Hands-on with the Canon RF 14-35mm F4 L IS USM

Canon’s RF 14-35mm F4 L IS USM is billed as a more affordable, lightweight alternative to the flagship wide-angle zoom for RF mount, the RF 15-35mm F2.8. We’ve been shooting with it for a few days (watch this space for a full gallery of samples soon) and so far, our impressions of this compact ultrawide are very positive.

Click through this article for a closer look at its features, specifications and handling qualities.

Wide zoom range

Offering the broadest focal length range of any current Canon zoom lens, when it comes to the maximum field of view, the RF 14-35mm F4 even edges our its high-end peer, the more costly 15-35mm f2.8. The difference between 14mm and 15mm isn’t huge, but there is a difference, and for photographers that don’t need the extra stop of light offered by the 15-35mm, we suspect that the lighter and more compact 14-35mm will prove very attractive.

Compact and lightweight

The weight saving over the RF 15-35mm is considerable. The RF 14-35mm weighs in at 540 g (1.2 lb) compared to 840 g (1.85 lb). This is despite a nominally similar optical makeup, consisting of 16 elements in 12 groups (including three UD elements and three aspherical elements – one more aspherical element than the 15-35mm).

Unsurprisingly, Canon’s engineers have leaned somewhat on digital corrections in the design of this lens, specifically to control distortion at wide-angle settings (distortion correction is mandated in-camera for this lens and cannot be turned off). The theoretical trade-off to this approach is a potential loss of corner sharpness relative to a design that corrects for distortion optically; however, it isn’t so simple in practice. Not correcting for distortion optically can afford freedoms in optical design, for example, to correct for other aberrations or optimize certain aspects of image quality. In fact, it’s not uncommon to see lenses relying on digital distortion correction outperform similar lenses requiring less correction after the fact, with respect to corner sharpness.

Meanwhile, the physical benefits of mandating digital correction in this mirrorless lens design are obvious in its small size and weight (and support for conventional screw-in filters) compared to 14mm and wider lenses designed for DSLR.

Dust and moisture-resistant

While lighter and less costly than the 15-35mm, the 14-35mm F4 is rated to the same level of dust and moisture resistance as other L-line lenses in the RF range. In this picture, you might just be able to make out the rubber grommet that seals the lens/camera interface.

Somewhat unusually for an ultra-wide lens, the RF 14-35mm F2.8L IS USM features optical image stabilization, which is effective to a rated 5.5 stops (per CIPA). When paired with a camera that features sensor-based stabilization (currently the EOS R5 and R6) stabilization effect increases to a rated 7 stops. While wider angles of view allow for longer unstabilized exposures anyway, the option to hand-hold exposures as long as 1/2 or even potentially full seconds at the lens’s widest angle setting will be attractive to fans of low light or long exposure photography (and handy in situations where a tripod isn’t practical).

Autofocus and controls

Autofocus is handled by a Nano USM focus motor, and in our experience with this lens on EOS R5 and R6 bodies, it’s near-instantaneous and near-silent when shooting stills, and very smooth during video capture. A ‘focus by wire’ manual focus ring is there for manual control if required, and at the very front of the barrel is a control ring, of the kind now common in Canon’s RF lineup. This can be customized to fulfill various functions including exposure compensation or manual aperture control.

Minimum focus and filter thread

Minimum focus is about 20 cm (~8 in) at all focal lengths, with the (impressive) maximum magnification ratio of 0.38X being achieved at the 35mm setting. Despite the extremely wide-angle offered by 14mm, the 14-35mm features a conventional threaded filter ring, which accommodates 77mm filters without the need for an adapter.

Included lens hood

A slim hood is supplied, to help reduce the risk of flare from off-axis light sources, and the hood can be reversed for storage. Without the hood, the RF 14-35mm measures just under four inches long, making it a genuinely compact option, just as much at home on the EOS RP as it is the R5 or R6. At an MSRP of $1699 it’s not exactly ‘cheap’ but this represents a $600 saving over the faster and considerably bulkier 15-35mm F2.8.

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