Canon L-series RF lenses: how high-quality optics and the groundbreaking RF mount help pros achieve dream photos

Find out what makes the L-series RF lenses from Canon extra luxurious, and enjoy our inspirational gallery of some of the best images shot on them.
A black and white image of water droplets cascading from the fluke of a giant whale as it dives back into the ocean.

The fast autofocus and impressive image stabilisation (IS) capabilities of the Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8L IS USM lens enabled wildlife photographer Chris Fallows to capture this incredible image of the tail of a giant whale raised above the surface of the water. Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8L IS USM lens at 124mm, 1/6400 sec, f/9 and ISO1250. © Chris Fallows

The next time you're watching a major sporting event, news coverage or wildlife photographer in action, you can guarantee you'll see cameras with lenses featuring that distinctive red line around the end of the lens barrel. These are Canon's L-series lenses.

Professional photographers need the very best image quality paired with robust design, and Canon's L-series delivers on both counts. But it's not just professionals who are drawn to L-series lenses, many enthusiasts, students and aspiring pros use them too.

Canon L-series EF lenses have been around since 1969, with the RF series debuting alongside the EOS R System in 2018. The range has grown rapidly and Canon now provides L-series RF lenses for a range of focal lengths, from the wide-angle Canon RF 14-35mm F4L IS USM to the Canon RF 1200mm F8L IS USM super-telephoto lens.

But what benefits do you get when you invest in a Canon L-series lens? And what can you achieve with them?

Three L-series RF lenses arranged on a white surface.

How do you tell which RF lenses are L-series? It's simple. If the lens name has an L (which stands for "Luxury") after the aperture, it's a Canon L-series lens. If not, it's a standard RF lens. There are also some clues in the design. An L-series lens will have a red ring around the end of the lens barrel, while standard RF lenses do not. Canon L-series telephoto lenses are also white, to reduce heat and improve performance.

A lens being fixed to the RF mount of a Canon EOS R3 camera.

Many of the performance enhancements in L-series RF lenses are made possible by the innovative RF mount, which enables much faster communication between lens and camera.

Canon L-series vs non-L-series lenses

Standard RF lenses offer excellent build and image quality, but the larger and higher quality glass elements within an L-series lens, along with other optical technologies and lens coatings, enable the L-series glass to deliver superior results. Meanwhile, the design of the RF mount itself allows Canon to produce smaller and lighter lenses for its L-series RF range than was possible with EF-mount optics.

While the specifications of Canon L-series and non-L-series lenses may sometimes look very similar, the difference comes down to higher quality internal optics, better AF control and lens-equipped IS, and overall superior build quality. The higher quality optical elements in L-series lenses mean not only sharper images than you'd get from a standard RF lens, but fewer distortions, less vignetting and no chromatic aberration.

Another major difference between Canon L-series and standard RF lenses is their apertures. L-series lenses typically have faster apertures than standard optics. For example, at the popular focal length for portraiture, Canon offers the RF 85mm F1.2L USM and the RF 85mm F2 MACRO IS STM. The extra light from that wider aperture enables you to shoot comfortably in low light and create shallow depth of field effects in your images.

Two people leaning in to look at the back of a Canon camera.

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Diagram of the combination IS system in a Canon EOS R5.

The in-built optical IS in many of the L-series RF lenses works in tandem with the In-Body Image Stabilisation (IBIS) in EOS R System bodies such as the Canon EOS R5 to compensate for camera movement and produce a super-steady image.

Many L-series RF lenses also boast impressive optical IS. Dual gyro sensors are designed to ascertain and correct your movements for sharper images. When using an L-series RF lens with IS on a Canon EOS R System camera with In-Body Image Stabilisation, or IBIS, you will get an even greater degree of stabilisation, as the lens and camera communicate with each other and work in unison to reduce camera shake. This means you can shoot handheld in low-light conditions or shoot on the go with your camera – perfect for run-and-gun photojournalists and documentary photographers.

Canon L-series lenses are also weather sealed, which means you can use them in a wider range of environments and conditions.

Canon Ambassador Sanjay Jogia has used L-series lenses since launching his wedding photography business in 2007. "There's a longevity to L-series lenses," he explains. "They're physically robust, but also they're so well-designed that they remain relevant for a long time – you don't need to keep buying new lenses. They may have a heavier price tag, but you're going to be using them for far longer than a cheaper lens."

Sanjay says L-series RF lenses are another step forward in handling and optical excellence. "Apart from looking and feeling nicer to the touch, they're more versatile and offer improved performance, for example with the addition of the programmable control ring. And because of the shorter flange depth to the sensor, there are more design possibilities for interesting focal lengths and aperture sizes."

Here, we explore each of the L-series RF lenses and showcase some of the best shots taken on each one.

A figure in silhouette leaps across a pond, casting a shadow in the water. The sun is low in the sky in the background.

Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon RF 14-35mm F4L IS USM lens at 14mm, 1/3200 sec, f/4 and ISO320. © Valtteri Hirvonen

Canon RF 14-35mm F4L IS USM

"I couldn't have got this shot with any other type of lens," says Canon Ambassador Valtteri Hirvonen. "The angle of view makes the pond look huge and the person was only about a metre away. I shot towards the low sun, which gave a golden reflection."

Valtteri adds: "It's nice to throw a lens such as the Canon RF 14-35mm F4L IS USM on the camera, as it challenges you to find interesting angles, such as reflections in the sea. Of course, there are also situations where it's necessary, such as shooting in tight spaces."

A black and white image of three cyclists approaching a hairpin bend on a mountain road. The low sun behind them casts long shadows onto the road surface.

Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon RF 15-35mm F2.8L IS USM lens at 15mm, 1/500 sec, f/6.3 and ISO200. © Martin Bissig

Canon RF 15-35mm F2.8L IS USM

"This was shot during a campaign for a big Swiss bicycle retailer. The goal was to catch the first light up on Flüela Pass in the Swiss Alps," explains Canon Ambassador Martin Bissig.

"For me it was clear that we had to be there for the moment when the sun appeared behind the mountain range. The time window is pretty small to take this shot – 30 minutes later, and the whole feel of the image would have been gone." Martin chose this ultra-wide angle zoom lens as it gave him the option of including the whole of the tight bend in the road or going in closer on the athletes.

Martin adds: "I really like to shoot with a wide-angle lens. It puts my athletes in a perspective. I want to give the viewer an idea about where they are while not focusing on the cyclists too much: 15mm is the perfect balance of a wide-angle lens without too much lens distortion."

Two ballet dancers en pointe in side profile. Their arms are joined, while one has a leg raised behind her, and the other has a bent knee and her straight leg to the floor.

Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon RF 24-70mm F2.8L IS USM lens at 50mm, 1/125 sec, f/5.6 and ISO100. © Sascha Hüttenhain

Canon RF 24-70mm F2.8L IS USM

"I took this photo as part of a shoot with the two dancers in my studio. We agreed on the outfits before the shoot – to create a symbiosis, they both wore the same outfit and formed a unit with the pose," says Canon Ambassador Sascha Hüttenhain.

Sascha adds: "The Canon RF 24-70mm F2.8L IS USM lens gives me scope and flexibility to react to fast movements and changes. This sometimes makes it easier than working with a fixed focal length. It is also enormously fast and accurate. There is not much you can do wrong with this lens. Thanks to the built-in IS, it is also very easy to use handheld and makes it interesting for low-light scenes as well."

A head and shoulders portrait of a bride wearing elaborate gold jewellery including a nose ring and head piece.

Taken on a Canon EOS R with a Canon RF 24-105mm F4L IS USM lens at 105mm, 1/400 sec, f/4 and ISO320. © Sanjay Jogia

Canon RF 24-105mm F4L IS USM

Canon Ambassador Sanjay Jogia shot this image at a lavish Hindu wedding with 700 guests, where the range of focal lengths offered by the Canon RF 24-105mm F4L IS USM made it indispensable for both capturing wider shots of events and isolating individual subjects, as in this candid bridal portrait.

"The lens is quite lightweight for its focal range, has a 5-stop Image Stabilizer for sharp shots in low light and a beautiful bokeh even at the widest focal length when shooting at f/4," says Sanjay. "There's no barrel distortion and colour rendition is clean, consistent and reliable.

"It's probably the professional lens I'd advise photographers to invest in first, as it's so versatile."

A woman in a white hat and a long white coat walks away from the camera across a snowy landscape.

Taken on a Canon EOS R with a Canon RF 28-70mm F2L USM lens at 28mm, 1/640 sec, f/9 and ISO200. © Félicia Sisco

Canon RF 28-70mm F2L USM

"I captured this picture during a bridal fashion photo shoot for a winter collection," says Canon Ambassador Félicia Sisco. "I wanted to have a kind of confusion between the snowy mountain scenery and this huge coat, so I told the model to move fast to make the coat spread out wide. I shot looking at the vari-angle screen, so I could hold the camera up against my stomach. I used the Canon RF 28-70mm F2L USM lens at 28mm, shooting from close range to give a sense of movement to the coat. Usually I shoot with big apertures, but for this picture I needed to have a greater depth of field.

"Before using this lens I didn't like to shoot with zoom lenses, but with a constant aperture at f/2 and this L-series quality, I changed my mind!"

A black and white image of water droplets cascading from the fluke of a giant whale as it dives back into the ocean.

Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8L IS USM lens at 124mm, 1/6400 sec, f/9 and ISO1250. © Chris Fallows

Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8L IS USM

This spectacular image was taken off South Africa's West Coast in 2021, with Canon Ambassador Chris Fallows photographing the whale from a rocking boat. "To look up at the colossal tail as it hoisted clear of the ocean's surface, a few feet from where I lay at water level, was an incredibly beautiful moment," he says.

Chris chose the Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8L IS USM lens for its light weight, 5-stops of IS and rapid focusing speed. "A really fast autofocus is very important as the whale suddenly lifts its tail literally out of the blue. This lens is easily portable and allows you to shoot in situations that require fast reflexes. It also allows you to shoot very effectively into the light and be creative."

Hands in blue rubber gloves holding a freshly caught crab.

Taken on a Canon EOS R6 with a Canon RF 70-200mm F4L IS USM lens at 169mm, 1/2000 sec, f/4.5 and ISO200. © Lucia Griggi

Canon RF 70-200mm F4L IS USM

Canon Ambassador Lucia Griggi took this shot on a fishing boat off the island of Mull in Scotland. She travelled around the shores with the fishermen and this shot shows a crab caught that day.

"The Canon RF 70-200mm F4L IS USM was the perfect lens to take on a travel shoot like this," she says. "I was shooting many things and its fast autofocus allowed me to turn to subjects very quickly. For this shot, the light weight of the lens meant I could hold the camera in one hand and lean out of the back of the boat to get the focal distance I wanted, without changing lenses."

A close-up of the eye of a northern gannet.

Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1L IS USM lens at 500mm, 1/250 sec, f/7.1 and ISO400. © Radomir Jakubowski

Canon RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1L IS USM

Canon Ambassador Radomir Jakubowski captured this image while photographing a breeding colony of northern gannets. "The northern gannet is a beautiful bird with incredible eyes," he says. "I tried to focus on the eyes and to find a new perspective."

This approach created technical challenges, which EOS R System kit helped him to overcome. "With the mirrorless Canon EOS R5 and the Canon RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1L IS USM, I can use the AF Servo even in the corners of the frame, so it's much easier to create an image like this," he says. "This lens offers outstanding image quality, fast AF and a very good maximum magnification ratio.

"To realise its full potential, it's important to keep it stable and to control your breathing, then you can use longer exposure times, even when shooting handheld."

Canon L-series RF prime lenses

A black and white image of a man holding up his hand to show a young girl a beetle on his little finger.

Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon RF 50mm F1.2L USM lens at 1/80 sec, f/1.4 and ISO100. © Helen Bartlett

Canon RF 50mm F1.2L USM

"This image was completely unposed, her brother was jumping off logs in one direction and this little girl was being shown a beetle by her father in the other. I was drawn to her expression of curiosity and happiness and the lovely angle of the light that came in from a break in the trees above us," explains Canon Ambassador Helen Bartlett.

"I shot wide open to create a really shallow depth of field to draw our attention to her face. The Canon RF 50mm F1.2L USM is my desert island lens. It's a wonderfully flexible focal length allowing for close-up portraits as well as wider action shots. It focuses incredibly fast even wide open at f/1.2 and the sharpness at the widest apertures is incredible, while the out-of-focus areas have a smoothness that makes a picture taken with this lens instantly recognisable."

Helen adds: "Shooting with prime lenses is very liberating. If I'm ever in a creative rut then I'll stick the 50mm on my camera and only shoot with that lens for a while – by limiting the focal length you force yourself to be more creative, to experiment with different angles and approaches, and zoom with your feet."

A couple embracing silhouetted against a dark mountain range and lit by the sun setting below an orange, cloud-streaked sky.

Taken on a Canon EOS R6 with a Canon RF 85mm F1.2L USM lens at 1/4000 sec, f/2 and ISO125. © Fabio Mirulla

Canon RF 85mm F1.2L USM

"I took this photo in the Tuscan countryside, not far from Siena, one of my favourite places," explains Canon Ambassador Fabio Mirulla. "I had to find a way to highlight the subjects in silhouette against the dark mountains in the background. The simplest solution was to shoot from below to position them in the sky. Luckily, not far from where I was shooting there was a tractor working in the fields, which gave me the chance to backlight the dust it raised.

"The Canon RF 85mm F1.2L USM lens allowed me to get a perfect relationship between the background elements and the subjects in terms of size. This lens also performs excellently in backlit situations – in this case it was fundamental.

"I use this lens all the time, mainly in combination with the EOS R6. The focus speed and its high definition at any aperture make it one of my favourites. In portraits, for example, if used at maximum aperture in combination with the EOS R6's Eye Detection AF, it allows you to obtain images with unparalleled bokeh."

A black and white portrait of a man staring directly at the camera.

Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon RF 85mm F1.2L USM DS lens at 1/250 sec, f/1.2 and ISO800. © Clive Booth

Canon RF 85mm F1.2L USM DS

"This portrait of legendary dancer and Birmingham Royal Ballet director Carlos Acosta coincided with Acosta's first production for BRB, Don Quixote," says Canon Ambassador Clive Booth. "It was shot in a blacked-out studio, using continuous lighting. Once in front of the camera, Carlos just lit up the viewfinder, and was probably the best subject I've ever photographed from a performance perspective.

"I love the 85mm focal length, and the bokeh from the DS version of the L-series RF 85mm lens just gives another element of difference. The autofocus system of the Canon EOS R5 in combination with this lens is simply breathtaking; to the human eye every picture is in focus, even when shot at f/1.2."

Clive adds: "To get the most from this lens I like to shoot with a very shallow depth of field, often between f/1.2 and f/2.8. For me, this adds incredible atmosphere to my work and means I can isolate the area of focus, pushing the viewer to look at what I want them to."

Read Clive's shoot story to find out more about this project, and the photo prints that were made from it.

A close-up of a snake's head in side profile with its tongue extended.

Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon RF 100mm F2.8L MACRO IS USM lens at 1/500 sec, f/4 and ISO6400. © Oliver Wright

Canon RF 100mm F2.8L MACRO IS USM

Wildlife and adventure specialist Oliver Wright photographed this juvenile Amazon tree boa while on a shoot at the Tropical Butterfly House Wildlife Conservation Park near Sheffield, UK. "I wanted the snake's eye to be in focus and as much of the tongue to be out as possible," he says. "I shot it at a high ISO with a wide aperture to get a fast shutter speed, so the tongue would be sharp."

The Canon RF 100mm F2.8L MACRO IS USM lens shoots at up to 1.4x magnification, which helped Oliver fill more of the frame with the subject. He adds: "It also doesn't struggle when shooting at the minimum focusing distance – on a shoot like this the success rate is much higher than with the equivalent EF lens."

A razorbill with its wings outstretched in sharp focus against a blurred background.

Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon RF 400mm F2.8L IS USM lens at 1/2000 sec, f/3.5 and ISO2500. © Jonas Classon

Canon RF 400mm F2.8L IS USM

"The razorbills had just started breeding on the dramatic sea cliffs near Bridlington, UK, when I took this shot," explains Canon Ambassador Jonas Classon. "After studying the birds' behaviour for a few days, I came up with the idea of capturing a razorbill returning from the sea heading towards the clifftop. I wanted to use the Canon RF 400mm F2.8L IS USM because of its very short depth of field to smooth out the flowers, background and foreground to isolate the subject.

"To spot the razorbill, I had to sit really close to the cliff edge. These birds are extremely fast, and fly from the water straight up to the clifftop at an awkward angle, so they were in shot just half a second before landing. To help my AF to find the subject as quickly as possible, I pre-focused on a rock where I expected the bird to pass and pressed the shutter when the bird passed by it. The fast autofocus of my EOS R5 and the fast RF lens helped me to nail the bird in mid-air. Whenever possible, especially in extreme situations with very fast-flying birds, I often use the focusing distance range selector switch on the lens to help it work fast in the right range."

The head of a puma looking directly at the camera. Its face is in sharp focus, while the foliage in the foreground and background is blurred.

Taken on a Canon EOS R3 with a Canon RF 600mm F4L IS USM lens and a Canon Extender RF 1.4x at 840mm, 1/400 sec, f/5.6 and ISO800. © Thorsten Milse

Canon RF 600mm F4L IS USM

Canon Ambassador Thorsten Milse was tracking pumas in Torres del Paine National Park, Chile, when he saw this female at a distance. "Due to a steep mountain slope we couldn't get any closer, so it was good to use the Canon RF 600mm F4L IS USM with a Canon Extender RF 1.4x. This made a portrait of the face possible. As a side effect, it also gave a beautiful bokeh in the foreground and background."

Thorsten says the lens's portability made walking long distances in mountainous areas easier, while its ultra-fast AF, combined with the Canon EOS R3's subject-tracking technology "helped to quickly focus the cat".

As these images show, Canon's range of L-series RF lenses is helping photographers create images they never previously thought possible. Fast, compact and light, with superb quality optics, they are an investment in your photographic career, whatever your genre.

Jeff Meyer, David Clark and Ella Taylor

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