sigma F1.4 lenses. But with 9 rounded aperture blades, you’re not going to be disappointed by the bokeh in this lens. You may even be blown away.

Canon RF 35 Bokeh

3. Light weight

When I first bought the new Canon EOS R, one of the first things I noticed, and lamented a bit, was the size and weight of the new Canon RF lenses. Add to that the size and weight imbalance when you use Canon’s EF lenses with the optional adapters, and you’re in for quite a wrist and hand workout. I’m not really one to complain about the size of a lens if it helps create incredible images, but it’s nice to also have an option of bringing a lens with you on vacation or just walking the streets without lugging around some heavy monster. The Canon RF 35mm F1.8 is small, well balanced, and very light, which makes it great to carry around on a daily basis.

4. Image Stabilization

For those who’ve complained about the EOS R not including in-body image stabilization, this lens has optical image stabilization. It works well to help keep shots in focus at low shutter speeds. It works so well, in fact, that I ended up with a few blurry images when I accidentally turned it off during a family shoot and didn’t adjust my shutter speed accordingly.

Canon RF 35mm 1.8

5. Macro Capabilities

This tiny plastic 35mm lens also shoots macro! It’s perhaps the perfect lens for shooting details at weddings or just about anything else up close. At a recent stylized shoot, I was able to take wider shots of the cake and rings, and then seamlessly move in for a tight shot. The results were really impressive and this is one of the major reasons I’ll be keeping this lens in my kit at weddings.

Canon RF 35mm 1.8 detail shot

6. Versatility

The Canon RF 35mm F1.8 is one of the most versatile and fun lenses I’ve ever used. It’s kind of like a Swiss Army pocket knife. While it’s probably not the best lens for any one thing, it does a lot of things well. Want a small, light lens for street photography? Check. Need a macro lens for tight detail shots? Check. Need a lens with image stabilization for those hand-held low shutter speed shots? Check. This lens really can do it all.

Canon RF 35mm 1.8 wedding sample

Canon RF 35mm 1.8 image sample

Things I Didn’t Love About This Lens

Ok, so let’s come back down to earth. This lens is surprisingly good for $499, but it’s not perfect. Here are some of the things I don’t love about this lens.

1. Slow Focus

There were multiple instances where I had to try over and over again to get the lens to auto-focus while using the outer focus points. This isn’t a big deal if you’re shooting still portraits, but it can be frustrating if you’re trying to capture a candid moment and just can’t lock focus.

2. Loud Noise Factor

This is not a lens that you’d want to use during the middle of a quiet moment at a wedding ceremony in a church. It sounds a little like a tool you’d hear at a dentist’s office at times, especially as it hunts for focus. What did you expect for $500?

3. Cheap Plastic Lens

What else is there to say? The lens is made of plastic. It’s actually a beautifully designed plastic lens with the same silver brushed metal look on the mount connector as the other RF lenses, but it’s plastic nonetheless. Does that make it less durable than Canon’s metal lenses? I don’t know because I didn’t drop it on the ground to find out. I’d actually bet that, because it’s so light, it might lightly fall to the ground and bounce a few times if you drop it. But I’ll let you test that yourself.

4. No “It” Factor

Does the Canon RF 35mm F1.8 provide a unique look to it’s images that the Sigma 35mm F1.4 ART is renowned for? I’m not sure. I’d need to test it in a lot more circumstances to be able to say if this lens provides photographers with that extra something. At this point, based on my current testing, I’d have to say no. I don’t think it has that unique “wow” factor. But again, that’s probably not why you’re thinking of buying this lens.

Why I’m keeping this lens

After using this lens for the last week, I’ve decided to keep it for three reasons:

  1. It’s the perfect RF mount lens for everyday use. I plan to carry my EOS R around with me as my day-to-day camera now because this lens is light and inconspicuous.
  2. I’ll be using it a lot at weddings for detail shots and other moments where I might want to use the image stabilization for creative portraits.
  3. It actually takes great images!

Should You Buy This Lens?

This lens will only work on the new Canon EOS R, and future Canon cameras in the lineup. So if you don’t have one, then this lens is not for you.

If you do have an EOS R, I’d highly recommend this lens. If one of the reasons you were really excited about switching to a mirrorless camera was to take a little bit of weight off, this is the only lens in the current lineup that actually makes the camera feel light. And it feels extremely light! If you are a wedding photographer who wants a versatile lens for detail shots, you’re going to love this lens. If you just want something small and light that you can use when on vacation or when you’re out walking around, you’re probably going to love this nifty little 35.

However, If you’re looking for a workhorse 35mm that you can use for portraits, and rely on to capture those fast moving candid moments for family photography or weddings, I’d recommend the Canon or Sigma 35mm F1.4 lenses and an adapter instead.

Samples

Canon RF 35mm 1.8 image sample Canon RF 35mm 1.8 image sample Canon RF 35mm 1.8 image sample Canon RF 35mm 1.8 image sample Canon RF 35mm 1.8 image sampleCanon RF 35mm 1.8 image sample

I’m a Chicago-based photographer and co-owner of Henington Photography. I photograph weddings with my better half, Larissa. When I’m not taking pictures, I’m most likely playing with our two boys, editing, eating chips and salsa, or writing for SLR Lounge.

Website: Henington Photography
Instagram: @heningtonphotography

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Matthew Saville

    Awesome review! Yeah, I loved the 35 1.8, it’s quite an impressive lens despite not being an “L”…

    In my overall experience, a lens being plastic instead of metal isn’t necessarily always a bad thing. If dropped, metal has a tendency to permanently re-shape, while plastic can always “absorb” impacts up to a certain level, leaving the lens more structurally and functionally sound, compared to a metal lens that when “dinged”, can start jamming at the zoom ring, or not accepting filters anymore, etc. I’d say that on average, if a lens is super cheap, then yeah the plastic in it is junk, but if a lens is decently priced, then the plastic used is good enough to survive an impact (and general abuse) that might permanently damage a metal lens.

    Of course it has a lot to do with the overall design, and many other factors. 

    Personally, I can’t wait to see a 20mm f/1.8 RF and 24mm f/1.8 RF!!!  The 35 RF has me pretty excited to see more. 

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    • Jay Henington

      Thanks Matthew! It really has been a great lens. I’ve had a hard time taking it off my camera. It’s just so useful for so many things. And yes, plastic isn’t always a bad thing. All the lenses I’ve broken have been metal. 

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