Fstoppers Reviews the Canon RF100-500mm Lens: My Initial Impressions Are Outstanding

Canon has been very busy in the last few years playing catchup in the mirrorless game. Along with a number of new bodies, Canon has also released a bunch of new lenses, including the brilliant RF100-500mm f/4.5-7.1L lens. I’ve had it for a couple of months now, and here are some of my initial thoughts, along with various images I’ve taken.

The most difficult thing when you transition to a new system is working out what to do with all your old gear. Do you keep it? Do you sell it? Do you adapt it or do you just give it to your kids? When I made the decision to move from Canon’s DSLRs to its new mirrorless system via the Canon EOS R5, I also knew that in order to reap the full benefits of the camera, I’d need to invest in some RF lenses, too. For the work that I do, one of those lenses was the RF 100-500mm f/4.5-7.1L lens. It’s certainly not cheap at $2,699, but it’s not extraordinarily expensive, either. And having used it in a variety of situations now for a couple of months, I think it’s worth every last cent. That’s what I want to elaborate on today, but in the interest of fairness, I’ll start with a couple of things I don’t like.

First, The Cons

Actually, there are only two things I think could be better, and they’re directly related to each other. The first is that there’s no locking mechanism on the lens. This is ironic, for me at least, because one of the things I first noticed and loved on the new RF24-105mm was a locking feature, which was missing on my old EF mount lens. The problem with no locking function leads to my second issue: lens creep. Because it’s such a large lens with a zoom range from 100-500mm, that lens creep begins as soon as you’ve attached the lens to the body.

Granted, you’re not going to be ambling casually around the city for a day with this giant lens hanging off your body, but even so, the lens creep is noticeable and makes for a rather cumbersome movement, especially if, like me, you do a lot of work around the water and on rocks, where you need to climb around a lot. I’m not quite sure why Canon can’t add a simple lock feature, because all of my Tamrons, including the 150-600mm, have such a locking feature, which you can see in the image below. 

Weight and Handling

Staying with the Tamron 150-600mm, I have to say that it is incredible how much lighter the Canon EOS R5 and RF 100-500mm lens combination is compared with the Canon 5D Mark IV and Tamron 150-600mm setup I’d been using before I made the switch. Indeed, according to the spec sheets, the EOS R5 paired with the RF 100-500mm lens is about a full kilogram lighter. That pairing comes in at about 2 kgs, while the pairing of the 5D Mark IV and the Tamron 150-600mm comes at a tick under 3 kgs. Having used both setups extensively, it is extraordinary how much lighter and easier to manage the RF100-500mm is. Yes, I’m fully aware that the Tamron extends a full 100mm farther to 600mm, but even so, a whole kilogram lighter is incredible. And I have a much more user-friendly out in the field. Here are some images of the two setups side by side.

This is both setups at 150mm. As you can see, the RF 100-500mm on the EOS R5 is slightly shorter, but not by a whole lot. However, when you start zooming to longer focal lengths, the difference becomes more pronounced. The image below is both lenses at 500mm. 

This is the same comparison from a different angle. From this angle, you can see that the RF 100-500mm is significantly more compact than the Tamron when they’re both at 500mm.

For all intents and purposes, neither are modestly sized lenses ,and whenever you pull either out, you’re rather conspicuous, particularly so with the white RF 100-500mm. But what I have really noticed is the difference in weight, as opposed to the difference in length, so much so that I haven’t used a tripod with the RF 100-500mm lens yet. In two months of constant shooting in all sorts of scenarios, I have yet to attach the EOS R5 and the RF 100-500mm lens to a tripod. Just writing that sounds unbelievable to me when I consider that in the years I owned and used the Tamron 150-600mm with either the 5D Mark IV or the 7D Mark II, I never used it handheld once. Speaking only for myself, I simply couldn’t, as it was too big, heavy, and bulky to deal with, especially when I stood on rock ledges for hours on end.

Example Images

So, now that I’ve established that the RF 100-500mm is lighter and far easier to deal with out in the field, what about the images it produces? Personally, I can’t speak highly enough of this lens, for a variety of reasons. But let me show you some images, and they can do the talking.

For this image, I waited patiently because lots of kids use this road to go to a nearby school over the back of the mountains. At mid-afternoon, there are always some gorgeous silhouettes as the sun begins to set. I shot this at 160mm, and the lens captured the boy on the bike and the gradations behind him beautifully. Also, there was absolutely no hint of any chromatic aberration at the top of the frame where the mountains met the sky. 

This shot was taken at 200mm. I hadn’t actually planned on getting this shot, as I was down the coast for a different assignment, but I saw this tourist boat leaving the port as I drove along the coastal road, so I quickly pulled over and grabbed my gear. This was shot handheld in Servo mode, and the automatic focus combined with image stabilization made it so simple to get shot after shot that I could use. It was more about getting the right composition rather than worrying about camera setup or focus issues, which is what you want, ultimately.

This next shot below was taken from a position a few yards away. It was shot at 400mm, handheld.

One great thing I’ve found so far using the EOS R5 in combination with the RF 100-500mm lens is that you really don’t need to do much editing at all, especially with regards to sharpening. I try to keep editing times as short as possible whenever I can, but if you have a paying client, you still need to scan the frame with a critical, fine-toothed comb to find any imperfections. Thus far at least, I haven’t had to make too many edits at all on account of the image quality straight out of camera. The image below was shot handheld at 150mm.

These next two images show you the range and image quality you can get with the RF 100-500mm lens. Except for converting from raw to JPEG, I haven’t done any post-processing at all. The first image of the three workers up on the mountain was shot at 100mm. 

This next shot was taken at 500mm. What’s most incredible is that if you zoom in to 100% and beyond, you can actually read the numbers on the black piping. Reading the Japanese characters on the man’s helmet is easy.

Added Versatility

Starting at 100mm, the RF 100-500mm lens is still wide enough to do some landscape photography. Of course, it’s not going to be your default lens for landscape photography, but if the scene permits and might benefit from compressing the elements, then this lens can work beautifully in a landscape setting. However, one of the biggest bonus features is that the lens front filter size is 77mm. Before I made the transition to a mirrorless setup, I made a habit of buying lenses with a 77mm filter size so that I could use all my filters on them and not have to buy a bunch of different filters for different lenses. However, I could never use any of those filters on my Tamron 150-600mm lens, as its filter thread is 95mm. In switching to the EOS R5, I opted for the RF 24-105mm lens to accompany it initially based partly on its 77mm front filter size, and as a bonus, I found out that the RF 100-500mm also has a 77mm front filter size. That opens up a world of opportunities, especially if you’re working in settings that allow for long exposure photography. Here’s an example shot at 100mm, with the Lee Filters 10 stop Big Stopper attached.

Summing Up

When I made the decision to switch to a mirrorless system, I also had to weigh which lenses I’d need for my circumstances. The RF 100-500mm f/4.5-7.1L IS USM lens ticked every box on the spec sheet, but that doesn’t always mean you’re guaranteed success. However, now that I’ve had the lens for a couple of months, I think it’s my favorite lens without a doubt. It’s light, you can use it handheld for hours if you need to in a variety of settings, the image stabilization and image quality are superb, and its 77mm filter size is just cream on top. It’s also compatible with the RF 1.4x extender and the 2x extender if you need added reach. Aside from the missing lock feature and the lens creep that leads to it, I really can’t find any fault with this lens at all. It’s expensive, no doubt, but if you have the money and you’re on the fence, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it.

What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.


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