The Best Lenses for the Canon EOS R for Video

The Canon EOS R (Amazon | B&H) has a new lens mount, the RF-mount, and this means new native lenses.

In this article, let’s go over the most useful lenses for the Canon EOS R, specifically for video and cinematography.

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What is a “native” lens?

A “native” lens is one specifically designed for the Canon RF-mount system, and which allow the following:

  • Full control of autofocus, image stabilization, iris, zoom and focus control.
  • Electronic metadata like iris, focal length, distortion, fall-off, focus, etc.
  • Continuous auto focus for video.

The biggest advantage of owning native lenses is that it’s designed specifically for the new sensor and camera design. If you want the best autofocus performance, you need RF lenses.

What native lenses are available right now?

As of this writing, these are the lenses available or imminent:

  1. Canon RF 35mm f/1.8 IS Macro STM Lens (Amazon, B&H)
  2. Canon RF 50mm f/1.2L USM Lens (Amazon, B&H)
  3. Canon RF 85mm f/1.2L USM Lens (Amazon, B&H)
  4. Dynamite: Canon RF 28-70mm f/2L USM Lens (Amazon, B&H)
  5. Best value for money: Canon RF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM Lens (Amazon, B&H)
  6. Canon RF 24-240mm f/4-6.3 IS USM Lens (Amazon, B&H)
  7. Coming Soon: Canon RF 15–35mm F2.8 L IS USM
  8. Coming Soon: Canon RF 24–70mm F2.8 L IS USM

To be honest, I really like Canon’s lens choices here. They are all drool-worthy. If I had to pick one lens I would easily pick the Canon RF 28-70mm f/2L USM Lens (Amazon, B&H).

Are Canon RF lenses good for video?

It depends on what type of video you’re into. Currently the biggest issue is the limited range available as far as focal lengths are concerned.

There aren’t any super wide or super telephoto options, and some of the primes might be too expensive for many shooters.

The great advantage of RF lenses is that you get dual pixel AF at its best. So, for new users, the two most important questions to ask are:

  1. Do you really need the best AF for video?
  2. Do you have existing Canon EF lenses that you would like to continue using?

There are two other ‘advantages’ specific to RF lenses:

First, the manual focus ring can be customizable. For photography, the ring can be set to focus by wire.

RF lenses allow users to change the rotation direction (clockwise or anti-clockwise) of the focus ring and control ring to match their preferences. Besides, the focus ring rotational sensitivity during manual focusing can also be customized. By default, it is set to “Varies with rotation speed”. Sensitivity of the focus ring will depend on the speed at which the ring is turned, the focus will change by a greater degree when the ring is turned faster; while slower rotation allows fine focus adjustments. Another option “Linked to rotation degree” is also available in which the focusing distance will be directly proportional to the rotation degree, regardless of the rotation speed. This option can provide the same control characteristic and sensation similar to cinema lenses.

Source: Canon

Second, each RF lens has a Control Ring at the front of the lens for customizable aperture, ISO, or other adjustments.

It’s going to be sometime before Canon fills in the gaps in focal lengths, so for now, you’ll have to complement them with third-party lenses.

And the best place to start is with Canon’s own stellar range of EF-mount lenses.

The three EF-EOS R adapters

Canon has released three new EF-EOS R adapters (Amazon, B&H) so you can use Canon EF lenses with the Canon EOS R.

All adapters offer full control over Canon EF lenses:

  • All adapters retain Canon in-lens IS (image stabilization), autofocus control, sharpness, color rendition, and contrast. 
  • Each is weather sealed to prevent dust and moisture from entering (assuming the lens is also weather sealed) 
  • Full compatibility with Canon EF and EF-S lenses as well as most 3rd party lenses. Sigma offers full compatibility; Tamron limited compatibility but growing.

Here’s the list of adapters:

No.TypeKey InfoBuy
1“Basic” AdapterHas full control, cheapest option(Amazon, B&H)
2Control Ring AdapterAdds a control ring to control ISO, Aperture, Exposure Compensation, etc.(Amazon, B&H)
3Drop-in Filter Adapter with Variable ND filterHas a slot in the adapter to use rear filters. In this case a variable ND filter.(Amazon, B&H)
Drop-in Filter Adapter with Circular Polarizer filterHas a slot in the adapter to use rear filters. In this case a circular polarizing filter.(Amazon, B&H)

Which is the best EF-EOS R adapter for video?

This is tricky, because it depends on what your needs are. And for video, there are hidden costs you should be aware of.

Let’s start with drop-in filters.

The hidden costs of drop-in filters

I would not pick the circular polarizer (though it is useful sometimes) because for video work the subject is always moving, and you’ll only be able to get the benefit of the polarizer at a particular angle in relation to the sun.

With the drop-in filter adapter, if you don’t want to use a variable ND, you don’t have to, but it’s a great option to have in your kit if and when the need arises. You get from 1.5 to 9 stops, which is an amazing range.

Can you use the drop-in filter without the variable ND filter? No, you can’t. You’ll leave a large gaping hole in your filter. You need to purchase the Drop-In Clear Filter A (Amazon, B&H), and that is an additional expense.

It’s basically about the money. Total expense for a drop-in filter:

Drop-In Adapter with Variable ND A (1.5-9 stops)$399
Drop-In Clear Filter A$129.95
Circular Polarizer A (optional)$274.95
Total, with and without the polarizer$529 ($804)

What is the cost of a high quality Variable ND filter? A 77mm B+W XS-Pro Digital ND Vario MRC-Nano Filter costs about $250 at the time of this writing. You can buy cheap step down adapters for other filter sizes.

But here’s the thing: You only get 1-5 stops. The higher range you need, typically the more expensive it gets. If you buy cheaper filters there’s the serious risk of color shifts and IR pollution, not to mention other variable ND filter artifacts. Read more in my guide to lens filters.

So seriously, even though it seems expensive, the Drop-in filter adapter is a great deal. No need to deal with step-down rings, and no need to worry about wasting time changing it in the field.

The hidden cost of the control ring adapter

Next we have the control ring adapter. There’s an important feature you need to know about video.

Control Ring clicks are audible and can be picked up when recording video. Canon offers a Control Ring Modification Service to make the rings adjust silently for an additional fee:

The control ring on RF lenses and the Control Ring Mount Adapter EF-EOS R includes a “clicking” action when used. While this can be helpful to confirm changing settings, it can also impede video recordings as the “clicking” sound may be captured as audio. EOS R series camera owners can choose to have this function removed, and even re-applied if needed later on, with Canon’s control ring modification service.* 

RF Lenses $79.99
Control Ring Mount Adapter EF-EOS R $59.99
Tax and freight fee are NOT included. * All pricing is subject to change.

Canon
Price of Control Ring Mount Adapter$199
Cost of Modification Service$59.99
Total$259

This is a good option if you ride the aperture often. But in my opinion, the combination of EF lenses in cinema use is rare. Most times you don’t need to change the aperture or ISO, so you really don’t need the control ring adapter.

It’s only useful in run and gun situations, where you are using the camera in a handheld situation with one hand on the lens to ride the aperture or ISO. I would seriously consider investing in RF lenses for this feature, and not really consider it for EF lenses – specifically for video work.

The EOS R is a smaller camera than say, the 5D Mark IV, so an EF lens with an adapter will be front-heavy. This kind of operation is not going to be easy.

If you need a de-clicked lens, you can get a cine-mod service done, or better yet, just use cine lenses.

And then there’s the risk of moving the control ring by mistake during operation. This is rare, but the issue is, unlike a aperture ring or focus ring on a cine lens, when you shift this, there’s no visual aid to tell you it has shifted.

Which leaves us with two options:

Basic adapterGet this if you don’t regularly use an ND filter, or don’t like the compromise of a variable ND filter. Better for short films, feature films and web-series. For maximum image quality.
Drop-in filter adapter with variable ND filterUseful if most of the time you are using a variable ND filter, shooting outdoors, etc. E.g., weddings, corporate videos, events, news, documentaries, etc.

What are the best lenses for the Canon EOS R for Video?

Prime lenses

Why prime lenses?

The single greatest advantage prime lenses have in general is they can open wider than zooms. You can go down to f/0.95 if you wanted to!

This makes it a great option for low light cinematography. And there’s really no excuse for not having at least one prime because they also tend to be cheap without sacrificing quality. Another advantage of prime lenses is they are usually lighter than zoom lenses (comparing the same price range).

The third advantage of prime lenses are they have lower breathing, while the zoom lenses (photo) breathe and are not parfocal.

Please note, these are for 4K, with a 1.8x crop factor:

Best image quality

  1. Wide angle: Canon EF 14mm f/2.8L II USM Lens + Adapter (Amazon, B&H)
  2. Normal: Canon EF 24mm f/1.4L II USM Lens + Adapter (Amazon, B&H)
  3. Telephoto: Canon RF 50mm f/1.2L USM Lens (Amazon, B&H)
  4. Super telephoto: Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS USM Lens + Adapter (Amazon, B&H)

Low budget, value for money

  1. Wide angle: None available, pick a zoom (see below)
  2. Normal: Canon RF 35mm f/1.8 IS Macro STM Lens (Amazon, B&H)
  3. Telephoto: Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM Lens + Adapter (Amazon, B&H)
  4. Super telephoto: Canon EF 135mm f/2L USM Lens + Adapter (Amazon, B&H)

Zoom lenses

Please note, these are for 4K, with a 1.8x crop factor:

  1. Widest: Canon EF 11-24mm f/4L USM Lens (Amazon, B&H), or if you don’t mind APS-C lenses, the cheaper Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM Lens (Amazon, B&H)
  2. Mid-range: Canon RF 15–35mm F2.8 L IS USM – this is expected to drop in the second half of 2019, so wait!
  3. Normal Range to Telephoto: Canon RF 28-70mm f/2L USM Lens (Amazon, B&H)
  4. Extended Telephoto: Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens (Amazon, B&H)
  5. Great all-round low-budget option: Canon RF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM Lens (Amazon, B&H)

Adapters and third-party lenses

How do you know if a lens can be used or not? First, you need to know what the flange focal distance is.

Here’s information on each mount, in increasing order of the focal flange distance:

MountFocal Flange Distance in mm
Z Nikon Z-mount16
C C-Mount17.526
EF-M Canon EF-M mount18
E Sony E-mount18
FZ Sony18
MFT Micro Four Thirds mount19.25
RF Canon RF-mount20
L Leica L-mount20
M Leica M mount27.8
FT Four Thirds mount38.67
FD Canon Manual FD mount42
EF Canon EOS EF mount44
EF-S Canon EOS EF-S mount44
LPL Arri LPL-mount44
A Minolta/Sony A-mount44.5
K Pentax K-mount45.46
F Nikon F-mount46.5
R Leica R-mount47
PL Arri PL mount52

Third-party lenses come in their own lens mounts. So you need some sort of adapter that comes between the lens and the camera. This adapter does three things:

  1. It connects two mounts that naturally don’t fit together, and
  2. It makes up for the flange focal distance.
  3. Optional: Provides contacts that allow you to control aperture, zoom, focus, etc., from the camera itself, like the EF-EOS R adapter (Amazon, B&H).

There’s no glass in the adapter, no lens or optics. It’s just hollow inside.

The Canon RF mount has a flange focal distance of 20mm, so any lens that has a higher flange focal distance than this in the above table can be adapted. This is why you can adapt EF lenses, because the Canon EF mount has a flange focal distance of 44mm.

You can also adapt older Canon FD lenses, Leica M lenses, PL-mount lenses and of course Nikon F-mount lenses and others. I’m pretty sure there are all kinds of adapters for every lens combination.

All this makes it really hard to give a recommendation because people pick lenses for a multitude of reasons. Personal taste and aesthetics factor big time in any decision.

However, it is hard to argue against this next list in terms of performance and value for money. The package is unbeatable in my opinion.

The best third-party lenses for the Canon EOS R for video

Prime lenses

What do I prefer? I like Leica R primes, but they are hard to find or recommend for everybody, and the price is high. You need to find a good copy, and maintenance is a problem as well. This applies to most older or esoteric lenses. If I’m recommending a lens, it should be available to purchase for most people worldwide, must be serviceable, and must offer tremendous value for money without sacrificing quality.

Right now, only one series meets all of these requirements: The Sigma Art series with a Canon EF mount (or RF mount if it becomes available):

For super-telephoto, nothing beats Canon’s own line.

The other option you might want to look at is Zeiss Milvus in the Nikon mount. Even though these are stellar lenses, on the whole they offer similar image quality to the Sigma line, but at higher prices.

When should you pick prime lenses with manual focus?

When you can and want to control the focus, that’s when.

Professionals use follow focus systems, but even if that’s overkill for you, you need to ensure the focus ring on the lens is solid, smooth and reliable enough to consistently nail focus. The Canon EOS R (Amazon | B&H) has focus peaking as well as a zoom-in feature, so you can nail focus by looking at the back LCD.

Recommended cine prime lenses for the Canon EOS R

There are really great full frame lenses, like the Arri Signature Primes or the Leica Thalia, but these are rental items, hardly available for purchase for us “regular folk”.

More practically, you could either go with Zeiss CP.3 primes or better yet, with Sigma Cine lenses in the PL mount. I prefer the latter, the range is just too much value for money, and it goes up to T1.5!

I would use these with a PL to Canon RF adapter (Amazon, B&H).

There are many other lenses that cover full frame. For more names, check out my comparison of cine primes for full frame.

Recommended cine zoom lenses for the Canon EOS R

This is more tricky. Full frame zoom lenses are hard to find. Right now, these are the only options:

To be honest, these are not lenses a Canon EOS R owner is likely to purchase, as they are way too expensive. Unless of course, you are using the EOS R as a B-cam with a C300 Mark II or C700, etc. For this reason, if you need zoom lenses, it might be better to just purchase Canon zoom lenses as listed above, or get them cine-modified by Duclos Lenses if you have the budget. I’m not a big fan of re-housing; waste of money, if you ask me. Just get them de-clicked with focus gears.

That’s it for my list! If you have any suggestions or recommendations please let me know in the comments below.

Click here to stay updated about new information, workflows and tips about the Canon EOS R.