A Look at the Progression of the Canon Mirrorless Platform

Published October 18, 2021

The month of October marks the 3rd anniversary of the Canon EOS R line of cameras and lenses – a product lineup that they’ve poured a significant amount of attention and resources into in these three years. The initial announcement of Canon’s focus on their mirrorless platform was met with a lot of criticism, as the EF lens mount has become a staple in both the photography and videography worlds. But since that skepticism, Canon has done a lot of great things to propel their RF lens mount forward. So let’s take a moment to look at the Canon RF lineup over these last three years and see where pieces are missing and where they’ve excelled.

What is the Canon R Systems?

To give a brief introduction of the EOS R platform as a whole – they’re Canon’s big push into the mirrorless category of cameras. After watching Sony and Fujifilm dominate the mirrorless category for years, Canon finally made the transition from their DSLR market to professional mirrorless cameras. By removing the mirror box and replacing it with a digital viewfinder, mirrorless cameras can do quite a bit more than a traditional DSLR can, and in a much smaller footprint.

Canon debuted this new series with the Canon EOS R and a lineup of lenses discussed below. But the most notable choice Canon made was replacing the EF mount with a new mount – the RF mount. This means the 100+ lenses developed for their DSLR and video market would not be compatible – unless used with a lens adapter. If there was ever an industry standard in photography and videography lens mounts, the EF mount would be it, which made the new change such a surprise for many. Still, Canon promised that the new lens mount would push them ever forward in the world of optics technology and that the change was necessary. So, let’s get into each release cycle.


Canon EOS R

In late October of 2018, the Canon EOS R debuted with four available lenses, and three EF/EF-S adapters available at launch. The camera was immediately met with some skepticism, most notably for the change to a new lens mount after Canon had dominated the entire industry with their EF mount for decades. Still, the camera was a great introduction into the mirrorless market (as the Canon EF-M platform wasn’t getting much positive reception), and people were generally excited for the future that Canon was building with their platform. This full-frame 30mp mirrorless system was regarded by many as the Canon 5D Mark IV, in mirrorless form – with a few upgrades to the focus system and processor.

Canon RF 35mm F/1.8 Macro IS STM

Launched with the Canon EOS R were four lenses, and undoubtedly, the least exciting for the four is the Canon RF 35mm f/1.8 Macro. The one lens of the four without the L “luxury’ moniker; it felt like a placeholder for something better to come in the future.

Canon RF 50mm f/1.2 L USM

Next on the list of launch products was the Canon RF 50mm f/1.2L, which is a much-needed update to the classic Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L. Bigger and better than the Canon EF 50mm in every way, the only downside to this lens is the $2,300 dollar price tag.

Canon RF 24–105mm f/4L IS USM

The most obvious launch lens with the Canon EOS R came in the form of the Canon RF 24-105mm f/4L IS. A very common focal length for event photographers and videographers alike, the Canon RF 24-105mm is a standard in the photo/video world.

Canon RF 28-70mm f/2L USM

Rounding out the four launch lenses was the Canon RF 28-70mm f/2L – a modern take on an industry classic. This behemoth lens was met with a lot of praise and excitement regarding what Canon can do with the updated lens mount, giving it a full stop over the standard 24-70mm lenses at f/2.8.


In February 2019, Canon doubled down on their investment in the RF lens mount and launched the Canon EOS RP – a feature-heavy entry-level full-frame camera – along with the announcement of six additional lenses that would be released throughout the calendar year of 2019.

Canon EOS RP

The Canon EOS RP was, and is impressive and holds the record for being the most affordable full-frame camera at launch. Sharing the same processor as the Canon EOS R, the Canon RP slimmed down on a few of the specs found on the Canon R to make it a bit more affordable, and a great entry system into the mirrorless full-frame platform Canon is developing, or as a backup camera system to your other R platform camera.



The Lens Class of 2019

I’ll save you all the time talking about each lens individually, as we’d be here all day if I did, but announced with the Canon EOS RP, with the addition of six different RF lenses to be released throughout 2019. Those lenses include the Canon RF 85mm f/1.2L, Canon RF 85mm f/1.2L DS, Canon RF 24-70mm f/2.8L IS, Canon RF 15-35mm f/2.8L IS, Canon RF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS, and the Canon RF 24-240mm f/4-6.3 IS. Of these releases, my favorites were the two iterations of the Canon RF 85mm f/1.2L, with one adding technology called “defocus smoothing”, intended on improving bokeh on an already razor-thin depth of field lens. While my experiences with the lens were pretty minimal in execution, I still really appreciate Canon leaning in on obscure lens designs and technology.

Additionally, 2019 brought us two of the most common zoom lenses in photography history, with the Canon RF 24-70mm f/2.8L IS and the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS. Both with improved image quality, these two lenses will be found in most any Canon shooter’s camera bag at some point or another. Most notably, however, is the size of the Canon RF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS – slimming down on length considerably from its EF counterpart. Overall, 2019 was a great year that doubled down on the Canon RF platform, adding some of the much-needed staples to their lens lineup.


By 2020, Canon had established that their focus was on the RF lens mount, that their future development is focused on their mirrorless platform, and are moving away from the DSLR platform. This came as a surprise to many, but a lot of those uneasy feelings were hushed later in 2020 when Canon released the incredible Canon EOS R5 and Canon R6 camera systems.

Canon EOS R5

By July of 2020, Canon had set the stage with the announcement of the Canon R5, Canon’s most ambitious camera to date. Packing 44.8 megapixels and the ability to shoot 8K raw video up to 30fps, the Canon R5 has great appeal for photographers and videographers alike. While it had its own set of controversy with its overheating issues – specifically when shooting in 8K, the Canon R5 was still nothing short of incredible – giving all of these features in a very small camera body. Additionally, Canon righted their wrong on the Canon EOS R and had finally moved to have 5-axis in-body image stabilization to their system – a feature that had become a standard on the Sony and Fuji mirrorless platforms.

Canon EOS R6

If the $3,900 price tag on the Canon EOS R5 was a bit out of your budget, Canon also developed a system for you in the mid-2020 release cycle – the Canon EOS R6. Serving as a little sibling to the Canon R5, much like the Canon RP did before it, the Canon R6 offers a full-frame 20.1mp sensor, incredibly fast image processor with the DIGIC X system, and in-body stabilization. Additionally, it allows for 4K video up to 60fps, dual-slot memory cards, and the same incredible autofocus system on the Canon R5, and all in a package for $2,500.

Lenses of 2020

In addition to building out their flagship cameras with more options, Canon also continued its trend of developing lenses incredibly quickly for the RF lens platform in 2020 – released 7 new lenses for the year. Those lenses, the Canon RF 24-105mm f/4-7.1 IS, Canon 100-500mm f/4.5-7.1L IS, Canon RF 600mm f/11 IS, Canon RF 800mm f/11 IS, Canon RF 85 f/2 Macro IS, Canon RF 50mm f/1.8, and Canon RF 70-200mm f/4L IS didn’t turn a lot of heads, with their focus being on offering some more budget-friendly options for photographers, but neglecting a lot of the professional users with only two ‘L-series’ lenses shipped out for the calendar year. Still, that didn’t stop our own optic expert Roger Cicala from naming the Canon RF 800mm f/11 IS one of his favorite lenses for the year 2020.


That brings us to our current year, 2021. 2021 has proven to be a pretty strong year for Canon, as they continue to release more lenses for their RF platform, quickly covering the grounds of the EF lens mount that has been in production for decades. As of writing this post, there have been no camera bodies for Canon for 2021, but Canon has promised us the Canon R3 by the end of the year, so we’ll talk a bit more about it here.

Canon EOS R3

While no one on staff here has been able to get their hands on them much anticipated Canon R3, Canon has teased the world with a few little press releases promising its announcement soon. What we know is that the Canon R3 will be built more like their EOS 1DX platforms, offering better weather sealing and a more robust body focusing on sports and action photographers and videographers. Staying on that trend, the Canon R3 will be a speed demon, allowing for 30fps shooting on its 24.1mp sensor, with an ISO pushing 204,800 expandability. It’s also promising the state-of-the-art autofocus system, using Deep-Learning technology for eye and body detection. With 6K 60p RAW video functionality, the R3 is shaping up to be Canon’s best – if you don’t need the resolution found on the Canon EOS R5.

Lenses of 2021

Canon also has put out another 7 lenses for 2021 (so far), bringing the total of RF lenses to 24. Of the releases in 2021, Canon has included the Canon RF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS, Canon RF 400mm f/2.8L IS, Canon RF 600mm f/4L IS, Canon RF 14-35mm f/4L IS, Canon RF 16mm f/2.8, Canon RF 100-400mm f/5.6-8 IS, and Canon RF 5.2mm f/2.8L Dual Fisheye. It seems the focus of 2021 was placed on the professional industry, with five of the seven releases being in the ‘Luxury’ line of lenses. Of the releases for 2021, the most notable was probably the Canon RF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS – a favorite among portrait photographers and of course the Canon RF 5.2mm f/2.8L Dual Fisheye – an entirely new design of lenses for VR recording.

The Canon RF 5.2mm Dual Lens

Canon’s Future with the R series?

So that breakdown brings us up to the current day. What do 2022 and years going forward look like Canon, as they continue to develop for the R Series of cameras and lenses? Well, it’s really difficult to say. For me personally, it feels like they’ve covered most of the lens bases with their releases, so I’d love to see them continue to ride the line of weird and specialized lenses like the Canon 5.2mm f/2.8L Dual Fisheye. Additionally, I’d love to see some RF replacement to their Canon EF 135mm f/2, and perhaps even the Canon 200mm f/2L IS – and they could still use a tilt-shift or two for those architecture photographers. 

Given that the EF mount has over 80 different lenses in their lineup, the Canon RF platform still has a long way to go before they can really retire the EF platform with the RF mount. Still, their production schedule has been aggressive and impressive, and I’m excited to see what 2022 brings for Canon and its new platform. What do you think? What would you like to see Canon cover in their upcoming releases? Feel free to chime in in the comments below.


Author: Zach Sutton

I’m Zach and I’m the editor and a frequent writer here at I’m also a commercial beauty photographer in Los Angeles, CA, and offer educational workshops on photography and lighting all over North America.

Posted in Equipment
  • Michael Clark

    There’s an RF 100-300mm f/2.8 on the way in the near future.

  • Michael Clark

    The soon to come RF 100-300mm f/2.8 will probably be practically indistinguishable at 300mm from the last EF 300/2.8. We may not even see a 300/2.8 prime in the RF mount.

  • Michael Clark

    Canon hasn’t released a mid-grade 50mm f/1.4 since 1993. I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting.

    Quite honestly, at common apertures the 50mm f/1.8 STMs (both RF and EF) are every bit as good optically as the EF 50mm f/1.4. So what’s the point when f/1.4 is so soft it isn’t really usable anyway?

  • Michael Clark

    You totally ignored the first six years of Canon’s mirrorless ILCs.

    Ever heard of the EOS M system? It’s only the best selling MILC system in history.

    Sure, the EOS M system was never designed for nor marketed heavily to gearheads or imaging professionals. But Canon sure sold a ton of EOS M cameras and lenses to non-professionals and non-gearheads all over the world, especially in places other than North America and Western Europe. I’d also be very surprised if the things Canon learned with the EOS M system did not inform starting points when they began to design the EOS R system.

  • Chris Jankowski

    I am making a point that the manufacturing economics have changed. As a result, making APS-C mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras does not make much sense any more for camera manufacturers.

    It helps to look at it from historical perspective.

    In the film days, nearly all 35mm SLRs were made for full format – 24x36mm. It was possible to build one for 18x24mm or 24x24mm, but it did not make much sense. You still had to have all the components: mirror, prism, shutter, film winding and the end result would not be appreciably smaller or cheaper to manufacture.

    Things have changed with the introduction of DSLRs for mass market such as Canon EOS 300D in 2003. Camera sensors were very expensive to manufacture then and to squeeze the price of the body below the magical $1,000 required some effort. One of the elements of the solution was to use a smaller sensor, as sensors at that time were expensive, so they constituted significant part of the overall cost of the camera component set. Moreover, the APS-C1.6 sensor was at least 4 times less expensive than a FF sensor due to yield effects. Manufacturing yields for sensors were pretty low then.

    Nearly 20 years later trade offs have changed dramatically in absolute and relative terms. Manufacturing costs of sensors have fallen precipitously. This changes the proportion of the dollar cost in the overall component part list of a camera significantly. There is also a relative change. Yields have improved. So, today the FF sensor may cost only about 1.5 to 2 times more that APS-C sensor. With much lower overall prices of camera sensors the cost benefit of having a smaller sensor is marginal today from the point of view of the cost of the overall camera part list.

    There are no savings on the body size and costs either, as the electronics have become much better integrated and miniaturised, so the camera body size is really driven by the size of human hands.

    Thus manufacturers can offer a FF camera at roughly the same price as a comparably configured APS-C. Then the manufacturers do not need to develop a full range of lenses specifically for APS-C format.

    Paradoxically, and for different reasons, the situation is similar to what it was in SLR days. No incentive to build half format 35 mm SLRs then. No incentive to build APS-C cameras today.

    In addition, the market has changed. Smartphones killed point and shoot cameras. They offer sophisticated in phone and in the cloud processing, an unrivalled ease of use and instant ease of sharing. Any camera on the market needs to offer something qualitatively different otherwise people will use their smartphones exclusively. Offering the FF sensor image quality is one way to do it.

  • Henry Winokur

    I disagree w/ you on that, Chris. I suspect, and only Canon’s marketing department knows more than us poseurs, that there’ll be lots of demand for an APS-C sized mirrorless cam. I started out w/ a 20D, and then moved to a 7D before making the jump to ‘lightspeed” and getting a FF 35. My bet is it’s the same for folks who want a mirrorless cam, but can’t yet afford a FF box. Time will tell, that’s for sure. Maybe we’ll be able to revisit the subject in a year or less! ??

  • Chris Jankowski

    Personally, I think that APS-C with RF mount has only one potential niche application – wildlife. Wildlife photographers nearly always crop, so they may benefit from a smaller sensor and electronics optimised for this type of photography. This would be a very specialised and rather expensive camera. It needs to have an excellent fast autofocus and sensor stabilisation. I am not sure that there would be a worthwhile addressable market for it. Some sports photographers could also find it useful.

    I’d posit that the APS-C camera with RF mount for people that used to buy typical Rebels does not make sense anymore. A full frame camera with RF mount would be roughly the same size. And cheap full frame lenses can be designed. After all we had a lot of them for SLRs in the film era. I’d guess that there is a market for cheap , small body, full frame RF camera essentially in two variants – with and without OVF. The latter could be a hit, as long as it is not too expensive.

    For me, I would love to be able a replacement for my EOS 6D body that would have good sensor stabilisation, better autofocus and would cost roughly as much as 6D body. R6 does not qualify as it is twice as expensive as 6D body, at least here in Australia. Also 20Mp is a bit too low.

  • Henry Winokur

    Looks like 2022 may be your year. RUMORs have it that APS-C bodies in the RF mount are in the pipe. Time will tell, I guess…

  • Ionut Macri

    Still waiting for your tests of RF lenses, in my opinion the best lenses I’ve seen in the recent years (the RF85/1.2 being the best of all).

  • Giorgio

    100% Agree.

  • Arne Bischoff

    I think Canon has done a remarkable job for a lot of important lenses.

    As a wildlife shooter, I’d love to see the 500 mm f/4 replaced and updated. Historically, it always has been a lighter weight alternative to both the 400/2.8 and the 600/4 in its first two iterations. So what is missing is a sub 3 kg Gen III/RF version of the 500. This would be my lens of choice.

    And although the 100-500 is really good optically, it does not offer enough reach for a lot of wildlife applications. It is more a 100-400 in steroids than a true alternative to the likes of the already existing Sony and upcoming Nikon 200-600 or the Tamron and Sigma 150-600 zooms. So if Canon could do what Sony did with the quite fantastic but affordable 200-600, they would definitely have another big winner in the wildlife department.

    Of course in the sports and wildlife department there are two other obvious choices that always have been popular: 300/2.8 and 200-400/4. Not my lenses, but to round things out perfectly.

  • Andrey

    Would be nice to see mid tear RF 50 1.4 – something better than 50 1.8 and also not so expensive as 50 1.2.

  • I am speaking to Canon’s overall history of neglecting non-L options and leaving gaps that incline a photographer to *want* to pay more for a flagship lens when they really don’t *need* to. Such as the decade-plus of Canon having an absolutely abysmal (EF) 50mm f/1.4 in its lineup, among other non-L EF f/1.8 or other primes.

    Canon has done a lot better with RF, but I still see large gaps in both performance and price between most of the L and non-L options.

    Nikon, on the other hand, has made f/1.8 the new f/1.4 in terms of flagship quality and performance, and has already delivered a complete lineup from 20mm to 85mm in f/1.8 primes that almost rivals the image quality of Canon RF L and Sony FE GM optics.

    I’ll wait until I see a few more non-L RF lenses from Canon before I give them any more credit for not relying too heavily on the same “upsell” marketing tactic as before.

    Meanwhile, on Sony for example, you can get a Tamron 28-200mm f/2.8-5.6! Now that’s unprecedented entry-level innovation, if you ask me.

    In fact, until Tamron, Sigma, and Roki-Yang become available on RF and Z, neither will be able to truly compete in terms of non-flaghsip, affordable options. (Tamron 17-28mm f/2.8, Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8, Sigma 28-70mm f/2.8, Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8, Rokinon/Samyang 24mm, 35mm, 45mm, 75mm f/1.8… The list goes on…)

  • Claude

    Waiting for a brand new RF 300 2.8 and not an EF adapted one like the 600 and 400 RF. Need also some new compact lens like a 20mm 1.8 or 24 1.8 for light gimbal use. And please Canon do some useful firmware upgrade for the R5 like the ability to use both peaking and zebra in video and photo mode.

  • the jury has definitely already returned its verdict

    What jury?

    The Sony A7C ($2100) is not exactly a budged friendly camera…

    Concerning the “value” glass – how about the RF50/1.8 ($200), RF16/2.8 ($300), RF100-400/5.6-8 ($650), RF85/2 Macro ($600), RF 24-240/4-6.3 ($900), RF 24-105/4-7.1 ($400), RF 35/1.8 Macro ($500), RF600/11 ($700) and RF800/11 ($900) or any second hand dirt cheap EF lens that can be flawlessly adapted?

    Would you like a 600/4 for under a $1000? I’m sorry to disappoint you but Sony and Nikon don’t have that option neither…

  • Alex Greenfield

    The article forgot to mention that they brought the RF mount to the low-end Canon Cinema line with the C70 which in itself is a pretty remarkable camera from Canon. Basically a baby C300 Mark 3 with RF.

    I also think its pretty impressive the video performance, sensor readout speed, and dynamic range they achieved on the R5 with a front side illuminated sensor at 45MP. I would really love to see their BSI sensor in a video centric body similar to a FX3. Maybe take the R3 body and battery (with updated chemistry) then take the EVF off and update the LCD to be much brighter and add false color.

  • We shall see if Canon decides to to an EOS RP mk2 and/or an EOS R mk2. There is definitely room for an “updated mirrorless 6D II” type of camera.

    Canon has always been a sly businessperson when it comes to leaving strategic gaps in its lineup that encourage more serious photographers to pony up for higher-end cameras. Their lens lineup, throughout the past ~two decades, is a shining example of leaving “budget-friendly” options lacking in certain focal lengths/ranges for way too long, while turning out more and more exotic L-glass.

    Canon’s RF mount and system are destined for greatness, however, the jury has definitely already returned its verdict: If you’re on a tight budget, and you always will be, Sony and Nikon will be your best bets. The Nikon Z5, and the Sony A7C, are perfect examples of brands that are chomping at the bit to make VALUE a camera’s strongest selling point. (Plus, Sony has Tamron, Sigma, and Roki-Yang autofocus lenses galore; I don’t think Canon bodies and lenses will ever hold a candle to, say, a Sony A7C and a couple of Rokinon/Samyang primes and a Tamron/Sigma zoom or two, in terms of value.

  • Chris Jankowski

    It would be interesting to see whether Canon will decide to make their RF cameras price accessible again to amateurs like me. At the moment roughly comparable R bodies are twice as expensive as EOS. e.g. EOS 6D II currently ~$1,200 and R6 ~2,500. And no, R and RP do not provide any incentive to upgrade, as they offer no in-body stabilisation and autofocus that is not much better than DSLRs.

    It can be argued that the manufacturing cost of 6D II and R6 are roughly comparable. Delete complex mirror, pentaprism and separate autofocus sensors – all requiring adjustments during assembly and add relatively simple electro-mechanical in-body stabilization. So it is a matter of pricing policy.

    There is the same story with lenses. The new RF lenses are typically twice as expensive as their direct EOS equivalents.

    I am afraid that the high prices are likely to remain permanent, as the overall market shrunk, competition is less (really only Sony) and much higher proportion of new customers are professionals who are not as price sensitive.

    So, I am not switching anytime soon. The cost of the switch would be prohibitive for me. More than $10,000 to replace my DSLR body and 4 lenses. Also, the RF replacement of a high quality, relatively light and compact travel telephoto zoom EF 4-5.6/70-300L IS is not yet on the roadmap.

  • JosephAndrews

    I enjoy reading LensRentals and have come close (but not quite pulled the trigger) on renting one specific Canon lens from them…picking it up on our way to Disney World and dropping it off on our return home.

    Thanks for this article.

    I have yet to make the switch to ‘R’…for my needs what I do now with the EF lenses I own and the still-good-enough 5DMk3 is good enough.

    But I will be making the switch to R. Just not right now.

    Of interest to me is what the LensRentals folks think about EF-M…and its future.

    (love my M6Mk2!)

Follow on Feedly