In essence this is the first of several entries to discuss the Sony A7 III.  Particularly, I will be writing about the A7 III with the Sigma 150-600 C lens attached via the Sigma MC-11 adapter.

For those who follow my blog, podcast and YouTube channel, you will know that I have been interested in Sony's line of mirrorless cameras for some time.  I have watched as each new camera launch ushered in a new age of mirrorless  technical features.



Having said all that, I am a Canon photographer.  I have a great deal of money tied up in lenses, flashes, bodies and other accessories.  For me to move to another system like Nikon would mean that I would have to replace everything.  However, that is not true when moving to Sony from Canon.  All I needed was a Sigma MC-11 converter and my Sigma lens could be used.  But, would it be that simple in reality?  That is what I am going to explore of the next several blog entries.

Initial Setup of the Sony A7 III

As with any new camera there are always configurations to perform.  I followed Sony's recommendations for wildlife photography.  They are pretty much as follows:
  • Set Focusing Mode to AF-C (Continuous AF)
  • Set Focus Area set to Flexible Spot 
  • Set Drive Mode to Continuous Hi (8 fps)
  • Set Image to Compressed Raw (uncompressed RAW will fill the buffer up too rapidly) 
  • Make sure the MC-11 Adapter Has the Latest Firmware
  • Make sure the 150-600 has the Latest Firmware
I saved these settings as "1."

Specifications

  • Megapixels: 24.2
  • Body Style: Magnesium Alloy
  • Autofocus:  Fast Hybrid AF (phase-detection/contrast-detection AF)
  • ISO: 100-51,200
  • Shutter Speed:  30 seconds to 1/8000
  • Viewfinder Coverage: 100%
  • LCD: 2.95 inch with 921,600 dots
  • Drive Modes:  Single, Continuous Hi/Hi+
  • Burst:  8 to 10 FPS depending on drive mode and compression
  • Battery: NP-FZ100 (610 shots)
  • Battery Charging:  Internal with USB cable / External charging available via a charger sold separately


Build Quality and Feel

Right away I noticed how much smaller the A7 III is when comparing it to my Canon EOS 7D Mark II.  My pinky actually dangles off the bottom of the grip. I did not find it uncomfortable though, and both 3rd party grips and a Sony grip can be purchased to make moving to a vertical easier.  The grip will also extend the battery life as it allows me to put two batteries in it.

I found the buttons, for the most part, to be well positioned.  I ended up making the AE-lock button into a back button focus button, since I always shoot with back button focus.  The one button I found hard to get to was the AF-On button.  It is positioned up against the right side of the viewfinder.  By the way, I should also mention that there are numerous buttons the body that can be programmed to whatever the photographer needs. One button I actually think I like better on the Sony is the shutter button, but I am not sure yet. 


Test #1 - Songbird Photography (Day 1)

The first test that any kit has to be able to do for me is to be able to quickly snap into focus when photographing songbirds in a setup studio environment.  I spend a lot of time photographing birds in this scenario and it is an absolute must for me.

In this test, the conditions were quite rough.  It was stormy and heavy cloud cover.  However, it turned out to be a good place to test low light conditions both from a focusing and high ISO perspective.  My ISO ranged from 1000 to 12,800. 


Cottontail Rabbit - High ISO at 12,800!!   The equivalent noise on my 7D Mark II in these conditions would have been 3200 or 6400.

During this test, the focusing of the camera seemed to be hit or miss.  At times it seemed to lock on fine and then suddenly would hunt all the way to infinity and back in a very very slow manner.  It was as if it was switching from phase detect AF to contrast AF and back again.  This was very frustrating to say the least.  On a scale of 1 to 10, one being the worst AF I have ever used and 10 being the best, I would place it at about a 5.  Had it not hunted on many occasions, I would have given it a 7 or better.  It is possible that the "Lock-on" feature will work better.  I have seen some thoughts to that effect online.  I will try that out on day two.


What I did find absolutely amazing was how great the image was at higher ISOs.  That is honestly something I am looking for in my next camera body.  When I am shooting a lens with a minimum aperture of 6.3, I need to have clean shots at 2000 ISO. Right now, with my 7D Mark II that is not possible.  So, I would give it a clear 10 here.  Sony is second to none in image quality.  Below are two test images I took on day one.  I did not have any bird images I thought passed the test on noise and quality.


Sony A7 III - Sigma 150-600 C - MC-11 Converter - f 6.3, ISO 1000, 600 mm, 1/1250, Some cropping done


Roughly 100% Crop of  Original without Additional Sharpening Applied (600mm)

I should also note that the menu system of the Sony is not nearly as complicated as people say it is. Maybe I am just good at navigating menus, but I thought it was quite intuitive and easy to use.  It is just like anything new.  You have to get used to it.

Test #2 - Songbird Photography Day 2 (A MAJOR BREAKTHROUGH)

With somewhat disappointing auto-focus results on day one, I changed my Focus Area strategy to use the Single Point Expand with Lock-on for day 2.  It turned out to be a huge boost to the AF performance.  Sony engineers, it would appear, spent a great deal of time perfecting Lock-on.  For this second day,  it was like shooting with a new camera.  I had increased my keeper rate easily by 75%, and it was actually fun to watch the focusing system stay with the bird.  I could lock on and recompose my images with the confidence that the focusing system would stay right where I locked on (in most cases).


Eastern Bluebird - Lock-on Engaged (this is the secret to using the Sigma 150-600 C) Focus and recompose was easy with Lock-on mode.

However,  the AF was not without issue.  I did notice that it wanted to grab the background on occasion and not let go.  In order to fix this, I had to manually focus back to the general area I wanted to focus in.  This was a disturbing problem, but with such a high keeper rate, it was hard blame the camera too much. After all, this is an adapted lens.  With a Sony native lens, I do not think this would be a problem.

Taking the images back for post processing, I was amazed at the detail of the images with standard AA sharpening applied.  They were sharper, for the most part, than anything out of my Canon 7D Mark II at 600 mm.  It should be noted that some of this was perceived sharpness due to being farther away from the subject and gaining more depth of field.  But, even so, it was a clear winner on sharpness.  Was it better than any other Canon product?  I can't say that for sure.  I think Canon has some amazing full frame sensors out there.  The win might go to Sony on this front as well.  The EOS R has a great sensor though.



100% Crop - Sony A7 III - Sigma 150-600 C - MC-11 Converter - ISO 1000



Common Grackle - Sony A7 III, Sigma 150-600 C, f6.3, 421 mm, ISO 2000, 1/1600

Day 1 and 2 Pros and Cons

PROS

  • Amazing image detail and sharpness even with higher ISOs
  • Single point expand with Lock-on blew my mind. 
  • Single point expand made it easy to focus and recompose even in AF-C (continuous tracking)
  • Shutter button was always easy to find and shoot with
  • Built in five way image stabilization
  • Great AF tracking when following birds from branch to branch
  • Easy to "clean up" images in post

CONS

  • Unable to use silent shooting due to distortion possible with moving subjects
  • To get good write speeds to the SD card, I had to use compressed RAW.  This gives up data such as high dynamic range.
  • Would like to see a 30 mp sensor size on such a new camera.
  • Seemed to focus much slower when using Non-lock on modes (with MC-11 converter).
  • Limited cropping in post due to 24 mp sensor size
  • AF would grab and hold the background and not let go on several occasions on each day








There are primarily two camera companies who have been embedded in the greater NYC area since practically I was born.  They are B&H and Adorama.  The latter company being the topic of this discussion.

I have used Adorama from time to time over the years, and really haven't had any issues to speak.  This experience or review is not really about how bad Adorama is, it is about its business model and customer service. That is why I choose not to use them anymore.  It is a personal decision based solely on my demanding needs as a professional.

Recently, I acquired a Sony A7 III to act as a test camera, which will help me decide if I want to give Sony a second look or just stick with Canon.  Realizing I would need a Sigma MC-11 adapter, I ordered one from Adorama.. They seemed to be the only one who had one in stock at the time.  Upon placing the order, I immediately realized that it was shipping USPS.  That was strike one.  Shipping sensitive electronics through USPS to a professional is risky at best.

On July 5, I received a notification from USPS that they could not find my address.  I called the local USPS office and they said they already sent it back to Adorama.  So, I immediately contacted Adorama to see if they could send me another one out. They could clearly see what happened when viewing the tracking number.  They could see it was a "no-fault" kind of situation.  No, they simply could not bend the policy.  I would have to wait for them to receive it back and then wait two more days for the refund to be issued.  

Again, I am looking at this from a professional's perspective and not from someone who has a ton of time to burn.  I had scheduled a shoot for the weekend, which would now have to be cancelled.  Of course, I turned around and ordered one through Amazon with hopes of getting it quicker.  

So, now it is a waiting game, my shoot cancelled and a weekend ruined because of the USPS and Adorama.  

Understand, I am not saying that Adorama is terrible, but for a professionals needs, you better plan way ahead just in case something goes amiss.  For me, I just can't use a company that can't bend the rules to make a customer happy.  If they had just sent that other one out immediately, they would have made a friend for life and the risk to them would have been minimal. 

That really only leaves B&H, Amazon and KEH with which to do business.  By the way, I really love the customer service at KEH.  It is by far the best customer service for a working pro I have ever used.  KEH doesn't always have the equipment in stock, but when they do, I will always go with them.






As you know, my primary focus in  photography is birds, followed by mammals, followed by macro and then finally, landscapes.  Up until the last four years, I hadn't really wanted to invest time into taking photographs of insects.  However, there are times now that I will pick up the camera and see what I can do with these little guys.  Make no mistake, however, I am not in love with the creepy crawlies, but you have to admit, they are incredibly designed.  The closer you get, the more amazing the detail becomes, and so I try to capture that detail when I can.

The Love of Macro
Macro photography and insect photography go hand in hand.  The more you love macro, the more tempted you become to photograph insects and spiders.  I do have a secondary love for macro photography in nature, and I crank out a few macros a year to supplement the endless shots of birds I create.  You need this love too if you are to be successful with insect photography.


Banded Orange Heliconian Butterfly, Canon EOS 7D Mark II, Canon EF 300mm F4L

Gear for Insect Photography

Lenses
The most important piece of equipment you will need is a macro lens.  Macro lenses are defined as having at a minimum a 1:1 magnification ratio.  That means that if you had a one inch sensor on your camera, your lens could take a 1 inch subject and fill that sensor from edge to edge.  Of course, this is at its closest focusing distance.

Insects can obviously see the photographer and that makes the insect want to jump or fly away from us.  For this reason, if you are serious about insect photography, I recommend a longer macro in the 150 mm to 180 mm range.  This will give you a better working distance, and you are less likely to scare the insect.  Later, in the techniques section, I will discuss how you can use a shorter macro in the 60 mm to 100 mm range to not scare the insect.  If you cannot afford the larger more expensive 180 mm macro buy a 90 or 100 mm macro.

The Butterfly Lens
There is one specialty lens that I need to mention here, and it certainly bears mentioning.  That is the butterfly lens.  So you are saying that you looked through the whole B&H catalog and didn't see a butterfly lens?  Well, you would be correct, but it is still in there nonetheless.

The butterfly lens was coined by several photographers including the famous bird photographer Art Morris.  You can classify the butterfly lens as any long lens in the 200 to 400 mm category that can close focus to at least a 1:4 image magnification. 

This butterfly lens was born out of the idea of needing a fast focusing, hand holdable and close focusing lens to follow butterflies from flower to flower and even capture them in flight.  The butterfly lens I use is the Canon EF 300mm F4 lens.  It has a 1:4 image magnification ratio and works great for this role.  The Canon EF 100-400 II has a 1:3.x image magnification ratio and fits nicely into this role.


Canon EF 300 F4 L (Butterfly Lens)

Camera Bodies
Ah, here is where things get really easy for you.  You do not, under any circumstances, have to have a great camera body.  Even a Canon EOS Rebel, Sony A6000 or Nikon D3500 will work.  This is where I depart from my normal wisdom of needing a pro body.  In bird photography, you really need a high end body, but for insect photography, you generally don't.  



However, if you want maximum image quality, I do recommend something full frame.  This will give you incredible details without suffering from micro-lens diffraction that APS-C sensors often suffer from.  A used Canon 6D would be a good inexpensive choice. As with anything we buy, there is always a trade-off.  Furthermore, I recommend that your camera have some kind of live view for focusing manually.  We will get into the focusing piece of the puzzle in the techniques section.

The Tripod
As with any nature photography, you need a good, steady tripod.  Don't waste your money on big box department store cheap tripods.  They simply don't provide a super steady rest for your camera.  I recommend looking at mid sized tripods from Manfrotto and Enduro.

Cable Release
I recommend using a cable release.  For those who do not know, a cable release is a way to release the camera's shutter without actually touching the camera.  You simply plug the cable release into the side and press the button on the cable release to fire off the shot.  If you do not have a cable release you can use the camera's internal timer.  The point is, that you do not want to be touching your camera, when making shots at a low shutter speed.  The vibrations from your hands will kill the shot!

Techniques for Insect Photography
This section will most likely get a little lengthy because there are numerous techniques involved in insect photography, so take a deep breath and read on.

Time of Day
As with most nature photography, the morning hours yield the best results for photographing insects. During the morning hours, before the sun has had time to start warming our section of the world, the insects are in sleep mode.  The technical word for this cold weather slow down is called torpor.  This is the perfect time to photograph the insect.  Remember how I said you didn't need a 180 macro?  Well, this is where you don't need that big macro.  You can get great shots of the critters during this time with a 90 or 100mm macro.  

Lighting
Lighting is something that will make or break any nature shot.  The best light, in my opinion, for insects is soft sun light coming from a cloudy day.  This type of light cast no harsh shadows and softens the image.  Also, insects are less apt to come out of torpor, because they don't have the hot sun hitting them.  Be aware that you will need to allow for the lower light conditions by adjusting your exposure.  More on exposure calculation in a little bit.  


Bumblebee - Canon 7D, Tamron 70-300 SP VC, Extension Tubes, Soft Lighting

Second to overcast days, is direct light.  This can be sun light directly over your shoulder or sun light at a 45 degree angle.  In the morning, the light will be low to the horizon and provide a softer and warmer tone.  This type of lighting is fabulous and quite easy to work with.  Just remember, the timer starts when that warm sunlight starts hitting the insect.

The final type of lighting is flash lighting.  They make special flashes called ring lights that attach to the end of your macro lens.  This flash provides a soft and directional light for very tight macro images.  This is a perfectly valid approach, but honestly is my last choice.  It might  be your first choice and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that!  Note that they also make rigs where you can mount two small flashes on a bracket at 45 degree angles on either side of your lens.

Location
Another great thing about insect photography is it doesn't require that you travel to remote areas of the world.  You can find great macro subjects in your own backyard.  That is where I recommend you start.  As you get better at photographing these insects, start looking for a meadow.  The meadow I am talking about is a field with maybe waist high weeds and flowers.  This is a great place to find insects in the morning.  Remember to watch your lighting and don't forget your tripod.  

Look very closely on the backs of leaves and the stalks of the weeds.  Insects are masters of camouflage and you can walk right past them.  Spiders, although not insects, can have large, dewy webs left over from the night hunt they were on.  This can be a great macro.  Shoot it with the sun behind it for great backlighting.  Obviously flower beds and botanical gardens are a great place for both bees and spiders.

Don't forget there are other places that offer photographers a perfect place to photograph insects.  There are butterfly farms that allow photographers to come in and photograph many different types of butterflies.  These are great locations for making images and for general practice.  Do not overlook these!

Exposure
What a can of worms!  You can have the lighting, location and gear, but if you can't tell the camera how to make the image, you will fail.  I am not going to go into all the theory on how to create the right exposure.  If you are reading this and you don't know about the exposure triangle, I encourage you to do additional research or check out Brian Peterson's book on exposure.

If you just want a non-perfect place to start, this is what I suggest for general exposure that will get you most of the way there.  However, please do yourself a favor and learn exposure the right way.  Learn how to manually adjust your exposure.  Now having said that, here is the quick and dirty way to achieve exposure.

1.  If you are on a tripod, set your lens aperture to F22
2.  Set your shutter speed to 1/125th of a second
3.  Turn on auto-ISO.  Consult your owners manual on how to turn on auto-ISO.

Now, do I use the above approach? Only on rare occasions.  I have always been a manual exposure guy.  The biggest takeaway above is the F22.  F22 will allow you to get as much of the image in focus as possible and still, you will only have a few millimeters in focus.  Macro work has very shallow depth of field.  This is why insect photographers often use advanced techniques such as focus stacking.  That is a blog entry for another day.

Focusing and Taking the Shot
1.  Switch your lens to manual.  Except in the case of chasing butterflies, I always use manual focusing.
2.  If you are using a DSLR, put your camera into live view mode so you can zoom in to see where to focus.
3.  Zoom in to the eye of the insect and focus.  You are looking for ultra-crisp details!
4.  Plug in your cable release or set your camera to use the 2 second timer.
5.  Check focus one more time.
6.  Fire off the shot.

Composition
Composition is a subject that I could also spend many pages of written text talking about, but there are two main points I want to drive home with you.

First, remember your subject.  Your subject is the insect and the perch that it is on.  If you have a great subject and a great perch you are halfway there.  Secondly, watch your backgrounds.  In the image below, you can see I have a perfectly clean green background which helps keep the attention of the viewer on the subject.  Busy backgrounds keep the viewer from experiencing the image to its fullest.  Also note, that a centered image is best for this square crop (IMO). 


Tiger Longwing Butterfly
Polydamas Swallowtail Butterfly
In the above composition, we see two things going on.  First, the subject is placed roughly in the left third of the image, while the lines of the leaf he is perched on draws the eye the rest of the way through the image and then back to the subject.  Dividing your image into thirds and placing your image near the intersections of the thirds is called using the "Rule of Thirds."  The lines of the leaves represent a concept called "Leading Lines."

Conclusion
This really just touches the surface of the world of insect photography.  I could probably write a book on the subject and many who do this daily have done just that.  Yes, I know that insects creep many people out and I get that, but give it a try. I think you will find it to be a whole new world within our world.


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Sony A7 III
Image courtesy of Sony Corporation of America



As I was sitting here today, I found myself pursuing the merits of the Sony A7 III.  In fact, I would say I was drooling a bit for the camera.  After all, what is there not to like?  I mean a great sensor, animal eye tracking, 399 phase detect auto-focus points, 10fps and 2x better AF over the last generation.  All that for a price just under $2,000 US.  
The questions that run through my head are endless, but there is one question that stops me cold.  That is, what is wrong with my current gear?  I mean, when it comes right down to it, what does the $2,000 get me, and is it worth losing the money that could go toward trips to photograph wildlife and scenics?  That is where everything falls apart.   Am I doing all this so I can get the next greatest piece of gear, or do I do this to create and attempt to master and make the next great photograph.

Well, for those that follow my blog, podcast and YouTube channel, you probably know what I am about to say.  GEAR IS ONLY HALF THE EQUATION!  Therein lies the issue though, doesn't it?  It really is about half the equation and that is why wildlife photographers, in particular, are heavy into their gear.  That is why we are willing to spend the money to get one more feature that increases our AF percentage, or gets us more megapixels for cropping.  Perhaps no other genre, with the exception of sports, is so gear centric.

I know there are some already, mostly landscape and portrait photogs, who are already saying my thoughts are ridiculous.  To them, I say, so be it.  I have seen gear make the difference time and time again in difficult scenarios.  It doesn't replace our abilities, but enhances them and make us realize our potential.  Look at it this way, if gear really didn't matter, we would all still be shooting film, right?  But, we don't because digital is efficient, gives us more creative choices, and is cost effective.  

So fine, where is the line then?  I mean, we have to have a line somewhere.  We just can't keep buying new gear and making excuses!  Those who follow me also know I am big on saving money and finding the best deals on gear for your budget.  So, I have this constant dichotomy going on in my brain. 

Honestly, I don't have the answers today.  I mean, I really don't.  I know my 7D Mark II makes great images and I can really push that camera past what many can. I know, that I could take that 2K and use it toward a trip to Yellowstone or Alaska.  Isn't that a better use of the money?  In the end, I would have to say YES, but it still leaves me, and I think us all, wondering, "what if?"  

In the end, there is simply no silver bullet, but only choices.  There isn't one answer, and I think that is the real crux of the problem.  We want it to be black and white and instead it is completely gray for many of us.  We find ourselves being our best salesmen on buying new gear.  We can talk ourselves into gear better than the best used car salesman can talk someone into buying that old clunker.  

So we all have a choice.  Choose wisely.


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I need your help to keep producing content! Consider becoming a patron to my work. Funds received from your help, will go toward keeping the infrastructure in place to keep providing free content. As you know, web site hosting, microphones and recording gear are very costly. To find out more about being a patron and how this can benefit you, head out to my Patreon site : https://www.patreon.com/mattcuda
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There are very few photo web sharing sites that understand why we use their sites, but one or two do.  There are predominately two types of photographers using these sites. 

1.  Those who are looking for a home for all their photographs to act as a portfolio.


2.  Those who are looking for social exposure to their photographs.


Now some of us may not be in either camp, but most of us fall more into one than the other.


So where am I going with all this?

I am going to postulate that there is a general flaw with sites like Flickr, View Bug, 500px and so forth.  That is they are free to use for basic uploading, but have some serious limitations on social exposure and make you pay for maximum social exposure.

I will further postulate that most serious photographers are looking predominantly for social exposure, and more than just a home for their portfolio. Therein lies the rub as they say.  If all they want is a home for their photography, they would just rent a site at Square Space and be done.  To further complicate the issue, having all your images on just one social media outlet doesn't give one the exposure he may need.  


So, the photo sharing site is hoping to make money because servers are expensive. I totally get that proposition, but at the same time, they have to realize that we would be paying for several of these sites to get maximum exposure and that is a drag economically to an already expensive career or hobby that isn't as lucrative as it was in the late 1990s.  


Sure, there are always going to be people willing to pay, but these sites were designed for the masses and I think the pay to play model is woefully lacking.  Not only that, but you pay and they make no promises as to what kind of exposure you are going to receive.  Is this a fair model for both?  I don't know and I don't really have the answer to the problem, but I know this isn't it.


ViewBug has perhaps the most interesting model of them all.  Paying to play here puts you into various competitions with the off chance to win a camera or some such thing.  I have to say as of late the prizes are getting pretty weak, but the concept is interesting to say the least.


So, if I were to add up the sites I would like to pay to play on, the cost would currently break down like this.


ViewBug - 6.99 per month

500px - 5.99 per month
Flickr - 5.99 per month

Personal Website - 10.00 per month on average

That totals to 28.97 per month.  This doesn't include rental of domains, email and so forth. And don't even get me started on Facebook and Instagram.  They are charging 5 to 10 dollars a pop for boosting posts. On top of that we spend thousands on equipment just to get into photography.  


So let me leave you with this.  If you are doing this, do you feel like you have been rewarded?  If you are not doing it but are thinking about it, can you recoup the money paid out to these companies?


EOS 6D Mark II Front with Open LCD
Photo Courtesy of Canon USA

There is a camera that has been sleeping quietly in the Canon lineup.  It is a camera that has most of the features that many photographers are interested in.  It is a camera that might not be as innovative as the latest mirrorless camera.  It is also a camera that, frankly, you might want.

That sleepy camera is the Canon EOS 6D Mark II.  Boasting an all new autofocus system, 6.5 frames per second, and a full frame 26 megapixel sensor, the 6D II is certainly a good option for many.  But, why does it get negative or no press at all?  Why is it frowned upon?  Is there any substance to what people are saying?  I can only speak from my own experience with this camera.  This review will be my own experiences, and what I think this camera can and can't do.  First, let's look at the full list of specifications.

Specifications
  • All new 26.2 megapixel full frame sensor
  • 45 cross type AF points (all cross type depending on lens)
  • Single DIGIC 7 processor
  • 6.5 frames per second continuous shooting for 21 raw exposures.
  • Max shutter speed 1/4000
  • No 4K video
  • 1080p video up to 60 fps
  • 4K time-lapse movies
  • Autofocus available at f8 with modern Canon glass (not guaranteed with 3rd party)
  • WI-FI is built in
  • GPS is built in
  • NFC is built in
  • ISO 100 to 25,600 (expandable to 102,400)
  • Lights which flicker (eg. fluorescents) can be managed with the anti-flicker mode
  • Flash sync speed of 1/180
  • Touchscreen during video for better focusing
  • Singe SD card slot
  • Duel pixel AF live view video recording
  • Fully articulating viewfinder
  • Canon LP-E6N battery
  • Released June 2017

Build Quality/Fit and Finish
The 6D Mark II is a pleasure to shoot, and the ergonomics are similar to that of it's APS-C cousin, the Canon EOS 80D. Canon, has always favored a larger, easy to handle grip, and when compared to other mirrorless cameras, such as Sony, it really stands at the top of the list. 

Canon has also made a real effort in the last several years to make sure that its newer cameras have a fully articulating view screen, and the 6D II boasts just that. Although a modest size, the 3.0 inch touch screen viewfinder is easy to read and operate. 

Button locations have changed slightly with this model.  The "Q" button is now located down by the base of the thumb cutout on the back of the camera.  At first I found this a bit odd, but quickly got used to it.  I especially like that canon left the AE-Lock button and the auto-focus point selector up in the right corner of the camera as it has been there for many years and is comfortable to me.

I wish I could say I liked all the buttons on the Canon 6D Mark II, but I can honestly say I hate their clunky selector disk.  I have no idea why they do not have a joystick on all their cameras for adjusting auto-focus points and moving around the menus.  Come on Canon, that is a no-brainer. It should no longer be a feature, but should be standard.
Video showing touch interface

The menu system is easy to operate and should be familiar to anyone with a fairly modern Canon camera. I found the touch screen to make moving around the menu system much easier and a huge bonus for me.  That might be worth the price of admission right there, but I am not quite willing to fold on that feature alone.

Now, this next wish is not a huge deal, but why not put a popup flash into this camera? After all, it is not targeted toward the pro market and frankly, I would find it useful. The popup flash, in my world, is good for acting as a master flash in a multi-flash master/slave setup. I don't use it as an actual flash, but it might be nice for some at Christmas or family get togethers to give them a little built in flash help. The bottom line is that everything about the ergonomics of the 6D Mark II just felt like a Canon.  It was comfortable and easy to operate.  I give it a solid green checkmark in this category.

Autofocus
In order to test the 45 point AF system, I took the camera out to my son's last soccer game of the year.  I felt like this would be a good test for a Camera that is targeting the generalist photographer.  To say I was skeptical of what the autofocus could do would be a great understatement.  Due to the sensitive nature of putting images of children online, I elected not to show the pics. You will have to trust me on it. Thanks for understanding. 

For me, to fairly test the camera, I programmed the AE-Lock button to be the back button focus button.  Since this is how I have my personal cameras setup, I thought I would have a better chance at an accurate auto-focus review. My lens selection for this test would be my Sigma 150-600 C.

As my testing began, I realized right away that 45 AF points on a full frame sensor is just too few to cluster in the center of the screen. It really made it difficult to put a sensor on the eye of the soccer player, and I ended up placing the center sensor on the player's chest or stomach and hoping for the best. I would really like to see 65 points spread out across the viewfinder or even spread the 45 points out more. Some have speculated that Canon simply dropped the 80D AF sensor directly into the 6D Mark II. I don't know about that one, but it sure does look that way!


The AF performance was much better than expected.


Now, what really blew my mind is how well this AF system locked on. I had quite a few keepers that day to say the least. I read some "internet experts" who said that its AF system struggled. A this point in the game my question was, "struggles compared to what, a 1DX Mark II?" OK, I'll give you that, but for the target market of this camera, it is more than good at autofocusing. I am not sure I would trust it for a great deal of birds in flight photography, but for general wildlife, I think it would work fine. It might even surprise us with birds.

The greatest autofocus feature of this camera is not the standard autofocus sensor, but the touch screen focus using live view. It is accurate, fast and doesn't jar the camera. Using the dual pixel AF with touch screen was a match made in heaven. Simply touch the face of the person or object you want to focus on, and the lens slides into focus. Of course you can see the benefits of this feature, particularly when shooting video.

Image Quality
I am not going to lie to you, the Canon 6D II has taken a great deal of criticism about its image quality and particularly how it relates to the original 6D.  Testing has shown that the new sensor does not have the highlight/shadow recovery that was capable in its predecessor.  Now, I am sure that Canon had its reasons for this, and I am sure they are pretty darn good reasons!  However, to  the average consumer, it just looks like shoddy work.  Playing devils advocate, understand that this sensor came out before the new announcement from the Canon CEO saying that Canon had been slack for too long and was going to be more innovative in the future.  It still doesn't excuse the lack of dynamic range of the new sensor, but may offer some insight.

Day two of my testing involved taking photographs of hummingbirds. After the shoot, during post processing I will say that I did notice the lack of dynamic range, but it did have more dynamic range than my Canon 7D Mark II (if that is any consolation).  Now, I do think it should have at least similar dynamic range to the 6D, but if all you care about is dynamic range, then you need to take a course on photography and learn to shoot the scene properly.


Canon EOS 6D Mark II, Canon EF 300mm F4 @ f14, 1/180th, ISO 100
Canon 7D Mark II, ISO 100, 1/200, Canon EF 300 F4 @ f14
In the first image above we have a fairly significant crop with the 6D image and it retains a great deal of it's quality.  The bottom pic, for purposes of basic comparison is almost full sensor and is from my 7D.  I personally though the 6D had better image quality.  Click on the images to get a better idea.  They were both pretty dang good though. You be the judge.

Overall, I thought the image quality was certainly a cut above any APS-C sensor, and I think would serve many people very well.  I would be happy to shoot with it.  I thought the sharpness of the sensor was great, the color on par with other Canon sensors and the "cropability" of the final raw file to be excellent.


Video
To be honest, I don't think this camera was targeted toward serious videographers or cinematographers, but what it does do is provide a platform for VLOGs. So much so that Casey Neistat switched to it as his vlogging camera. If you don't know who Casey is then you have been living under a rock.
Video showing fully articulating screen
No, it does not produce 4K video and the 1080 video is somewhat suspect, but with that fully articulating screen and touch focus, it has pulled through as a contender. If we could couple the video quality of the Sony with the usability of the Canon, we would have the best video camera on the planet!

Although I am trained as a videographer, in the end I am really a stills guy. So putting together a large critique of the video system of this camera is not going to happen here. What I did see of it, I liked, with lack of 4K being the only caveat in my mind.


Can I use this for Wildlife?

Although I have already alluded to the fact that it can be used for wildlife, I want to hone in more on that topic and break it down by genre.
  • Animals running? Yes, effectively
  • General Birds in Flight? Yes, but less effective than 1 Series or 7D II. It only supports 6.5 fps so that might keep you from getting all the wing positions and so forth.
  • Animal Portraits? Yes, perfectly
  • Hummingbirds? Yes, perfectly
  • Songbirds in Flight? Not ideal unless using studio flash technique with Photo Trap. 1/4000th of a second top shutter speed might not be enough for ambient shots, but largely depends on the bird's speed.
  • Low Light Animals? Yes, good low light capability
Listen to 6.5 FPS 

Conclusion and Wrap up
So, what lead me to do this review?  Well, to be honest, I am looking for a good full frame camera to fill in the cracks on my Canon EOS 7D Mark II.  One of the biggest cracks in the 7D is the fact that it is a poor landscape camera at best.
For those times when image quality trumps all, it is great to have the flexibility of the full frame IQ.  There is nothing quite like the look of full frame images and they seem to only be getting better.  Honestly, I thought the overall IQ was great.

So, would I buy this camera say over a used Canon 5D Mark III?  That is the question I have to answer now.  In many ways the 6D Mark II is a better camera, but in many ways, the 5D III is.  It really comes down to whether the articulating screen is more important than more autofocus points on the 5D.  That debate will go on inside my noggin until I finally make a decision, but I won't decide today.  


I hope this review will help you make a good decision.

If what you want is a good, general full frame camera with a few extra bells and whistles, but has a lower price tag, then this camera is for you.  I have listed what I think are the pros and cons below.



PROS

  • Full frame sensor
  • Improved 45 point AF system (much better than I thought)
  • 6.5 fps gets us closer to that magic 8fps for birds in flight and fast action.
  • Fully articulating touch LCD screen
  • F8 autofocus possible
  • WIFI, NEF, Bluetooth, GPS
  • Great feel and ergonomics

CONS

  • Less dynamic range than expected
  • Lack of joystick on back of camera
  • AF points all clustered in the middle of the viewfinder
  • No 4K video
  • Viewfinder not 100% coverage (more like 98%)
  • Lack of popup flash to act as a master in a multi-flash setup.

As usual, make it a great day and get out there and enjoy nature!

Video Review of the Canon 6D Mark II...
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