The Best Canon Lens ever Made? The 28-70 F2 RF Lens Review.

The Best Canon Lens ever Made? The 28-70 F2 RF Lens Review.

By Steve Huff

When Canon announced the 28-70 RF f2 Lens I was sold! Not due to the size of course as it is a beast of a lens. Not due to the pice as it comes in at a staggering $3000. I somehow knew as soon as I saw the images of the lens online that it would be a special lens. When I saw a few sample images using this lens I saw that character, that color and that contrast bite that I have witnessed in lenses like the Leica 50 APO that comes in at $8000 and is a manual focus only 50mm f/2 lens! The Leica 50 f/1.4 Summliux for the SL also gave a similar quality with color and contrast and smooth buttery bokeh. The Leica 50 SL is $5300 or so, and is only 50mm. So if this Canon could give me THAT quality across the 28-70 range, for thousands less..well, then it would start to make sense.

Versatile Primes in a Zoom?

The Canon is just as large as the Leica 50 1.4 SL, but it is much more versatile as it offers a focal range from 28mm to 70mm and each and every focal length in between from 28 to 70 is like having a super high quality pro prime in that focal length. Yes, this lens is similar to owning the best 28, 35, 50, and 70mm primes lenses you can buy. So to me it is like four primes in one large lens, with auto focus and superb build.

20 things I like about the EOS-R video

I will state up front that I own the EOS-R (as some of you know) and I love it. I made videos on this camera and have written many articles on it. While I mainly use it for video use (each and every day), with certain lenses it truly turns the EOS-R into a beautiful still image photo machine. Yes, I tried the Nikon Z, yes I tried the Olympus EM1X, yes I tried the Sony A7 and A9 but for me, Canon still has something special about the color, and when using a good lens it just has that look I love. But again, this lens is HUGE in size, heavy in weight and looks out of place on the EOS-R. I think Canon has a new body in the works (I hope so anyway), a PRO body in the R line. They have to as this lens outclasses the current EOS-R as it stands now.

Two from the 28-70, and all images here will be wide open as that is where the beauty lies in this lens. It will deliver shallow DOF at every focal length and do it with a beautiful quality in color, bokeh, contrast and sharpness. Click images in this review for larger. 

I can already hear some of you. It’s too large! What’s the point of mirrorless!! Well, yea, it is large. 100% correct, and I hear ya! But there is a reason for this. If this lens were made smaller, the quality would have suffered. Again, I have only seen lenses like this a very few times. The Zeiss Otus us another lens that renders like this Canon. Yes, this 28-70 RF lens is in VERY good company in the IQ department and when you start bringing it up and putting it in the company of some of the best lenses made, well, that $3000 price tag doesn’t seem so expensive anymore. The Zeiss Otus 55 f/1.4 is nearly $4000 and manual focus only. I reviewed that lens HERE if you are interested in seeing what I thought of it. The Leica 50 1.4 SL comes in at $5300. I reviewed that lens HERE. The Leica 50 APO f/2 is another lens that is superb, and that one comes in at $8,000. I reviewed the 50 APO HERE. You could mount the $8,000 50 APO to the EOS-R via an adapter but this 28-70 will give you better IQ on the body, and come in at $5000 less and give you more focal length options. That is how good this lens is.

These are all 50mm lenses (55mm in the case of the Zeiss) and all have the same rendering as this Canon 28-70, but with the Canon, again, we get many focal lengths and all perform beautifully. This is why the lens is large. No compromise on quality. It is a statement lens. This lens is for those who want the best of the best when it comes to squeezing every ounce of IQ from their EOS-R camera. It may be too large for some, and it is not recommended as a daily shooter unless you do not mind using a canon sized lens day to day. Some will prefer a smaller lens with decent IQ over a huge lens with astonishing IQ, and vice versa. I can see many pros clamoring to this lens, when and if Canon releases a PRO R body.

28-70 at f/2 inside the cavernous low light conditions of the Lost Leaf. Click it for a much better version. 

When the lens arrived to me I was excited to give it a go as the lenses I use and own for my EOS-R are all classic EF lenses, and they perform beautifully on the R. The 24 1.4 II, the 50 1.2 and the 16-35 f/4. All fantastic lenses and all focus like a beast on the EOS-R. I used to own the 24-105 f/4 Kit lens with the R but I am not an f4 kind of guy so sold off that lens in anticipation of trying out this 28-70 which has a constant f/2 aperture.

Just for clarification, I did not get this lens sent to me for review. I bought it from Amazon for $3000 just like everyone else would. I figured if it was no good, it would go back. If it blew my mind, it would stay. The one thing I can tell you for certain right now is that the lens blew my mind when it came to image quality and build quality of the lens. It just doesn’t get any better for Canon. The lens has a way of rendering an image in an ethereal way. Gentle color, sharp yet never harsh, creamy smooth bokeh and a polished finished look to the images it creates.

These are right out of the camera JPEG and the color and rendering is just what I like. Click them for larger. 

When I had the kit lens with the Canon EOS-R it could not give me these kind of r results because it is an f/4 lens. At f/4 you will get a less shallow depth of field. With the 28-70 all of your shots will look like they came from an exotic f/2 prime lens, no matter what focal length you shoot at. Wether you are at 28mm or 70 this lens delivers uncompromising image quality. I wish it could have been a 24-70 though, as I use 24 often but again, probably would have made the lens even larger.

The detail of this lens is also astonishing. At f/2, which is wide open, the lens shines and delivers “the look” I spoke of earlier that others lenses that are more expensive deliver. This lens delivers IQ in the $5k price range yet comes in at $3000. Take a look below at a basic image, and click on it for a larger view and to see a 100% crop:

Creamy Bokeh, superb out of camera color, and detail that is beautiful and not too harsh and never soft. This reminds me of some of those fancy exotic Leica lenses in the way the lens draws. It delivers just the right amount of bite..color, contrast and pop. No need to fuss with files unless you want to take them up a few notches as they look fantastic out of the camera.

The lens comes supplied with a soft pouch, a lens hood and of course a full Canon warranty. The quality of this lens is up there with the best I have ever used, and that is saying a lot. The build, the feel and the customizable control ring deliver an amazing user experience with the lens.

The Negatives of the Canon 28-70 RF 

With so many positive things about this lens, there are also negatives and one of these things bummed me out. I currently use EF lenses on my EOS-R and use them for video 99% of the time. I use an external mic on the R and all is wonderful. BUT, if I ever want to shoot some casual video without my mic attached, and use my 24, 50 or 16-35 I can not do this without introducing a nasty grinding focusing noise into my videos. Sony doesn’t do this, Nikon doesn’t do this. Yet Canon, in their newest camera when using expensive L lenses does this.

Shoot a video with these lenses and use audio focus and you will hear the nastiest sound in your videos. One thing I was looking forward to with the 28-70 f/2 RF was to have that noise eliminated. It’s also distracting when I am filming even when my external mic is not picking it up. So I did a video test with the 28-70 and sadly, THIS LENS, this $3000 lens still makes that nasty noise when focusing! Again, my Sony is silent. The Nikon Z was silent (from what I remember as I never noticed the noise when filming with it). So why can’t Canon make a silent focusing lens, especially at this level?

The Auto Focus is fast but in lower light it did hunt for me. It was not nearly as quick as the 50 1.2 RF or EF for me, which I thought was odd. Not that it was slow to Auto Focus, it just was slower than I thought when in low light, which is one of the strengths of the EOS-R. In fact my EOS-R blazed right by the Nikon Z6 for AF in low light but the 28-70 RF is slower to AF than the 50 1.2 RF, or even y 50 1.2 EF when used on my R (these tow lenses focus INSTANTLY in good or low light on the EOS-R).

Also, many have noted this lens does not have any image stabilization. It doesn’t. Would have made the lens even bigger and I understand what Canon did here. They wanted a statement lens for image quality. Pure and Simple. They wanted to produce a lens without one compromise to image quality, and they succeeded. No OIS in the lens or the EOS-R body. Now this doesn’t really bother me at all, but I know some of you love your IBIS and OIS, Just be warned this lens doesn’t have either. Instead it will 100% give you the best optical quality in any lens I have ever used by Canon.

Conclusion 

Is it the best IQ of any Canon lens as my title suggests? Maybe, but I have not used every Canon lens so I can not say with 100% certainty. I can tell you that this lens is in the same company with the other lenses I mentioned that cost a lot more. The Leica 50 1.4 SL comes in at $5500 and also has no OIS nor does the SL have it in body. It offers similar IQ to this lens. The Zeiss OTUS, no OIS in that lens and it is manual focus only. One of the best lenses I have used yet this Canon offers a similar vibe and look and quality to that Otus. The Leica 50 APO f/2 for the M mount is one of the best lenses I have had the pleasure to use, ever. $8000 and manual focus and of course no OIS. Yet this lens offers a very similar rendering across the entire focal range. THAT alone does make this lens worth the $3000 asking price for those who value image quality above all else.

The 1st image below was at ISO 25,600 at f/2 with the 28-70 RF and the EOS-R

So is this lens for you? Only you can answer that. I would recommend this lens for wedding pros, portrait pros or those who just want a buttery smooth lens with outstanding color, detail, bokeh and contrast.

I doubt I will be able to keep it due to the grinding noise it has when focusing (that ends up on your video if you do not shoot with a mic). I think this was never meant to be a video lens but a photographic tour de force from Canon to show just what they can do for IQ. Only problem is, this lens is better than the current EOS-R so they really need a pro level body, like a 1dXII in the R line. EOS-RX. When that body arrives, if that body arrives that is when this lens will be rocking the worlds of many photographers.

WHERE TO BUY?

You can order the lens from AMAZON HERE or B&H PHOTO HERE

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22 Comments

  1. It must be a great lens but there is no way this lens (or any zoom lens for FF, in fact) comes close to the 50 apo. I was a Canon shooter (L glass owner including 501.2L), sold it all to shoot Leica. 28 elmarit, 35 cro asph, 50 cron V5 and Rigid. No L glass comes close to Leica M glass, I am sorry. Unless I see a side by side (raw) of the same camera with same settings and just changing the lenses, I don’t buy that. In fact the old 50 cron Rigid might be better than any current L glass. Not a bad thing for Canon since their glass is great (again I was a L glass Canon shooter), but the Leica glass really is of a different league. Sorry, Steve.

    • I’ve owned the 50 APO, one of my fave lenses of all time. Shot it extensively on the M240, M10 and SL. This Canon offers the same character and quality in color, contrast, detail, bokeh and vibe. At a cost of size. The 50 APO is great, and the best M lens you can get but there are other lenses that can beat it as the 50 APO’s limitation is indeed the size. It costs what it does for three reasons. It’s small size. It’s a Leica and It’s a Leica. The quality is there of course but again, other lenses can match it for much less if you do not mind a massive size difference. I love Leica and have stood up for them for ages when most push hate on them for their pricing. But I also give credit where it is due from other manufactures. Thank you.

    • Barry, another Leica (and Canon) shooter here.
      Believe it or not, I like the rendering, art and soul (and almost everything else except the size and weight) of this *zoom*(!) lens even more than my APO50 on M10. It is this good. Should I be honest? It is even better IQ-wise than the 50 APO.
      In fact Canon turned the world upside down with the RF range. I can easily put the RF 50/1.2 right next to the new Noctilux 75/1.2! Give the RF a try. The RF28-70/2 and RF50/1.2 brought back the real art, soul and magic in photography and are such a purist pleasure in today’s world of Sony’s sharp, boring, clinical, too-digital and too-fake, cheap, plastic looking images.
      Cheers!

  2. This lens is a bargain compared to the price of the latest Olympus m43
    camera.
    Size wise want huge? Try using a Hassie 35-90 zoom. Ooftah.

  3. Stevie when I want to read photo gear reviews I want to feel the Life
    I want to sense Thrill photographer experiences.

    You do this is Spades.

    Stevie to be able to do the thing you so into
    It’s a blessing.
    I know it’s been a rocky road
    You persevered you struggled through.
    Look where you are now.
    Well worth it.

  4. Without doubt this is a great piece of glass but expensive. Maybe sigma Art 24-35mm /2.0 and Art 85mm/1.4 would be a better deal? -;)
    Did You buy rf50mm/1.2 too or you keep still ef50mm/1.2 L ?

  5. It’s amazing that Canon didn’t catch that noise problem in testing, (which seems unlikely), or decided to just let it go. Either situation, considering this is not is cheap camera and lens, is a bit bizarre.

  6. Wowzer! The very first Zoomer-Prime EVER! I’m lusting after this lens. Looking forward to purchasing the Canon EOS R next gen either II or III whichever one has matured to the point of having 2 card slots and Eye AF … then I’m in! 😉

  7. Thanks Steve. Also, you don’t say what the actual weight is or how it balances on the camera – some larger lenses are not too bad if the weight is nearer to the body, for example.
    I was hoping you would write up using M lenses on the Canon, as you mentioned a while back. Is that still in the pipeline?

    • It’s a tad front heavy, but overall it did not bother me in use wright wise, just size wise. Not used to such a girthy lens. It’s not as heavy as it looks, but comes in at just over 3lbs. Heavy for a lens, but when you hold it you kind of support it with your hand like you are cradling it.

  8. I have been waiting since it came out for a review .That’s really good news ! I was hoping this would be a killer lens. It seems like all the new Canon L s are amazing .
    One question, have you tried it on the 1DX mk ii ? They make adaptors right?
    Thanks,
    Tim

      • It is not possible to replace it. The RF sensor has a shorter registration distance, ie the distance of the rear lens from the sensor than the EF. That’s why Leica M or Canon FD can not be used on Canon EF.

        • It doesn’t depend on the sensor. A sensor is always a plane, that catches the light on its surface. So the projected picture has to be sharp on that plane. The construction if the lens is the point and the distance of the mount.

          • EF mount is a retro-focus design (say for SLR cameras). RF lenses are totally different by design and can hardly ever be fitted on EF bodies – the RF lenses are missing the retro-focus group, if everything else is equal.

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