Camera Review: Canon EOS R8
Updated: Aug 9
As many of you who follow my social media know, I recently moved from Sony APS-C E mount to Canon full frame RF mount. My trusty Sony A6400 with various Sigma and Laowa lenses has served me well for the last 4 years, and has helped my light painting and low light portrait photography improve immensely. However, with a need to purchase some new lenses for traveling, and Sony's lack of recent investment in APS-S E mount, I decided that the most optimal long term decision was to move to full frame.
The Canon EOS R8 body, with Canon RF 16mm f/2.8 STM, RF 24mm f/1.8 Macro IS STM, and RF 50mm f/1.8 STM lenses met my requirements for high image quality and low weight. The R8 body weights only 461g (with battery and memory card). The R8 is also very compact for a full frame camera with dimensions of 132.5 x 86.1 x 70.0mm. The lenses are all very lightweight at 165g, 270g, and 160g respectively. Thus my new 3 lens Canon RF full frame kit is approximately 300g lighter than my previous 3 lens Sony APS-C kit (with Laowa and Sigma lenses). There are some minor trade offs with these lightweight lenses through, namely reliance on in-camera/post processing corrections - which will be explained in more detail later in this article.
Whilst I wouldn't say anything in photography is "affordable", the Canon R8 body (US$1499), Canon RF 16mm f/2.8 (US$299), and RF 50mm f/1.8 lenses (US$199) are pretty good value for money. I felt that the RF 24mm f/1.8 lens (US$599) is a little overpriced. Other "more affordable" and lightweight Canon RF lenses include the RF 28mm f/2.8, RF 35mm f/1.8 lens, RF 85mm f/2, as well as multiple zoom lens options.
Real World Use
This review is slightly different to other reviews, in that it focuses on my main photography genres, which are long exposure light painting, night cityscape, and low light portrait photography. Long exposure photography requirements are usually neglected by mainstream camera reviewers, so hopefully this review will fill in some gaps in knowledge. If you want to know how the Canon RF system works for flower macro photography or vlogging, you might be in the wrong place.
Remote control is critical for light painting and night photography. The Canon R8, and most other RF mount bodies use the Canon BR-E1 wireless remote control, which uses Bluetooth. This is claimed to have a similar range to the older infra-red (IR) remote controls at up to around 5m, though I tested up to 6m. For light painting photography, I usually hang the remote from a carabiner clip attached to my belt.
The remote has to initially be paired with the camera, which is easy to perform. If Bluetooth Settings on the camera are 'enabled', the remote will connect within a few seconds of the camera being turned on. However, to avoid parasitic battery drain in the camera, it is recommended to 'disable' Bluetooth when not in use. I have added Bluetooth Settings to My Menu settings, to make this change easier. It should be noted that Bluetooth enabled/disabled settings are not saved when saving custom settings C1 and C2.
A side switch on the remote can control immediate trigger, 2 second trigger, or video drive. The immediate and two second options will drive Single Shot drive mode. The immediate option can also drive the 10 Second Timer drive mode, which can be quite useful. In Bulb mode (which is separate to Manual on the Canon R8), the remote is used to trigger the start and end of the exposure with each click which is essential for light painting photography. Whilst the manual states that Auto Focus (AF) has to be achieved, the remote works fine with the camera set to Manual Focus (MF). During Bulb exposures, the camera displays he elapsed time on the rear display, which is very useful.
The BR-E1 remote uses a button battery ,and a screw driver is required to access the battery compartment for safety reasons. This could be an issue when the battery runs out (after approx. 1 year) and a battery replacement might be required whilst in the field. Interestingly Ulanzi have recently released the A5006 universal camera remote, which is USB-C rechargeable, removing the need for in the field battery replacements. The R8 also has a remote port, for wired remote controls, or longer range wireless remote controls where the receiver connects via the wired input.
For portrait photography, the Dual Pixel CMOS AF II autofocusing system on the R8 is excellent, which is no surprise as it is very similar to the advanced autofocus on the more expensive Canon EOS R6ii and R3 cameras. During a very low light photoshoot with ISOs up to 10,000, an impressive 98% of photos were perfectly in focus, and the remaining 2% were acceptable. When running Subject to Detect 'Auto' (Eye Focus 'Auto'), the blue box indicating auto focus area can jump between different sizes when more than just the subject may be in focus. Whilst this may be disconcerting, the camera was always right! Focus point can be adjusted using the touch screen, and parameters such as Subject to Detect, or which eye to focus on can be adjusted quickly in the user interface. My preferred settings for portrait photography are AF Operation 'Servo', Subject to Detect 'Auto' (Eye Focus 'Auto'), AF Area 'Spot'. My preferred settings for cityscape photography are AF Operation 'One Shot', Subject to Detect 'Disabled', AF Area 'Spot'.
For light painting photography, using manual focus is mandatory. The RF 24mm f/1.8 lens has an auto/manual focus switch. The RF 16mm f/2.8 and RF 50mm f/1.8 lens have auto/control focus switch, which results in the camera's menu system having to be used to switch to manual focus. This annoyingly isn't possible from the Q menu, so you have to access Focus Mode via the main menu. I added Focus Mode to My Menu for faster access.
Once switched to Manual Focus (MF), manually focusing with the Canon RF lenses is really easy. I enabled Focus peaking, Focus guide, and RF lens MF focus ring sensitivity to 'Varied with rotation speed'. The focus point for the Focus guide can be selected on the touch screen. It is also possible to quickly zoom in using the zoom button on the touch screen to check focus visually as well, though focus peaking and focus guide are not available in zoom. As long you don't turn off the camera power, the manual focus also stays in position.
Camera User Interface
Overall, the Canon R8's user interface is excellent. Whilst the joystick was removed on this model as cost saving measure, I don't really miss it, as my previous cameras lacked a joystick, and the touch screen can be used instead. Just don't have Touch Shutter enabled! The R8 has two control dials, and the user interface usefully displays which dial controls which function. Most shooting functions are available via the Q menu, and then using the touch screen. Changing Focus mode from 'AF' to 'MF' is my most used function that is not available via the Q menu. It should be an option along with 'One Shot'/'AI Focus'/'Servo'.
Initial setup took a while as there are lots of customisable options. Thankfully there are plenty of decent YouTube videos to help users. The rest of the buttons are well placed, though getting used to on/lock/off switch location took a bit of getting used to.
Useful for light painters - the Canon R8 is capable of in-camera double exposures, and also has intervalometer functionality. The camera has the usual assortment of filter modes, of which tilt shift is the most useful to seasoned photographers. Sadly, there is no live composite, or digital ND filter.
The rear display is sharp and vivid, and is of a flip out, variable angle design. The electronic viewfinder is adequate, but not outstanding. I rarely use the electronic viewfinder, so this isn't an issue for my photography genres.
Camera Image Quality
The Canon EOS R8 has the same 24.2MP CMOS sensor and Digic X processor as the Canon R6 II, and is thus a massive improvement in image quality over the previous "entry level" Canon full frame mirrorless, the Canon EOS RP (which used the D6 II sensor with limited dynamic range). Compared to my old APS-C Sony A6400, I have seen a noticeable improvement in signal to noise ratio at high ISO and during shadow recovery, as well a significantly improved dynamic range. For correctly exposed photos, I only need to start to use medium noise reduction (more than +30 in Lightroom) on photos at ISO4000 or higher. I have so far only been using RAW, but will test out cRAW with it's smaller file sizes in low light photography at some point.
It should however be remembered that when moving from M43 or APS-C to full frame, that the depth of field for the same f-stop is narrower due to the larger sensor. Thus if you are aiming for the same depth of field in portraits, you may find some of that sensor image quality advantage is eaten away by having use a narrower aperture.
The camera has the option of showing highlight clipping during image review, which is very useful for light painting photography. Be aware that anything showing as clipping is usually not recoverable in post processing! Despite having Standard selected for Picture Style, I found the "back of camera" RAW images appear relatively unprocessed compared to my previous Sony A6400, where the RAW images displayed utilising a wide dynamic range (similar to how I post process my RAW files). This is just something I will have to get used to.
Lens Image Quality
The Canon RF 16mm f/2.8, RF 24mm f/1.8, and RF 50mm f/1.8 lenses are very compact and lightweight lenses. The centre and mid-field sharpness is very good to excellent at all focal lengths. As with many other manufacturers compact fast lenses, the tradeoff is that there is a reliance on in-camera/post-processing correction of extreme barrel distortion and vignetting on the 16mm and 24 mm lenses. This can decrease the corner sharpness (soft corners) though this is corrected pretty well by Lightroom's lens profile - see the bottom right of the below example photo. The requirement for lens correction also creates a stretching distortion in the corner of the resulting images. In real world use, I didn't find this to be a serious concern. Astro-photographers may be disappointed by the coma at wider apertures. I've yet to come across any issues from chromatic aberrations, but would expect that these can be corrected easily in post processing.
For light painting and night cityscape photography, flare and ghosting needs to be minimized. With Canon's super spectra coating, the Canon RF 16mm f/2.8, RF 24mm f/1.8 lenses do a very good job with controlling flare. There will still be some situations where flare is evident, particularly when raising shadows in post processing. The RF 50mm f/1.8 lens is known to be more susceptible to lens flare in some situations, but I have yet to experience any issues. Unfortunately, none of these lenses come with lens hoods, so these have to purchased at additional cost. Thankfully, there are plenty of 3rd party manufacturers like JJC who sell replicas of Canon lens hoods at about 1/3 of the price.
Sunstars / Starbursts
For light painting and night cityscape photography, getting decent sunstars/starbursts from artificial light sources is very useful. Getting decent sunstars is getting harder in recent times as lens companies care more about aperture blades that render bokeh better, such as odd numbers of curved blades (e.g. 7, 9, 11). The Canon RF 16mm f/2.8 and RF 50mm f/1.8 lenses use 7 rounded aperture blades, which produce 14 point sunstars. The Canon RF 24mm f/1.8 lens uses 9 rounded aperture blades, which produces 18 point sunstars. Diffraction spikes are visible at most apertures on these lenses, but are only prominent at f/11 and beyond on all three aforementioned lenses. OK to good, but not what I would call excellent. The RF 50mm f/1.8 is the better of these three lenses for sunstars.
There are a few 3rd party manual focus ultra-wide lenses available for RF mount with excellent 10 point sunstars, such as the Nisi 15mm f/4. I would love to see some dedicated sunstar lenses in the 24-28mm focal lengths as well. Personally, I would like to see manufacturers consider sunstars more when designing lenses. It is possible to design lenses that can produce good bokeh and good sunstars by having curved aperture blades at wider apertures, with the blades being straight at narrower apertures (f/8 and narrower) for good sunstars.
The Canon EOS R8 fits a lot of functionality into its US$1499 price point. There is no surprise that some compromises had to be made. I have already mentioned the lack of joystick. There is only a single UHS-II SD card memory card slot, again, not an issue as I would expect that professional photographers who require dual memory card slots would choose a R6ii, R5, or R3 instead. There is no full shutter, with electronic 1st curtain or electronic only options available. The latter has flicker lighting reduction options, for when photographing under flickering or PWM driven lighting. Electronic 1st curtain is limited to 6fps, but isn't a major issue, as the electronic shutter can run up to a crazy 40fps (which will very quickly eat up the RAW buffer). The battery is also relatively small in capacity, but even after a photoshoot with 400 photos, the battery charge indicator was showing full bars. A spare battery is still highly advisable. More of a problem is that battery indicator is very crude and doesn't show percentage remaining.
There is no in-body image stabilisation/IBIS in the R8. It is rare that I use shutter speeds where IBIS is required, and whilst useful, at this price point, I think that no IBIS was a sensible compromise decision by Canon. It also allows for the impressively low weight. It should be remembered that very few DSLRs had IBIS, and it didn't stop photographers from taking awesome photos with them! There is electronic image stabilisation for video which actually works quite well, and some RF lenses also have image stabilisation.
The build quality is adequate for the price point, the R8 has some weather sealing, and the overall ergonomics are good. The only part that feels flimsy is the battery compartment door.
Whilst it was Canon's compact and lightweight RF mount lenses that attracted me to the system, it is disappointing that 3rd party autofocus lens manufacturers are currently excluded from RF mount. There is a large gap between the more affordable RF lenses, and very expensive L lenses. Hopefully things may change in this space.
I have now been using the Canon RF mount system for one month, for light painting, night cityscapes, and low light portraits. These are my current thoughts on the Canon EOS R8 body, and Canon RF 16mm f/2.8, RF 24mm f/1.8, and RF 50mm f/1.8 lenses.
Canon EOS R8 Camera Body
R8 body - excellent image quality to price/weight ratio.
Excellent autofocus system, with extremely high accuracy in low light.
Fairly easy to use, and highly customisable user interface.
Fully articulating screen.
Good wireless remote control options.
Bulb timer, intervalometer, and in camera double exposure functionality.
No image stabilisation (IBIS) - this is probably the best compromise for a full frame camera at this price point.
Other compromises - small battery, single card slot.
Only 2 custom modes (C1 and C2).
Changing Focus Mode (AF to MF) is not accessible via the Q menu.
Poor battery indicator (no percentage reading).
Canon RF 16mm f/2.8 STM Lens
Positives: low cost, excellent centre sharpness, very lightweight and compact, affordable, good flare control, OK 14-point sunstars, auto-focus, fast max aperture (for an ultra-wide).
Negatives: soft corner sharpness, no manual focus switch, no weather sealing, an even wider angle lens would be preferred.
Canon RF 24mm f/1.8 Macro IS STM Lens
Positives: excellent centre sharpness, fairly lightweight and compact, good flare control, good 18-point sunstars, fast max aperture, image stabilisation, macro functionality, auto/manual focus and image stabilisation on/off switches.
Negatives: soft corner sharpness, price could be a bit lower, no lens hood included, no weather sealing.
Canon RF 50mm f/1.8 STM Lens
Positives: low cost, excellent centre sharpness, very lightweight and compact, affordable, good 14-point sunstars, excellent centre sharpness, fast max aperture.
Neutral: no image stabilisation (but would add to weight/price).
Negatives: flare control could be better (but still good), no manual focus switch, no lens hood included, no weather sealing.
Overall, I'm very happy so far with my move to Canon's RF mount. The sensor image quality and autofocus are not compromised at the US$1499 price point, and Canon EOS R8 can easily compete with many high end full frame mirrorless cameras in terms of image quality. Despite using a full frame sensor, the Canon R8 body, with Canon RF 16mm f/2.8, RF 24mm f/1.8, and RF 50mm f/1.8 lens combinations are more lightweight and compact than many APS-C alternatives. There are some tradeoffs, notably soft corner image quality with some of the aforementioned lenses, no IBIS, small battery, and single memory card slot. However, these are not a major issue in real world use in my photography genres. The Canon EOS R8 is excellent camera for photographers who require lightweight kit, with excellent image quality and autofocus functionality.
It would also be welcome if Canon could open up the RF mount to 3rd party autofocus lens manufacturers. I would also like to see a wider than 16mm ultra-wide angle lens added to Canon's compact and lightweight RF lens range. I would also like to see manufacturers consider sunstars more in modern lens design.
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