The new Canon EOS R6 and the R5 in particular have generated loads of excitement with their powerful feature sets. However, Canon also announced four new lenses alongside the cameras, and I think those are just as much reason to be excited.
No doubt, the Canon EOS R5 is one heck of a camera and a good reason to be excited. But along with the EOS R5 and R6, the company also introduced four new lenses: the RF 100-500mm f/4.5-7.1 L IS USM, 600mm f/11 IS STM, 800mm f/11 IS STM, and RF 85mm f/2 Macro IS STM. These lenses are just as exciting for a variety of reasons.
So far, Canon's RF lenses have been lauded for their image quality and performance, but they have also been very expensive, even by professional standards. While a lot of professionals might embrace them, there are plenty of reasons why photographers (both amateur and professional) might prefer to opt for a cheaper lens.
This is probably the most common reason. A lot of us (particularly given the financial insecurity caused by the pandemic) simply cannot afford to shell out $3,000 for every lens in their bag. Having affordable options as Canon transitions into a mirrorless world is crucial for a wide range of photographers. Furthermore, the 600mm and 800mm give photographers the chance to explore extreme focal lengths at a more affordable price than ever, aside from something like a mirror lens.
A lot of professionals look at gear from a purely business standpoint, meaning they look to maximize their return on investment. If a photographer does not challenge their lenses to the absolute max in terms of autofocus performance, aperture, sharpness, or weather-sealing, then from a business perspective, it makes much more sense to invest in a more affordable option.
Secondary Options and Backup
Certain genres necessitate carrying backup lenses, but that does not mean a photographer necessarily has to or even should duplicate their kit one-to-one. Often, it is better to have a more affordable option in reserve just in case; after all, it does not always make financial sense to have multi-thousand dollar lenses in your bag for the rare emergency situation. Better to carry something that can bridge the gap competently without breaking the bank until your primary kit is back in commission.
A More Complete Range of Price Levels
Lenses like the RF 100-500mm f/4.5-7.1 L IS USM help to fill out the middle range of price levels. Traditionally, there are normally roughly three levels of pricing when it comes to long telephoto lenses. First, there are budget lenses, where you will find anything from kit-level lenses, such as the EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM ($377), to lenses made for serious hobbyists, such as the ever-popular Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD G2 ($1,199). In this range, there are also narrow-aperture lenses that begin to grace the bottom of the super-telephoto focal length range, such as the EF 300mm f/4L IS USM ($1,349) and EF 400mm f/5.6L USM ($1,149).
At the other end of the range are the stratospherically priced wide-aperture super-telephoto primes. These are lenses like the EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III USM ($11,999). This is the sort of glass owned by specialist photographers in the most demanding environments who need top-end performance and quality: professional sports photographers, wildlife photographers, etc.
Then, in the middle range ($2,000-3,000), we have probably the most versatile range for a lot of professionals. These are lenses like the ever-popular 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 design (normally around $2,300 from a first-party manufacturer).
The RF 100-500mm f/4.5-7.1 L IS USM ($2,699) is the direct analog to that design. Some have lamented the maximum aperture of f/7.1 at the long end, but it's important to remember that that puts it probably at f/6.3 at 400mm, only a third of a stop slower than f/5.6, a negligible difference, especially for the 100mm gain in overall focal length. Of course, we do not have analogs of the upper tier yet, but that being said, autofocus performance with Canon brand adapters is generally just as good as the native EF mount, and surely, RF versions will be on the market eventually.
Great Secondary Lenses
Lenses like the RF 600mm f/11 IS STM and RF 800mm f/11 IS STM also make fantastic lenses for secondary work. By that, I mean either a genre outside a photographer's primary work or a lesser-used lens for primary work. This could be a landscape photographer who likes to capture shots of the occasional wildlife or birds while out shooting landscapes. Or it could be that same landscape photographer who also wants a long telephoto for the occasional abstract shot along with the more standard wide angle photos.
Once you get into super-telephoto territory, there is no such thing as a light lens; that's just a consequence of the glass necessary to reach those extremes. Still, there are a range of weights from monopod necessary to reasonable to handhold and carry in a backpack all day. Tipping the scales at a little over 2 lbs (about a kilogram), the new 600mm and 800mm lenses can be hiked with all day without feeling the effects of the bulk in one's muscles. Even better is that they retract to make them easier to store, a clever design by Canon, given that supertelephoto lenses often have a lot of empty space between their elements.
Along with the retractable design, Canon also saved on bulk through the use of their diffractive elements in the 600mm and 800mm, seen before in a few lenses, which uses special elements that bend light to a more significant degree than normal elements, allowing for the use of less glass, resulting in less length and weight. All four lenses offer the Control Ring feature, which allows the photographer to assign a parameter like ISO for easy adjustments. The RF 85mm f/2 Macro IS STM offers a wide aperture and 1:2 macro capabilities at the classic portrait length along with image stabilization and a very affordable price ($599). This could make it a fantastically versatile lens for people like wedding photographers, giving them a nice portrait option along with macro capabilities for detail shots.
No doubt, the new EOS R5 is highly exciting, but I think Canon's new lenses are just as exciting, and even if they don't fit your personal needs, they show a future highlighted by innovation. Are you excited for them?