Eric L. Woods

So… that Canon RF STM prime lens trio. You see what happened was…

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This is quite the ramble-fest mission distraction post. You have been warned.

I recently wrote a post about the outcome of a complete rethink of how I purchased cars for years. By the pound or by the HP or cylinder count. The bigger the better. The more the better. After always seeking top tier engine options first, like V8 or at a minimum V6, for the first time I looked at what I needed rather than what I wanted and chose a car predominantly driven by more practical factors. Fuel economy and budget. I then ended up buying a vehicle with fantastic gas mileage at about half my initial used car budgeted amount. Much less than a brand new economy car on a lightly used nice midsized vehicle.

RF 85mm f/2

But I was surprised by the outcome. I was not surprised that the car was nice and had great features. That is what was expected based on the reviews.

I was surprised by what I did not miss.

On paper there was a massive gap between this vehicle’s HP and the last, but in real world circumstances this proved to be a complete non-issue.

It performs just fine. When I plopped myself in the drivers seat I enjoyed the car much more. I also really enjoy real world improvements like fewer stops by the pump.

A side effect I should have expected from less mass over the front axels of a front wheel drive properly tuned suspension but surprised me anyway was how much more nimble this car was. I have not had this much fun driving since… my first small nimble cars so many years ago.

It left me wondering what I was on about for these many years.

  • Did not miss what I thought I would.
  • Enjoyed other things far more than I expected to.

I could go on but I will stop here. End result:

  • Less spend.
  • Smaller size.
  • Great performance.
  • More fun.

What does this have to do with cameras?

Well I have recently gone through a similar experience with camera gear.

Started innocently enough. Bought an EOS RP when Canon released the 50mm f/1.8 STM. Thought it would be a everyday compliment to the faster 50mm prime I already had for my “serious” kit. Once had and really enjoyed a Canon 35mm STM f/1.8 Macro when it came out but I had a 35mm prime already, for that same “serious” kit, and thought it would end at that.

But as odd as this sounds the lens that I needed the least ended up changing everything. The Canon RF 85mm f/2 Macro IS STM.

RF Blog Post Product Shots

Was offered up to me to test and I thought I was safe from temptation. Not because I thought it was a bad lens. Just because I had portrait lenses covered already. As mentioned in this post two lenses I already had came to mind.

  1. The Rokinon/Samyang 85mm AF FE 85mm f/1.4.
Rokinon/Samyang 85mm f/1.4 FE

Thought this lens was superior solely based on its f/1.4 aperture and its superior light gathering and subject isolation. Being a Canon I figured it would match or surpass this lens otherwise.

2. The Pentax 100mm f/2.8 Macro WR

Pentax 100mm for blog post

Thought this lens was superior solely based on its true 1:1 reproduction ratio as opposed to the Canon’s 1:2 ratio. As before being a Canon and also a modern lens I figured it would match or surpass this lens otherwise.

That was the initial thought process anyway. On paper. I was wrong.

Rokinon vs. Canon

In practice the Canon’s f/2 did just fine. Provided plenty of subject isolation. Slower shutter speeds, higher ISOs, and IS did well to offset the dimmer aperture. A functional wash for me. Further the slightly smaller, but better balanced lens design that was less front heavy…

FE and RF

…was a plus as was the Macro capabilities.

Pentax vs. Canon

The difference between 1:1 and 1:2 was not a big difference in practice for me. WR is nice, but it is not a deciding factor for a lens in isolation. The Canon easily matches and perhaps surpasses the Pentax’s IQ and absolutely murders the Pentax in every other practical feature category. Was surprised at first, but after some thought I should not have been given the Pentax’s vintage.

And there was another advantage. For me, as a great portrait lens and a great Macro lens, the Canon could easily replace the other two.

So what now?

Personal preference, but I like sets. And I already had an f/1.4 trio of Rokinon/Samyang primes. Moving away from the Rokinon/Samyang 85mm f/1.4 would require breaking up the band in my universe. My everyday prime kit would also need to become my “serious” prime kit when needed. This was a considerable shift from the STM 50mm as a compliment and not what I had originally intended. But perhaps this is not as outrageous of a decision as I first thought it would be.

While not the largest fast primes available, the f/1.4 lenses I have had are just large and heavy enough that they rarely see the light of day. This flies in the face in one of the promoted advantages of mirrorless cameras. Smaller size and weight. In the ever escalating mirrorless lens aperture wars this goal seems to have been lost along the way.

Canon has also played a part in significantly escalating the mirrorless lens larger aperture conflict with lenses like the excellent performing RF 50mm f/1.2L USM, RF 85mm f/1.2L USM DS, and bag of primes RF 28-70mm f/2L USM. They are not alone in this. All of the full frame mirrorless players have released fast, expensive, and heavy glass. The difference seems to be how they approach more affordable f/1.8 and f/2 prime glass. With little exception Sony, Nikon, and L Mount Alliance (Leica, Sigma, and Panasonic) also charge quite a bit for their “second tier”, for lack of a better phrase, lenses that are often not all that small or light. Little or no smaller and sometimes larger than DSLR equivalents. Canon seems to have taken a different path. While releasing lower priced options later than most their 35mm, 50mm, and 85mm f/1.8 and f/2 lenses take value and size into consideration while also offering features others do not like Macro and IS.

But the only lens comparisons that matter for me specifically are with the f/1.4 primes I already have from Rokinon/Samyang.

Rokinon 35mm, 50mm, and 85mm size comparison. Drastically different sizes for the 35mm and 50mm.

A more compact, lighter prime kit would really be nice. Are there benefits to shooting f/1.4 glass? Yes. Low light for sure. But most modern mirrorless cameras handle higher ISOs well. So not enough of an advantage for me to offset the size and weight that have kept me from shooting much with them at all. Like my vehicular HP and cylinder count obsession I have pursued larger apertures for years. So a major shift in my thinking and priorities would be required. But the more I thought about it the more sense it made. As much sense as such an ultimately pointless exercise could make anyway. Sure you could get on well with the also reasonably priced Rokinon/Samyang 35mm/45mm/75mm f/1.8 trio of lenses but I still prefer the Canon options over those.

I already outlined the outcome of the 85mm comparison. Now onto the 50mm and 35mm.

Canon RF 50mm f/1.8 STM

RF Blog Post Product Shots

I really like the Rokinon/Samyang 50mm f/1.4 but I must admit it did not fare well in a direct comparison.

Rokinon/Samyang 50mm f/1.4 Advantages:

  • Aperture: 2/3 of a stop of light is an objective advantage. That extra bit of subject isolation is nice, but not enough to spare it in isolation.

Canon RF 50mm f/1.8 STM Advantages:

  • Size and Weight: It is similar in size to the 45mm f/1.8 option but I prefer the 50mm focal length if possible. The 50mm size and weight difference is a bit staggering. I quickly became spoiled by the lighter weight and smaller size of the Canon lens.
FE and RF
  • Build: Both of the Rokinon/Samyang options are nicely built, but they fall short of the Canon’s preferred grade of plastic. It is made of a less slick and shiny grade that would likely wear better over time.
  • Features: The Canon has a multipurpose ring that can be configured for AF or other controls.
Canon RF 50mm f/1.8 STM
  • Close focus: The Canon focuses significantly closer (11.8″ / 30cm) than both of the Rokinon options (1.48′ / 45cm). This is noticeable and quite handy.
EOS RP - RF STM 50mm f/1.8
  • Colors: Not sure if it is down to the lens, sensor, or both but I really like the colors that come out of this lens.
EOS RP - RF STM 50mm f/1.8
  • AF: The Canon focuses more quickly than the 50mm and as if not more swiftly than the 45mm.
  • Sharpness: All of these lenses are acceptably sharp for my purposes.
  • Value: Comparing regular prices the Canon is $500 less than the 50mm f/1.4 and $200 less than the 45mm f/1.8. As compact and good as it is the Canon is the least expensive native AF full frame mirrorless option coming in $100 less than the poorer performing Sony option.

Canon RF 35mm f/1.8 IS Macro STM

RF Blog Post Product Shots

I really like the Rokinon/Samyang 35mm f/1.4 but I must admit it did not fare well in a direct comparison.

Rokinon/Samyang 35mm f/1.4 Advantages:

  • Rinse, repeat. Aperture: 2/3 of a stop of light is an objective advantage. That extra bit of subject isolation is nice, but not enough to spare it in isolation.

Canon RF 35mm f/1.8 STM Advantages:

  • Size and Weight: The Rokinon/Samyang f/1.8 gets the slight nod here, but there is a reason for this noted later. The 35mm size and weight difference between the Rokinon/Samyang f/1.4 is not as dramatic but still significant.
Dimensions (ø x L)Weight
Canon2.93 x 2.47″ / 74.4 x 62.8 mm10.76 oz / 305 g
Rokinon/Samyang2.99 x 4.53″ / 75.9 x 115 mm1.42 lb / 645 g
  • Build: Again both of the Rokinon/Samyang options are nicely built, but they fall short of the Canon’s preferred grade of plastic. It is made of a less slick and shiny grade that would likely wear better over time.
  • Features: In addition to a dedicated focus ring the Canon has a multipurpose ring, AF/MF switch, and a Stabilizer On/Off switch. The Rokinon 35mm f/1.4 has no on body switches, the 35mm f/1.8 has one switch, and neither has IS like the Canon.
  • Close focus: Both Rokinon lenses only focus as close as about afoot while the Canon is a 1:2 Macro. This makes for a far more flexible lens.
RF 35mm f/1.8 IS STM Macro
  • Colors: Once again I am not sure if it is down to the lens, sensor, or both but I really like the colors that come out of this lens.
Canon EOS RP

Now back to the earlier question.

What did my vehicular preamble have to do with cameras or lenses more specifically?

Similar to my conclusion about cars.

  • Did not miss what I thought I would.
  • Enjoyed other things far more than I expected to.

Same end result:

  • Less spend.
  • Smaller size.
  • Great performance.
  • More fun.

Time to rip off the band-aid. I made my way down to my local camera shop and the trade was on. The reasonable prices of the Canon made for a painless swap.

RF Blog Post Product Shots

A few days have passed now. I admit I was a little bit nervous. After the new lens smell wore off would I change my mind? Short answer is no. The recently purchased 50mm and recently tested 85mm continue to impress and the repurchased 35mm is every bit as I remember the first go around. Combine them with the compact Canon EOS RP (A camera I compared to a more storied brand without hesitation.) and you have a lightweight and compact three prime full frame kit that could fulfill most of my photography needs.

RF Blog Post Product Shots

This is the portable full frame prime lens solution I have been looking for. It has already proved beneficial. The size and handling are reminiscent of my favorite film cameras. The small Nikon FG, 28mm Series E, 50mm Series E, and 100mm Series E come to mind. Small, competent and capable of creating phenomenal images. Sony, Nikon, and Canon all have reasonably sized full frame mirrorless cameras on the market and all make great lenses. With the f/2.8 Tamron trio Sony has the zoom game on lock down until Tamron sees fit to expand to other mounts. But Canon has the prime choices I prefer. Next up is getting my hands on a Godox flash and trigger and I will report back on that. While not easy to quantify I can tell you that I have been having a lot of fun with this set up. I can see no reason to spend more on a prime stills kit and it manages a decent job for video in a pinch also.

RF Blog Post Product Shots

Most importantly I had fun. Always appreciated but even more so now. Here are some samples from the last few days.

RF STM Lens Samples
RF STM Lens Samples
RF STM Lens Samples
RF 85mm f/2
RF 85mm f/2
House Mascot
Canon EOS RP
Canon EOS RP
Canon EOS RP
Canon EOS RP
Canon EOS RP
Canon EOS RP
Canon EOS RP
Canon EOS RP
EOS RP - RF STM 50mm f/1.8
EOS RP - RF STM 50mm f/1.8
EOS RP - RF STM 50mm f/1.8
EOS RP - RF STM 50mm f/1.8
EOS RP - RF STM 50mm f/1.8
EOS RP - RF 50mm STM
EOS RP - RF 50mm STM
EOS RP - RF 50mm STM
EOS RP - RF 50mm STM
EOS RP - RF 50mm STM
EOS RP - RF 50mm STM
EOS RP - RF 50mm STM
EOS RP - RF 50mm STM
EOS RP - RF 50mm STM
EOS RP - RF 50mm STM
EOS RP - RF 50mm STM
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