Hobbyist Birders Will Love It: Canon 600mm F11 IS STM Review

The Canon 600mm f11 IS STM is a super-telephoto that’s easy to use and wallet-friendly.

We recently reviewed the Canon 800mm f11, and now it’s time to take a look at its smaller brother, the Canon RF 600mm f11 IS STM. Canon broke the mold when they launched these lenses, and many photographers are interested in their performance, especially because of the fixed f11 aperture. So, the biggest question is whether the 600mm version of this lens performs better than the 800mm version. Is it worth your time? Let’s find out in our full review.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Lightweight and easy to use
  • Nice build quality overall
  • Images are sharp
  • Colors rendered are natural
  • Image stabilization is excellent
  • Compatible with the new RF mount teleconverters
  • The control ring is there for those who like to use it
  • It’s incredibly affordable at just $699

Cons

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

Gear Used

We used the Canon 600mm f11 IS STM with the Canon EOS R6

Technical Specifications

All technical specs were taken from the Amazon store listing:

  • First Compact and Lightweight 600mm Super Telephoto RF Lens
  • Excellent Portability made Easier with an Extending / Retracting Locking Lens Barrel Design.
  • Gapless double-layer Diffractive Optics (DO) reduce Chromatic Aberration for High Image Quality.
  • High Image Quality at a fixed f/11 Aperture.
  • Optical Image Stabilization with up to 5 Stops of Shake Correction
  • Weighs 2.05lbs
  • 10 elements in 7 groups
  • Minimum focusing distance of 14.76ft
  • Maximum magnification of 0.14x
  • Dimensions 11.49 x 6.69 x 6.59 inches

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Ergonomics

Canon 600mm F11

The Canon RF 600mm f11 IS STM is very similar ergonomically to its larger brother, the RF 800mm f11 IS STM. While being slightly shorter and a little less girthy, the Canon 600mm f11 is still a large lens. Measuring in at 8-inches when collapsed, it is easy to carry around. When the lens is extended it grows to approximately 10.5-inches. Like the 800mm, the Canon RF 600mm f11 is easy to carry, hold, and use, even when extended.

Canon 600mm F11

The Canon RF 600mm f11 IS STM has a clean design. In the image above you can see 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 600mm F11

The front element of the Canon RF 600mm f11 is quite a bit smaller than the one on the 800mm model. Here you’ll find that 82mm filters will do the trick on this model. This isn’t exactly small, but compared to the 95mm filters the 800mm version needs it is. Just keep filter sizes in mind when purchasing this lens; 82mm filters aren’t exactly cheap. The Canon RF 600mm f11 also features the uniquely styled and textured front barrel. The indents and the texture make holding the lens enjoyable.

Canon 600mm 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 600mm f11 IS STM is a well-designed lens that’s easy to handle.

“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.”

Brett Day – Gear Editor

Build Quality

This section has been taken from our review of the Canon RF 800mm f11 IS STM as the build quality of the 60mm f11 is exactly the same.

Canon 600mm F11

This lens isn’t as nice as the premium L mount glass Canon makes, but it doesn’t feel cheap either. 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. 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.

“In excellent lighting conditions, the Canon RF 600mm f11 IS STM performs well with static subjects and moving targets.”

Brett Day – Gear Editor

Autofocus

One thing to keep in mind with this lens is that your EOS R series camera will default to a similar focus area that can be found in the Canon EOS 6D II. Simply put, you’ll be limited to focus points that are grouped in the center. While this arrangement is okay, the autofocus performance can be frustrating.

The RF 600mm f11 is much like the 800mm variant when it comes to autofocus. In excellent lighting conditions, the Canon RF 600mm f11 IS STM performs well with static subjects and moving targets. When it comes to focusing and tracking in low contrast/low light scenarios, the Canon RF 60mm f11 IS STM struggles. Getting the lens to focus on flying birds against an overcast sky can be maddening. You’ll ultimately miss shots. The focusing limiter switch does help, so use it, but AF performance is disappointing in less than perfect conditions. This is a shame. If you decide to buy it and use it in less than ideal scenarios, be ready for focus hunting.

“Hand-holding this lens gave us no issues whatsoever. I have been able to shoot down as low as 1/40th sec and could still get sharp images.”

Brett Day – Gear Editor

Ease Of Use

Canon 600mm F11

The Canon RF 600mm f11 IS STM is simple to use. 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 so that you can enjoy the four stops of stabilization. The image stabilization is actually really good on the RF 600mm f11. Hand-holding this lens gave us no issues whatsoever. I have been able to shoot down as low as 1/40th sec and could still get sharp images. See the image of the elk below.

When fully extended, the Canon RF 600mm f11 IS STM is 10.5 inches long. Even at this length, the lens is easy to hold and manage. Its low weight (2.05lbs), along with the grooved, textured barrel, makes handling easy. The operation of the lens itself is straightforward: like it’s 800mm brother, getting the most out of the 600mm variant can be challenging, though. Another thing to note is that the minimum focusing distance sits at 14.76 feet.

Handheld 1/40 sec with the Canon RF 600mm f11

I will say again, a fixed aperture of f11 is not a problem. Come down off your fast aperture horse and give it a try. You’ll be pleasantly surprised. If you’re new to super-telephoto lenses, you’ll struggle with this lens initially. With superzooms, you can start out at a shorter focal length and then zoom in on the subject you want to capture. A 600mm prime is a 600mm prime; the only zooming you can do is with your feet. Because of this, finding your subject can be challenging. You’ll definitely need to practice with this lens.

With a long lens like this, the other issue you’ll have to deal with is heat haze. You’re going to capture images that look like they are completely out of focus, but in reality, it’s heat haze. This will really affect your images if your subject is a far distance from you. Spend some time with this lens, and you’ll soon get a feel for it, but it will still take a while to master.

“If you prefer natural color renderings, you’ll enjoy the RF 600mm f11.”

Brett Day – Gear Editor

Image Quality

Images produced with the Canon RF 600mm f11 IS STM can be quite fantastic. Nail focus, and you’ll see sharpness that extends across the frame. We’d expect no less when shooting at f11. The colors rendered are natural, and, for the most part, aberrations and distortions are kept at bay. Let’s break it down more below.

Bokeh

Smooth, creamy bokeh is easily rendered thanks to the 600mm focal length. Backgrounds just melt away when shooting wildlife. When the environment doesn’t blur into nothing, the bokeh from the Canon RF 600mm f11 is pleasing and not distracting in any way.

Chromatic Aberration and Distortion

The good news is that the Canon RF 600mm f11 IS STM has no issues with chromatic aberration. However, there is some slight vignetting and a little distortion. Still, distortions are easily corrected in post. You have nothing to worry about.

Color Rendition

Canon 600mm F11
RAW converted to JPEG without being altered

Colors produced by the Canon RF 600mm f11 IS STM are subdued when compared to other RF lenses. This, however, is a good thing. Colors with natural tones are always welcomed by photographers who shoot wildlife and nature images. If you prefer natural color renderings, you’ll enjoy the RF 600mm f11.

Sharpness

Canon 600mm F11

The Canon RF 600mm 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 that won’t disappoint.

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 600mm F11
Canon 600mm F11
Canon 600mm F11
Canon 600mm F11
Canon 600mm F11
Canon 600mm F11
Canon 600mm F11
Canon 600mm F11

“For most, the Canon 600mm f11 will be a fine lens. Especially for photographers who like to shoot wildlife or birds occasionally in good weather.”

Brett Day – Gear Editor

Conclusions

Likes

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

Cons

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

The Canon RF 600mm f11 IS STM is a unique lens that will give the masses a chance to own a super-telephoto at an affordable price. For most, the Canon 600mm f11 will be fine. Especially for photographers who like to shoot wildlife or birds occasionally in good weather. The Canon RF 600mm f11 is definitely not a lens for hardcore wildlife photographers, though.

The missteps with autofocus and no weather sealing will frustrate those who take wildlife photography seriously. If you just want a lens that will get you closer to the action without breaking the bank, the Canon 600mmf11 is a no-brainer at $699. Go into it knowing that AF performance can and will suffer in less than perfect conditions, and you’ll be happy with it. You’ll get sharp shots with pleasing colors, and the stabilization will wow you.

The Canon RF 600mm f11 IS STM receives a solid three out of five stars. For the occasional wildlife photographer, it will be a good lens. The $699 price point is hard to beat. However, the inconsistent autofocus performance and the lack of weather sealing really bring this lens down. Perhaps future iterations will improve in these areas, and maybe they will include the lens hood. Want one? Check the latest prices on Amazon.