Review of the Canon RF 200-800mm F6.3-9 IS USM: incredible reach, reasonable cost

Review of the Canon RF 200-800mm F6.3-9 IS USM: incredible reach, reasonable cost

Another achievement for Canon is the first full-frame zoom lens with an 800mm focal length in history.

With its RF lens mount, Canon pushes the envelope once more, providing us with a zoom lens that surpasses all previous models. From distant little things like birds to grassroots football, the 200-800mm zoom range has it all. Not much this super-telephoto lens can’t accomplish when combined with a camera like the EOS R7 that has in-body image stabilisation and subject-detection autofocus. Absolute image quality at the 800mm setting and a (understandably) low f/6.3-9 maximum aperture are the main obstacles to serious action photography. This implies that freezing fast-moving action only works in fair conditions. For many, though, that vast reach justifies the tradeoff.

Pros include its unmatched reach, sharp detail—especially at its widest end, and lovely construction and balance.
Cons: – Action photos are limited to bright light by the maximum aperture; – Cat’s eye bokeh is clearly seen

A 2-MINUTE SUMMARY

The first full-frame zoom lens with an 800mm focal length in the world is the new Canon RF 200-800mm F6.3-9 IS USM. That would be similar to having a 30x magnification on your phone without noticeably sacrificing image quality.

Additionally, the Canon 1.4x and 2x teleconverters work with the RF 200-800mm, potentially providing an extraordinary reach of up to 1600mm (though I would advise against using this arrangement; I’ll explain why later).

The lens is reasonably priced and a great combination for amateur wildlife and sports photographers when used with Canon’s flagship APS-C mirrorless camera, the EOS R7. The 1.5x crop of the sensor format allows the lens’s maximum reach to be effectively extended to 1200mm.

I can also see the RF 200-800mm becoming very popular among owners of full-frame Canon EOS R8 cameras, or even with owners of EOS R5 cameras, for whom shooting wildlife and sports is more of a passion project or side gig. I used the lens for a brief review time on the EOS R5, just before the lens’s global release.

The lens, which measures 12.36 inches (314 mm) in length and weighs 72.3 oz (2,050 g), feels gorgeous and well-balanced when used with Canon’s DSLR-style mirrorless cameras, such as the EOS R5. Unlike front-heavy Canon DSLR lenses, which have their heaviest components at the front, this lens has them at the back.

The lens physically lengthens as you go through the zoom range, therefore I’d suggest keeping the large lens cover (provided) in place to lessen lens flare. Because of this, this lens is bulky at 800mm, but it still feels pleasant to use and is manageable to hold in the hand for lengthy periods of time.

The addition of a “smooth” or “tight” response for rapid or precise zoom adjustments via a dedicated control ring is a feature that I truly appreciate. Though it doesn’t have the professional grade L-series name, the build quality of this weather-sealed, weather-resistant lens feels excellent, and all of the control rings and buttons have a wonderful feel to them.

The greatest Canon RF 100-400mm F5.6-8 IS USM prices right now

Naturally, image stabilisation is necessary for a lens this length, and Canon claims that the RF 200-800mm has 5.5 stops of optical stabilisation, which increases to 7.5 stops when combined with the sensor-based stabilisation found on professional and enthusiast cameras like the EOS R7 and EOS R5.

Although it’s an amazing achievement, you can virtually always produce sharp handheld images at the 800mm telephoto setting with shutter rates as slow as 1/30sec. However, at such slow shutter speeds, your subjects must remain motionless to avoid motion softness and blur.

Furthermore, the lens’s small focusing distance at 200mm—less than 0.5 metres from the lens’s front end—means that it isn’t just for close-up photography of far-off things. This results in a generous magnification ratio. I’ve included a photo of little, cold-season berries (see gallery, below) to show you how close the lens can focus when it’s at its shortest distance.

The tiny maximum f/6.3-9 aperture is the big problem. Regarding depth of field, I have no issue with these aperture settings because, as the duck photos in the gallery below demonstrate, an 800mm lens set at f/9 can produce a beautiful shallow depth of field. No, the problem is in the effect on the maximum shutter speed at f/9 that can be used to freeze fast-moving activity.

To capture crisp details when taking bird photos, you should preferably utilise a shutter speed of about 1/1000s. When combined with the f/9 aperture, bright sunshine is required to get the proper exposure for your action shots. Because of this, it is impractical to utilise a 2x teleconverter with the RF 200-800mm as the maximum aperture at 1600mm is reduced to f/18. Nevertheless, the teleconverter is a tad overkill given its already extensive reach.

I used a bright afternoon with sporadic cloud cover and sun to test the 200-800mm lens, and the weather was perfect for this lens. The maximum f/9 aperture gets tough in low light, and you’ll really be testing the high ISO performance of your Canon camera.

But you do pay a price for a reasonably light full-frame lens with a respectable zoom range and lengthy reach at the telephoto end: that small maximum aperture.

I would anticipate a lens with such a large zoom range to lose some clarity at 800mm, yet the image quality is still incredibly crisp at the wide 200mm setting. If you’ll never need the telephoto end, the RF 800mm f/11 IS STM would be a better option.

I shot towards light coming through a willow tree to test the lens’s flare control when the sun was out. I was able to examine what bokeh—the appearance of out-of-focus light—looks like with this same test.

Though the RF 200-800mm’s bokeh has a noticeable cat’s eye effect in the corners, smooth and circular bokeh is regarded as the holy grail of out-of-focus light. Personally, I don’t mind bokeh with cat’s eye. More significantly, the bokeh of the RF 200-800mm appears rather smooth with little indication of chromatic aberration or onion ring distortion. The overall quality of the image is quite good.

After using the lens for a short while and gaining a sense of its handling, zoom range, and overall image quality, I believe it’s an appealing option, especially when paired with the EOS R7, for safari, sideline sports photography, and, in particular, birdwatching in pleasant weather.

Price and availability of the Canon RF 200-800mm F6.3-9 IS USM

List price of the Canon RF 200-800mm F6.3-9 IS USM is £2,299.99; sales begin in December 2023. Once I have the price for the US and Australia, I will update this page.

The standard front and rear lens caps are included in the package, along with a good-quality lens hood.

CANON RF 200-800MM F6.3-9 IS USM: SHOULD I BUY IT?

Purchase if...
You aim for maximum exposure.
Without a teleconverter, no other full-frame zoom lens can reach 800mm; when used with the EOS R7, that reach is increased by 1.5x.

You’re an outdoor photographer.
In bright light, the modest f/6.3-9 maximum aperture is ideal for sports and wildlife photography. Your Canon EOS R-series camera will perform at its best in low light.

You’re an avid photographer of birds.
Although the zoom range is broad, the 800mm telephoto lens is especially well-suited for taking pictures of small animals, such birds.

Purchase it only if…
You’re a professional sports and wildlife photographer.
Don’t get me wrong, the RF 200-800mm is a really powerful telephoto zoom. However, like many zooms, it loses some of its quality when zoomed out, particularly when compared to more expensive pro-grade telephoto lenses.

You frequently shoot in low light.
If you need to use a quick shutter speed to freeze action in poor light, the maximum f/6.3–9 aperture is rather restrictive, unless your camera performs really well at high ISO settings.

CANON RF 200-800MM F6.3-9 IS USM TESTING METHOD

Using the Canon RF 200-800mm F6.3-9 IS USM lens, I spent a sunny afternoon outside taking close-up shots of birds and other subjects.

I was able to take images at a minimum focus distance, at close range, and across the 200–800mm zoom range, as well as in high light to assess the lens’s ability to manage flare. All of these shots were taken within the brief evaluation period.

By experimenting with different aperture settings, I was able to assess the level of bokeh and sharpness of image detail.

Leave a Comment