The benefits of using Canon RF lenses for video

From sublime optical quality and superior handling to high-speed metadata, find out why RF lenses are perfect for video professionals.
A filmmaker changing an RF lens on the Canon EOS R5.

Canon's innovative RF lenses offer super-fast focusing and outstanding optical quality, making them an ideal option for filmmakers. © Martin Bissig

When the Canon EOS R System was being developed, the design of the RF lenses came first. Canon's engineers set out to create the ideal lens, and the new RF mount combined with the EOS R System's full-frame mirrorless architecture allowed them to realise their goal.

The RF mount enables a new freedom in lens design, where large apertures, high resolving power and cutting-edge components are combined to create unique optics for shooting video and stills. It's not just the exceptional image quality of RF lenses that leaves a lasting impression – they are beautiful to use, too. The 12-pin RF mount expands the quantity and speed of communication between the lens and the camera, bringing an enhanced level of autofocus, image stabilisation and customisable control that make RF lenses the perfect choice for video capture.

Four RF lenses were available at the launch of the Canon EOS R System in 2018 and the range of RF zooms and primes has grown exponentially since then. Revolutionary lenses such as the Canon RF 600mm F11 IS STM and RF 800mm F11 IS STM super-telephotos, and the RF 5.2mm F2.8L DUAL FISHEYE virtual reality lens have opened up new opportunities for creative filmmaking.

With its game-changing 8K video and 45MP photo resolution, the Canon EOS R5 set a new benchmark for full-frame hybrid camera performance. But it wouldn't have been possible to realise some of the EOS R5's uncompromising capabilities if it wasn't for the RF mount. The EOS R5 C and Canon EOS C70 have refined that successful formula, bringing RF capabilities to the Cinema EOS line of video cameras.

The RF lens range has also expanded to cover professional video production. The Canon RF Cine Prime lenses mirror the EF-mount Cine Prime series, but they're bolstered by the benefits of native support for the RF mount. The seven RF Cine Primes, which together span 14mm to 135mm, share the same exceptional image quality, bright T-stop values, geared rings and focus throw as their EF stablemates, and also offer the advanced communication between lens and camera that is only possible with the RF mount.

Here, we look at some of the benefits that RF lenses can bring for videographers.

Filmmaker Ivan D'Antonio stands behind a tripod mounted with a Canon EOS R5.

Ivan D'Antonio (above) and Martin Bissig (pictured right) were two of the first pros to test the Canon EOS R5 and RF lenses' filmmaking capabilities. © Ivan D'Antonio

Filmmaker Martin Bissig holding the Canon EOS R5 fitted with an RF lens.

Combining the Canon EOS R5 with an IS-equipped RF lens makes it possible to capture shake-free footage, even when shooting handheld. "I use all the Canon RF lenses that are equipped with stabilisation, and the IS performs so well," says Martin. © Martin Bissig

1. Breakthrough design for unrivalled image quality

RF lenses share the same large 54mm internal diameter as Canon's EF lenses, but they have a shorter flange distance from the mount to the camera sensor.

"When the engineers were creating design mock-ups, they realised that the existing EF mount diameter is actually perfect," reveals Ram Sarup, Pro Video Product Specialist at Canon Europe. "But without a mirror assembly, the distance between the rear element of the lens and the focal plane of an EOS R System camera's sensor is reduced to just 20mm. That's less than half the flange distance in an EOS DSLR. This means we can now have larger apertures for a given focal length and achieve corner to corner sharpness with minimal light falloff."

The design strengths of the RF range have been brought into the professional cinema lens sphere with the CN-R PRIME LENSES lenses. Compact, lightweight and robust, they're built to withstand the daily demands of professional production and to deliver the highest quality imagery. The smooth, long rotation of the focus and iris rings enables precise adjustments, while consistent gear positions and front diameters ensure that the same filters, matte boxes and other accessories can be utilised across the range.

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A pair of hands holding a Canon EOS R System camera with an RF Cine Prime lens attached.

The large, high-speed RF mount enables rapid transfer of lens data to the camera, making it possible to apply in-camera distortion correction to Canon RF Cine Prime lenses and transfer metadata in real-time.

2. Faster communication

Compared with the 8-pin EF mount, the RF mount's 12-pin connection provides more communication power between the lens and the camera. This enables a number of improvements, such as more responsive autofocus and real-time Digital Lens Optimisation (DLO).

The Canon RF Cine Prime lenses offer the same focal lengths and T-stop values as the EF Cine Primes and Sumire Primes but benefit from the advanced communication capabilities of the RF mount. "Although lens information is outputted to the camera when you're using CN-E lenses, the increased communication speed and bandwidth that you're getting with the RF mount allows a lot more information to be transferred," says Ram.

"One of the advantages of this is the ability to apply in-camera electronic distortion correction. That's not something that's available on the CN-E Primes.”

The faster communication also enables a sophisticated level of image stabilisation. A number of RF mount cameras feature In-Body Image Stabilisation (IBIS) which works in co-ordination with an IS lens to deliver up to 8-stops of stability. IBIS also adds stabilisation for those shooting with non-IS lenses.

"Gimbals will always have a place," says Ram. "If you're sprinting after an athlete or if you're working with the camera mounted to a vehicle, for example, then a gimbal will do a better job than any human being could when shooting handheld. But for typical run-and-gun filming, most people would find the new level of IS to be more than sufficient. If you're using a telephoto RF lens, you'll certainly see a huge difference with the Canon EOS R3, EOS R5 or EOS R6 Mark II."

Martin Bissig filming a skateboarder with the Canon EOS R5.

"The key benefit of using an RF lens with the stabilisation system in cameras such as the Canon EOS R5 and EOS R6 Mark II is that they work hand in hand," says Ram. "It knows exactly which lens you have mounted, so it can pick the best profile for optimised performance." © Martin Bissig

A mountain biker mid-stunt and upside down, silhouetted against the sky and framed by trees.

"If you mount an EF 70-200mm lens on an EOS DSLR, Cinema EOS camera or EOS R System camera (via an adapter), you get some focus breathing when you shift the focus between objects in the foreground and background. The RF 70-200mm F2.8L IS USM lens reduces this significantly, and the Canon RF Cine Primes minimise it even further," says Ram. © Martin Bissig

3. Focusing designed for video

The large elements used in a fast RF lens result in a heavier focus group, but the Nano USM or Dual Nano USM actuators offer a powerful, compact and quiet way to drive autofocus that's ideal for shooting movies. The STM AF actuator employed in other RF lenses gives smooth, near-silent focusing that's a real benefit when recording audio with a camera-mounted microphone.

"While there may still be people who are apprehensive about using autofocus for filmmaking, we've introduced many useful features into cameras that enable filmmakers to start to rely on the autofocus capabilities," says Ram. "If you're a solo shooter, Dual Pixel CMOS AF is a godsend. Filmmakers have come back to us to say how accurate they've found it, and how the image doesn't snap into focus with that obvious digital look."

"If you're a filmmaker, the last thing you want to happen when you're manually focusing is to go past the subject, then have to rotate the ring in the opposite direction to bring the image back into focus. That's not pleasing to the eye when you're seeing that in video,” says Ram. “With the communication system on the RF mount, however, manual focusing adjustments are far more precise. It's as close as you will get to having a mechanically focusing lens."

The Dual Pixel Focus Guide, which is available in RF-mount Cinema EOS cameras and several EOS R System cameras makes manual focusing a breeze. "It's an amazingly effective tool," adds Ram. "Especially when you're shooting with manual focus lenses such as Canon RF Cine Primes.

"You're able to display a distance indicator on the screen or in the EVF, which informs you of whether you're back focusing or front focusing on your subject. It's fantastic when you're filming in high resolution, such as 8K on the EOS R5 C, because it enables you to ensure that you're nailing the focus every time."

A man rides a bicycle in a snowy scene with steep, snow-covered mountains behind, wearing a helmet with a camera rigged to the front.

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A hand on a Canon RF 50mm F1.2L USM lens attached to a Canon EOS R5.

A customisable lens control ring on Canon's RF photo lenses provides direct access to camera settings, offering a manual feel with heightened control. © Ivan D'Antonio

4. Improved handling

Photographic RF lenses feature a dedicated control ring that can be customised with a range of camera controls, including aperture, ISO and exposure compensation. It provides an accurate way to adjust the key camera settings without having to take your eye from the viewfinder.

"You've got people who are coming to the EOS R System from the video side, and you've got the people who are coming to it from the photography side," says Ram. "The cameras and lenses have been designed so that they can be customised according to the individual's needs. For instance, guerrilla filmmakers may want to have the RF lens control ring assigned to either ISO or exposure compensation. That way, if they're moving between locations of varying light, they are able to control the exposure in the same way they would with a variable ND filter."

Also, when zooming, the 1/8-stop aperture adjustment and zero fluctuation eliminates exposure shift and makes it possible to alter the exposure with the aperture without the rapid changes in brightness that occur with every other non-cinema lens.

With their newly developed knurled, fixed ring design, Canon RF Cine Primes make handheld operation more comfortable, intuitive and efficient. "The CN-R PRIME LENSES lenses have a longer length than their EF Cine Prime and Sumire Prime equivalents," confirms Ram, "but it's a lot easier to grip the lens when you're attaching and detaching it."

The geared rings across all Cine Prime lenses provide greater control over existing RF photo lenses, as does the 300° long focus throw – features that are consistent across Canon's cinema prime lenses.

Importantly, having a native RF cinema lens range removes the need for a mount adaptor, allowing for a more seamless handling experience with Cinema EOS cameras. "Cinema lenses overall are heavier than photography lenses," Ram says, "and over a period of time you might end up with a more fragile connection between the lens, the adapter and the camera. That's true of any adapter from any manufacturer. So having that native RF mount gives you a more reliable connection between the lens and the body."

Mount adaptors can be used to team EF and EF-S lenses with an RF camera. Control Ring Mount Adapter EF-EOS R includes a customisable control ring, but Drop-In Filter Mount Adapter EF-EOS R, with its ability to use drop-in circular polarisers and variable ND filters, is perhaps the most appealing for filmmakers.

A side profile of a Canon RF 28-70mm F2L USM lens cut in half.

The Canon RF 28-70mm F2L USM lens combines four classic prime lenses – a 28mm f/2, a 35mm f/2, a 50mm f/2 and a 70mm f/2 – in a single zoom, saving you weight, money and the time it would take to change lenses.

5. Unique high-performance lenses

The combination of large diameter, short flange distance and upgraded communication has made it possible to create new kinds of lens designs. "Everyone at Canon is hugely excited about the possibilities," reveals Ram. "The Canon RF 28-70mm F2L USM lens is testament to that."

Capable of capturing incredibly sharp footage and equipped with a fast, constant maximum aperture, this high-performance RF lens is essentially four classic primes in a single zoom. "If you're a single shooter, you don't necessarily want to run around with a multitude of lenses and this one RF zoom can be used for almost all your requirements," says Ram.

Other pioneering lens designs enabled by the RF mount include the RF 5.2mm F2.8L DUAL FISHEYE stereoscopic lens for virtual reality productions and the ultra-light RF 1200mm F8L IS USM super-telephoto.

"I think that the trinity of professional f/2.8 L-series zooms – the Canon RF 15-35mm F2.8L IS USM, RF 24-70mm F2.8L IS USM and RF 70-200mm F2.8L IS USM – make a great starting point for most filmmakers," adds Ram. "The RF 70-200mm is probably my favourite of the three. Compared to the EF 70-200mm f/2.8 lenses, it has considerably reduced focus breathing, and the result is beautiful.

"There are some filmmakers who'll want imperfections in their image quality to add character, and they will tend to gravitate towards using old-school legacy glass or really old vintage lenses. But we find that the majority of people want to have a really crisp, high-quality image for their videos, especially in order to make the most of the 8K capability of the EOS R5 C. The RF lenses will definitely realise that level of resolution."

Seven Canon RF Cine Prime lenses, ranging from 14mm to 135mm in focal length.

There are seven Canon RF Cine Prime lenses, ranging from 14mm to 135mm. They're a perfect fit for full-frame RF-mount cameras such as the Canon EOS R5 C or the Super 35mm EOS C70.

6. Cinematic output

Ultimately, the image that viewers see on screen is what counts. This is where Canon RF lenses excel – particularly the Canon RF Cine Prime lenses, with their refined cinematic output. The CN-R PRIME LENSES lenses deliver the same remarkable clarity and clean optical performance as their CN-E Prime counterparts, making them perfect for 4K, 8K and HDR productions. They also render colours in the same way as the other cinema lenses, Ram points out, "which is reassuring if you're mixing lenses from across our range on a production".

Each of the RF Cine Prime lenses boasts a bright T-stop value and an 11-blade iris, enabling filmmakers to capture a cinematic shallow depth of field, along with sumptuous bokeh, halation and sun flares. "For anyone who wants to have a stable mount, amazing optical quality and have all of the capabilities that a cinema lens offers them, these are the perfect fit," Ram concludes. "We envisage them being used for a wide variety of professional video productions, from documentaries and drama to commercial work and music videos."

Marcus Hawkins

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