Tuesday 21 November 2017

Review: Canon's 6D Mark ii scores, but doesn't quite soar

Canon’s 6D Mark ii now has a flip-out touchscreen
Canon’s 6D Mark ii now has a flip-out touchscreen
Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

For photography enthusiasts, the Canon 6D Mark ii holds a special position. It is the entry-level 'full frame' camera within Canon's ecosystem, so it will attract more attention than almost any other single enthusiast camera model, with Canon being the dominant manufacturer for enthusiast, semi-professional and professional models.

I've had this model for a month, which hopefully is enough time to assess its pros and cons. Its greatest strengths are its new flip-out touchscreen and faster autofocusing systems. Its weaknesses include limited video options and, for some professionals, mediocre dynamic range for shooting in Raw.

26 megapixels

The 6D Mark ii ups the megapixel count to 26 from the original 6D's 20 megapixels. It's a marginal yet significant upgrade: it mainly means you can crop a little more into images.

Engaging in a little pixel-peeping, I could see a tiny bit more detail in some images from the 6D Mark ii than the original 6D. In other images, I couldn't detect noticeable extra sharpness.

Dynamic range problems

One of the big issues that some professionals have challenged Canon on is the disappointing "dynamic range".

In English, this means that when you shoot a photo (in Raw format) and try to 'recover' detail from dark or shadowed areas, it returns relatively poor results. This could hurt wedding or landscape photographers, as shots taken in varied light often need to be treated in post-production to rescue dark parts of the photo.

Low-light shots

Aside from the dynamic range controversy, the 6D Mark ii is supposed to perform better in low light than the original 6D. This would be a remarkable feat, given its greater megapixel count and considering just how good the original 6D still performs in low light.

I ran multiple tests on the 6D and 6D Mark ii using the same lens. I could barely discern any difference in the image quality between the two. But this is fine: it means the 6D Mark ii can still be counted as a top performer in low light.

Video

By now, everyone has heard of the biggest gripe levelled against the 6D Mark ii - it has no 4K video recording. It's a stubborn move by Canon, which keeps the recording resolution at 'full HD' 1080p (up to 60 frames per second).

Even if this leaves Canon behind some rivals, it won't affect a lot of photographers. Unless you're watching a 50-inch screen, there is little benefit to recording something in 4K. On a phone, a tablet or a laptop, you simply can't see the difference between a high frame-rate 1080p and 4K. What's more, 4K file sizes are prohibitively large: most laptops or iPads don't have enough memory or processing power to edit or store the clips. Advanced videographers will point out that 4K lets you crop into a video clip while still maintaining a high degree of resolution. But for my use cases, it wasn't enough of an incentive to warrant its inclusion.

However, it's fair to say that where Canon once led in DSLR video recording (especially with the 5D Mark ii), it now lags Sony and Panasonic (in particular). That may put some off. But it just doesn't make any difference to me.

As for the actual video performance on this camera, its dual-pixel autofocusing system makes for better tracking. However, although it has a microphone port, there is no headphone port. So you have no idea whether the audio levels will be correct or adequate as you're filming.

Autofocusing

One of the most-touted reasons to get the 6D Mark ii is the camera's upgraded 'dual pixel' autofocusing system, which is imported from Canon's 7D Mark ii and 80D. It's much faster and, in theory, more flexible than the 6D Mark i, partly because there are more autofocusing points and they are 'cross type' points, which means you can get to the point you want quicker.

There's a big caveat, though. The autofocusing points are all clustered in a small box in the middle of the screen - there are none outside this tiny area. In other words, you can only move them around in about 20pc of the entire picture. Alternatively, you'll need to switch to 'live' mode, where you can touch the part of the screen you want the camera to focus on. (This method also allows for one-touch autofocus and capture, a useful benefit.)

Touchscreen

As I said at the start, the flip-out touchscreen is probably the main reason to upgrade from a 6D. It's useful in loads of situations, from shooting babies and pets to getting a clear shot at parades and other events when in a crowded zone. You're no longer pointing and hoping, especially as you can take the shot by touching the screen, which makes the camera autofocus on the bit of the picture you touch.

What's more, this isn't a half-baked flip-out screen as some cameras have. It's a fully articulating touchscreen that swivels around 180 degrees, allowing you to see your framing if you're photographing or filming yourself. It's a really excellent addition for those of us who want more flexibility from our cameras.

Battery and other functions

The 6D Mark ii blows mirrorless models away when it comes to battery life. You can shoot for almost a full day on a single charge here - you'd easily go through two Fuji, Sony, Panasonic or Olympus batteries in the same period.

On the other hand, not having a second memory card slot compares unfavourably with models such as Fuji's X-T2, Nikon's D500 or Panasonic's GH5. Memory cards fail more than you would think: at this price point, it's frustrating not to have a second slot.

Physically, the 6D Mark ii is almost exactly the same size and weight as the original 6D, although the front main grip is a little bulkier. It also adds Bluetooth to the wifi of the original 6D. This means the camera can stay tethered to your phone - a handy feature.

Conclusion

I love this camera's flip-out touchscreen and the image quality is as good, if not better, than the original 6D (which I was happy with as an owner). I also don't care about either of the big criticisms thrown at this camera, namely the mediocre dynamic range and lack of 4K video recording.

And I've amassed an array of pricey Canon 'L' lenses (and some equally impressive Tamron equivalents) that can only really deliver their full quality on a Canon body. So for someone considering a DSLR camera, this is a solid upgrade.

It's a slightly different story for those who already own the original 6D model (like me). This still takes great shots and is easy to use. It has wifi, too, which means you're already sorted for quick transfers to your phone. And other than the flip-out touchscreen, there's no killer feature on the Mark ii model. 26 megapixels is not a big enough upgrade over the 6D's 20 megapixels. I can't detect enough of a difference in low-light performance, either.

It basically comes down to the value of the flip-out touchscreen. If you really fancy this, the 6D Mark ii is your camera. If not, this model is just one of many vying for your attention.

Price: €2,199

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