While the rest of the current RF lens lineup consists of heavyweight zooms and primes, the Canon RF 35mm f/1.8 MACRO IS STM is a more compact, middle of the range offering. Many advantages here, such as a better lens to body-weight balance and a cheaper price point.
This doesn’t mean the Canon has skimped on the optics quality. The lens still has lots of goodies under the hood that should make this a good option for a walkaround lens. As one of the first mid-priced RF lenses, it’s going to be very interesting to see what this lens has to offer.
Visually, the Canon RF 35mm f/1.8 MACRO IS STM is very much like the midpriced EF range, just with RF sensibilities. Measuring just 74x63mm, with a total weight of 305g, the lens feels very well-balanced on an EOS R or EOS RP camera body. An immediate advantage when the rest of the range is tipping the scales at a few pounds.
Following the design lines of the rest of the RF range, the 35mm has no distance scale on the lens barrel, preferring to show that information in camera. Instead, the lens barrel is sparse in features with two rings and two switches. The ring nearest the camera body is for manual focusing using fly-by-wire is rubberized and just wide enough to gain a firm grip.
The slim ring nearest the front element has a different textured feel, called the controlling ring, and can be programmed to change things like exposure compensation. A nifty little addition, which becomes very intuitive to use once you integrate it into your workflow. The two switches on the lens consist of the AF/MF switch and the image stabilization on/off switch. Very simple and straightforward.
The image stabilization system is rated at five stops, which should produce some very low shutter speeds. The f/1.8 aperture should also be good in low light and provide some nice shallow depth of field images in the right circumstances. There’s also a ‘macro’ mode, which can get as close as 17cm but is only 0.5x magnification, rather than the full-fat macro mode of 1.0x.
Inside the lens are 11 elements arranged in nine groups, with a Super Spectra coating, a nine-blade rounded diaphragm and an aperture range of f/1.8-f/22. Lastly, the lens has a 52mm filter thread, which is a pretty standard size for many filters.
The Canon RF 35mm f/1.8 MACRO IS STM in Use
Straight off the bat, the center sharpness of the Canon RF 35mm f/1.8 MACRO IS STM is very good at f/1.8. Sharpness peaks at f/2.8, carrying on up to f/11, after which diffraction starts to take its toll. The edges are a little soft at f/1.8, but become their best stopped down to f/5.6, staying the same up to f/8, then gradually tailing off up to f/22. Although there is slight softening in the corners wide open, it’s very slight and not distracting.
Anomalies in this type of lens and price point usually exhibit some forms of deficiencies, but they are generally kept to a minimum here. Lateral chromatic aberrations are very low at f/1.8, only exhibiting small amounts of fringing on the highest of contrast areas.
There’s a small amount of barrel distortion, but this can be easily corrected in-camera or with post-processing. There is some noticeable vignetting when the lens is at f/1.8, but it starts to reduce by f/2 and completely clears up by f/4.
Having an aperture of f/1.8 should mean nice shallow depth of field images. That’s something the Canon RF 35mm f/1.8 MACRO IS STM is quite capable of. Luckily, our lens copy didn’t have any front or back focusing problems, which was great for accurately separating the subject from the foreground and background close-up. While background blur or bokeh was very smooth and exhibited nice transitions of colors, it’s not the very best out there, but still very good at this price range.
The macro mode was fun to use, allowing something the size of a memory card to fill most of the frame in accurate detail. As the macro mode is rated at 0.5x, it’s not full magnification, but at the very least, it expands the creativity of this lens.
The STM motor used for the AF system is audible, so this lens may not be the go-to for videographers. But, for stills, the motor works very quick and efficiently and only starts to hunt in very low light.
On that note, the linkup between using f/1.8 and the image stabilization can give some very low shutter speeds, which gives lots of confidence to go into lowlight scenarios. In reality, the stabilization system gave four stops, which is still very useful in most circumstances.
On the whole, the lens can render some extremely sharp images and while the renditions may not be top-end prime levels, they certainly have a professional look when the exposure and focus are nailed. Also, the benefit of a 35mm lens means this is a good alternative to the standard 50mm, with a slightly wider view, great for anything from portraits to street photography.
How Does the Canon RF 35mm f/1.8 MACRO IS STM Compare?
At this point in the game, there’s only one 35mm prime in the RF lens line up. Making it difficult to present exact comparisons. Thus the omission of the usual comparison table. There’s the possibility of porting a 35mm EF lens with an adapter, but there’s nothing like a native only lens and full functionality is really dependent on the quality of the adapter.
As the Canon mirrorless camera body line matures over time, backward compatibility will become a large endeavor. But, once you buy into the mirrorless format, the mindset will be native lenses, which means, for the time being, the Canon RF 35mm f/1.8 MACRO IS STM is the obvious option.
As a stand-alone lens, the Canon RF 35mm f/1.8 MACRO IS STM has a lot to offer. Once you get used to the control ring, it’s a quick and easy way to adjust anything from exposure compensation to ISO, aperture and shutter speeds. Although not the most obvious feature needed on a wide-angle lens, the image stabilization system works extremely well and can be a great lifesaver when in low light.
For those swapping over to Canon’s mirrorless format and don’t want to spend top-line prices, this lens could be an ideal choice. It’s still relatively early days for the RF lenses, which means there should be eventually lens offerings at all price points. But, for the time being, the Canon RF 35mm f/1.8 MACRO IS STM is a reasonably priced lens for its features and won’t let you down in the field.