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Looking closely at the RF 800 and the RF 1200 lenses
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Looking closely at the RF 800 and the RF 1200 lenses

When these lenses were first announced I was rather interested in them. After we have all the details, I’m inclined to call these lenses something not too complimentary to Canon.

Canon doing things like this, makes me feel like I have an obligation to say something.   Canon’s latest trends of doing things like this concern me.

Essentially these lenses are re-wrapped RF lenses 400mm F2.8L and 600mm F4L with some 2x optics added internally to the lens.  For that, you need to pay an additional $4,000-6,000.

Are they worth it?

Optical quality is where this would be at.  If these lenses would be dramatically better than the RF 400, and 600mm lenses with a 2x extender, then Canon would have a reason for marking up the lenses (but not to the crazy extent they did).  For instance, the RF 600mm is right now, $13,000.  Add an RF extender for $600, and that gives you basically the same optical quality as a $20,000 1200mm F8L IS USM.

Sure the 1200mm F8L is slightly better in the corners along the meridional, but both lenses basically resolve the same, especially near the center where you are more apt to have your target, and are looking to even crop further from there.  It’s certainly not $6,400 worth of difference.  Contrast is only slightly better in the 1200mm F8L, nothing you’d even notice.

Is the 800mm any better?

Here’s the comparison between the RF 800mm, EF 800mm and what it would look like with the RF 400mm F2.8L with a 2x extender.  Keep in mind that the EF 800mm F5.6L is $13,000, the RF 400mm F2.8L and 2x extender is $12,600, and the RF 800mm F5.6L is $17,000.

In this case, there is a sharpness difference between using an extender with the RF 400mm F2.8 and 2x extender off-center and after the APS-C cropping point. However, unlike most lenses, the sharpness decreases quickly and remains fairly constant to the corners of the image.  This may be an influence on your images, but to be honest, it would probably be difficult to tell the difference unless you were comparing side by side.  The EF 800mm F5.6 has better contrast until the corners and better center sharpness than the RF 800mm F5.6L.  The EF 800mm resolution corner performance is similar to the new RF 800mm. Again, the 800mm F5.6L is $4,000 more expensive than the other two lenses.

I’m all for Canon trying to innovate and do things differently.  I’m all for them charging a fair price for their lenses and equipment.  I’m certainly not going to be a Canon fanboy and try to put lipstick on a pig when it comes to these new lens releases.  I’m obviously not impressed.

Is there actually a use case for these lenses?

Believe it or not, yes.  While in most cases, you may be better off using the RF 400, and RF 600mm lens (or even their EF counterparts) and using a 2x extender. However, you can’t stack Canon’s extenders.  So, if you use 2x extender on your 600mm F4L and want to go another 1.4x or 2x, you cannot because of the protruding elements on the extender.    So that would be a good reason to get the new lenses.

Is that worth a $4,000 or $6,000 to you? To get an extra 2x extension?

That depends, and it may also depend on your camera. If you use an R3 or an R6, then you have 20MP and most likely not many pixels on a faraway target. In this case, you may need the new lenses. Higher pixel density cameras would allow you to crop further and eliminate possibly the need to stack extenders so aggressively, but with 20MP cameras, you are more limited.  Given the price difference of the lenses, if you are using an R6, it’s cheaper to sell the R6 and purchase the R5 and use the older RF 400mm and 600mm with extenders, as the pixel density of the R5’s 45mp sensor has a crop factor of 1.5x to the 20MP of the R6 and R3 cameras.  You would still come out ahead money-wise.

If you have the EF versions of the 400 or 600 or even the 800mm lenses, then you can use Kenko extenders or Canon 2x extender II (not III ) to extend up to and past the focal lengths supported by these RF lenses and not lose a significant amount of optical quality.   You can also use the EF extenders and the 12mm extension tube to stack extenders. THe problem with these options is that the lenses are reaching the discontinued phase from Canon and it's only a matter of time until we lose support for these EF super telephotos.  These lenses are long-term investments.

I don’t have all the answers. If you have an R3, then these lenses are for you if you are needing to stack extenders using the more conventional RF 400 or RF 600mm lenses. If you have the EF versions of these lenses, then no, avoid purchasing these lenses. The new lenses are really the only option if you need to have an extreme focal length and wish everything to be native RF mount, as both the 800 and 1200mm can go to 1600 and 2400mm respectively, which the 400mm and 600mm lenses cannot. This may change dramatically if Kenko comes out with RF extenders.

Like many of you, I was a little surprised at the price - I hope this article helps with your decision-making and that no one makes a pretty large mistake and regrets it later.

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