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Lens Review: RF15-35mm f/2.8L IS USM in Landscape Photography

For landscape photographers using the EOS R system, the RF15-35mm f/2.8L IS USM is a much-anticipated native ultra-wide-angle (UWA) lens for the RF mount. Travel and landscape photographer Edwin Martinez tested the lens in a variety of terrains from dusty Mount Bromo in Indonesia and the hot springs of North American national parks in autumn to the freezing, -44°C cold in the Canadian Rockies in winter. He shares with us why he thinks the lens is “UWA-wesome”. (Reported by: Edwin Martinez)

 

A compact combination with the EOS R

When you hold the RF15-35mm f/2.8L IS USM mounted onto the EOS R in your hands, one difference that is immediately apparent is the difference in size and weight:

EOS R + RF15-35mm f/2.8L IS USM versus EOS 5D Mark IV + EF16-35mm f/2.8L III USM

If you look at the lenses alone, the RF15-35mm f/2.8L IS USM weighs around 50g more than the EF16-35mm f/2.8L III USM. However, that’s the result of the increased focal range and the addition of built-in IS, and it is more than negated by the difference in size between the EOS R and the EOS 5D Mark IV.

As the image above shows, the EOS R + RF15-35mm f/2.8L IS USM is approximately 180g lighter and 17cm shorter than the EOS 5D Mark IV + EF16-35mm f/2.8L III USM pairing. This makes a significant difference on long treks and when shooting on challenging terrain.

 

1mm wider can make a huge difference

In landscape photography, an extra 1mm can be a big deal: It translates to a 4°wider angle-of-view, which makes a huge difference in showing a sense of scale. And the best thing is, you can use normal 82mm screw-in filters with the RF15-35mm f/2.8L IS USM to expand the possibilities of photographic expression.

Find out more about how filters can change your shots here:
Lens FAQ #5: What are the Pros and Cons of an ND Filter?
Using Lens Filters: 2 Techniques from Professional Photographers

 

Frozen lake in front of Canadian Rocky mountains in low light

EOS R/ RF15-35mm f/2.8 IS USM/ FL: 15mm/ Manual exposure (f/11, 1/4 sec)/ ISO 200
Location: Banff National Park, Canadian Rocky Mountains

The ultra-wide-angle perspective at 15mm conveys the sense of distance from the ice bubbles in the foreground to the mountains all the way at the back.

 

Vertical shot of waterfall beneath the ice in front of mountain in Norway

EOS R/ RF15-35mm f/2.8 IS USM/ FL: 15mm/ Manual exposure (f/8, 1/13 sec)/ ISO 200
Location: Lofoten, Norway

A “hidden” waterfall under the ice. 15mm was perfect for capturing this intriguing foreground subject and the iconic mountain, Stortinden, in the background perfectly in the same frame.

 

It's not just about how much you can fit into the frame. The difference between 15mm and 16mm can be enough to change the impact of a composition. (Learn more about this image here,)

 

Excellent image quality

I was pleasantly surprised to find that despite the extra 1mm in focal length coverage, the images I shot on the RF15-35mm f/2.8L IS USM were sharper at the corners than the EF16-35mm f/2.8L III USM. There was also less chromatic aberration and distortion even at the wide-angle end. Straight out of camera, the colours and contrast seemed to be the same as the EF counterpart, but the RF15-35mm f/2.8L IS USM had better performance against ghosting and flaring when shooting towards the sun.

Yellow flowers against a background of wilderness and mountains under stormy sky

EOS R/ RF15-35mm f/2.8 IS USM/ FL: 15mm/ Manual exposure (f/11, 1/20 sec)/ ISO 200
Location: Glacier National Park, Montana, USA

Even at 15mm, details were sharp from corner-to-corner with practically no visible barrel distortion.

 

Built-in image stabilisation

The RF15-35mm f/2.8L IS USM is Canon’s first full-frame f/2.8 constant aperture ultra-wide-angle zoom lens to be equipped with image stabilisation (IS). It promises an image stabilisation effect of up to 5 shutter speed stops’ equivalent, which is very encouraging for shooting handheld in low light conditions. I had shots where I did not use the tripod anymore to compose better, but was able to get sharp results even at a low shutter speed.

Handheld shot in low light at 1/4 sec

EOS R/ RF15-35mm f/2.8 IS USM/ FL: 15mm/ Manual exposure (f/16, 1/4 sec)/ ISO 100
Location: Yellowstone National Park, USA

One of the shots that I shot handheld. I was pleasantly surprised to get such sharp results even at 1/4 second.

 

Composition tip: Make sure you choose the right interest layers to frame your scene

Vertical shot of frosty lake in front of mountain

EOS R/ RF15-35mm f/2.8 IS USM/ FL: 15mm/ Manual exposure (f/11, 1/3 sec)/ ISO 100
Location: Banff National Park, Canadian Rocky Mountains

The 15mm focal length is perfect for landscapes but very challenging to use as you intend to include everything in the frame without the proper use of geometrics. Find dynamic lines in the scene and frame it using the widest focal length to provide a sense of depth and perspective.

In the shot above, I shot from a low angle, which helps to draw attention to the patterns formed by the frost in the foreground. I have also framed them so that they form a long, diagonal line towards the back of the image. The unique ultra-wide-angle perspective makes this line look even longer, giving the image a greater sense of depth.

For more composition techniques to bring out the best in your ultra-wide-angle lens, check out:
Exploring Wide Angle Lenses Part 1: Photo Effects of Wide-Angle Lenses
Exploring Wide Angle Lenses Part 2: Composition Techniques for Wide-Angle Lenses

 

EOS R + RF15-35mm f/2.8L IS USM in action

EOS R + RF15-35mm f/2.8L IS USM on a tripod

 

RF15-35mm f/2.8L IS USM

Key specifications
Lens construction: 16 elements in 12 groups
Closest focusing distance: 0.28m
Maximum magnification: 0.21x
No. of aperture blades: 9 (circular)
Filter diameter: 82mm
Size: φ88.5 × 126.8mm
Weight: approx. 840g

 

Lens construction

Lens construction: RF15-35mm f/2.8L IS USM

A: Aspherical lens elements
B: UD lens elements
C: SWC
D: ASC
Smudge-resistant fluorine coating on the front and rear lens surfaces

 

Lens hood: EW-88F

Lens hood: EW-88F

 

Sample images

Milky Way over Mount Bromo

EOS R/ RF15-35mm f/2.8 IS USM/ FL: 16mm/ Manual exposure (f/2.8, 25 sec)/ ISO 3200
Location: Mount Bromo, Indonesia

The stars were captured as points of light with barely any visible aberrations, even at the edges of the image.

 

Beautiful sunlight over valley

EOS R/ RF15-35mm f/2.8 IS USM/ FL: 25mm/ Manual exposure (f/11, 1/80 sec)/ ISO 100
Location: Bali, Indonesia

A valley village surrounded by mountains. The wide-angle perspective of the RF15-35mm f/2.8 IS USM was perfect for showing the sense of scale.

 

Beautiful sunlight over valley

EOS R/ RF15-35mm f/2.8 IS USM/ FL: 35mm/ Manual exposure (f/11, 1/50 sec, EV-0.7)/ ISO 500
Location: Abraham Lake, Alberta, Canada

Zooming in to the 35mm end allowed me to capture abstract images of these methane bubbles. They seem to represent a different universe altogether.


Find out about the history of Canon’s EF f/2.8L zoom lenses in:
The Little-Known History of Canon’s f/2.8L and f/4L Zoom Lenses

Find out more about RF lens technology and the other RF lenses in:
In Focus: RF Lenses

Trying to decide whether to buy the EOS R or EOS RP? Check out:
EOS R vs EOS RP: Which to Choose?

 


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Edwin Martinez

Edwin Martinez
Edwin Martinez is widely respected as one of the finest landscape photographers the Philippines has ever produced. His vast experience shooting different locales in his home country and abroad - in Iceland, Canada, The American West, among others - have cemented for Edwin an undisputed distinction of expertise in the field of photography. He is a Canon Philippines Brand Ambassador, a National Geographic adventurer contributor and constant presence in both local and international photography publications. Furthermore, he is also major partner in Iceland’s number one photography tour and workshop, http://www.iceland-photo-tours.com.  Edwin is also a dedicated mentor to photographers, whether it is in the workshops that he teaches or the photography tours that he guides to the most challenging and stunning locations around the world under Wide Horizon Photo Adventure. Edwin is a sought after speaker and instructor and also shoots for several high profile companies. He is an inspiration for this generation's band of photographers and many wait for photos from his next adventures.

https://www.facebook.com/EdwinMartinezPhotography
https://500px.com/EdwinMartinez
http://edwinmartinezphoto.com/