Year in Review 2021: Canon Lenses

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With another year dedicated to mirrorless, Canon had a productive 2021 regarding lens releases, with seven new optics added to its rapidly growing RF system. The brand’s releases this past year straddle both ends of the focal length spectrum, with a few falling into the ultra-wide-angle category and a few hitting the telephoto and super-telephoto sweet spots for which RF shooters, especially those who picked up the new EOS R3 this year, have been pining. Let’s dive into Canon’s lens releases from 2021.

RF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM

Maybe the most “standard” of lenses releases this year, the RF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM is the prototypical true macro lens of the RF line, and succeeding the classic and beloved EF 100mm f/2.8L from DSLR days. This new take on a 100mm macro lens isn’t just a straightforward replica of the EF version of this focal length, though―it features an all-new optical design for mirrorless and even includes some new tech. A unique Spherical Aberration Control Ring lets you adjust how bokeh is rendered (e.g., change its shape and character) and it also distinguishes itself with a greater-than-life-size maximum magnification of 1.4x and a minimum focusing distance of just 10.2" for seriously close-up shooting.

RF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM
RF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM

RF 400mm f/2.8L IS USM and RF 600mm f/4L IS USM

Dwarfing the 100mm Macro, Canon simultaneously released two super-telephoto primes at the same time, making distant sports, wildlife, and nature shooting a reality for RF shooters. The RF 400mm f/2.8L IS USM and RF 600mm f/4L IS USM lenses are crown jewels in the RF lineup and are optically identical to the EF versions of the same focal lengths. Besides the already proven excellent optics, these two super-teles have the RF-optimized physical design for native lens performance, including responsive AF and robust image stabilization that compensates for up to 5.5 stops of camera shake. Beyond the inherited optics, these lenses also benefit from the revised form factor of the EF versions and represent relatively lightweight and portable designs, considering their focal length and maximum apertures, allowing for easier handheld and monopod-based use.

RF 600mm f/4L IS USM
RF 600mm f/4L IS USM

RF 100-400mm f/5.6-8 IS USM

The final telephoto of 2021 is like a bridge between the other teles of the year: The RF 100-400mm f/5.6-8 IS USM is a versatile zoom that emphasizes sleekness, portability, and versatility. Compared to the 400mm and 600mm, this 100-400mm is at the opposite end of the spectrum in terms of inconspicuousness, measuring just 6.5" long and weighing 1.4 lb. This is a choice lens for hiking, nature-oriented sports, and other applications where the tricky combination of reach and portability is needed. Also, when paired with select R-series bodies, Coordinated IS helps to control up to six stops of camera shake for ensured handheld use.

RF 100-400mm f/5.6-8 IS USM
RF 100-400mm f/5.6-8 IS USM

RF 14-35mm f/4L IS USM

At the other end of the focal-length spectrum, Canon also released a trio of ultra-wides in 2021, and among those, the RF 14-35mm f/4L IS USM takes the place as the most versatile and well rounded. Covering ultra-wide to standard wide, this zoom features a constant f/4 maximum aperture and is fitted with all the optical tech, weather sealing, and AF performance you’d expect from the latest L-series lens. Beyond this, and unique for an ultra-wide, this zoom also sports an Optical Image Stabilizer to make low-light handheld shooting very much a reality.

RF 14-35mm f/4L IS USM
RF 14-35mm f/4L IS USM

RF 16mm f/2.8 STM

The RF 16mm f/2.8 STM is the pleasant surprise lens release for 2021 and stands out as that lens you maybe didn’t know you wanted but, after its release, became a must-have for many shooters. Ultra-wide and ultra-compact is a tough combination to pull off, but this sleek prime manages to squeeze a non-fisheye, ultra-wide field of view into a portable package, making this a great option for walkaround architecture and interior shooting. Also, it’s a perfect choice for vloggers, because you can get comfortable selfie framing from arm’s reach, and its weight won’t make your arm muscles ache too much during recording.

RF 16mm f/2.8 STM
RF 16mm f/2.8 STM

RF 5.2mm f/2.8L Dual Fisheye

The final lens of the year, and easily Canon’s most unique lens release of 2021, is the RF 5.2mm f/2.8L Dual Fisheye. Immediately you can tell this isn’t an ordinary lens—it’s not even an ordinary fisheye lens; it’s a purpose-built lens for 3D virtual reality imaging. Part of the EOS VR System, and when paired with a firmware-updated EOS R5 camera, this lens can aid in capturing stereoscopic 3D 180° VR imagery at DCI 8K30p or DCI 4K60p. It’s the first lens capable of capturing this type of imagery to a single sensor and helps realize a seamless workflow when producing immersive content for viewing on VR head mount displays, like an Oculus Quest 2 or similar. And, as a lens in and of itself, it’s still an L-series Canon lens, featuring top-of-the-line optics and coatings, weather sealing, coordinated manual focusing, and a bright f/2.8 maximum aperture for working in low-light conditions.

RF 5.2mm f/2.8L Dual Fisheye
RF 5.2mm f/2.8L Dual Fisheye

What are you thinking about Canon’s 2021 lens releases? Did the lens you were wishing for come out this year? What are you hoping to see in 2022? Let us know in the Comments section, below.

8 Comments

I was hoping for a 300mm f/4 prime

I'd love to see a lens like that in the future, especially considering Canon's focus on making RF telephoto lenses smaller and lighter, it'd be great to have such reach in a smaller form factor.

The 100-400 should have been a constant 5.6.

Definitely a tough call as I think there are clear positives and negatives for both. By going f/5.6-8, I think it goes to show how much value Canon sees in creating lighter and smaller lenses versus gaining a stop. It also goes to show how much Canon believes in their in-body image stabilization and that they're not worried about handheld shooting with slower lenses. On the other hand, a constant f/5.6 would have been a great option, especially at the long end.

I would like to see a canon rf 135 f2 lens. The canon ef 135 f2 is great mid focal length lens.

Very much agree on this. I'd love to see a nice option like a 135mm that's longer than an 85mm but still short of the super tele range.

That RF 5.2mm f/2.8L Dual Fisheye is an odd lens. I'd be interested in what it does. 

It sounds like a really fun lens and a unique solution for VR and 3D shooting applications. It's an area I'm not too familiar with, but it's definitely piqued my interest in something to try out in the future.

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