Saturday 21 October 2017

Canon unveil the new 6D Mark ii... and here's why it doesn't need 4K

Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

Canon has unveiled the new 6D Mark ii, a full frame enthusiast camera that replaces its five-year-old 6D model.

Traditional photographers will like it, video shooters might pass on it.

Looking and weighing almost exactly the same as the outgoing 6D model, the camera’s three new standout features are a flip-out touchscreen, a new 26-megapixel sensor and better autofocusing ability.

There’s no 4K video, though, a controversial omission that will probably dominate the camera’s initial reception.

Canon is pushing the price up a bit, with the body starting at €2,500 compared to around €1,650 for the existing 6D (and €2,700 for the outgoing professional 5D Mark iii). It will hit shops in July.

Before discussing the pros and cons of the new camera, I’ve picked out what I think are the 11 most important upgraded features of the 6D Mark ii:

1. A 26 megapixel sensor (compared to the 6D’s 20-megapixels)

2. A flip-out vari angle touchscreen like that of the Canon 80D

3. Higher ISO (up to 40,000, expandable to 102,400) for low light photos

4. Dual pixel CMOS autofocus, considered one of the best in the industry

5. An expanded 45-point autofocus system, all of which are cross-types

6. Bluetooth, as well as wifi and NFC

7. 1080p video at 60 frames per second

8. 6.5 frames-per-second shooting ability

9. Five-axis stabilisation

10. Digic 7 processor, claimed to be 14 times faster than the Digic 6 processor

11. 4K time-lapse movie mode, but no 4K filming mode

 

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And here are 5 main things that it’s missing compared to various rivals:

1. 4K video shooting

2. Dual memory card slots

3. Weather sealing (it’s dust and moisture 'resistant')

4. A joystick to help focus

5. Any quieter shooting mode

 

There are a few other points to note. First, the 6D Mark ii uses the same battery as the current 6D, which is a bonus. Second, I’m told that the current 6D is now officially discontinued: Canon isn’t adopting a simultaneous ‘Mark i, Mark ii’ shop sales strategy used by rivals such as Sony.

So what are we to make of the new camera?

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TO 4K OR NOT TO 4K

Clearly, the biggest gap here is 4K video. I’m not a huge video shooter myself, but many camera hobbyists I know with €2,500 to spend on a camera body want it to have 4K capability in case they decide to shoot video projects in future.

Invariably, some of them will be disappointed here. Because as good as a flip-out screen, five-axis stabilisation and dual pixel CMOS autofocus are for videographers, the lack of 4K will rule this camera out for a chunk of potential customers.

I have a different view. As someone who may eventually buy this camera, the lack of 4K is not a deal breaker for me for the following reasons.

(i) I believe that 4K is still overkill for online video. To see what I mean, go onto any YouTube video and select a video that offers both 4K video and 1080p (‘full’ HD). Toggle between these two resolution standards -- it’s very hard to notice much of a difference. That’s relevant to me as most of the devices I’m likely to shoot video for are for PCs, tablets, and phones -- few of which have screens big enough to appreciate a 4K benefit.

I’m no stranger to 4K as I sometimes record to that standard from my Phantom 4 drone. But this brings up another problem…

(ii) 4k file sizes -- these are absolutely huge. If you’re going to be filming in 4K regularly, you’d better have a hell of a lot of storage on your computer or in your cloud file system. A minute of 4K video can take up well over 1GB of file space. I’ll bet that many people buying a camera like the 6D Mark ii have a laptop with 256GB or, at most, 512GB. It’s not practical unless you’re really going to be making videos for some purpose.

(iii) The 6D Mark ii’s video standard of 1080p at 60 frames per second is actually quite high. Again, check the difference between a vide at this standard and 4k -- on any screen under 25 inches in size, the difference is barely discernible to the human eye. Yes, there are other benefits to 4K, such as the ability to crop into videos or take higher-resolution stills from the 4K video footage. But most of the benefits are really aimed at dedicated videographers, not photography hobbyists.

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WHY CANON DIDN’T PUT 4K INTO THE 6D MARK II

When all's said and done, Canon knows that the absence of 4K will be a controversial point when the 6D Mark ii hits Irish shops in late July. So why didn’t the company just put it in there to keep everyone happy?

In a briefing about the 6D Mark ii with a Canon product manager, I was told that Canon doesn’t think it can reliably put 4K into a camera of the 6D Mark ii’s size without compromising either battery life or causing the camera to overheat.

Yes, Canon’s (€3,500) 5D Mark iv has 4K video recording. But executives point out that this is a bigger physical body with “more space” between components to mitigate risks to overheating or battery degradation.

The bottom line, say Canon executives, is that it won’t add a feature if it feels there’s any risk to other features considered to be more important. Canon doesn’t think it’s taking an especially big risk on this either, citing research it has conducted into likely buyers of the 6D Mark ii. It says it believes the 6D Mark ii’s main market is comprised of still photography shooters.

If Canon is wrong about the value of 4K, it will be a boon to Sony (in particular), Fuji and Panasonic, all of which have compelling rival devices that include the higher video resolution format.

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THE 6D MARK II’S REAL UPGRADE: SCREEN AND AUTOFOCUS

One thing to celebrate about the 6D Mark ii is its new vari-angle touchscreen. As a current 6D owner, I know from experience that some shots become guesswork when you can’t get low enough (or high enough) to see through the viewfinder.

Thanks to the increased power of the Camera’s new processor, Canon says that the screen can also actually be used as a livescreen when you’re taking shots, unlike the too-slow screen of the current 6D. But don’t mistake this for the equivalent of a mirrorless system, where you get to see exactly what the camera sees before taking the photo. It still defaults to a system that only really shows you your photo after the shot.

Another big step up for the 6D Mark ii is its new, 45-point, all cross-point autofocusing system. The current 6D only has 11, just one of which is a cross-point. What this has meant is that when you’re trying to autofocus on something that isn’t in the centre of your view, you end up shifting the camera to focus, hold, shift back and then release. Canon tells me that the 45 autofocus points won’t go from edge to edge, though, because it’s imported from the 80D, meaning it represents a smaller area in line with that camera’s smaller sensor.

In terms of weight, this is 765g including battery and memory card, roughly 10g heavier than the current 6D.

There’s one additional button on the camera, next to the shutter button. This allows you to toggle through shooting modes.

It doesn’t have a second memory card slot, which isn’t a surprise: that is a professional feature and Canon doesn’t see the 6D Mark ii as a professional model.

 

THE 6D MARK II IS A LITTLE PRICEY

Lastly, there’s the price. Canon is putting a price tag of €2,500 for the body, way more than its (€1,650) predecessor and just €200 shy of the professional 5D Mark iii model, which has a joystick and a quiet shooting mode.

The company obviously feels that additional utility of the flip-out touchscreen is a big add-on worthy of the extra money.

(Canon also quietly tells me that the 5D Mark iii is about to officially discontinued; "we’re not making them anymore,” said the company spokesman.)

But this kind of price tag is more than I was expecting. And, being honest, it could put me off getting one for a while.

For Irish buyers, it is expensive to buy the 6D Mark ii locally. While Canon is charging €2,500 for the body here, it’s just €2,270 (£1,999) in the UK and €2,100 in both Germany and France. Incredibly, it’s only €1,750 ($1,999) in the US (which comes to around €1,900 with sales tax added). That’s an eye-watering €600 price difference to the consumer between Ireland and the US.

Even if Canon points to pre-tax pricing, there’s still a big gap – almost €300 (€1,750 in US v €2,035 in Ireland).

Canon says that prices are set locally in each country. Representatives for the company in Ireland have previously spoken about the higher cost of doing business in Ireland compared to other countries.

However, other Canon cameras, such as the 5D Mark iv, are similarly priced in Ireland, the UK and the US.

 

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THE LONG TERM MIRRORLESS THREAT TO THE 6D MARK II

Canon will likely sell a decent number of the 6D Mark ii cameras. It still has an incontrovertible advantage over most other brands in the sheer number (and diversity) of excellent lenses in its ecosystem.

But there are signs that this may soon not be enough for non-professional customers. Mirrorless cameras, once a novelty, are now close to overtaking DSLRs in sales. With that sales expansion has come wider and deeper lens ecosystems for Panasonic, Olympus, Fuji and Sony cameras. And with mirrorless models, massive advantages include silent shooting and what-you-see-is-what-you-get electronic viewfinders.

Canon itself has some mirrorless models with APS-C sensors. But the time may be coming when it needs to start adding full frame mirrorless cameras into the mix.

Until then, the 6D Mark ii will probably hold the fort and please whoever buys it.

 

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