Canon 6D Mark II Field Test Part I

Does the Canon 6D Mark II avoid a sophomore slump?

by Jeremy Gray | Posted 08/14/2017

Canon 6D II Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II USM lens at 105mm, f/5.0, 1/200s, ISO 100.
Click for full-size image. Click here for RAW image.
Introduction

When the original Canon EOS 6D launched in late 2012, Canon made a camera specifically for prosumers who wanted a full-frame DSLR but didn't want to pay for a more expensive Canon 5D Mark III. The full-frame camera market is vastly different than it was nearly five years ago. With the EOS 6D Mark II, Canon has made some notable improvements and added new features. What does the Canon 6D II offer? Let's find out.

Key Features and Info
  • Full-frame prosumer DSLR camera
  • Tilt-swivel 3.0-inch touchscreen with 1,040,000 dots (346,600 pixels)
  • 27 ounces (765 grams) with batteries
  • New 26.2-megapixel full-frame image sensor
  • Native ISO range of 100-40,000
  • Improved 45-point autofocus system
  • Dual Pixel CMOS AF
  • 6.5 frames per second continuous shooting
  • Full HD video at up 60 fps
  • Built-in Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, NFC and GPS
  • Body only retails for around US$2,000
Canon 6D II Review -- Product Image

Familiar 6D II body features notable upgrades including tilting touchscreen

Camera Body

The Canon 6D Mark II looks very similar to its predecessor, but there are some important differences between new and old. One of the most obvious is the new tilt/swivel touchscreen display (more on that in the next section). As soon as you pick up the 6D Mark II, it'll be familiar for seasoned Canon shooters. The controls are located in familiar places and are well placed on the camera body.

In particular, I like that there are AF, Drive, ISO and Metering buttons along the top deck of the camera, within reach of my right index finger. Coupled with the rear rotating command dial surrounding the directional pad and 'SET' button, you can quickly and easily change settings like ISO speed with just your right hand while shooting, which is nice. The front grip also feels very good. Canon has redesigned the front grip to make it more comfortable and I can easily say that it feels very nice in the hands. It's a solid, chunky grip.

Canon 6D II Review -- Product Image

In general, the camera feels robust. It is fairly weather-sealed -- offering the same protection against dust and moisture as the Canon 5D Mark IV -- which is very good and a step up from the original 6D, which eschewed extensive sealing to help keep the cost down. The 6D Mark II is slightly larger than its predecessor, too, bringing it a bit closer in size to a 5D-series camera. In total, the 6D II weighs 27 ounces (765 grams) with a battery inserted. Its dimensions are 5.7 x 4.4 x 2.9 inches (144 x 111 x 75 millimeters).

Before getting to the big change to the body, the tilting touchscreen display, I want to briefly discuss the optical viewfinder. The magnification is nice at 0.71x, but the viewfinder overall doesn't impress me. It offers approximately 98% coverage, which is not bad, but that 2% away from full coverage can be annoying. Further, I struggled to get an unburdened view through the viewfinder because the plastic housing always seemed to slightly obscure the corners. It's not a big deal, but it just isn't a particularly good or comfortable viewfinder, in my experience.

Tilting Touchscreen

The 6D Mark II is Canon's first full-frame DSLR to include a vari-angle (tilt/swivel) touchscreen display. The 3-inch display can rotate almost a full 360° and offers a great view from directly above and below the camera, perfect for working at difficult angles. Additionally, the swiveling capabilities make it easier to tilt the display away from the sun when working in bright conditions. If you're a videographer trying to frame video of yourself, you can have the display act as a "selfie screen," which is very useful. The tilting display is definitely one of the 6D Mark II's big new features, and it performs well. For some users, this alone could be worth the upgrade.

Canon 6D II Review -- Product Image

Image Quality: 6D II delivers nice images, but it has some problems

Sharpness

The Canon 6D Mark II comes equipped with a brand-new 26.2-megapixel full-frame image sensor. The sensor offers six more megapixels than its predecessor, although the 6D II is releasing in a more competitive environment than its predecessor. Whereas the 20-megapixel sensor of the 6D was relatively high-resolution in 2012, the 26-megapixel sensor found in the 6D II feels limited in resolving capabilities compared to the 30 and 50-megapixel sensors found in the 5D IV and 5DS/R cameras, respectively. Granted, those cameras cost a fair bit more than the 6D II, but some 6D owners were likely hoping for a larger resolution bump.

Canon 6D II Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II USM lens at 105mm, f/5.6, 1/200s, ISO 100.
Click for full-size image. Click here for RAW image.

Canon 6D II Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II USM lens at 105mm, f/5.6, 1/200s, ISO 100.
100% crop of the above image. The camera delivers quite a bit of fine detail despite its anti-aliasing filter. Click for full-size image. Click here for RAW image.
 
Canon 6D II Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II USM lens at 50mm, f/4.5, 1/320s, ISO 400.
Click for full-size image. Click here for RAW image.

Canon 6D II Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II USM lens at 50mm, f/4.5, 1/320s, ISO 400.
100% crop of the above image. Click for full-size image. Click here for RAW image.

The 26.2-megapixel sensor has a fixed anti-aliasing filter, which results in a slightly softer image than a similar sensor without an optical low-pass filter, all else equal, but the 6D II still captures nice-looking, sharp images.

Low Light and Dynamic Range

With a native ISO range of 100-40,000, the 6D II is well-suited for low-light photography and provided that images are well-exposed at the time of capture, it does perform well in lower light. However, if you need to lift exposure in shadows, even at base ISO, the sensor may struggle. By now you might've heard that the 6D II sensor doesn't offer very good dynamic range -- click here to see a comparison between the 6D and new 6D Mark II -- and regrettably the lab results do translate to disappointing real-world performance regarding dynamic range.

Canon 6D II Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II USM lens at 24mm, f/8, 1/30s, ISO 12800.
Click for full-size image. Click here for RAW image.

Canon 6D II Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II USM lens at 24mm, f/8, 1/30s, ISO 12800.
100% crop of the above image. With default settings, the camera delivers pretty good detail in JPEG images, even at a very high ISO of 12,800. Impressive low light performance from the 6D Mark II, provided that the image is not processed heavily. Click for full-size image. Click here for RAW image.

DxOMark has not yet tested the 6D Mark II, but according to Photons to Photos which defines dynamic range differently, at base ISO, the original 6D delivers 9.3 EV of "Photographic" dynamic range versus the 9.1 EV offered with the new model. Sure, there's a 6-megapixel advantage for the 6D II, but the 6D came out in 2012 and should not be besting its successor in any significant way. At nearly every ISO, the 6D offers more range than its successor. The Canon 5D Mark IV not only has more megapixels, but it also offers over 1.5 EV more at base ISO than the 6D II. What about competition from other manufacturers? At ISO 100, the Nikon D750 offers 11.8 EV of dynamic range and the Sony A7 II offers 11.2 EV.

What does all this mean? For many photographers, this should not be a concern. The 6D Mark II sensor is fine, and the camera is more than capable of taking great-looking images in a wide range of situations. However, for photographers who shoot a lot of landscapes or push RAW files to their extremes during post-processing, it means that the 6D II does not represent an image quality upgrade in all respects over its predecessor and in fact is poorer in some regards. A camera is more than its sensor when it comes to making images, but the 6D II's sensor at this time in the industry is a disappointment.

Canon 6D II Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II USM lens at 24mm, f/7.1, 2s, ISO 100.
Click for full-size image. Click here for RAW image.

Canon 6D II Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II USM lens at 24mm, f/7.1, 2s, ISO 100.
This image has been modified. Click for full-size image. Click here for RAW image.

Canon 6D II Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II USM lens at 24mm, f/7.1, 2s, ISO 100.
100% crop of the modified image above. Notice how much noise is in the image. As we will see in the next section, the sensor is not ISO invariant, which is part of the reason there is so much noise. Click for full-size image. Click here for RAW image.

Let's step back and look at this topic in another way. Consider digital cameras from a decade ago, such as the Nikon D3. That was a $5,000 camera when it came out, a true flagship DSLR that quickly gained a lot of positive attention from photographers across all disciplines. Photographers captured and continue to capture amazing images with that camera. The 6D II has better dynamic range and over twice the megapixels of the D3. My point being that the 6D II's sensor won't hold anyone back from capturing awesome shots. However, today there are other cameras that offer significantly better dynamic range performance at similar price points as the 6D II.

Canon 6D II Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II USM lens at 31mm, f/8, 1/60s, ISO 100.
Click for full-size image. Click here for RAW image.

Canon 6D II Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II USM lens at 31mm, f/8, 1/60s, ISO 100.
This image has had only highlights and shadows adjustments made in Adobe Camera Raw. Click for full-size image. Click here for RAW image.

Canon 6D II Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II USM lens at 31mm, f/8, 1/60s, ISO 100.
100% crop of the modified image above. Click for full-size image. Click here for RAW image.

ISO Variance

What about ISO invariance? Another hot topic for photographers who do a lot of post-processing to RAW files. As a primer, ISO invariance, in its ideal form, basically means that you can brighten a photo in post-processing and not introduce more noise than you would have if you'd simply shot at the equivalent higher ISO. For example, if you shoot at ISO 100 and brighten the image by 4 EV, it should look the same as an image captured with the same exposure values at ISO 1600. Basically, ISO invariance means that there is no penalty for brightening an image during post-processing, at least across some range of ISO sensitivities. There is a lot more to this topic that goes beyond the scope of a camera Field Test, but suffice it to say, sensor manufacturers should generally work to reduce the amount of read noise that the camera adds as you increase ISO as it offers photographers more flexibility during capture and post-processing. Is the 6D Mark II ISO invariant? Let's find out.

Canon 6D II Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II USM lens at 105mm, f/11, 1/15s, ISO 800.
ISO Invariance Test. 100% crop of RAW image processed to have equalized white balance. Lens corrections applied. No other modifications have been made to the file. Click for full-size image. Click here for RAW image.

Canon 6D II Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II USM lens at 105mm, f/11, 1/8s, ISO 100, -2 EV exposure compensation.
ISO Invariance Test. 100% crop of RAW image processed with +2 exposure and to have equalized white balance. Lens corrections applied. No other modifications have been made to the file. Click for full-size image. Click here for RAW image.
 
Canon 6D II Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II USM lens at 105mm, f/11, 1/30s, ISO 1600.
ISO Invariance Test. 100% crop of RAW image processed to have equalized white balance. Lens corrections applied. No other modifications have been made to the file. Click for full-size image. Click here for RAW image.

Canon 6D II Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II USM lens at 105mm, f/11, 1/30s, ISO 100, -4 EV exposure compensation.
ISO Invariance Test. 100% crop of RAW image processed with +4 exposure and to have equalized white balance. Lens corrections applied. No other modifications have been made to the file. Click for full-size image. Click here for RAW image.

As you can tell, no, the camera is not ISO invariant. In fact, it isn't close. What this means in practical terms is that if you underexpose the 6D Mark II by the same amount as an image captured with a camera with less ISO variance, all else equal, the brightened RAW file from the 6D II will be noisier. Not only that, but it means that if you want to make shadow adjustments, the 6D II will have noisier shadow areas.

Much like dynamic range analysis, ISO invariance is not the end all be all for assessing an image sensor, and certainly not the best way to evaluate a camera, but nonetheless they are both indicators of the quality of an image sensor. Unfortunately, sensor quality is an area where the 6D Mark II comes up short of where I expect a full-frame camera to be in 2017. However, as we will see, there are certainly areas where the Canon 6D II performs very well.

Canon 6D II Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at 371mm, f/6.3, 1/500s, ISO 2500.
Click for full-size image. Click here for RAW image.
Image Quality - Overall

With all that said, the 6D Mark II can capture very nice images. The camera captures sharp images with pleasing color and contrast, especially when considering straight-from-the-camera JPEG images. Even when processing RAW files, however, the camera offers a level of flexibility which should satisfy many users.

Dynamic range and ISO variance issues aside, the 6D Mark II captures nice-looking, sharp images with rich color and detail. Even if you shoot RAW images and intend to heavily process them, the 6D Mark II is a competent photographic tool. If you want high resolution and industry-leading dynamic range, however, the 6D II represents somewhat of a compromise.

Autofocus: More AF points but limited point coverage

Alongside the tilting touchscreen, autofocus performance improvements are another headlining feature for the Canon 6D Mark II. The original 6D offered a paltry 11 autofocus points and provided generally sluggish autofocus performance. The 6D II, on the other hand, has 45 autofocus points, all of which are cross-type for f/5.6. In fact, 27 of the autofocus points support f/8 lenses and nine of those 27 points are cross-type too.

While the number of autofocus points has increased dramatically, an aspect of the camera's autofocus that has not changed much is the autofocus coverage. The amount of the frame covered by autofocus points is roughly similar to that of its predecessor, although the density is obviously much greater on the 6D II. This is one of my primary issues with the 6D II, the lack of autofocus coverage across the frame, particularly when shooting moving subjects that may exit the relative center area of the frame.

Canon 6D II Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at 300mm, f/5.6, 1/800s, ISO 640.
This image has been modified. Click for full-size image. Click here for RAW image.

Another big change in overall autofocus performance is the inclusion of Dual Pixel CMOS AF. Canon's impressive Live View autofocus technology works very well on the 6D II, and I found myself using Live View specifically to get autofocus points closer to the edge of the frame, especially when working with a tripod. Focusing and recomposing is an option, but using the camera in Live View, especially with the tilting display, is very convenient.

Autofocus speed and accuracy during real-world shooting proved very impressive, the speeds were particularly good when shooting through the viewfinder. Dual Pixel CMOS AF is quick, but it struggled somewhat with the Canon 100-400mm lens I was using while testing the camera. Through the viewfinder, the 6D II is quick no matter the lens. Subject tracking performance was quite good as well, although as I mentioned, the coverage of autofocus points is limiting when shooting through the viewfinder.

Canon 6D II Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at 255mm, f/6.3, 1/500s, ISO 100.
Click for full-size image. Click here for RAW image.

Canon 6D II Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at 255mm, f/6.3, 1/500s, ISO 100.
100% crop of the above image. Click for full-size image. Click here for RAW image.

Overall, autofocus performance is quite good. The camera certainly offers a good number of upgrades and improvements with regard to autofocus and in real-world shooting; it very rarely came up short. My biggest complaint is the autofocus point coverage when shooting through the viewfinder. With that said, a common complaint people had with the 6D, the lack of autofocus points, has been addressed with the 6D II.

The Canon 6D II is fast & nimble, but buffer performance can be limiting

The Canon 6D II is the first full-frame Canon DSLR with Canon's DIGIC 7 image processor. The resulting performance is very good for a prosumer DSLR camera. The 6D II can capture images at up to 6.5 frames per second when shooting JPEG and RAW images. In real-world shooting, 6.5 frames per second is plenty fast for most situations.

When shooting wildlife, the 6D II performs quite well. The autofocus, as I've discussed, is good and the DIGIC 7 processor helps power good continuous shooting. The 6.5 fps speed is nice, but the somewhat small buffer is limiting. When shooting RAW and RAW+JPEG, the buffer is around 20 frames, and it clears in 8 and 11 seconds, respectively. This is fine for a short burst, which is pretty typical when shooting wildlife, but sports shooters might want to stick with JPEG-only when needing to capture longer bursts.

Canon 6D II Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at 340mm, f/5.6, 1/800s, ISO 500.
Click for full-size image. Click here for RAW image.

The 6D II feels very snappy in use: menus are quick and the camera has great cycle times (shot-to-shot time). It would be nice to be able to view just-shot images while the buffer is clearing, but I do like that you can change settings. Overall, I rarely felt like I was waiting for the camera to catch up.

Shooting Modes and Metering

The Canon 6D Mark II offers your standard suite of shooting modes and also includes some creative modes, including Portrait, Group Photo, Landscape, Sports, Kids, Panning, Close-up, Food, Candlelight, Night Portrait, Handheld Night Scene and HDR Backlight Control.

The 6D II also includes a built-in time-lapse movie mode (in addition to an interval timer mode for capturing stills), which allows you to shoot and create 4K time-lapse movies right in the camera (you can also shoot Full HD time-lapse videos as well). In the menus, you can adjust the number of shots (from 2 to 3,600), the interval (from 1 second to 99 hours, 59 minutes and 59 seconds) and select whether exposure is locked during the first frame or allow the camera to adjust exposure for each frame. Time-lapse movies play back at 30p (or 25p in PAL mode) and the camera will display the time required and play back time based on current settings. Note that there is no crop factor other than the 16:9 crop for either 4K or Full HD time-lapse movies.

Canon 6D II Review: Field Test -- Time Lapse Menu
This screenshot shows the primary menu for the built-in time-lapse settings.

The time-lapse movie mode works well, and I'm pleased with the results. I like that you can take a preview exposure while adjusting the time-lapse settings without having to start and stop the time lapse. It would be nice if the time-lapse feature was available through the 'Q' menu when the camera is set to record video rather than contained in the camera's menus, but that's not a big deal. You can see a few sample time-lapse videos below.

Canon 6D II 4K Time-lapse Compilation
3840 x 2160; 24-105mm f/4L IS II USM lens; Settings noted in each clip.
Download Original (515.8 MB .MP4 File)

Metering: Exposure metering is good, but white balance metering left me feeling blue

When considering the metering performance on the 6D Mark II, it generally works quite well but the white balance metering leaves something to be desired. The camera tends to shoot bluish images when in low light or shadows.

Canon 6D II Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II USM lens at 105mm, f/4, 1/320s, ISO 500.
This image was captured with Auto white balance and the results, as you can see, are way off. Click for full-size image. Click here for RAW image.

The 6D II uses a 7,560-pixel RGB+IR metering sensor, which generally delivers good exposures. Metering modes include a 63-zone evaluative mode which is linked to all active autofocus points in addition to center-weighted, partial and spot metering modes. Spot metering is locked to the center of the frame and is not tied to the active autofocus point, which is disappointing. The 6D II does not include a built-in flash, and its maximum flash sync is 1/180s.

Canon 6D II Field Test Part Summary
Many improvements compared to its predecessor, but the sensor holds back the 6D Mark II
Canon 6D II Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II USM lens at 105mm, f/4, 1/1000s, ISO 320.
This image has been modified. Click for full-size image. Click here for RAW image.

What I like so far:

  • Comfortable DSLR camera body
  • Great vari-angle touchscreen
  • Fast and accurate autofocus
  • Dual Pixel CMOS AF works well
  • Good continuous shooting speed
  • Built-in time-lapse movie mode works well

What I dislike so far:

  • Not 100% viewfinder coverage
  • Rear selector dial is inconsistent with registering presses
  • Sensor has poor dynamic range
  • The 6D II is ISO variant, which limits post-processing flexibility, especially when correcting exposure
  • Autofocus points don't cover a lot of the frame
  • Auto white balance has a tendency to produce blue images

So far there is a lot to like about the Canon 6D Mark II when using it in the field. The camera body is comfortable, and the vari-angle touchscreen is fantastic. In addition, the autofocus performance, both when shooting through the viewfinder and when using Live View, is fast and accurate.

However, there are some concerns I have with the 6D II as well. The sensor offers poorer dynamic range performance than its predecessor -- and is well behind much of the competition -- and the camera struggles when you increase the exposure or boost shadows. The camera is capable of capturing great images, but it doesn't offer the kind of flexibility I would expect from a $2,000 full-frame DSLR.

Canon 6D II Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II USM lens at 38mm, f/9, 25s, ISO 320.
This image has been modified. Click for full-size image. Click here for RAW image.

It is too early to deliver a final verdict on the Canon 6D II. In Field Test Part II, I will be looking at the camera's video features and performance, connectivity features, and I will be doing an in-depth section about real-world shooting experiences.

 



Enter this month to win:

1 $300 Adorama Gift Certificate

2 $200 Adorama Gift Certificate

3 $100 Adorama Gift Certificate