Image Quality

The Canon RF 35mm F1.8 IS Macro is capable of excellent image quality, and very good sharpness at all normal apertures. Detail is a bit hazy wide open, but the lens sharpens up well, and uniformity of sharpness across the frame is high. Bokeh is pleasant, and aberrations are mostly well-controlled (and/or easily removable in post). Lateral and longitudinal chromatic aberration (LoCA) can both be problematic in some situations though.

Key takeaways:

  • Slightly hazy at F1.8 but very good resolution at all apertures
  • Good consistency across the imaging area
  • Moderate barrel distortion
  • Pleasant bokeh at wide apertures
  • Moderate / severe lateral and longitudinal CA in some situations.

Wide open at F1.8 and F2, images from the RF 35mm F1.8 have a slight haziness to them, but detail resolution is high. By F2.8, images appear crisper and sharper, and by F4, the lens is as sharp as it gets in the center. By F8, sharpness is almost entirely consistent across the frame. You'll notice lateral CA towards the edges of images taken at all apertures, but we don't tend to worry about this since it's removed automatically in JPEGs, and easy to take care of manually in a Raw editor (we're presenting images here with ACR's CA reduction turned 'off').

Compared to the Nikon Z 35mm F1.8 (downsized to match the 30MP output of the EOS R), the Canon RF 35mm F1.8 is hazier at its widest apertures, and a little more fringy at the edges, but basically on a par in terms of detail resolution. Exact comparison of the two lenses is complicated by the higher pixel count of the Nikon Z7 compared to the Canon EOS R that we used for this shootout, but as you can see, at a sensible working aperture for a scene of this kind, output from both lenses is fairly comparable when examined at 100%.

When used for close-up subjects, the lens can produce very good detail in the centre of the frame at even its widest aperture, and this continues well to the peripheries. The wide maximum aperture also makes it easy to have heavy blur around the subject when shooting close up, although it’s worth enabling Servo AF (as Canon suggests) to keep the main subject crisp.

At closer focusing distances, edge performance wide open isn't as strong as it is at infinity - this isn't a surprise. But as you can see, it's not bad, and in this kind of situation, the noticeable vignetting at F1.8 actually looks rather nice, and helps focus the composition.

ISO 100 | 1/2500 sec | F1.8

Vignetting is fairly obvious at F1.8, but it reduces steadily in line with changes to aperture. The worst is over by F3.2 and by F3.5 it’s essentially a non issue. I found that, at its very worst, it’s around two stops underexposed against the centre of the frame, although you can simply leave on the Peripheral Illumination Correction feature and the camera will do this for you (and this works well). At the time of writing, Adobe doesn’t have a profile for this and other optical aberrations loaded into ACR or Lightroom, although no doubt these will arrive in due course.

It's important to be aware though that because of the relatively noisy sensor of the EOS RP, heavy vignetting correction to files from that camera might result in noise becoming visible in the areas that have been brightened.

The character of out of focus points of light is perfectly pleasing at the widest aperture, and so-called 'bokeh balls' are smooth. As you stop down the lens, a slight texture on the and a more defined edge makes them slightly less aesthetically pleasing, although as always, it depends what you're shooting.

At wide apertures, you should expect to see lateral CA (visible as a magenta-purple fringe in this shot) around high-contrast edges, like the branch / sky areas in this image, taken handheld at dusk. To be fair, the intensity is is accentuated in this image by our standard processing for lens galleries (all user-level corrections turned 'off') and by shadow and highlight adjustment.

ISO 320 | 1/25 sec | F2
Photo by Carey Rose

Longitudinal chromatic aberration is one of those things that depends heavily on subject matter. In most everyday shooting, you have to really go looking for it, but you will see fairly severe fringing in (for example) out of focus highlights, and around high-contrast edges in photos taken in the closeup range. If you're working on Raw files, LoCA can be somewhat reduced in post, but it's hard to completely remove without having a destructive effect on green and magenta tones in the rest of your image.

The Canon RF 35mm F1.8 Macro isn't a 'true' macro lens, but its maximum reproduction ratio of 1:2 is pretty good for a general-purpose prime lens.

ISO 1000 | 1/50 sec | F1.8
Photo by Carey Rose
In this image (click the crop above for a closer look), fairly obvious LoCA is visible in the areas of the spider (L) which are just slipping out of the zone of focus. A few minutes in Adobe Camera Raw is enough to reduce the effect (R) and make it less visually distracting, but in an image containing lots of 'real' green or purple/magenta tones, the adjustments that I made here might have had a destructive effect elsewhere in the scene.

Lateral chromatic aberration is definitely present in Raw files viewed with all corrections turned off, with green and magenta fringes towards the peripheries of the frame in the sorts of images in which we would expect it. We don't worry too much about this kind of CA though - for JPEG shooters it's pretty much eliminated automatically in-camera, and it's fairly to remove - usually - from Raw files in post, without too much penalty in terms of sharpness.

You probably won’t notice any curvilinear distortion in the majority of non-architectural scenes, but as soon as you start to capture anything with linear details stretch across the frame, a small amount will become visible. The slightly wavy nature of the distortion also makes this difficult to correct with a slider-based remedy alone, so it’s a good idea to keep the camera’s correction on or use the right profile if your software supports this if you need it ironed out.

Some barrel distortion is visible in the railing in this shot, but for JPEG shooters, it's corrected in-camera, and it's relatively easy to correct later in Raw files.

ISO 100 | 1/4000 sec | F2.5

It’s not difficult to purposefully introduce flare into images while you’re shooting, but the flare itself is typically tight and slight, rather than anything that swamps the image. It’s also possible to produce very pleasing, 18-ray sunstars, thanks to the 9 aperture blades.

One thing worth noting is that, at the time of writing, Canon’s highest-resolution mirrorless camera has a 30MP sensor, rather than the 40MP+ sensors seen on rival mirrorless systems. While the lens can certainly delivery nicely sharp images against the EOS R’s sensor, it would be interesting to see just how well it can do so against a more taxing one in a future body.