Fast, ultra-wide zoom lenses have long been staples for advanced and professional photographers. The Canon RF 15-35mm f/2.8 L is a recent example, building upon Canon’s legacy of 16-35mm f/2.8 glass for their DSLR system. Our in-depth review will tell you everything you need to know about the Canon RF 15-35mm f/2.8 L and whether it’s a good choice for your photography.
Canon is the first company to sell a 15-35mm f/2.8 lens. Although 16-35mm f/2.8 lenses have been around for years, the difference between 15mm and 16mm is noticeable. Meanwhile, you can find even wider f/2.8 zooms from a few companies (such as the Nikon Z 14-24mm f/2.8 and Sony 12-24mm f/2.8 GM), but none of these reach all the way to 35mm. This impressive range of focal lengths makes the Canon RF 15-35mm f/2.8 L one of the most versatile ultra-wide zooms today, at least on paper.
The Canon RF 15-35mm f/2.8 has a complex 16-element design that takes advantage of the short flange distance of Canon’s RF mirrorless system to maximize the lens’s optical performance. Unlike many ultra-wide zoom lenses, the RF 15-35mm f/2.8 L also has the ability to take standard screw-in filters thanks to the 82mm filter thread on the front of the lens. The lens is fully weather sealed, befitting a high-end optic in Canon’s L series.
But how does it perform? We have been conditioned to expect very strong image quality from Canon’s L lenses in general – and their mirrorless L lenses in particular – but there’s only one way to know for sure. That’s why I put the Canon RF 15-35mm f/2.8 L through months of tests, including extensive usage both in the field and in a controlled lab environment. This review is the result of those tests.
Canon RF 15-35mm f/2.8 L Specifications
- Full Name: Canon RF 15-35mm f/2.8 L IS USM (see Canon Lens Abbreviations)
- Mount Type: Canon RF Mount
- Focal Length: 15-35mm (2.33x zoom)
- Angle of View (Full Frame): 110° 30′ to 63°
- Maximum Aperture: f/2.8
- Minimum Aperture: f/22
- Aperture Blades: 9, rounded
- Filter Size: 82mm
- Lens Elements: 16
- Lens Groups: 12
- Special Elements: 3 aspherical, 2 ultra-low dispersion (UD) glass elements
- Anti-Reflection Coatings: ASC (Air-Sphere Coating) and SWC (Sub-Wavelength Coating)
- Fluorine Coated Front Element: Yes (and rear element)
- Image Stabilization: Yes
- Internal Focusing: Yes
- Control Rings: Zoom, focus, and custom ring
- Switches: AF/MF and image stabilization on/off
- Focus Motor: Nano USM
- Minimum Focus Distance: 280mm (11 inches)
- Maximum Magnification: 0.21× (1:4.8)
- Mount Material: Metal
- Weather/Dust Sealing: Yes
- Dimensions (Length × Diameter): 127 × 89 mm (5.0 × 3.5 inches)
- Weight: 840 g (1.85 lbs)
- MSRP: $2399 (check current price)
In everything from the complex optical design to the fluorine-coated front element and weather sealing, these are high-end specifications. While the RF 15-35mm f/2.8 L is a big commitment for most photographers due to the $2399 price, this isn’t out of line with the competition. If you’re hunting for a deal, the price has dipped as low as $1899 during the holidays.
I’ll have more to say about the lens’s build quality and construction momentarily, but for now, here is Canon’s official lens construction diagram for the RF 15-35mm f/2.8 L:
In the diagram above, the letter A represents aspherical lens elements. B is for ultra-low dispersion lens elements. C is for sub-wavelength coating. D is for air-sphere coating.
Like most modern lenses, the Canon RF 15-35mm f/2.8 L is made of high-quality plastic that feels very sturdy and reassuring to use. While it’s not a small lens, Canon has kept the size manageable, and it’s not a burden to carry for a full day of photography.
In terms of weight, here’s how the RF 15-35mm f/2.8 L compares to some of the alternatives available right now, arranged from lightest to heaviest:
- Sony 16-35mm f/2.8 GM II: 547 grams / 1.21 pounds
- Nikon Z 14-24mm f/2.8 S: 650 grams / 1.43 pounds
- Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8 III: 790 grams / 1.74 pounds
- Sigma 14-24mm f/2.8 A for FE & L-mount: 795 grams / 1.75 pounds
- Canon RF 15-35mm f/2.8 L: 840 grams / 1.85 pounds
- Sony 12-24mm f/2.8: 847 grams / 1.86 pounds
- Tokina AT-X 16-28mm f/2.8: 950 grams / 2.09 pounds
- Nikon F 14-24mm f/2.8: 1000 grams / 2.20 lbs
- Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8 G2: 1100 grams / 2.42 pounds
- Sigma 14-24mm f/2.8 A for DSLR: 1150 grams / 2.53 lbs
The Canon RF 15-35mm f/2.8 L is roughly in the middle of the pack. It’s on the heavy side for a mirrorless lens but lighter than most DSLR lenses – although it does weigh more than Canon’s own EF 16-35mm f/2.8 III, a bit of a surprise.
While the Canon RF 15-35mm f/2.8 L has good build quality overall, it does have some drawbacks related to the extending lens barrel:
Most ultra-wide zooms are externally zooming, so this isn’t the end of the world. However, the type of plastic that Canon uses on the extending barrel is noticeably lower in quality than the rest of the lens’s exterior. It doesn’t feel as reassuring as I would have expected from a $2400 L-series lens. There is also a small amount of wobble on barrel when it’s extended – under 1mm in any direction – and while it’s not enough to affect the lens’s optical quality, it’s enough that small grains of sand or dust could wiggle their way into the lens over time.
These flaws aren’t fatal, and they aren’t even unusual for a fast, ultra-wide lens. So, while there is room for improvement if Canon ever makes a 15-35mm f/2.8 L II, I was satisfied with the lens’s build quality overall. It helps that the RF 15-35mm f/2.8 L is extensively weather sealed, allowing the lens to be used even in harsh weather and downpours without serious concern.
The Canon RF 15-35mm f/2.8 L handles exactly as you would expect of a high-end, ultra-wide zoom. It has a dedicated control ring alongside the usual zoom and focus rings, plus an AF-MF switch and a switch to control image stabilization. The zoom ring is large and well-dampened. It’s a really enjoyable and efficient lens to use.
All of this is refreshing in a market where lenses are becoming increasingly minimalist. While I had hoped for a custom function button as well – and some photographers may have wanted to see a focus distance display – I can’t complain in the end. The lens handles just like a professional L-line optic should.
Finally, I’d like to mention this lens’s inclusion of image stabilization. Many competing lenses do not have built-in stabilization, instead relying upon the in-body image stabilization (IBIS) systems of their respective cameras. This is a nice advantage of the Canon RF 15-35mm f/2.8 L, especially because wide-angle lenses often struggle to perfectly stabilize the image (especially in the corners). Any help is welcome, and I found that the Canon RF 15-35mm f/2.8 L performed very well when shooting handheld at slow shutter speeds.
The next page of this review covers the optical characteristics of the Canon RF 15-35mm f/2.8 L, including focusing performance and sharpness tests in the lab. So, click the menu below to go to “Optical Features”:
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