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Which Canon RF Mirrorless Lenses Should I Buy First?

 Image of Canon EOS R Mirrorless Digital Camera with Canon EF 24-105mm f4L IS USM lens on a black background
Valentin Valkov/Shutterstock.com

So, you’re considering buying (or just bought) one of Canon’s EOS R full-frame cameras? Good shout! Mirrorless cameras aren’t the future—they’re the present. But a camera is just the start; now you also need the right lenses. Here’s which Canon RF lens you should buy first.

While the mirrorless camera lens situation isn’t quite as complex as it is for DSLRs, there are now enough options to make knowing what Canon lenses to buy first a little tricky. Let’s look at the best options to start your collection, depending on whether you’re a landscape photographer, portrait photographer, or if you’re just getting started.

The Affordable All-Rounder: Canon RF 24-240mm f/4-6.3 IS USM

canon rf 24-240mm

With the new RF lens mount, Canon is able to make lenses it never could have before—like the RF 24-240mm f/4-6.3 IS USM. At 24mm, you can shoot great landscapes, street photos, group portraits, and whatever else you want, while fully zooming in to 240mm will get you close enough to take sports and wildlife photos—helped by the built-in image stabilization. This really is the do anything, bring anywhere lens.

The 24-240mm is surprisingly compact for such a ridiculous focal range. At its smallest, it’s just 4.8-inches long—although it still weighs 1.65 pounds. However, it does save you from bringing an extra lens, which would weigh even more. With Canon’s EF lenses, you’d need to bring a 24-70mm and a 70-200mm lens (or something similar) and swap between them to have the same options.

The only real downside to the 24-240mm is its relatively narrow maximum aperture. Fully open at 24mm, f/4 is good for landscape shots but a little tight for astrophotography or low-light situations. Throughout the zoom range, it’s going to have worse low-light performance (and not give you as blurry of a background [bokeh] for portraits) as some of the more expensive options offered by Canon.

The all-round zoom is the RF mount’s most stacked category, so you do have some alternative choices. The RF 24-105mm f/4-7.1 IS STM is a bit cheaper, but its aperture situation is even more limited—and it doesn’t have the same crazy magnification. The RF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM is a little pricier and has a maximum aperture of f/4 through its whole range, so is a great option if the aperture matters more than zoom.

The RF 24-70mm f/2.8L IS USM is a lot more expensive, but with its aperture of f/2.8 even at 70mm, it’s the professional’s choice. Finally, the RF 28-70mm f/2L USM is an utterly ludicrous lens—with an appropriately large price tag. If money is no object, it’s the holy grail, but not the option for most people.

A Portrait Pick: Canon RF 85mm f/2 Macro IS STM

canon 85mm f2 rf

The super-cheap “Nifty Fifty” EF 50mm f/1.8 STM has long been the default recommendation for a portrait lens for Canon’s DSLRs. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have a direct replacement, yet. The RF 50mm f/1.2L USM is meant for professionals and costs over 10 times as much as a Nifty Fifty and an EF to EOS R adapter (although that setup does have its own tradeoffs).

For now, the RF 85mm f/2 Macro IS STM (due out at the start of November 2020) is the best affordable RF portrait lens for Canon’s mirrorless cameras. With the aperture fully open to f/2, you’ll get that beautiful blurry background you expect with high-end portraits. And 85mm is also a really nice focal length for headshots and other close-ups. It’s really flattering to your subjects.

Also, because it’s a macro lens, it’s able to focus on objects as close as 14 inches away. While not necessary for portraits, it’s a nice bonus to have. If you have wads of cash burning a hole in your pocket, the RF 85mm f/1.2L USM DS and RF 85mm f/1.2L USM are serious portrait upgrades—with serious price tags.

A Lightweight Walk Around: Canon RF 35mm f/1.8 IS Macro STM

canon rf 35mm f1.8

Sometimes, the most important quality a lens can have is that it’s convenient to carry around. Canon has some incredible RF lenses available, but a lot of them are absolute monsters. That RF 85mm f/1.2L USM mentioned above? It’s 2.63 pounds, while the RF 28-70mm f/2L USM tips the scales at over 3 pounds.

So if you want a lens you can throw on your camera and easily carry around, Canon’s most affordable RF prime lens, the RF 35mm f/1.8 IS Macro STM, is the one for you. It’s just 2.93 x 2.47 inches and weighs less than 11 ounces. Compared to the rest of Canon’s RF lineup, it’s positively minuscule.

Even better, 35mm is a great everyday focal length. It’s right in the sweet spot for street, travel, and other kinds of lifestyle photography. You might occasionally need to zoom in by walking closer to your subjects, but you will rarely be unable to get a shot you want. And, with a maximum aperture of f/1.8, it’s great in low light situations.

Really, the 35mm is in a class of its own. No other RF lens is smaller or lighter. Your only alternative option would be to carry your all-purpose zoom and accept the extra weight and bulk.

Limited (Dedicated) Landscape Options

Canon is rapidly expanding the range and variety of the RF mirrorless lenses available, but it will be a long time before every niche is covered. At the moment, there are no affordable wide-angle lenses for amateur landscape photographers. The RF 15-35mm f/2.8L IS USM is great for professionals, but it has a professional price tag.

For now, our recommendation is to stick with your all-purpose zoom for landscape shots.

Harry Guinness Harry Guinness
Harry Guinness is a photography expert and writer with nearly a decade of experience. His work has been published in newspapers like the New York Times and on a variety of other websites, including Lifehacker. Read Full Bio »