Sleeping Beauty? The Canon EOS 6D Mark II

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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