Review: Canon RF 15-35mm F2.8 L IS USM (A Legend Is Reborn)

The Canon RF 15-35mm f2.8 L IS USM is one of the most versatile RF mount lenses you can get your hands on.

The Canon EF 16-35mm f2.8 L lens became one of the most beloved of Canon lenses thanks to stunning image quality, superior build quality, versatility, and just how fun they were to use. Canon is hoping to replicate that success on its new Mirrorless RF mount platform with the Canon RF 15-35mm f2.8 L IS USM. This new lens has some big shoes to fill, and many photographers who fell in love with the old EF models are no doubt hoping this new RF version of the lens can pick up where the old lenses left off. I have been fortunate enough to have this lens for the past month, and I am incredibly impressed with it. Find out more about the Canon RF 15-35mm f2.8 L IS USM in our full review.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Five stops of image stabilization that works really well
  • Plenty of weather sealing
  • Wonderful overall build quality
  • Focuses very quickly
  • Images are ridiculously sharp
  • Great color reproduction
  • Silky smooth manual focus ring

Cons

  • A fair amount of vignetting at f2.8 and set to 15mm
  • A little more distortion than we would like to see, but easily fixed in post
  • The zoom ring is just a little too stiff
  • The price is up there with other RF mount glass ($2,299)
  • While the build quality is great, the plastic feels a little cheap
  • No gap between the zoom and focusing rings means you’ll turn the wrong one often

Gear Used

We used the Canon RF 15-35mm f2.8 with the Canon EOS Ra

Tech Specs

  • Lens Type: Wide-angle zoom lens
  • Mount: Canon RF Format
  • Compatibility: Full Format
  • Focus Type: Autofocus and manual focus
  • Closest Focus Distance: 0.92 ft./0.28 m
  • Focal Length: 15-35mm
  • Maximum Aperture f/2.8
  • Maximum Magnification: 0.21x
  • Filter Size: 82mm
  • Lens Elements: 16 Elements, 12 Groups
  • Diaphragm Blades: 9 blades
  • Dimensions: Diameter x Length 3.48 x 4.99″ (88.50 x 126.8 mm)
  • Weight: Approx. 1.85 lbs. / 840g
  • Image Stabilization: IS 5 stops

Ergonomics

Canon RF 15-35mm f2.8

The first thing you will notice about the Canon RF 15-35mm f2.8 is that it is a pretty sizeable lens. The lens weighs 1.85lbs, but it balances well on the Canon EOS Ra (and therefore the EOS R). The lens has a diameter of 3.48 inches and a length of 4.99 inches. As you can see in the image above, the front element is large. If you plan on using it with filters, set aside a little money to buy some 82mm filters. Honestly, given the cost of this lens, I would highly recommend a quality UV filter so that the precious glass has another layer of protection.

Canon RF 15-35mm f2.8

The image above shows how beefy this lens is, but just know that it feels nice in the hand. The zoom ring is closest to the camera body, and it (along with the adjacent focus ring) is covered in a nice feeling, very grippy rubber. As great as it feels, it bugs me how much dust gets trapped in-between the spines of the grip, though. There is no gap between the zoom ring and the focus ring, and I found this to be a little bothersome at times as it is easy to turn the wrong ring. At the front of the lens, you can see the control ring, which thankfully has a small gap between it and the focus ring.

Canon RF 15-35mm f2.8

Other than a switch to control autofocus and manual focus, and a switch to control the lens’s image stabilization, there really is nothing else going on. The lens is minimal in design, and I like it. The other side of the lens is bare, and there is no focus distance scale on the top of the lens. The Canon RF 15-35mm f2.8 L IS USM is clean and elegant, and of course, sports that vibrant red ring to indicate that it is indeed an L series lens. The RF 15-35mm f2.8 L IS USM is unmistakably a Canon lens, and that is a great thing because Canon has arguably been making the best feeling lenses for a long time. Pick one up and you’ll know what I’m talking about. From an ergonomics standpoint, this lens is a winner.

“The Canon RF 15-35mm f2.8 also features weather-sealing, which means you can take this puppy out into unsavory conditions, and it will keep snapping away no matter what mother nature throws at it.”

Build Quality

Canon RF 15-35mm f2.8

The Canon RF 15-35mm f2.8 has the build quality you would expect from Canon’s L mount lenses. It feels beefy in the hands, and it lets you know that you’re carrying it around, but that’s not a bad thing at all. The Canon RF 15-35mm f2.8 feels like it could drive a fence post into the ground, or would be fine to use as a weapon to scare off wild Nikon users who wants a closer look at what they are missing out on (just kidding of course).

In all honesty, I was hoping for a metal build, but the extra weight would have made this lens way too heavy (it’s already heavy enough at just under 2lbs). Despite the plastic build, this lens feels incredibly robust in every way. The switches are nice and tight; there’s no way you’re going to knock them out of position accidentally, and the zoom ring is very tight to prevent lens creep (though I feel it could have been made a little easier to turn).

Canon RF 15-35mm f2.8

The Canon RF 15-35mm f2.8 also features weather-sealing, which means you can take this puppy out into unsavory conditions, and it will keep snapping away no matter what mother nature throws at it. We had a pretty significant storm roll through while I was out one day with the camera, and I stopped working when the lens (and the camera) just wanted to keep playing. Knowing that this lens is going to keep on going and that it will always have your back inspires confidence, and when you’re talking about dropping over two grand on a lens, that’s what you want to feel; confident. Nicely done, Canon.

Canon has some of the best lens stabilization around, and this lens gives us another excellent example of Canon’s IS technology.

Ease of Use

Canon RF 15-35mm f2.8

The Canon RF 15-35mm f2.8 L IS USM is an incredibly easy to use lens. Attach it to the camera, decide if you want to shoot with autofocusing enabled, or if you want to shoot manually, and away you go. In terms of controls, you have the control ring which Canon RF mount lenses have become known for, and then you have two switches on the side of the barrel that control auto and manual focusing, and image stabilization.

There are just two options for the image stabilization, and that’s either on or off. For the most part, you will want to leave it on, unless you’re on a tripod, in which case I recommend you turn it off. The image stabilization is excellent on the Canon RF 15-35mm f2.8, and you’ll find the lens easy to get sharp images with even at low shutter speeds. The IS, of course, makes the glass easy to use in low light situations as well. Canon has some of the best lens stabilization around, and this lens gives us another excellent example of Canon’s IS technology.

The zoom ring, while smooth to turn, is perhaps just a little bit too stiff. You’re really going to have to grab hold of it and twist it: it won’t move easily if you are trying to turn it with a finger or two. The focusing ring, on the other hand, is the complete opposite. My only major complaint is that there is no space to separate the large zoom ring and the much smaller focusing ring. It can be a little tricky at times to know exactly which ring you are grabbing as they run into each other. There is a small gap between the focusing ring and the control ring, though, which is nice. Overall, the Canon RF 15-35mm f2.8 L IS USM is an easy lens to use; you’ll enjoy having it attached to your camera.

Autofocus

The Canon RF 15-35mm f2.8 L IS USM is incredibly good when it comes to autofocus. I was able to try the lens out on the Canon EOS Ra, which is a camera designed for astrophotography rather than for regular everyday shooting. Still, even on this camera, the 15-35mm performed like a champ. The lenses low light acquisition is excellent, with barely any slow down or hunting; it just locks on and doesn’t let go of your subject. Good lighting conditions yield the kind of focus speeds and performance that you expect from L series Canon glass. This lens is a top performer.

I would expect that this lens will be used by photographers who will be making landscapes, shooting documentary type photos, and the odd environmental portrait. Trust me when I say you will have no issues with autofocus. The image above was captured as the sun was rising over a park. The lighting was not the best, but the lens had no issues tracking this goose as it swam in the pond. The Canon RF 15-35mm, when coupled with one of Canon’s Mirrorless cameras, will not let you down when it comes to AF performance.

How sharp is this lens? Any sharper and I would have walked away with my hands cut to pieces.

Image Quality

Canon RF 15-35mm f2.8

The image quality is outstanding. The lens renders fantastic colors, sharpness is off the charts from f2.8 and on, and the lens can produce some beautiful bokeh, which is a plus seeing as such wide-angle lenses don’t usually create pleasant out of focus areas. From landscapes to documentary-style images, and from portraits to action, heck even sports shots; the lens is a solid all-around performer. If you drop money on this glass, you will be delighted with its overall performance across the board. The only quibble I have is that there’s some vignetting and distortion when wide open on the wide end of things, but we will cover that later.

Bokeh

Canon RF 15-35mm f2.8

For a wide-to-standard zoom lens, the Canon RF 15-35mm f2.8 produces some pleasing bokeh. Is it the creamiest, smoothest, only in your wildest dreams type of bokeh? No, but it’s pretty darned good, and only the hardest of bokeh snobs will turn their noses up at the results from this lens. Bokeh balls look pleasing, and other areas are smooth and are free of any real jarring artifacts.

Just look at how the background melts away in this image of a weed on my property. If you need or want to create some bokeh with this lens, get as close as you possibly can to your subject, grab focus, and fire away. You’ll be pleasantly surprised with the results you get.

Chromatic Aberration

Canon RF 15-35mm f2.8

Zero, zilch, nada. I could not find any chromatic aberration in any of my images. When it comes to the Canon RF 15-35mm f2.8 and chromatic aberration, you have nothing to worry about.

Color Rendition

The colors this lens produces are nothing short of gorgeous. Now, keep in mind that I was using this lens on the Canon EOS Ra, which has a specialized Ha (Hydrogen Alpha) filter installed over the sensor, and it was still producing gorgeous colors. Put this lens on the Canon EOS R or the EOS RP, and you will be amazed at the colors, the tones, and just the overall beauty of the images you make. Whether you’re shooting landscapes, cityscapes, environmental portraits, or anything else, the RF 15-35mm f2.8 will help capture the scene perfectly.

Sharpness

How sharp is this lens? Any sharper and I would have walked away with my hands cut to pieces. L series glass has the reputation it has for good reasons, and overall sharpness is one of the highlights of this glass from Canon. As long as your shot is in focus, and you have good lighting, your images will be razor-sharp every single time. I didn’t have the opportunity to test the lens with a flash or strobe of any kind, but seeing how sharp the lens is without one, I can only imagine the results you can achieve with one. If you make an image that is not sharp with this lens, the problem can be found about 3-inches behind the camera.

Distortion and Vignetting

Straight out of camera RAW, 15mm f2.8

As you can see in the image above, the Canon RF 15-35mm f2.8 does exhibit a lot of vignetting when it is being used at 15mm at f2.8, once you stop down a hair, or zoom in just a little things get much better, but this is definitely something to take note of.

Canon RF 15-35mm f2.8
The same image with lens correction applied

As you can imagine with such a wide lens, there is also some distortion to deal with as well, but thanks to software like Lightroom and Capture One 20, both of these issues can be fixed very easily during post with a single click of the mouse.

Extra Image Samples

Unedited
Edited
Edited
JPEG SOOC
Edited
Unedited
Edited
Edited
Edited
Unedited
Edited
Canon RF 15-35mm f2.8
Converted to black and white otherwise unedited
Edited
Canon RF 15-35mm f2.8
Unedited
Canon RF 15-35mm f2.8
Unedited
Canon RF 15-35mm f2.8
Edited
Canon RF 15-35mm f2.8
Edited

Conclusions

Likes

  • Fantastic build quality, wonderful weather sealing
  • Beautiful sharp images with great colors
  • Fast-focusing
  • Wide-angle lenses are so fun to shoot with and the RF 15-35mm f2.8 is no exception

Dislikes

  • Vignetting and distortion on the wide end of things
  • The zoom ring is just a little too stiff (but it does suppress lens creep)
  • Pricey

The Canon RF 15-35mm f2.8 lens is going to quickly become just as important to Canon’s RF series cameras as the EF 16-35mm f2.8L became to their old school DSLR’s. It’s wonderfully constructed, the image output is outstanding, and it’s just so darn fun to shoot with. Wide-angle lenses force you to capture the world in a completely different way than other lenses, and that’s what makes them so great to use. I truly believe this lens is a must-have for any photographer who owns an RF mount camera.

Thanks to its quite versatile focal range, the Canon RF 15-35mm f2.8 L IS USM is perfect for landscapes, portraits (traditional and environmental), event photography, documentary photography, astrophotography, street photographers (who don’t mind bulky gear) and so much more. The lens is an absolute joy to use thanks to its ability to find focus quickly in any lighting situation, and thanks to the weather sealing, it can go just about anywhere with you. It will never let you down. We have said time and time that Canon is hitting it out of the park with their RF lenses, and the RF 15-35mm f2.8 is another fine example of this trend.

This is the first time I have personally awarded any product a perfect score of five out of five stars. The Canon RF 15-35mm f2.8 L IS USM has truly won me over. Despite a couple of minor things that should be expected (vignetting and a little distortion) with a lens like this, the Canon RF 15-35mm f2.8 L IS USM is perfect, and it would make an excellent addition to any Canon photographer’s library of lenses. If you would like to add one to your collection, you can pick one up for $2,299.