06 November 2017
Canon announced the full-frame 6D Mark II at the end of June 2017 as the replacement for the 6D and as a smaller, lighter alternative to the 5D Mark IV. However, while it’s slimmed-down in some respects, the 6D Mark II has a couple of advantages over its bigger stablemate. Read on to discover if it’s the camera you should be hiring.
Let’s start with the essential information. The 6D Mark II has a full-frame sensor with 26.2 million effective pixels and it’s paired with the Digic 7 processing engine - Canon’s latest. Together, the sensor and processor enable a sensitivity range of ISO 100-40,000 (expandable to ISO 50-102,400) for stills and a movie range of ISO 100-25,600. The Digic 7 processor also enables a maximum continuous shooting rate of 6.5fps (frames per second), just 0.5fps behind the 5D Mark IV. What’s more, if you’re shooting jpegs you’ll be able to shoot at 6.5fps for up to 150 images, alternatively you can fire off 21 raw files. While 21 may not sound a lot compared to 150, it still means you can shoot for over 3 seconds in a single burst and there aren’t that many occasions when you’re likely to need to shoot for much longer than that!
Fast frame rates require a snappy autofocus (AF) system and the 6D Mark II has 45-points, all of which are cross-type with lenses that have a maximum aperture of f/5.6. Of those 45 points, 27 function with an aperture of f/8 or larger, meaning they work with many lens and teleconverter set-ups. For extra sensitivity, the centre point is dual cross-type at f/5.6 and 9 of the 27 points mentioned earlier are cross-type at f/8. This, plus the fact that its operates down to -3EV, means the 6D Mark II has a pretty sensitive AF system, capable of finding small subjects in low light. As with the higher-end cameras in Canon’s line-up, it’s possible to tailor the way the 6D Mark II’s AF system responds in continuous AF mode. This means you can adjust aspects such as tracking sensitivity, acceleration/deceleration tracking and AF point auto switching if you like. However, the case studies that appear in cameras like the 5D Mark IV and EOS-1DX Mark II are not available, so you’re left to make your own decisions here.
If you’ve used the original 6D you’ll notice a significant improvement in the Mark II’s autofocusing. The 45 points give better coverage (even though they are still rather clustered around the centre of the frame) and their cross-type design means they are better at finding the target in low-light or in very low contrast situations. If you’re photographing a moving subject it pays to use Zone AF, Large Zone AF or Single Point AF if you can rather than Automatic Selection AF as it boosts the hit rate by giving the camera a better chance of seeing the subject. If you can keep the active point over the subject, Single Point AF works extremely well with fast moving subjects. The 6D Mark II’s sensor is a Dual Pixel AF device which means that it has phase detection pixels that operate during Live View or video shooting. This works very well, getting subjects sharp in many situations, although it’s not really suited for use with very fast subjects.
Once again Canon has shied away from 4K video capability and the maximum video resolution is 1920 x 1080 at 60fps. However, the 6D Mark II is the first full-frame Canon DSLR to offer 5-axis stabilisation for movies and it’s the first Canon camera to have a 4K time-lapse movie setting amongst its intervalometer’s options.
Another handy feature of the 6D Mark II is its Wi-Fi and ‘always-on’ Bluetooth system. This means that once the camera has been paired with a smartphone or tablet it’s possible for the camera to be awoken even if it’s in your bag so you can transfer and share images wirelessly via your phone.
Build and Handling
At 144.0 x 110.5 x 74.8mm and 765g (body with battery and memory card) the 6D Mark II is appreciably smaller and lighter than the 5D Mark IV (150.7 x 116.4 x 75.9mm and 890g body only). However, it’s constructed from a combination of aluminium alloy, polycarbonate and fibreglass and there are seals to keep out dust and moisture, so it’s pretty solid. The grip is nice and deep, with a good texture on its surface so the camera feels secure in your hand even when a large lens like a 100-400mm or a 70-200mm f/2.8 is mounted. It just feels right.
As it’s a DSLR, the 6D Mark II has an optical viewfinder and it’s nice and bright. However, you need to remember that it only shows 98% of the frame so take care to check the edges of your frame when you’re shooting.
The 6D II’s screen offers a significant advantage over the 5D Mark IV’s because it’s on a vari-angle hinge - the 5D Mark IV’s is fixed. That means you can flip-out the 6D II’s screen and tilt it to the perfect angle for composing images in Live View mode, whether you’re shooting landscape or portrait format pictures. It also makes life a lot easier for videographers as you get a clearer view of footage being shot above or below head-height. Further good news is that the screen is touch-sensitive (as is the 5D IV’s) and it can be used to navigate the menu, make setting selections, swipe through images and zoom in and out quickly to assess sharpness.
It makes using the camera more intuitive, but there are also plenty of buttons and dials if you prefer to operate the camera that way. The 6D II’s control layout will be familiar to anyone who has used a high-end or enthusiast-level Canon DSLR before, with everything falling within convenient reach. We suspect that quite a few photographers start out using the button and dial controls but will gradually migrate over to using the screen more and more.
If you leave the 6D Mark II in its default settings, the chances are that you’ll find it delivers attractive looking images that are nicely exposed, but naturally there are occasions when you need to take control, not least to make the most of the creative opportunities. If you’re shooting using the viewfinder to compose images you’ll find that the 63-segment evaluative metering system copes well with a wide range of scenes. It deals particularly well with bright scenes and those that have a large bright area. However, when it’s faced with dark scenes, or those with large dark patches, there’s a tendency to overexposure a little. With this in mind you need to keep an eye on the highlights and dial in some exposure compensation if necessary. It’s worth making sure that you get a good exposure in-camera, or a bright one that still retains the highlights as the 6D Mark II’s raw files can only cope with a couple of stops of post-capture brightening. If you go beyond this value, you’re likely to find images look a bit under-saturated and noisy.
The 6D Mark II controls noise well throughout its native sensitivity range (ISO 100-40,000), but we recommend sticking to ISO 32,00 or less if you can, as this will result in more natural looking jpegs and raw files with less noise. If you really need to get an image in very low light, the ISO 102,400 setting actually produces pretty good results for such a high figure, but you wouldn’t want to use it routinely. If you look at raw images taken at ISO 1600 at 100% on-screen you’re likely to see some noise in the shadows, but it’s kept in good check right up to ISO 6,400. Beyond this noise becomes a bit more noticeable, but as we said earlier, the results are good up to around ISO 32,000.
There are two automatic white balance settings and on the whole, we prefer the results produced by Ambient Priority option. The White Priority version is useful in mixed or artificial light. In daylight, however, the Daylight setting often produces warmer, more attractive results - particularly in shade.
While it sits below the Canon 5D IV in the manufacturers DSLR line-up, the 6D Mark II is an extremely capable camera and aspects such as its smaller size, lighter weight, vari-angle screen and always-on Bluetooth connectivity make it a very attractive proposition. It produces high quality images with plenty of detail and pleasant colours while noise is kept under control. The AF system is also fast and responsive. If you're new to full-frame photography or you're looking for a back-up to another Canon DSLR, the 6D Mark II makes a great choice.
And if you still haven't made up your mind, you can watch Canon's introductory video below: