In a classic which-comes-first-the-chicken-or-the-egg scenario, budget full frame and crop sensor mirrorless camera bodies arrived on the scene before the affordable lenses did. When a DSLR nifty fifty could be picked up for a few hundred bucks, the price of mirrorless lenses was enough to keep budget-minded photographers and beginners on older systems. But fast forward to 2023, and there are a few more lens choices out there. The Canon RF 28mm f2.8 is one such lens.
With a price tag around $300, the Canon RF 28mm f2.8 allows entry-level access to a brighter aperture than a basic kit lens. Yet, at only a third of a pound, it’s also a lens ideal for travel or carrying around all day. However, the budget price starts to show when looking at the plastic, non-sealed design. So, what kind of photographer is the Canon RF 28mm f2.8 for?
Table of Contents
The Big Picture
Canon is bringing affordable primes to the RF system — and I’m here for it. While pixel peepers will find a few things to complain about, the mix of price and JPEG quality allows new photographers to play with wider apertures than possible with a cheap kit lens. While the lens is full frame compatible, it makes even more sense on Canon’s budget crop-sensor cameras, where it functions as a 45mm lens. The lens produces lovely flare, decent background separation, and deep colors for an affordable price.
Like with nearly every budget lens, however, zoom in to 100 percent, and there are a lot of differences between the RF 28mm and optics from Canon’s L series. While the JPEG is digitally corrected, RAW files will suffer from purple fringing, curved edges, and vignetting. Look too closely at the bokeh, and you may spot some onion ringing. And while unsurprising for the price, the lens has a very plastic build and isn’t weather-sealed.
Is the Canon RF 28mm f2.8 perfect? Far from it. But I think it offers enough balance between quality and price to make more than a few photographers happy. I’m giving the Canon RF 28mm f2.8 four out of five stars.
- It’s $299
- Very compact
- Very lightweight
- f2.8 is brighter than most kit lenses
- Deep colors
- Fun flare to play with
- The autofocus keeps up well, even on the R3
- RAW files have a lot of issues without the lens profile, including aberration, barrel distortion, and vignetting
- Lots of plastic
- No weather sealing
- The hood is sold separately.
I used the Canon 28mm f2.8 lens with the Canon EOS R100. While the R100 is more in line with the price of the 28mm lens, since it is a crop sensor and the lens is full frame, I also used the Canon R3.
The small size and affordable price point are the most unique features of the Canon RF 28mm f2.8. The $300 pancake lens is both easy on the budget and on the back. As an entry-level lens, it’s not designed with Canon’s top-tier optical technology but still uses three aspheric elements and Super Spectra Coating to reduce ghosting and flare.
The Canon 28mm f2.8 is deserving of the pancake title. This little lens weighs just over a quarter of a pound and sits at a tiny one-inch height. That makes the lens easy to carry around all day, particularly on Canon’s smaller entry-level bodies like the R100.
The small size leaves little room for controls, but Canon has managed to cram two onto this lens. There’s a control switch to swap back and forth between autofocus and manual. At the front of the lens sits a control ring that’s only about the size of a filter ring.
There’s so much plastic on the front of the RF 28mm that the lens almost looks like a pinhole. How Canon is able to fit an f2.8 aperture in a hole the size of my thumbnail, I have no idea. The much larger 55mm filters the lens accepts will also cover up much of that plasticky front.
As a $300 lens, it’s unsurprising that the Canon RF 28mm f2.8 isn’t weather-sealed. It’s a very plastic-feeling lens that shouldn’t be taken out in the rain and may need more frequent dust cleaning. But that’s also true of most $300 lenses out there, which makes it hard to hold a grudge against this lens for being plastic fantastic.
Even pairing one of Canon’s cheapest lenses with one of Canon’s most expensive bodies, the autofocus 28mm didn’t falter. Series of bursts with a bike rider heading toward the camera rarely dropped any frames.
The Canon RF 28mm f2.8 uses an STM autofocus motor. While the lens does a great job keeping up with movement, it is an external focus lens. That means the length of the lens changes slightly as the focal point changes, which can introduce some focus breathing.
The lens can focus about nine inches from the front of the lens, which is about a .17x macro. That’s not terribly close, but photographers using this lens on a crop sensor camera, where it functions as a 45mm, will be able to get in closer to small objects.
Ease of Use
The Canon RF 28mm f2.8 acts like the entry-level lens that it is. Most beginners can just mount and start shooting. The only controls are for entering into manual focus mode and then adjusting focus with the thin control wheel.
The simple size of this lens also bodes well for simplicity. It’s a lens that’s small enough to pair with one of Canon’s more compact bodies and then use it like a point-and-shoot with much better quality. It’s an easy lens to carry around all day.
As a budget lens, the RF 28mm lacks image stabilization.
JPEG files shot with this lens have lots of punch and even a bit of character. Subjects are sharp, even at the edges. However, looking at RAW files, it’s apparent that many corrections are digitally embedded in the lens profile. RAW files have several issues with aberration, barrel distortion, and vignetting.
While there are better bokeh masters out there, for a $300 lens, the 28mm can get some halfway decent background separation. While longer lenses and lower aperture lenses will be able to squeeze a bit more background blur, newbies and photographers on a budget will love playing with f2.8 rather than the narrower aperture of a basic kit lens.
For the most bokeh, get in close to the subject. Points of light do sometimes pick up a bit of a prominent edge. That means pixel peepers may want to spend more on a higher-end lens.
On JPEGs, the colors coming from this lens feel a bit deeper than the actual scene. Many will love the deeper tones, while others will want more control by customizing a RAW file.
However, while JPEGs correct the color fringing, purple fringe is common around high-contrast edges, such as backlit tree branches, on RAW files. Look at the JPEG, which is pretty clean, but then look at the RAW file and then a close crop of the same RAW file. Once Lightroom, Capture One, and other editing programs have the lens profile, the fringing might be able to be easily corrected. But, without it — as the lens is currently too new — the aberration will bother some photographers.
Why, hello there, lens flare! The Canon RF 28mm f2.8 isn’t one of the lenses trying to rid the world of lens flare. If you’re a crime scene photographer or documenting something for a scientific journal, you’ll want technically sterile images. But I’m not, and I love a good bit of lens flare, which the Canon RF 28mm has. Depending on how you angle the lens and how much of the sun is blocked, you can get some purple ghosting spots, arcs of color, or soft blooms of light. If you don’t like lens flare, be aware that this $300 lens doesn’t include a lens hood — it’s sold separately.
While I love the lens flare, the amount of plastic on the front of the lens starts to show when inspecting the edges. The JPEG files with the lens profile applied are pretty clean. But compare a JPEG and a RAW file without the lens profile, and you can see that the edges curve quite a bit and have some dark vignetting. Like the purple fringing, it’s barely an issue on the JPEG files. But those RAW files are quite another story. This could be corrected when the lens profile becomes available in editing software, but as of right now, photographers will need to do some work to the RAW files for straight lines and bright edges.
Thankfully, the budget build of this lens doesn’t decimate the sharpness of the images. At the center, subjects are still nicely crisp, with well-defined edges. Even placing the subject towards the edge, the sharpness is still acceptable. Not overly sharp like some lenses, but still decently crisp.
Extra Image Samples
From day one, The Phoblographer has been huge on transparency with our audience. Nothing from this review is sponsored. Further, lots of folks will post reviews and show lots of editing in the photos. The problem then becomes that anyone and everyone can do the same thing. They’re not showing what the lens can do. So we have a section in our Extra Image Samples area to show edited and unedited photos. From this, you can make a decision for yourself.
Who Should Buy It?
If you’re a beginner with an entry-level camera and want a lens that can go anywhere yet produce images a bit better than the kit, buy the Canon RF 28mm f2.8. While it’s not a perfect lens, it’s got enough pros for the $300 price point that many photographers on a budget will like this lens.
If you abhor purple fringing on RAW files and onion ring bokeh, keep shopping — this isn’t your lens.
LensRentals lists the following specification for the Canon RF 28mm f2.8:
- Angle of View: 75°
- Aperture Blades: 7
- Autofocus: Autofocus
- Brand: Canon
- Compatibility: Full Frame and Crop
- Filter Size: 55.0mm
- Focal Length: 28.0-28.0
- Dimensions (ø x L) – lens only: 2.7 × 1.0″ / 69.2 × 24.7mm
- Weight – lens only: 0.3 lb. / 120 g
- Hood Included: No
- Image Stabilization: No
- Item Type: Lens
- Lens Type: Wide Angle
- Max Aperture: 2.8
- Maximum Magnification: 0.17x
- Mfr. Model Number: 6128C002
- Minimum Aperture: 22.0
- Minimum Focusing Distance: 0.8feet
- Mount: Canon RF
- Optical Design: Groups/Elements 6/8; Aspherical Elements 3
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