Adding the Canon RF 35mm f/1.8 IS STM Macro lens to my kit was a decision I made during my transition to the Canon mirrorless lineup.
I use the term transitioned loosely – I actually timed the switch during a small gap in weddings, sold all of my previous Canon gear the week I was scheduled to pick up the new gear, and learned the new RF system on the fly.
Switching systems this way really forced me to dig into learning these new pieces quickly.
I started my Canon R mirrorless kit with the Canon R and R5, paired with the Canon RF 28-70 f/2.0 and adapted the only EF lens I hung onto – the Canon EF 135 L f/2.0 to fit the R bodies.
Being a wedding photographer, I had to have backup lenses in the bag though.
I had an older Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 for emergencies but I wanted an affordable RF option that would be able to replace my RF 28-70 f/2 if (knock on wood) anything ever went wrong with that lens during use.
The Canon 35mm f/1.8 IS STM Macro lens fit the immediate need I had for a backup RF lens with its affordable price range, lightweight, and small size.
It actually sat in my bag for a couple of months before I even used it but once I did, this little affordable lens really surpassed my initial expectations in both photo and light video work.
I thought it would be a limited-use lens for full-time pros, but it really turned out to be more versatile than at first glance.
The Canon 35mm f/1.8 Macro is great for natural light portraits and an affordable option for wedding and event photography involving well-lit scenes, detail work, and macro imaging.
I have also used this lens successfully for detailed commercial marketing images involving food and production, as well as video in natural light scenarios.
Table of Contents
Canon RF 35mm f/1.8 Specs
- front control ring
- cuts through sun flare and backlight
- macro ability
- sharp image quality
- pleasant color rendering
- poor low light focus performance
- can be slow
- plastic outward appearance
- Focal Length: 35mm
- Maximum Aperture: f/1.8
- Minimum Aperture: f/22
- Lens Mount: Canon RF
- Lens Format Coverage: Full Frame
- Angle of View: 63 degrees
- Minimum Focus Distance: 6.69″ / 17 cm
- Maximum Magnification: 0.5x
- Macro Reproduction Ratio: 1:2
- Optical Design: 11 Elements in 9 Groups
- Diaphragm Blades: 9, Rounded
- Focus Type: Autofocus
- Image Stabilization: Yes
- Filter Size: 52 mm (Front)
- Dimensions (ø x L): 2.93 x 2.47″ / 74.4 x 62.8 mm
- Length at Maximum Extension: 2.44″ / 62 mm
- Weight: 10.76 oz / 305g
Build & Ergonomics
The Canon RF 35mm f/1.8 IS STM Macro lens at first glance looks to be of a less luxurious build, but the image results make up for the lack of outward appeal. When I first took it out of the box, I was unimpressed with the plastic look of the front element and the feel of the body, but the metallic ring accents salvage the design.
The location of the IS and focus toggles are familiar and nothing remarkable to say about the fit of the front lens cap – those parts are standard. The front control ring is where I found one of the sweet spots on this lens.
The control ring turns smoothly and has a buttery soft “cluck” to indicate points of turn and the texture difference between the front control ring and the focus ring makes it easy to find.
I use this front control ring to adjust my iso when paired with my Canon EOS R (which is lacking in control wheels). I do have small hands so if you have a wider grip, I can see the proximity of the two rings posing a challenge. In use on the Canon mirrorless bodies I’ve used it with, the lens feels very balanced and lightweight as a unit.
I’ve found a few important points to consider in regards to focus with the Canon RF 35mm f/1.8 IS STM Macro lens: it performs great in well-lit scenarios, it’s not the loudest motor I’ve ever used but it is far from outwardly silent, its sharp throughout the aperture range as well as in macro modes, and it’s mediocre in speed.
This lens keeps up amazingly in a well-lit environment. Natural light photographers will love this lens and the image quality and color it produces.
It will focus more quickly and efficiently in daylight, but watch out in low light settings, incandescent or fluorescent-lit rooms, or studio set up with focus assist lighting as your only source of continuous light. In these tough light scenarios this lens will search, and search . . . and search.
I would not rely on this lens for any super important low light coverages such as first dances or sparkler exit, but with manual focus and IS used together, this is a fun lens to try some slower shutter speeds at night wide open.
It’s not an outwardly silent lens for photographers, although I’ve had no problems with the noise during video while tracking. The noise issue comes into play most when it searches, and if the lighting isn’t sufficient, it does this a lot.
If you are looking for something to use during outdoor portraits or getting ready shots, the noise level on this won’t be noticeable. However, this is not the lens for the indoor ceremonies during which you could hear a pin drop – you will absolutely hear the motor in these instances.
This deters me from using it during indoor well-lit ceremonies where the F1.8 aperture may work nicely, but I do not want to deal with the noise of the motor while trying to focus the shots.
This is also not the lens for fast-moving subjects like sports or kids and pets – the focus is too slow and unpredictable. The same focus searching mentioned above causes too many missed candid shots.
In my experience, the fast lighting and environmental changes involved with candid movement of these subjects is too much for this motor to keep up with, even with the best camera bodies behind it.
I love this lens for macro shots of details, flowers, and rings in bright natural light. Often I’ll photograph a pull back of details at an event and then transition to a macro shot of each element. The transition to macro often involves motor noise and some searching but the results are very nice.
The bokeh also has a smooth creamy look that mirrors much more expensive options at a fraction of the cost.
When this lens does hit focus, in auto or manual if needed, the images are unanimously sharp, with a nice smooth average bokeh. I have yet to find an image that was soft due to any fault other than my own.
The lens coating allowed me to take some backlit images without much fear of haze, although this is a noteworthy bonus across the board with the Canon mirrorless bodies paired with any RF lens.
If you are looking at purchasing the Canon RF 35mm f/1.8 Macro versus adapting any EF comparable, the backlit and sun flare performance will be an important factor to keep on your list.
The coating on the Canon RF 35mm f/1.8 does cut down on sun flare effects, and for me that is bittersweet. I love a good sun flare effect and find it romantic – but the trade-off is creating a vibrant image that retains its contrast.
All other caveats aside (chromatic aberration, and a dash of purple fringe), I actually prefer the color rendering from this lens over my Canon RF 28-70 f/2.0.
Canon RF 35mm f/1.8 Sample Images
Here are some sample images taken with the Canon RF 35mm f/1.8 IS STM Macro, using a Canon mirrorless EOS R5.
Alternatives to this lens are lacking at the time of this review if you prefer a 35mm prime. The list of available RF lenses is growing but right now using an adapter with a Canon EF 35mm lens, or going with a brand like Yongnuo are the only two options.
Adapters that would allow the same feature usage can range in cost from about $200-$300 so unless you’ve already got an EF mount 35mm lens in your kit, this option won’t save much money.
Yongnuo also offers a 35mm RF mount lens. I have not personally had experience with the Yongnuo YN35mm F2R DF DSM lens but in my experience with the Yongnuo brand EF lens options, they were all extremely loud and had terribly choppy bokeh.
There’s also the Canon RF 15-35mm f/2.8 which I reviewed recently and found to be excellent but more expensive than this prime..
I would pick up the Canon RF 35mm f/1.8 over both of the available limited options, in this case, hands down.
Value for Money
The Canon RF 35mm f/1.8 IS STM Macro essentially adds two options to my kit for under $500 (a versatile prime for photo and video applications, and a macro option).
Short of spending over $3000 for the Canon RF 28-70 f/2.0, you won’t find a better deal that encompasses the 35mm focal length in the RF lineup right now.
Canon RF 35mm f/1.8 IS STM Macro Review | Conclusion
The Canon RF 35mm f/1.8 IS STM Macro could arguably find at least one purpose in any kit. It does a good job of filling a role in the RF lineup as a lightweight wide-angle prime lens option with macro capabilities, but it is not an everything lens.
This lightweight lens excels in well-lit natural light conditions but falls short of being a jack of all trades because of the poor focus performance in dim conditions.
I would not use this lens exclusively for wedding and event photography indoors where fast and accurate focus in every lighting condition is imperative to the job, but it has value as an addition to my kit as a creative prime and macro option.
I mainly add the Canon RF 35mm f/1.8 into my workflow where natural light is available for close-up images, texture, creative angles and some portrait work where subjects aren’t moving too quickly.
My name is Kay, and I’ve been documenting other people’s lives professionally for over 12 years. I love a challenge, so most times you’ll find me in the middle of a wedding or event if I’m not chasing around someone’s pet or coordinating some other form of chaos. I’m self taught, but I owe my practical knowledge to studying with my dad who was an engineer (Air Force and Ford Motor) first, and hobbyist photographer second. He taught me everything I know about photography from a technical standpoint, and I adapted it to other genre applications.