Canon RF 100-500mm f/4.5-7.1L IS USM lens

      Photo Review 8.9

      In summary

      The RF 100-500mm f/4.5-7.1 L IS USM has few rivals in its class when it comes to overall performance.

      Its size, weight and zoom range make it a versatile choice for sports and wildlife photographers.

      Full review

      Announced in July 2020 at the same time as the EOS R5 and R6 cameras and the revolutionary RF 600mm f/11 IS STM and RF 800mm f/11 IS STM super-tele lenses, the RF 100-500mm f/4.5-7.1L IS USM is relatively compact for its zoom range and speed. Clad in the familiar Canon ‘white’, the RF 100-500mm comes with built-in stabilisation that provides up to five stops of shake correction plus three different IS modes: standard, panning and during exposure only. Being an L-series lens, the RF 100-500mm f/4.5-7.1L IS USM also features superior dust and weather-resistant construction and has a fluorine coating on the front element for easy cleaning.

      Angled view of the RF 100-500mm f/4.5-7.1L IS USM lens with the supplied lens hood and tripod mount fitted. (Source: Canon.)

      The advanced optical design of this lens consists of 20 elements in 14 groups and includes one Super UD and six UD elements to suppress chromatic aberrations, ghosting and flare across the entire zoom range. Air Sphere Coating is applied to   and fluorine coating on the front and rear elements resist duct and grease and make these elements easier to keep clean.

      The optical design of the RF 100-500mm f/4.5-7.1L IS USM lens showing the positions of the exotic glass elements. (Source: Canon.)

      Autofocusing is driven by Canon’s Nano USM AF motor technology, which was introduced in February 2016 with the EF-S 18–135mm f/3.5–5.6 IS lens. Dual Nano USM motors are used in the RF 100-500mm lens, each dedicated to moving different lens groups inside the barrel, which work together provide faster and more efficient autofocus.

      The system also supports full-time manual focus control in one-shot AF mode. However, the focusing ring is driven electronically and turning the ring very quickly may cause delays in focusing. Setting the focusing distance range to the correct position for the subject distance minimises focusing errors.

      The Control Ring that characterises RF lenses provides fast and intuitive control over exposure settings from the lens itself. The zoom ring also features torque adjustment for fine-tuning adjustment parameters or prevent the lens from accidentally extending.

      Image stabilisation is user-selectable with three positions on the slider switch on the left side of the barrel. Mode 1 corrects vibrations in all directions; Mode 2 is for panning and Mode 3 only applies corrections during exposures and is best used with erratically moving subjects.

      The lens is supplied with a removable tripod collar that is clamped in place with a large knob, which can be loosened to turn the lens for vertical shooting. It also comes with a cylindrical lens hood that has a side window to allow easy adjustment of angle-critical filters like polarisers when the lens hood is attached.

      Who’s it For?
      The price of this lens will place it out of the reach of everyday photographers, while the RF mount makes it unsuitable for DSLR users. Professional sports and wildlife shooters with latest EOS R bodies will find this lens particularly attractive since it can exploit their improved autofocus and burst capabilities.

      Interestingly the RF lens has a longer reach than the closest EF lens equivalent while also being 200 grams lighter and providing better stabilisation, which is significant. The table below compares key features of the RF 100-500mm f/4.5-7.1 L IS USM with the popular EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens.

      RF 100-500mm f/4.5-7.1 L IS USM EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM
      Mount RF EF
      Focal length 100-500 mm 100-400 mm
      Maximum aperture f/4.5-7.1 f/4.5-5.6
      Minimum aperture f/32-51 f/32-40
      Minimum focusing distance 0.9 m -1.2 m 0.98 m
      Maximum magnification 0.33 x 0.31 x
      Lens construction 20 elements in 14 groups 21 elements in 16 groups
      Special low dispersion glass One Super UD, six UD One Fluorite, one Super UD
      Special coating ASC, fluorine coating ASC, fluorine coating
      Water/dust-resistance Yes Yes
      Aperture blades 9 (circular) 9 (circular)
      IS (CIPA rating) Yes, (5-stops; 6-stops combined with IBIS with EOS R5 & EOS R6) Yes (4-stops)
      Filter diameter 77 mm 77 mm
      Maximum diameter x length Approx. 93.8 mm x 207.6 mm Approx. 94 mm x 193 mm
      Weight (without tripod mount) Approx. 1,370 g Approx. 1,570 g

      Canon also lists ‘aviation’ as one of the applications for this lens, which means it’s likely to attract those who frequent air shows. Trainspotters could also find it attractive and both will benefit from the weather-resistant sealing (shown in the diagram below).

      This diagram shows the positions of the weather-resistant sealing in the RF 100-500mm f/4.5-7.1 L IS USM lens. (Source: Canon.)

      It’s a bit heavy for extended bushwalks but is eminently usable for handheld, walkaround use when the tripod collar is removed. The modest maximum aperture range has enabled a relatively portable design that could appeal to travellers who don’t stray far from their vehicle.

      The built-in optical image stabilisation allows up to five stops of shake correction, which is especially useful when working in difficult lighting conditions. Finally, the RF 100-500mm lens is compatible with the optional EXTENDER RF 1.4x and EXTENDER RF 2x teleconverters, although only between the 300mm and 500mm focal lengths.

      Build and Ergonomics
      The RF 100-500mm f/4.5-7.1 L IS USM is made from a mixture of magnesium alloy and engineering quality polycarbonate plastic and with a solid metal lens mount. Built to professional-grade standards, this lens has Canon’s traditional ‘white’ heat-shield coating on its outer and inner barrels and on the tripod mount. This keeps it cooler, thereby reducing air turbulence within the lens that can degrade image quality.

      The front element of the lens is approximately 68 mm in diameter and recessed into the leading end of the inner barrel aft of a 77 mm diameter plastic filter ring. A regular pinch-type lens cap clips into this area.

      The leading edge of the outer barrel ends roughly 20mm behind the leading edge of the inner barrel, with the zoom ring, which is 63 mm wide and starts with a 6mm wide band. A 1 mm wide red ring marks the leading edge of a 45 mm wide band of rubberised ridging that ends in a 10 mm wide band on which are stamped focal length settings for 100mm, 135mm, 200mm, 300mm, 400mm and 500mm, which line up against a black line on the ring behind.

      The table below shows how maximum and minimum apertures change with focal length settings.

      Focal length Maximum aperture Minimum aperture
      100mm f/4.5 f/32
      135mm f/4.5 f/32
      200mm f/5.0 f/36
      300mm f/5.6 f/40
      400mm f/6.3 f/45
      500mm f/7.1 f/51

      Zooming from the 100mm to the 500mm position extends the inner barrel by approximately 88 mm without changing the orientation of the front element, allowing angle-critical filters to be used with this lens without requiring constant re-adjustments.  Immediately behind the zoom ring is a 6 mm wide section of the barrel with direction arrows around the right hand side of the ring the show the ‘tight’ and ‘smooth’ adjustments for the torque ring, which is used to adjust the tension of the zoom ring.

      The torque ring is 12 mm wide and carries moulded ridges that are slightly wider than the ridges on the zoom ring. In the 31 mm wide section of the outer barrel behind this ring are four sliders that adjust the main controls.

      The top one is the focus limiter, which has two positions: FULL and 3m to ∞. Below is it the AF/MF switch followed by a raised 20 x 40mm panel carrying the two stabilisers adjustments. The top one is the on/off switch and the lower one the three-position IS mode selector. Mode 1 is for static subjects, Mode 2 for panning and Mode 3 for subjects that move erratically.

      The manual focusing ring sits just behind this section. Completely clad in fine rubber ridging, it is 18 mm wide and, since focusing is driven from the camera, turns through 360 degrees when power is not supplied.

      The ring-type tripod collar fits into a moulding 5 mm behind the focusing ring. The ring is hinged and locked into place with a large lock knob, which can be loosened to enable the orientation of the camera to be swapped between horizontal and vertical orientations. Pulling the knob outwards will unlock the catch to enable the tripod ring to be removed without hassles.

      The programmable Lens Control Ring, a feature of RF lenses, is 10 mm wide and located just behind the tripod mount. Easily identified by touch due to its dimpled surface, it has click-stop adjustments and can be set to adjust frequently-used functions like the lens aperture or shutter speed values, enabling changes to be made without having to resort to the camera’s menu or external controls

      As a member of the L series, the lens comes with a hood that includes a sliding window for adjusting variable filters while the hood is in place plus a locking button. The lens is also supplied with a strongly-built LZ1328 carrying case with a double-zip closure and separate shoulder strap. It carries a ‘Made in Japan’ label.

      Our Imatest tests showed the review lens to be an outstanding performer through the range of focal lengths we were able to cover (which was restricted to less than 300mm). The highest resolution recorded was at f/6.3 with the 100mm focal length, although the 135mm and 200mm focal lengths recorded similar results, as shown in the graph below.

      Edge softening was significant at wide apertures with the three shortest focal lengths. It appeared to be less with the 300mm setting, although overall resolution was lower, since that was right at the limit of the distance available in our test set-up.

      Lateral chromatic aberration remained at the low end of the negligible band for JPEG files thanks to excellent in-camera corrections. With the raw files we analysed, chromatic aberration remained mostly in the low end of the ‘low’ measurement range, indicating this aberration is not a serious problem. In the graph of our Imatest results for JPEG files, shown below, the red line marks the boundary between negligible and low CA.

      Because distortion and vignetting are corrected automatically in JPEG files with in-camera adjustments, we had to assess both with raw files free from any in-camera corrections.  As expected, both were close to negligible, a normal situation with super telephoto lenses. Perspective compression became obvious from about 300mm on.

      Autofocusing was fast and almost silent and focus accuracy was excellent with still shots in the one-shot AF mode. We had a few ‘misses’ when focusing failed, mostly because of the subject moving between when the shutter button was half-pressed and when the shot was taken and when the focus point was incorrectly positioned.

      When shooting video and using the default Face+Tracking mode on the EOS R6, the review lens was able to track subjects moving in predictable directions (sailing dinghies) with few misses. The only misses that occurred were with erratically moving subjects (football players) in changing lighting and, even then, these weren’t all that frequent.

      The review lens handled backlighting very well and was quite flare-resistant, thanks to a generous (and effective) lens hood. The only time we encountered flare was when the sun was included within the frame, which resulted in veiling flare.

      Bokeh was a mixed bag, with outlining occurring around bright highlights in both close-ups and medium-distance shots at all focal lengths. The effect was less obvious with evenly-lit backgrounds, as you would expect.

      Stabilisation performance was just as good and the steady viewfinder image made shooting moving subjects relatively easy. The lens IS integrated seamlessly with the sensor-shift IS system in the EOS R6 to provide very steady shooting during hand-held use.


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      Picture angle: 20 degrees to 4 degrees
      Minimum aperture:  f/32 to f/54
      Lens construction: 20 elements in 14 groups (including  six UD and one super UD  elements), ASC  and fluorine coatings
      Lens mount: Canon RF
      Diaphragm Blades: 9 (circular aperture)
      Weather resistance: Yes
      Focus drive: Dual Nano USM motors
      Stabilisation: Yes; 5 stops optical IS
      Minimum focus: 90 cm at 100mm, 1.2 metres at 500mm
      Maximum magnification: 0.12x at 100mm, 0.33x at 500mm
      Filter size: 77 mm
      Dimensions (Diameter x L): 93.8 x 207.6 mm
      Weight: 1,370 grams (excluding tripod mount; 1530 grams with mount)
      Standard Accessories: E-7711 lens cap, ET-83F lens hood, LZ1328 lens case

      Distributor: Canon Australia; 1800 021 167



      Based on JPEG files recorded with the EOS R6 camera body.



      Vignetting at 100mm f/4,5.

      Vignetting at 135mm f/4.5.

      Vignetting at 200mm f/5.0.

      Vignetting at 300mm f/5.6.

      Vignetting at 400mm f/6.3.

      Vignetting at 400mm f/7.1.

      Rectilinear distortion at 100mm.

      Rectilinear distortion at 150mm.

      Rectilinear distortion at 200mm.

      Rectilinear distortion at 300mm.

      Rectilinear distortion at 400mm.

      Rectilinear distortion at 400mm.

      100mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/320 second at f/8.

      135mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/320 second at f/7.1.

      200mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/320 second at f/5.6.

      300mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/320 second at f/6.3.

      400mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/160 second at f/6.3.

      500mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/125 second at f/7.1.

      Close-up at 100mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/25 second at f/4.5.

      Close-up at 200mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/20 second at f/5.6.

      Close-up at 300mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/20 second at f/5.6.

      Close-up at 400mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/20 second at f/6.3.

      Close-up at 500mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/20 second at f/7.1

      Bokeh outlining in close-up at 100mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/400 second at f/4.5.

      Background blurring in close-up at 500mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/80 second at f/8.

      Crop from the above image showing bokeh fringing in the out-of-focus background.

      Veiling flare; 500mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/2000 second at f/7.1.

      Backlit scene; 100mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/500 second at f/10.

      Backlit scene; 500mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/400 second at f/9.

      Crop from the above image at 100% magnification showing bokeh outlining.

      An example of perspective compression caused by long focal lengths; 363mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/400 second at f/7.1.

      Fast eye-recognition AF at 300mm focal length; 300mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/400 second at f/8.

      P shooting mode; 223mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/320 second at f/5.6.

      P shooting mode; 383mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/320 second at f/6.3.

      P shooting mode; 238mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/320 second at f/5.6.

      P shooting mode; 176mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/320 second at f/6.3.

      Av shooting mode; 500mm focal length, ISO 200, 1/400 second at f/9.

      Av shooting mode; 500mm focal length, ISO 200, 1/500 second at f/9.

      Av shooting mode; 431mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/500 second at f/8.

      Additional image samples can be found with our review of the Canon EOS R6 camera.



      RRP: AU$5299; US$2699

      • Build: 9.0
      • Handling: 8.9
      • Image quality: 9.2
      • Autofocusing: 9.0
      • Versatility: 8.8