I Can See Russia from Here: The Canon RF 800mm F11 IS STM Review

Well, maybe not quite Russia, but the Canon RF 800mm f11 prime brings the world much closer to you at an affordable price.

The Canon RF 800mm f11 IS STM caught a lot of attention when it was announced alongside the Canon EOS R5 and EOS R6 earlier this year. Many photographers questioned Canon and their choice to present a fixed f11 aperture 800mm prime lens. One thing is for sure: Canon continues to innovate with its RF lenses. The question is, is this 800mm prime worth your time? Over the last couple of weeks, we have been putting this super-telephoto lens to the test. Read what we have to say about this unique lens in our full review.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Light and easy to manage
  • Balances very well on the camera
  • Nice build quality overall
  • Compatible with the new RF mount teleconverters
  • Images are sharp, and colors render nicely
  • Image stabilization does a great job
  • The control ring is there for those who like to use it
  • F11 is not a con, it’s a pro. Learn how to work with it and leverage high ISO performance from the EOS R cameras, and you’ll be fine.
  • For what this lens is, it’s incredibly affordable

Cons

  • No lens hood provided
  • Inconsistent autofocus
  • No weather sealing

Gear Used

We used the Canon RF 800mm F11 IS STM with the Canon EOS R6.

Tech Specs

All technical specifications have been taken from the Amazon store lisitng:

  • Focal Length: 800mm
  • Maximum Aperture: F11
  • Minimum Focusing Distance: 19.69ft
  • Maximum Magnification: 0.14x
  • Optical Image Stabilization: Up to 4 stops
  • Lens Construction: 11 elements in 8 groups
  • Filter Thread Size: 95mm
  • Dimensions: 15.40 x 6.70 x 6.50 inches
  • Weight: 2.77lbs

Ergonomics

Canon RF 800mm F11

For most people, the Canon RF 800mm f11 IS STM will be the longest lens you ever put on your camera. I don’t mean just in terms of focal length, but physical dimensions too. You’ll attach the lens to your camera and be amazed at its size. You’ll then find that you have to extend the lens even further to use it. Impressively, the Canon 800mm f11 IS STM is easy to manage despite its length. Collapsed, the lens measures in at 11.75-inches, and when extended, it measures 14-inches.

Canon RF 800mm F11

The Canon RF 800mm f11 IS STM is actually quite minimalist by design. You can see in the image above the three control switches (focus limiter, auto/manual focus switch, and IS switch). Towards the back of the lens, you’ll find the lock and unlock ring. This is used to extend and stow the barrel. Here you can also see the nicely sized manual focus ring and silver control ring.

Canon RF 800mm F11

Take a long car ride, and you’ll eventually get the front of the lens. Here you will see the massive front element. This bad boy takes 95mm filters, so keep that in mind if you like to use filters. Here you’ll also see the uniquely styled and textured front barrel. The indents and the texture actually make holding the lens enjoyable.

Canon RF 800mm F11

Underneath the lens, you will see a small plate with a regular tripod plate mount. There is no tripod ring with this lens, but this mount does the job just fine. Honestly, this lens is light and easy to use, and so you’ll rarely have to use a tripod. Overall, the Canon RF 800mm f11 IS STM is a well-designed lens that is easy to handle.

Build Quality

Canon RF 800mm F11

This lens isn’t as nice as the premium L mount glass Canon makes, but it doesn’t feel cheap either. The plastic body feels good, and it has some weight to it. The texturing is excellent and makes the lens more grippy, which is needed for a lens of this size. The manual focus ring is perfectly weighted, and all the switches feel solid and secure.

The biggest fault I find with this lens is the lack of weather sealing. No weather sealing on a lens designed to be used outside makes no sense. I understand that Canon wanted to maximize profits on a cheaper lens, but this omission is huge. It’s not uncommon for hobbyist birders and wildlife photographers to sit in blinds in all kinds of weather. No weather sealing will really limit them, and that’s a shame seeing as most EOS R cameras are well weather sealed. Another long term worry will be dust entering the barrel due to the push/pull design. After two weeks, I experienced no issues. However, time will tell if this becomes a problem. I’m sure the lens will survive the odd knock. General users should have no problems when it comes to durability. Still, this is no lens for professionals.

Autofocus

One thing to keep in mind with this lens is that your EOS R series camera will default to the focus area that can be found in the Canon EOS 6D II. Simply put, you’ll be limited to focus points that are all grouped in the center. The fact that Canon even got this to work is quite an achievement. This lens would not have been possible on older DSLR bodies. While it works okay, the autofocus performance has been a source of frustration. At least the autofocus motors are smooth and quiet.

In excellent lighting conditions with the right subjects, the Canon RF 800mm f11 IS STM performs well. The lens also plays well with the animal eye AF in the EOS R6 and EOS R5 bodies. I have found that with static or nearly still subjects, the lens performs well. When it comes to tracking and low contrast situations, things take a turn for the worse. Getting the lens to focus on flying birds against a grey sky is frustrating. You’ll be greeted with prolonged periods of hunting, and you’ll ultimately miss shots. The focusing limiter switch helps a little, but AF performance is disappointing. This is a shame. The Canon RF 800mm F11 IS STM could have been perfect for enthusiast birders. Those who buy the lens will be somewhat limited to birds perched in a tree or on a feeder, or larger, slow-moving wildlife.

Ease Of Use

In terms of using the lens, the Canon RF 800mm f11 IS STM is simple. Attach it to the camera, unlock the ring closest to the mount, extend the lens, and lock the ring. At this point, the lens is ready to use. Make sure image stabilization is on, then you can make the most of the four stops of stabilization. The IS is actually rather good on this lens, and hand-holding posed no problems at all. I have been able to shoot down as low as 1/100th and could still get sharp images.

When fully extended, the Canon RF 800mm f11 IS STM is 14 inches long, but it’s still comfortable to hold. The low weight of the lens, coupled with the grooved barrel, makes handling a piece of cake. The operation of the lens itself is easy: getting the most out of it will be challenging for many. The minimum focusing distance of nearly 20ft can be limiting as well.

ISO 20,000

You think I’m going to say that the lens being f11 is a problem. I can tell you it’s not. When shooting images at this focal length, getting all your subjects in focus can be challenging, but an f11 aperture helps. With the newer EOS R series cameras, cranking up the ISO poses no issues either. I have shot at ISOs 3200, 6400, 12,800, and greater than ISO 20,000 with the Canon EOS R6 and this lens. The images are fine. What makes this lens a challenge is the narrow viewing angle of 3-degrees. Finding subjects can be tricky. I resorted to using the Olympus red dot sight in the hot shoe of the EOS R6 sometimes. It helped tremendously. Spend some time with the lens and you’ll soon get a feel for it, but it will still take a while to master.

Image Quality

Now, here’s a redeeming quality. Images produced with the Canon RF 800mm f11 IS STM can be quite fantastic. When focus is nailed, sharpness extends across the frame. We’d expect no less when shooting at f11. Colors rendered are natural, and aberrations and distortions are kept at bay. Let’s break it down more below.

Bokeh

Canon RF 800mm F11

It should come as no surprise that the bokeh produced with the Canon RF 800mm F11 IS STM is gorgeous. After all, you’re shooting at 800mm. Backgrounds melt away into oblivion when shooting wildlife. When the environment doesn’t blur into nothing, the bokeh you do get is really pleasing and not distracting in any way.

Chromatic Aberration and Distortion

Canon has done an excellent job with the RF 800mm f11. When correcting distortions in post, very little needs to be done to fix any issues. I have not seen any evidence of chromatic aberration or fringing either. You have nothing to worry about when it comes to these two things.

Color Rendition

Colors produced with the Canon RF 800mm f11 IS STM are a little more muted than other RF mount lenses. However, this is a good thing. Natural colors are always welcomed by photographers who shoot wildlife and nature images. If you prefer natural color renderings, you’ll enjoy the RF 800mm f11.

Sharpness

In long lenses, especially zooms, you typically see some degradation of image quality at the long end. However, the Canon RF 800mm f11 IS STM is a prime, and because of this, it’s nice and sharp. Get a good grip on the lens, get your subject in focus, and you’ll be treated with detail filled images.

Extra Image Samples

Below you’ll find a mix of straight out of camera JPEGS and RAW files that have been lightly edited. Editing consists of straightening and overall exposure. This way, you can get a better idea of what to expect from this lens.

Canon RF 800mm F11
Canon RF 800mm F11
Canon RF 800mm F11
Canon RF 800mm F11
Canon RF 800mm F11
Canon RF 800mm F11
Canon RF 800mm F11
Canon RF 800mm F11
Canon RF 800mm F11
Canon RF 800mm F11
Canon RF 800mm F11
Canon RF 800mm F11
Canon RF 800mm F11
Canon RF 800mm F11
Canon RF 800mm F11

Conclusions

Likes

  • Light and easy to handle
  • Sharp optics with little to no distortion
  • Image stabilization makes it easy to handhold the lens
  • Nice, natural colors

Dislikes

  • Inconsistent autofocus performance
  • No weather sealing
  • No included lens hood, and it’s expensive to buy ($68)

The Canon RF 800mm f11 IS STM is an interesting lens. The focal length of 800mm makes this a specialty lens that will appeal to wildlife photographers and birders. The price point of $899 will really please amateurs, hobbyists, and enthusiasts in those categories. The image stabilization makes handholding this super-telephoto prime easy, and the image quality is excellent when everything goes according to plan. Still, there are some caveats. Canon’s choice to not put any weather sealing in this lens is baffling. The target audience spends all of their time outside on cold, frosty, dewy, wet mornings, and hot, steamy, humid afternoons. The Canon RF 800mm f11 IS STM is screaming out for weather sealing.

The other issue is with autofocus performance. If you’re sitting at home with this lens and you have it trained on a bird feeder, you’ll have no problems. If you like to go to wildlife refuges to capture images of larger wildlife, you’ll have few issues. However, if you want to track animals in motion, you’ll have some complications. The Canon RF 800mm f11 IS STM also has problems finding and locking on to subjects in low contrast situations.

We award the Canon RF 800mm f11 IS STM three out of five stars. If you want a super long lens to play around with that won’t break the bank, you can pick one up for $899. No doubt, you’ll have fun with it, and you’ll get some stunning shots eventually. Just keep its limitations in mind, and you’ll have fun seeing the world through an 800mm prime lens. Check the latest prices on Amazon.