With the launch of the Canon EOS C70 and Canon EOS R5, Canon is pushing the boundaries of video camera innovation. RF lenses have been designed with the needs of videographers and filmmakers in mind right from the start, and the RF mount enables a wealth of enhancements.
"The high-speed communication between the lens and the camera is a big advantage," explains Canon Europe Professional Imaging Product Specialist Mike Burnhill. "One of the benefits is that we are able to use electronic focus breathing suppression to prevent the angle of view from changing as you focus.
"A normal cinema lens tends to be very large because it incorporates a mechanical mechanism to help overcome focus breathing. But the RF mount and the use of Nano USMs and floating focusing groups means that we can do that electronically, enabling a very compact lens design."
Another aspect of RF lenses that’s been specifically developed for video is the aperture mechanism. All RF lenses enable the aperture to be adjusted in 1/8 stop increments, which is much more precise than the 1/3 stops used for stills photography. "Changing the aperture in 1/3 stop increments while you’re filming creates noticeable step changes in brightness," says Mike. "But with 1/8 stop adjustments, that change is extremely smooth and imperceptible."
These are just two of the features that make RF lenses great for video, but which of the growing range of zooms and primes offers the most creative features for filmmakers? Here are six of the best Canon RF lenses for video to consider…
Best standard full-frame Canon lens
"In the video world, it's not always about being super sharp or resolving an amazing level of detail," explains Mike. "It’s mainly 'the look' that's important to the DoP. This is a lens that ticks every box. It's super-sharp, with incredible resolution and fast focusing – but it also has that stunning look."
Having the widest available maximum aperture in the Canon EOS range means that the Canon RF 50mm F1.2L USM lens is not only a consummate low-light performer, it also enables you to isolate the subject in an incredibly cinematic way. A 10-blade aperture and both UD and aspherical lens elements have been incorporated into the design, giving a signature blend of outstanding sharpness and beautiful blur.
"With the RF 50mm F1.2L USM lens attached to your camera, you can turn any space into a stunning location," adds Mike. "It also produces flattering skin tones and has a natural perspective on a full-frame camera, making it a great choice for filming people."
Best Canon lens for bokeh
The Canon RF 85mm F1.2L USM DS lens uses the same mechanics and optical formula as the Canon RF 85mm F1.2L USM, but it has a special Defocus Smoothing (DS) coating on a couple of the elements that further blurs the background.
"It gives you a totally unique look that's unachievable by anything else on the market," Mike explains. "The background looks like it's been shot with a 1930s cine lens, but the foreground looks like it's captured in 2020 8K resolution. You can essentially create two feelings in one image. If you love shooting at f/1.2 and you love soft bokeh, this lens adds that extra level of performance on top of what is already a cutting-edge product."
The bokeh-enhancing DS effect is really only beneficial at apertures larger than f/2.8, so this is a lens that almost certainly requires ND filters when shooting video. "One thing to bear in mind, though, is that the DS coatings reduce the light transmission value to T2.2 when shooting at F1.2, so the standard version of the lens might be a better option if you’re shooting in low light," Mike suggests.
Best ultra-wide-angle Canon RF lens
With its outstanding image quality and robust, weather-sealed construction, the first lens in Canon’s trinity of professional RF zooms enables you to capture creative new angles.
The Canon RF 15-35MM F2.8L IS USM lens's optical design includes three aspherical and two UD elements, along with SubWavelength structure Coating (SWC) and Air Sphere Coating (ASC) for exceptional contrast and edge-to-edge sharpness. Nano USM autofocus and a highly effective optical Image Stabilizer further enables you to make the most of the lens's clarity.
The Canon RF 15-35MM F2.8L IS USM lens follows on from the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM, although the extra millimetre at the wide end gives a notable gain in the angle of view. And it's not just filmmakers using full-frame EOS R System cameras that benefit.
"For the Super 35mm EOS C70 user, this lens gives the equivalent angle of view of a standard zoom," explains Mike. "The camera's electronic stabilisation works co-operatively with the lens's Image Stabilizer as well, giving you an enhanced level of stability."
Best Canon RF lens for travel
This high-performance L-series lens combines the stunning image quality of a set of prime lenses with the convenience of a zoom. Factor in the large f/2 maximum aperture, and you've got an RF lens that offers incredible creative control.
When the Canon RF 28-70mm F2L USM lens is attached to a Canon EOS R5 or EOS R6, you can also take advantage of the camera's in-body image stabilisation (IBIS) for sharp handheld recording. In fact, as Mike reveals, the unique design of this lens means it's capable of reducing the effects of camera shake more effectively than some stabilised lenses.
"One of the core functionalities of the RF mount is the wide diameter and short flange back, which allows us to design lenses with very large image circles. With a large image circle, you can move the camera sensor around more and correct for much larger amounts of vibration.
"The Canon RF 28-70mm F2L USM lens has a large image circle, which means you can actually get 8-stops of stabilisation (in stills terms) with the IBIS of the EOS R5 and R6. This is a big lens with no image stabilisation, but it's now able to outperform many lenses from other systems that have built-in stabilisation. You're able to achieve gimbal-like performance without a gimbal.
Best telephoto Canon RF lens
Although considerably smaller and lighter than the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8 lenses that have gone before it, the Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8L IS USM packs a substantial upgrade in performance. With aspherical and Super UD elements, SWC and Super Spectra coatings and a 9-blade aperture, it offers incredible optical quality. Weather-sealing, fluorine coatings and a 5-stop Image Stabilizer ensure that the lens continues to perform in challenging conditions, too.
The Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8L IS USM lens is the first RF lens to feature dual Nano USMs. As Mike explains, these are integral to the lens's outstanding suppression of focus breathing. "The optical design features a floating lens group that can be controlled independently. You normally have four to five elements in a focusing group, and they move together, but in this case, the floating group can do other things. That's why we have two Nano USMs for this lens, so you can control two different lens groups working independently.
"Another benefit of being able to move the floating focus group is that you can increase the focusing distance internally, so it focuses much closer than the EF version – right down to 70cm.
"The EF version of the RF 70-200mm F2.8L IS USM was such a popular lens for video; it has a versatile zoom range, it's built like a tank and the f/2.8 aperture is ideal for some level of control over the background," Mike says. “But now you've got the 1/8 stop aperture adjustment, even faster focusing and the floating system inside to compensate for the focus breathing."
Best multipurpose Canon RF lens
It might not have the bright maximum aperture of the other zooms in this RF video lens roundup, but the Canon RF 24-240mm F4-6.3 IS USM lens's strength is its versatility. "This lightweight 10x zoom covers a large range of focal lengths, which is fantastic for those filming situations where you need one lens to do it all," Mike says. "It’s a great option for broadcast and entertainment use, where you need to cover a lot of shots quickly."
Mike also highlights the lens's control ring as an advantage for video. "The control ring on this lens also doubles up as the focus ring, so it is by nature de-clicked. This gives you the opportunity to change settings silently if you need to."
The lens doesn't have the electronic focus breathing suppression of the Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8L IS USM lens, but it is armed with a 5-stop Image Stabilizer and Nano USM for rapid, quiet autofocus and smooth pull-focus effects.