Wednesday 17 October 2018

Tech Review: Canon's EOS M6 mirrorless camera is a good all-rounder but lacks the pizazz of rivals

Canon EOS M6 €699 (body only), €799 (with 15-45mm lens)

The Canon EOS M6 is at the right price point and makes up for a lack of viewfinder by allowing its touchscreen to flip over the top of the camera
The Canon EOS M6 is at the right price point and makes up for a lack of viewfinder by allowing its touchscreen to flip over the top of the camera
The Canon EOS M6
Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

There are three different audiences for Canon's recently-release M6 mirrorless camera: (i) travellers (ii) video bloggers ('vloggers') and (iii) enthusiast photographers looking for a mirrorless alternative to a DSLR.

In my experience with it, the M6 is probably best suited to categories (i) and (iii). For the enthusiast or semi-professional, there are more flexible, better-equipped options from rival camera makers, especially Panasonic and Fuji.

The M6 is a good all-rounder. Its biggest strengths are its superb autofocusing system and its flip-up touchscreen, as well as a very good 24-megapixel APS-C sensor (the same kind you find in expensive Canon DSLR cameras such as the 80D).

This adds up to image quality that is typically very good. If you're heading off on a work trip or on holidays, it's perfect. A recent price cut by many Irish shops selling it also makes it a competitive buy now - it's €200 cheaper than Fuji's X-T20 and €100 less than Panasonic's GX9, having started out at around the same price as those two rival camera systems.

Where it lags its closest mirrorless rivals is in the range of lenses. The kit lens I got with the M6 was an 18-150mm telezoom (€459 or €400 when bought with the M6), which is the equivalent of a 28-240mm focal length in 35mm comparisons. It's actually a very decent kit lens at f3.5 to f6.3 fully extended. I captured some really nice shots at both ends of the focal range. (If you're getting this camera, I'd recommend this lens above others.)

But while this might be okay for an occasional hobbyist or traveller, there simply aren't enough 'M' lenses available for an enthusiast, let alone a professional. To address this, Canon makes an adaptor (€130 from PC World) that lets you use full size Canon DSLR lenses - of which there are dozens - with the M6. If you already own one or more high end Canon lenses (as I do), this definitely enhances the M6's capability.

The Canon EOS M6
The Canon EOS M6

However, there are sacrifices. Using the adaptor, autofocus is slower and the silent shooting mode becomes unavailable. This latter aspect is a bit of a setback as one of the key reasons to choose a mirrorless camera over a DSLR is the ability to take photos noiselessly, especially in quiet environments. Sure, I can see a situation where someone might see the advantage of using Canon professional lenses for jobs and then switch to smaller EOS-M lenses for personal use (such as holidays). But I'd prefer to have quality lenses that can shoot silently. This is what Fuji, Panasonic, Olympus and Sony mirrorless cameras offer: all have an excellent lense range for their small mirrorless models.

There is one other compromise that the EOS M6 makes, which is that it has no viewfinder. People who are used to shooting with phones won't mind this one bit. I missed it.

What the M6 does to make up for this is allow its touchscreen to flip right up and over the top of the camera. For anyone shooting videos or photos of themselves, this is a precious feature. There are now thousands - if not tens of thousands - of regular video-bloggers out there covering everything from sports, tech and fashion to their own daily lives. For them, this is a godsend because it allows them to make sure they're properly in focus when speaking to the camera. They probably are anyway, thanks to the M6's superb dual-pixel autofocusing system, which is about the best around.

The other feature that the M6 has which makes it valuable to vloggers is a microphone port, letting you stick in an external microphone.

That doesn't mean that this is the ultimate vlogger camera, though. It has no headphone port, which means you can't monitor audio levels as you're recording. And true to Canon's odd video habits, there's no 4K recording resolution. While this wouldn't bother me (very few people watching videos watch it on screens that show off the 4K advantage), it's a big deal to many vloggers. So I suspect this could stop it replacing many Sonys and Panasonic, in particular.

The camera's image stabilisation, while better than Fuji rivals, isn't quite as good as what's on offer with Panasonic and Olympus cameras. Again, this is an important consideration for vloggers.

For non-vloggers, the M6 is up to date with some other features you might want. It can shoot at up to nine frames per second. It also has a built-in flash and is speedy to turn on and off. I wish there was another control dial or two for manual access to shutter speed or ISO - you do this mainly on the touchscreen, which is a little slower.

Like many mirrorless cameras, the M6 also has the advantage of a smaller body and lens form factor. It's almost compact sized, which is a huge advantage for those who want to carry a camera around with them. Even with the telephoto 18-150mm zoom kit lens, it is small enough to fit into a large coat pocket or the side of a bag. In terms of size and weight, it's roughly similar to a mid-range Panasonic, Olympus, Fuji or Sony mirrorless camera.

For what you're paying, the M6 is about right. You get good image quality, above-average video-shooting flexibility and compactness. Comparatively, you sacrifice a viewfinder, some lens choice and top-end video capability. It will suit a traveller, vlogger or casual personal user. It won't suit an enthusiast or a semi-professional photographer.

Once Canon starts making some serious lenses for its M-series cameras, it could start making a much bigger impact on the mirrorless market.

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