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Products >> All Products

Canon’s Longest Professional Super Telephoto Lenses Join the RF Lineup

2022-02-24
18
7.25 k

On 24 February 2022, Canon unveiled the RF800mm f/5.6L IS USM and RF1200mm f/8L IS USM, two new professional-grade super telephoto prime lenses for the RF mount. The lenses pack extremely long focal lengths (800mm and 1200mm respectively) and the signature L-series high image quality and build into much smaller, lighter bodies, promising to expand the world of super telephoto shooting for more users than ever.

 

In this article:

 

In April 2021, Canon released the RF400mm f/2.8L IS USM and RF600mm f/4L IS USM, two super telephoto prime lenses native to the RF mount that provided the signature L-series professional-grade reliability and optical performance within compact, lightweight bodies. Building on the designs of these two lenses, Canon incorporated magnification optics that didn’t just double their focal lengths to 800mm and 1200mm respectively, but were also tailored to ensure the best optical quality even with the focal length increase—better than simply attaching the RF400mm f/2.8L IS USM or RF600mm f/4L IS USM to a 2x extender. And with that, the RF800mm f/5.6L IS USM and RF1200mm f/8L IS USM were born.

Both lenses are compatible with the Extender RF1.4x and Extender RF2x, the latter of which doubles the focal length of the RF1200mm f/8L IS USM to an eye-popping 2400mm currently unrivalled on any other camera system. Along with their unprecedented portability that promises increased avenues for usage, the lenses are poised to take super telephoto shooting further in more than one sense of the word.

Size & weight

Streamlined giants: Major size and weight reductions from the EF versions

The RF800mm f/5.6L IS USM and RF1200mm f/8L IS USM have EF mount counterparts in the EF1200mm f/5.6L USM and EF800mm f/5.6L IS USM, both now discontinued. Super telephoto lenses with a reach of more than focal length 800mm are very rare—Canon is currently the only manufacturer to produce 1200mm lenses—and hold much potential especially for sports, wildlife, and surveillance photography. However, such reach came with bulk and heft, which limited their actual use. New technologies, including the innovative new RF mount, have enabled the streamlining of the RF800mm f/5.6L IS USM and RF1200mm f/8L IS USM bodies, putting them at just over 3kg each while maintaining the same sturdy, durable build and image quality.


RF1200mm f/8L IS USM vs EF1200mm f/5.6L USM

The EF1200mm f/5.6L USM, which was released in 1993, weighed a massive 16.5kg despite lacking an in-lens Optical Image Stabilizer (Optical IS) due to the technology of the time. In comparison, the RF1200mm f/8L IS USM shaves over 13kg (approximately 82%) off the weight of the lens, and 299mm (35%) off the length. While the maximum aperture is one stop narrower at f/8, it is less of a disadvantage than it may seem when you consider the inclusion of Optical IS as well as the excellent high ISO speed performance of the EOS R system cameras that the lens is built to work with.


RF800mm f/5.6L IS USM vs EF800mm f/5.6L IS USM

The EF800mm f/5.6L IS USM was released in 2008, which makes its technology closer to that of current technology. It is therefore relatively smaller and lighter compared to what it might have been if it was designed at the same time as the EF1200mm f/5.6L USM! However, technology has also improved a lot since 2008, and so, the RF800mm f/5.6L IS USM is around 29mm shorter and 1.3kg lighter than the EF800mm f/5.6L IS USM.
Both the RF800mm f/5.6L IS USM and RF1200mm f/8L IS USM do not differ much from the RF400mm f/2.8L IS USM and RF600mm f/4L IS USM in terms of size and weight.

Stunningly super telephoto: Greater impact in amazing detail

Stunningly super telephoto: Greater impact in amazing detail

The downsized bodies of the RF800mm f/5.6L IS USM and RF1200mm f/8L IS USM make them more portable and mobile than before, and with that, it becomes easier to create images at over 800mm even when shooting handheld. From the facial expression of a goalkeeper on the other side of the soccer field, to the feather details of a bird perching way up and across, the scenes that were previously too far away to access or frame properly can now be seen, composed, and captured on the spot. You can also utilise the powerful telephoto compression, which makes background objects appear closer, to create previously unimaginable images, such as of a plane flying across a giant moon just like the image below.

EOS R3/ RF1200mm f/8L IS USM/ FL: 1200mm/ Aperture-priority AE (f/8, 1/1250 sec, EV -0.3)/ ISO 500/ WB: Auto

Support for extenders

Reach even further with an extender

Both the RF800mm f/5.6L IS USM and RF1200mm f/8L IS USM are compatible with the Extender RF 1.4x and Extender RF 2x. For even further reach, shoot in the 1.6x crop mode on your EOS R system camera! Extended focal lengths are as follows:

  RF800mm f/5.6L IS USM RF1200mm f/8L IS USM
Extender RF1.4x 1120mm 1680mm
Extender RF2x 1600mm 2400mm
Extender RF1.4x + 1.6x crop mode 1792mm 2688mm
Extender RF2x + 1.6x crop mode 2560mm 3840mm

While the 1.6x crop mode uses only part of the image sensor, on a high-megapixel camera like the EOS R5, the resulting files will be around 17.3 megapixels—still sufficient for commercial printing.

 

RF800mm f/5.6L IS USM: 800mm

RF1200mm f/8L IS USM: 1200mm

RF800mm f/5.6L IS USM + Extender RF1.4x: 1120mm

RF1200mm f/8L IS USM + Extender RF1.4x: 1680mm

RF800mm f/5.6L IS USM + Extender RF2x: 1600mm

RF1200mm f/8L IS USM + Extender RF2x: 2400mm

*The examples above have been cropped for visualisation purposes.

The images above may look like they were captured from right beside the jet skier, but as the behind-the-scenes image shows, in reality, the photographer was on land, rather far away from the jet skier out at sea! The super telephoto reach of the lenses helped to achieve dynamic, impactful close-ups.

 

AF coverage and support

Excellent AF performance in combination with the EOS R system

With the Dual Pixel CMOS AF system on the cameras in the EOS R system, regardless of whether you are shooting through the EVF or in Live View, high-precision AF focusing through phase detection AF is possible over a wider area of the image than before, even at f/8. This dramatically overcomes one major limitation users faced using extenders on a DSLR, where only a limited number of AF points could function at maximum aperture f/8 during viewfinder shooting.


Maximum AF coverage under Dual Pixel CMOS AF

Body + Extender RF800mm f/5.6L IS USM(Horizontal × Vertical)
(Horizontal × Vertical)
RF1200mm f/8L IS USM(Horizontal × Vertical)
(Horizontal × Vertical)
EOS R3/R5 approx. 100% × 100% approx. 100% × 100%
EOS R3/R5 + RF1.4x approx. 100% × 100% approx. 80% × 80%
EOS R3/R5 + RF2x approx. 80% × 80% approx. 40% × 60%
EOS R approx. 88% × 100% approx. 88% × 100%
EOS R + RF1.4x approx. 88% × 100% approx. 80% × 80%
EOS R + RF2x approx. 80% × 80% approx. 40% × 60%

The improved AF support means that users using the lenses and extenders on the EOS R3, EOS R5, and EOS R6 have greater flexibility to enjoy the benefits of the deep learning-based EOS iTR AF X subject detection and tracking system, which includes Animal Detection AF and the ability to detect the eyes, head, and body of animals such as birds.

EOS R5/ RF1200mm f/8L IS USM + Extender RF2x/ FL: 2400mm/ Manual exposure (f/16, 1/640 sec)/ ISO 10000/ WB: Daylight


Focus ring: Comfortable torque with 3 different focusing speeds

The focus ring is electronically driven: the speed at which the USM (Ultrasonic Motor) moves the focusing unit varies according to how much you turn the ring. The torque feels comfortable and makes manual focusing easy. For manual focusing, as expected from an electronic focusing system, three different focusing speeds are available, catering to different needs from fast movement of focus to more precise focus adjustments.

While both lenses do not have a dedicated control ring for controlling exposure settings, the focus ring can be assigned control ring functions on cameras that support such customisation. The lenses, however, do come with the Power Focus mode, which racks focus at a constant speed, allowing for video-friendly smoother focusing.

The Focus Preset function stores up to two custom focal positions. To recall them, simply turn the playback ring, and the focus will immediately jump to the preset position.

 

Built-in Optical Image Stabilizer

Optical IS: approx. 4.5 stops and 4 stops respectively

The RF800mm f/5.6L IS USM and RF1200mm f/8L IS USM are equipped with the in-lens Optical Image Stabilizer (Optical IS), which achieves a powerful stabilisation effect of up to approximately 4.5 and 4 shutter speed stops’ equivalent* respectively, significantly reducing the camera shake that becomes more visible during super telephoto shooting. Note that the lenses don’t support Coordinated Control IS, where the Optical IS coordinates with the In-Body IS system on compatible cameras.
*When using the EOS R/R5/R3. According to CIPA standards. In the yaw/pitch directions.

EOS R3 / IS ON

EOS R3 / IS OFF

Both images: EOS R3/ RF1200mm f/8L IS USM/ FL: 1200mm/ Manual exposure (f/8, 1/80 sec)/ ISO 32000/ WB: Auto


3 IS modes to optimise performance for different subject characteristics

Just like the RF400mm f/2.8L IS USM and the RF600mm f/4L IS USM, the RF800mm f/5.6L IS USM and RF1200mm f/8L IS USM have three IS modes to optimise IS performance for different subjects and scenes.

MODE 1: Compensates for camera shake in all directions. Ideal for stationary subjects.
MODE 2: Does not compensate for camera shake in the direction that the lens is moving. Ideal for panning shots.
MODE 3: Compensates for camera shake only during the exposure. Makes it easier to keep subjects with unpredictable movement in sight when looking through the viewfinder.

 

Optical design

Inherits the superior optics and compact size of the RF400mm and RF600mm

Visually, the RF800mm f/5.6L IS USM and RF1200mm f/8L IS USM resemble the well-received RF600mm f/4L IS USM and RF400mm f/2.8L IS USM, but the resemblance isn’t just in the exterior—the longer lenses build on the optical design of the latter two lenses, adding magnification optics to the rear to double the focal lengths. The magnification optics are indicated in red in the lens configuration diagram below.


Lens construction

A: Fluorite lens elements
B: UD, Super UD lens elements
C: ASC
Smudge-resistant fluorine coating on the front lens surface

Lest it appears that the RF800mm f/5.6L IS USM and RF1200mm f/8L IS USM are simply the RF600mm f/4L IS USM and RF400mm f/2.8L IS USM with built-in extenders, the optical configuration is different, with the RF800mm f/5.6L IS USM and RF1200mm f/8L IS USM incorporating one UD (Ultra-low Dispersion) element not present in the Extender RF2x. As this design is optimised for the lenses, you can expect higher image quality than with the Extender RF2x attached to the RF400mm or RF600mm. Having the magnification optics built into the lenses also means that you can reach even further by attaching an extender.

The RF800mm f/5.6L IS USM and RF1200mm f/8L IS USM both include 2 fluorite lenses, 1 Super UD lens, and 1 UD lens, which work together to thoroughly correct chromatic aberration and ensure excellent resolution and contrast. The use of Canon’s ASC (Air Sphere Coating) technology suppresses ghosting and flaring even when a strong light source is in the image frame.


EOS R5/ RF800mm f/5.6L IS USM/ FL: 800mm/ Manual exposure (f/5.6, 1/1250 sec)/ ISO 800/ WB: Auto

Shot from approximately 400m across the river bank. Movements in the air can affect clarity and sharpness when shooting from such a distance away, but the textures of the bricks and tiles are rendered beautifully.

 

Professional-grade durability and reliability

Professional-grade durability and reliability

Heat shield coating

The lenses bear the iconic white heat shield coating, which keeps image quality from deteriorating due to heat buildup inside the lens when shooting outside on a hot day.

Dust- and drip-proof design

The lenses are designed to prevent dust and water droplets from entering, with weather sealing on the rings, switches, and other joints and controls. This further increases the durability and reliability.

 

Specifications: RF1200mm f/8L IS USM

RF1200mm f/8L IS USM

Key specifications

Lens construction: 26 elements in 18 groups
Closest focusing distance: 4.3m
Maximum magnification: 0.29x
No. of aperture blades: 9 (circular blade)
Filter diameter: 52mm (drop-in filter)
Size: φ163×537mm
Weight: approx. 3,340g 

 

Specifications: RF800mm f/5.6L IS USM

RF800mm f/5.6L IS USM

Key specifications

Lens construction: 26 elements in 18 groups
Closest focusing distance: 2.6m
Maximum magnification: 0.34x
No. of aperture blades: 9 (circular blade)
Filter diameter: 52mm (drop-in filter)
Size: φ163×432mm
Weight: approx. 3,140g 

 

Bundled accessories

Bundled accessories

Lens Hood
ET-155(WIII) for RF800mm f/5.6L IS USM
ET-160(WIII) for RF1200mm f/8L IS USM

Lens Cap
E-180 for RF800mm f/5.6L IS USM
E-185 for RF1200mm f/8L IS USM

Tripod mount
Features an improved grid shape.

Soft Lens Case LS600 or LS1200
A lightweight, soft-type case for easier handling.

Drop-in screw filter holder 52 (WIII) with 52mm protective filter


Other accessories (sold separately)

Short Lens Hood
ET-155B for RF800mm f/5.6L IS USM
ET-160B for RF1200mm f/8L IS USM

Monopod mount
(service support)

Drop-in Circular Polarizing Filter PL-C52 (WIII)
Drop-in Gelatin Filter Holder 52 (WIII)

 

Sample images

Sample images


EOS R3/ RF1200mm f/8L IS USM/ FL: 1200mm/ Manual exposure (f/8, 1/2000 sec)/ ISO 500/ WB: Auto


EOS R3/ RF1200mm f/8L IS USM/ FL: 1200mm/ Manual exposure (f/8, 1/2500 sec)/ ISO 800/ WB: Auto


EOS R3/ RF1200mm f/8L IS USM + Extender RF1.4x / FL: 1680mm/ Program AE (f/13, 1/1000 sec, EV -1)/ ISO 500/ WB: Auto


EOS R5/ RF800mm f/5.6L IS USM/ FL: 800mm/ Shutter-priority AE (f/7.1, 1/640 sec, EV -0.7)/ ISO 100/ WB: Daylight


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