Review: Canon RF 28-70mm F2 L USM (One of the Best Zooms Around)

Though the Canon RF 28-70mm f2 L USM is a monster lens, it’s arguably the best full-frame zoom on the market.

When I first laid eyes on the Canon RF 28-70mm f2 L USM, I wrote it off in my head. It’s a monster in size, but when use it for a long time, you begin to realize that it’s manageable. There is no image stabilization, and that will be a problem for many newer photographers. However, the lens has a lot of strengths. Besides being built like Brock Lesner in his prime, it has some of the best sharpness we’ve ever seen from a zoom. Couple this with the f2 aperture throughout the entire range, and you’ve got something unique in the market. This is part of what Canon is doing to survive, and though everyone gives Canon a lot of grief for recycling older camera sensors, I believe their lenses are the best on the market. Of course, this is reflected in the price.

Editor’s Note: You’re probably wondering why this review is so late. It would have been published four months ago if it weren’t for a hard drive that crashed and delayed a lot of our reviews. The Canon 28-70mm f2 L USM is one of those products. We should also be transparent in saying that Canon paid for a sponsored post about the lens a while back. Some of the images in this review were shot for that post. But, we still are maintaining our 100% editorial integrity with this full review.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Beautiful image quality
  • Very sharp
  • The fastest full-frame zoom lens with a practical range on the market
  • Weather sealing
  • Built incredibly well
  • It got even better with the latest firmware update

Cons

Gear Used

We tested the Canon RF 28-70mm f2 L USM with the:

Canon RF 28-70mm F2 L USM Tech Specs

Specs are taken from the Adorama Listing:

  • Bright, Constant f/2.0 Zoom Lens
  • L-series Lens with High Image Quality
  • Control Ring for Direct Setting Changes
  • 12 pin Communication System
  • Dust- and Water-resistant with Fluorine Coating
  • Air Sphere Coating (ASC) Minimizes Lens Flare and Ghosting
  • Two UD Elements and One Super UD Element
  • Lens Mount: Lens Mount: Canon EOS RF
  • Fixed Mirrorless FL: Focal Length: All Zooms
  • Mirrorless: Zoom: Focal Length: 28-70mm
  • Lens Format: Lens Format: Full-Frame
  • Maximum Aperture: Maximum Aperture: f/2
  • Lens Type: Wide Angle To Standard Zoom Lens
  • Special Features: Weather Resistant
  • Image Stabilization: Image Stabilization: No
  • Filter Size: Focal Length: 95mm

Ergonomics

The Canon RF 28-70mm f2 L USM has a massive 95mm filter thread on the front. It’s the largest I’ve seen in a long time. But when you have innovation like this, it’s understandable.

With the Canon 28-70mm f2 L USM, you get a lens with three rings. At the front, near the trademarked Canon Red L ring, is the multi-function ring. I set this to aperture control. Behind that is the focusing ring. And all the way toward the back is the zoom ring.

On the left side is an AF/MF switch. On the opposite side is the zoom lock. It only locks at 24mm, though I wish it locked at various focal lengths.

The Canon 28-70mm f2 L USM is already a big lens. But we’re glad to note that when zoomed in, it doesn’t get that much larger at all. That’s nice!

Build Quality

During our testing, we took the Canon RF 28-70mm f2 L USM into the rain more than a few times. It survived; we were able to return the lens back to Canon in perfectly working condition. Canon has weather-sealed this lens quite well. Photographers who bring it out into sandy conditions and even the rain won’t have any issues with the Canon RF 28-70mm f2 L USM’s build quality. To that end, it means that if you’re photographing a party and someone spills beer or wine on the lens, you theoretically should be okay (but, I’d still exercise caution).

Considering how mammoth this lens is, it undoubtedly had better be weather sealed. If I didn’t mention it enough, the Canon 28-70mm f2 L USM is big. It eventually grew on me, but when I then pick up my Sony cameras and Fujifilm cameras with their small lenses, I’m returned to the world of what mirrorless cameras really should be. The trade-off here is actual innovation. What Canon lacks in camera innovation, they make up for in lens innovation. In practicality, you’re going to need to repack your camera bag, but it’s still nowhere as big as what the L mount alliance is doing.

 

Ease of Use

The Canon RF 28-70mm f2 L USM should be simple to use for most photographers. But, what I’ve noticed with Reviews Editor Paul Ip and other journalists is that they need to rewire the way they shoot. The Canon 28-70mm f2 L USM has a big, multi-function ring on it. I set that to aperture control in the same way lenses have always been set to do this. Then, I set the front exposure dial on my camera to shutter speed and the back one to ISO control. As a result, Canon’s annoying magic touchpad is pretty much locked except for rating images in-camera. When you’re working with the Canon RF 28-70mm f2 L USM, you’ll feel like it’s a standard zoom lens. The only switches on it control the zoom lock and the AF/MF. Here it is with the 24-70mm f2 L IS RF, and the 70-200mm f2 L IS RF.

As you can also see, the Canon RF 28-70mm f2 L USM is larger than my hand. Gripping the zoom ring is simple as it’s in just the right spot. If anything, the aperture ring could have been made a bit larger as it’s incredibly subtle as part of the design.

 

Autofocus

During our testing of the Canon RF 28-70mm f2 L USM, we used it with previous firmware updates up to EOS R version 1.4. With version 1.4, the Canon RF 28-70mm f2 L USM’s autofocus not only improved in speed but also improved a lot with tracking performance. It’s almost comparable to Sony now and cements Canon with having the second-best autofocus capabilities on the market. In low light, the combo focus very accurately. Will it miss at times? Yes, but that’s rare. We used the Canon 28-70mm f2 L USM for portraits and events. For portraiture, it seldom missed unless there was extreme backlighting, and we had face detection enabled. But even then, it would hit the focus just right behind the eyes.

 

Image Quality

By and large, the Canon RF 28-70mm f2 L USM is the best zoom lens I’ve tested with a standard range. Part of this is due to the constant f2 aperture. While the Canon RF 28-70mm f2 L USM and the EOS R don’t have the most resolution, I think that, in the hands of an expert photographer, the combo will do very well. The EOS R doesn’t have the best dynamic range compared to modern Panasonic, Sony, and Leica cameras. But luckily, lenses like the Canon 28-70mm f2 L USM are great. You’ll get fantastic bokeh, exceptional sharpness, lens character, beautiful colors, and no real problems with technicalities. When it comes to image quality, the Canon RF 28-70mm f2 L USM isn’t really something you can fault.

Bokeh

The Bokeh of the Canon 28-70mm f2 L USM is very creamy on the longer end and hazy enough to still be gorgeous on the shorter end. With an f2 aperture, you get a full stop more of extra bokeh than you would from competing lenses. Combine this with an off-camera flash, and what you’ll get is a subject that really stands out against the background due to the effects of the nine aperture blades. This is going to be very important to portrait photographers and documentary style shooters. Those who really wish to isolate elements of a scene will appreciate the f2 aperture. If you also want to keep your ISO down, f2 gives you a lot of extra light. This is practical since Canon’s current sensors are basically just recycled.

 

Chromatic Aberration

Capture One Pro 12 didn’t find any chromatic aberrations with the Canon RF 28-70mm f2 L USM. Rightfully so; you’re paying roughly $3k for the lens. Let’s move on.

Color Rendition

We tested the Canon 28-70mm f2 L USM’s color in three different ways. Above is a shot with it being set to daylight, as that’s what most film white balance is set to. The result is not bad at all. It’s pretty beautiful, in fact.

Here is the Canon RF 28-70mm f2 L USM with a Tungsten white balance. It’s beautiful, as you can see.

Here’s the same scene in daylight.

Lastly, here is the Canon RF 28-70mm f2 L USM with the auto white balance on the Canon EOS R. Canon’s colors have always captivated me. There was a time and place where I was smitten with colors from other manufacturers, but upon trying Canon’s lenses out again, I rediscovered what I was missing. Their lenses have a unique character and beauty to them that’s pretty unique in the same way that Fujifilm’s film simulations are. As what’s pretty much a flagship lens for Canon, this lens is stellar when it comes to color.

Sharpness

The Canon RF 28-70mm f2 L USM is sharp with any shot it takes. But the best sharpness comes with a flash. As you can tell in the image above, the sharpness is fantastic. It gets even better with a Profoto B10 or other monolight mixed with high-speed sync and going out into the world. Portraits and event photographers will appreciate this.

Extra Image Samples

Editor’s Note: Some of our images are subjected to editing either via presets or with a few basic adjustments in Capture One Pro 10. But the majority are straight out of the camera.

Conclusions

Likes

  • Image quality
  • Weather sealing
  • Build quality
  • Improved autofocus

Dislikes

  • The big size and weight
  • The price
  • Some may complain about the lack of image stabilization, but I’m steady enough of a shooter where that isn’t a problem.

Although the Canon RF 28-70mm f2 L USM is a massive lens, it’s also understandably so. The photographer who will spring for this lens really needs the extra stop of light and genuinely wants super high-quality images. That’s what you’re going to get with the Canon RF 28-70mm f2 L USM. Couple this with better autofocusing abilities that have come out recently and the exemplary build quality, and you’ve got an excellent lens–on paper. The truth is, though, not everyone wants a big, chunky lens like this. Lots of photographers go for them and adore the feel, but the point of mirrorless is to go smaller. The counter-argument to this, though, is that Canon is doing things no one else is. In making faster aperture lenses than everyone else, the size will also get bigger. There is also the question of image stabilization. For the photographers who have only started shooting in the past few years, they’ve relied IS as a crutch. Except for genuine physical ailments and issues, photographers who have shot for a long time with sincerity probably won’t have problems with the lack of image stabilization. I was trained on Leicas and can hand-hold exposures to prolonged shutter speeds. But in addition to that, if the shot is too slow of shutter speed, I just will exercise judgment and not take it. Alternatively, I’ll use a flash and rely on the flash duration to stop any movement.

Any arguments against the Canon 28-70mm f2 L USM in regards to image stabilization are ones I find almost pedantic. But with regard to the large size, I totally relate.

The Canon RF 28-70mm f2 L USM is being given our Editor’s Choice Award and five out of five stars. Want one? Check out Amazon for the latest prices.