RF-200-800mm lens

We are totally spoiled for choice for incredible birding lenses these days.

Every mirrorless brand has come out with amazing telephoto zooms and primes, and they’re not all astronomically priced. You could say this is the new golden era for bird photography gear.

So word of the new Canon RF 200-800mm f/6.3-9 IS USM got me excited and now it’s here, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it.

This is going to be a hugely popular lens with R5, R7 and any other Canon users.

No longer do you need to fork out a 5 figure sum to get to 800mm focal length. The RF 200-800mm gives us the holy grail of focal lengths, previously virtually out of reach for all but the most cashed up photographers.

Here’s my initial thoughts on this lens, including both the good and bad.

The Good

  • 800mm! That’s why everyone wants this lens, right? You might be surprsised how often you don’t need to use 800mm, but it’s amazing to have it there when you want it.
  • Sharp at 800m wide open. Yes, wide open is f/9 but not a problem with today’s Canon bodies which excel at high ISO when needed.
  • Great IS – even my shaky hands can get very usable video at 800mm handheld. Even better if you can zoom back to 500-700mm (which is often all you’ll need anyway)
  • Price: Never before could we get a TC-less relatively fast 800mm at this price point. The 800mm f/11 isn’t terrible but it’s in a different performance class to the 200-800mm.
  • Takes the 2x teleconverter surprisingly well; very well in fact. 1600mm is crazy focal length you’ll rarely need but it can be real fun for some serious close ups.
  • Size and weight: there’s a good reason it’s an f/9 lens and that’s to make it hand-holdable and carryable for the whole day for most people.

The Could-Be-Better

None of these things are deal breakers for me, for two reasons. The RF 200-800 is so well priced for what you get that compromises are always expected. Design flaws are always disappointing but as time goes on you just learn to use the lens as it is and stop thinking about what should or shouldn’t be here or there. So here are the main things that kinda bother me about the RF 200-800mm:

  • The zoom ring is a bit too tight and requires four turns to go from 200mm to 800m which can have you missing up close fast action. This is something to get used to and I know over time I’ll just learn to live with it.
  • The tripod collar is not removable, which makes the lens bulkier and less travel-friendly.
  • If you regularly shoot in poor light then f/9 can be challenging with both AF and IQ, but don’t be afraid to raise ISO to get the results image quality wise
  • The two big take aways for this lens are this: it’s versatile and it’s affordable compared to all other non-TC 800mm lens options besides the lesser 800mm f/11.

    Now your experience with the 200-800mm might be a little different depending which body you’re using.

    With the R7 some AF issues can become apparent. It can struggle a little to lock and stay locked on.

    I prefer to use the R5 or R3 – the autofocus is just that much more reliable especially once you start getting into low light environments.