Canon 6D Mark II: Hands-on in Yellowstone

by Jeremy Gray | Posted 06/29/2017

Canon 6D II Review: Hands On -- Gallery Image
Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM lens at 35mm , f/16, 1s, ISO 100.
This image has been modified, click for the unedited version. This image is from a beta sample of the Canon 6D Mark II. RAW file processed with a beta version of Canon Digital Photo Professional.
Introduction

Earlier this month, Canon arranged for various members of the press to gather at Yellowstone National Park to test out the Canon 6D Mark II ahead of its reveal. If you want to learn more about the camera's features and specs, click here. The following will be a recap of the experience in Yellowstone along with observations about the camera itself.

Note: It is important to keep in mind that my hands-on experience here was with a pre-production sample of the Canon 6D II and that all images in our gallery from Yellowstone were captured with a non-final camera. Further, all RAW processing was done with a beta version of Canon's Digital Photo Professional 4 software with the processed files then edited to taste in Adobe Photoshop. Full-resolution JPEG samples are available for you to view, but original RAW files are not.

Arrival and Gear Pickup

After an early start to the day and a lot of traveling, I arrived at the airport in Bozeman, Montana, after having been treated to wonderful views of the Rockies during the last leg of my journey from Minnesota to Montana. I had never been to that area of the country, so seeing massive mountains jutting out of the rugged landscape was a new, awesome experience and it got me excited for the event.

I was so intrigued by the region that despite being exhausted, I was looking forward to the nearly three-hour shuttle ride from Bozeman to our accommodations near Old Faithful in Yellowstone. I was treated to beautiful views along winding mountain roads. Massive trees sprouting from the red, orange and yellow earth and rapidly rushing water along the side of the road. It was an excellent introduction to the region.

Canon 6D II Review: Hands On -- Gallery Image
Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at 400mm, f/6.3, 1/800s, ISO 1000.
This image has been modified, click for the unedited version. This image is from a beta sample of the Canon 6D Mark II. RAW file processed with a beta version of Canon Digital Photo Professional.

Arriving in Yellowstone via the West Entrance, I was almost immediately exposed to the area's unique geothermal activity. Steam pouring from the landscape, bright colors beneath clear water, it was all a rich tapestry and looked great in the afternoon light.

Alas, I had no camera yet to capture the natural beauty. After dropping off my bags, I met up with my colleagues for a meet and greet. We learned about Canon's Destination Workshops, to which this press event was going to be a preview of sorts. While destination workshops are five days, we were scheduled for two full days of shooting.

Canon 6D II Review: Hands On -- Gallery Image
Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at 158mm, f/5.6, 1/125s, ISO 100.
This image has been modified, click for the unedited version. This image is from a beta sample of the Canon 6D Mark II. RAW file processed with a beta version of Canon Digital Photo Professional.

Following the discussion on the workshops, we watched an excellent presentation from Canon Explorer of Light, Adam Jones, followed by product briefings for the 6D II and new Canon SL2. Adam went through a variety of images he has captured at Yellowstone over the years, including during his workshops, which he holds there every fall. I highly recommend checking out Adam's site and work, it's beautiful.

Canon 6D Mark II Handling: Still a compact and lightweight DSLR

We weren't able to get our own 6D Mark II bodies until the following morning, but picking it up for the first time was a positive experience. The most obvious change to the body itself comes in the form of a 3-inch Vari-Angle touchscreen display. The tilt/swivel display works very well, and it would prove to be useful in the field on numerous occasions.

Canon 6D Mark II Review -- Product Image

The control layout of the 6D II will be familiar to anyone who has shot with the original 6D or other Canon DSLR cameras. I have no big issues with the layout except the control dial around the directional buttons, it just feels strange and it is easy to rotate accidentally while using the directional buttons. I like that all the exposure buttons are on the top right area of the camera and easy to press while shooting.

Day 1

Sunrise shooting at nearby geysers let the 6D II's new sensor strut its stuff

After getting the 6D Mark II set up to my liking, which included changing the default number of bracketing frames from three to five and allowing the directional controller to have direct control over the autofocus point, we all headed out to shoot geysers right near Old Faithful.

Canon 6D II Review: Hands On -- Gallery Image
Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens at 45mm , f/13, 1s, ISO 100.
This image has been modified, click for the unedited version. This image is from a beta sample of the Canon 6D Mark II. RAW file processed with a beta version of Canon Digital Photo Professional.

In the cool, early morning light, the 6D Mark II's white balance metering unsurprisingly resulted in images that were too blue, as is common when shooting in low light. With that said, the exposure metering was very impressive, even in the dim conditions. White balance is very easy to adjust during processing when shooting RAW, so that's not a big deal. While on the topic of RAW images, I should note that we are not able to provide full-size RAW files of any of the images here, as the camera used was a beta sample and final tweaks to the camera and its processing will have been made between the Yellowstone experience and final manufacturing. Further, all RAW images have been initially processed in a beta version of Canon's Digital Photo Professional 4 software, which I should note is slow software, but capable of bringing out the best in Canon RAW files.

Canon 6D II Review: Hands On -- Gallery Image
Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II lens at 70mm, f/13, 0.8s, ISO 100.
This image has been modified, click for the unedited version. This image is from a beta sample of the Canon 6D Mark II. RAW file processed with a beta version of Canon Digital Photo Professional.

All of us received different kits, although we were encouraged to trade lenses with each other to try out glass we didn't have in our supplied bags. After a couple trades, my full kit included a Canon 6D II with the following glass: EF 11-24mm f/4L, EF 16-35mm f/4L IS, EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II and a 100-400mm f/4-5.6L IS II. Given the need for a polarizing filter, not only during the first morning, but ultimately in nearly every situation in which we shot throughout the trip, I opted to use almost exclusively the 16-35mm f/4 and 100-400mm lenses, both of which could accept my 77mm polarizing filter and filter holder.

The first area we shot, seen above, required the use of my graduated 1.2 neutral density, made by Nisi. Castle Geyser was a very neat foreground subject as the sky quickly went from blue to pink and then back to blue in a matter of a few minutes. The rest of the morning consisted of us walking on different boardwalks and exploring the area.

Canon 6D II Review: Hands On -- Gallery Image
Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L lens at 35mm, f/13, 5s, ISO 100.
This image has been modified, click for the unedited version. This image is from a beta sample of the Canon 6D Mark II. RAW file processed with a beta version of Canon Digital Photo Professional.

The morning shoot involved a lot of shadows, from which I tried to extract detail during RAW processing. Despite being a pre-production sample, I was impressed by the 6D Mark II's ability to retain shadow detail. Further, the low light conditions, particularly near sunrise, proved to be a good test of the low light autofocus ability of the 6D II. Generally, I'd say that the camera worked well in low light, but it did struggle at times with locking in autofocus on a dark subject in dim lighting.

Canon 6D II Review: Hands On -- Gallery Image
Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at 263mm, f/5, 1/60s, ISO 100.
Click for full-size JPEG image. This image is from a beta sample of the Canon 6D Mark II.

After returning to my room from the sunrise shoot, I gathered my gear back up and headed out as it began to rain. The 6D II has the same weather sealing as the 5D Mark IV, which is to say that it's very good and well up to the task of shooting in inclement weather. Canon doesn't call it waterproof, naturally, but I would feel confident shooting in nearly any condition, particularly when paired with weather-sealed L glass, such as the 16-35mm f/4 and 100-400mm f/4-5.6.

Canon 6D II Review: Hands On -- Gallery Image
Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L lens at 35mm, f/8, 1/100s, ISO 100.
This image has been modified, click for a full-size JPEG. This image is from a beta sample of the Canon 6D Mark II. RAW file processed with a beta version of Canon Digital Photo Professional.

I saw a rainbow forming above Old Faithful as I walking up toward the main building to meet up with my colleagues for breakfast, but I wasn't able to set up in time to capture all of it. My 6D II had been equipped with the 100-400mm lens in my backpack before I shot the rainbow, so I had to hurry to change lenses. And of course once the moment had passed and I continued my walk, I saw a bison hanging out in a small wooded area between a couple walkways, so I had to change lenses yet again. The light was still very low due to the ongoing rain storm and I was shooting the bison at 400mm as to not get too close to the one-ton beast. This meant I was shooting in low light at f/5.6… -- a recipe for high ISO, especially when ensuring a quick enough shutter speed to photograph wildlife. With Auto ISO set to have a minimum shutter speed of 1/500s, the camera selected ISO 6400. I wasn't sure how well the 6D II would handle such a high ISO, but it did very well. I didn't love the colors in the scene, so I made a black and white conversion, seen here.

Canon 6D II Review: Hands On -- Gallery Image
Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at 400mm, f/5.6, 1/500s, ISO 6400.
Click for full-size JPEG image. This image is from a beta sample of the Canon 6D Mark II. RAW file processed with a beta version of Canon Digital Photo Professional.

Canon 6D II Review: Hands On -- Gallery Image
Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at 400mm, f/5.6, 1/500s, ISO 6400.
100 percent crop of the original JPEG file of the above image. Click for full-size JPEG image. This image is from a beta sample of the Canon 6D Mark II.

Canon 6D II Review: Hands On -- Gallery Image
Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at 400mm, f/5.6, 1/500s, ISO 6400.
100 percent crop of the original JPEG file of the above image. Click for full-size JPEG image. This image is from a beta sample of the Canon 6D Mark II.

Sunset at some hot springs

After a day of very flat lighting, we headed back out to photograph sunset at a hot springs area. The sky was very nice, but it created a lot of shadows in the foreground and some very hot areas in the sky, making for a difficult shooting situation. However, the foreground was very nice with a lot of texture and some rich orange colors, so it was worth experimenting with my filter and persisting.

Canon 6D II Review: Hands On -- Gallery Image
Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L lens at 16mm, f/13, 1.6s, ISO 100.
This image has been modified, click for a full-size JPEG. This image is from a beta sample of the Canon 6D Mark II. RAW file processed with a beta version of Canon Digital Photo Professional. This image is a stacked image made using differently processed versions of the same RAW file.

I wanted to shoot from a low vantage point, which helped demonstrate the value of the Vari-Angle touchscreen display. I set my tripod at its minimum height and tilted the display as I used Live View. Live View works very well on the 6D II, as the camera is equipped with Dual Pixel CMOS AF, which covers 80 percent of the width of the frame and 80 percent of the height. Even though the light was dim and I was shooting through a polarizing filter and a 1.2 graduated neutral density filter, the Dual Pixel CMOS AF worked well. I was very impressed with the 6D II's Live View functionality overall.

Canon 6D II Review: Hands On -- Gallery Image
Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at 100mm, f/13, 0.8s, ISO 100.
Click for full-size JPEG image. This image is from a beta sample of the Canon 6D Mark II.

Even with my filter, the scene still demanded exposure blending. I tried a few different methods for achieving a greater dynamic range in the final image. The 6D II's auto bracketing works well. You can customize it to bracket in 3 (default), 5, 7 or 9 frames and then through the Q Menu, you can adjust the EVs between each bracket exposure. An aspect of the 6D II I liked a lot is that when using the self-timer and bracketing, the camera will automatically go through the entire bracket once the timer counts down. This is not unique to the 6D Mark II, but it's still cool.

Canon 6D II Review: Hands On -- Gallery Image
Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at 300mm, f/16, 3.2s, ISO 100.
This image has been modified, click for a full-size JPEG. This image is from a beta sample of the Canon 6D Mark II. RAW file processed with a beta version of Canon Digital Photo Professional. In the background, a geyser erupted. Fortunately, I had the 100-400mm lens on the 6D II and could capture a shot while it was active.
Day 2

Sunrise with a gorgeous view

After heading out early on the first full day in Yellowstone, we followed it up with an even earlier start on the second day. As a landscape and nature photographer, that's my favorite time of the day. As the sun started to throw color across the sky, we stopped at a lake with a beautiful mountain range in the background. The sky was very nice and was basically a "can't miss" scene. While I'm sure that many of us in the group captured very similar shots here, there's nothing inherently wrong with that -- it was a very nice sunrise.

Canon 6D II Review: Hands On -- Gallery Image
Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at 100mm, f/13, 1/10s, ISO 100.
This image has been modified, click for the unedited version. This image is from a beta sample of the Canon 6D Mark II. RAW file processed with a beta version of Canon Digital Photo Professional.

Across the road from the lake and mountains was a small pond. This pond had deadwood throughout and live trees along the edges. There was hardly any wind so the water was calm.

Canon 6D II Review: Hands On -- Gallery Image
Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L lens at 26mm, f/16, 6s, ISO 100.
This image has been modified, click for the unedited version. This image is from a beta sample of the Canon 6D Mark II. RAW file processed with a beta version of Canon Digital Photo Professional.

Grand Canyon of Yellowstone: 6D II captures a spectacular vista

After the roadside sunrise stop, we then headed to the famous Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. This was likely my favorite part of an excellent trip. Stepping out onto one of the lookouts and staring across the canyon at the waterfall as the early morning sun illuminated the rich textures and colors in the rocks was truly awe-inspiring.

Canon 6D II Review: Hands On -- Gallery Image
Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at 100mm, f/8, 1/320s, ISO 400.
This image has been modified, click for the unedited version. This image is from a beta sample of the Canon 6D Mark II. RAW file processed with a beta version of Canon Digital Photo Professional.

Living in Maine, I am certainly spoiled with abundant natural beauty to photograph, but there are certainly no vistas like those in Yellowstone near my home. For me, the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone was the best example of what the park offers for landscapes, at least based on my limited time there.

Canon 6D II Review: Hands On -- Gallery Image
Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at 135mm, f/13, 1/6s, ISO 100.
This image has been modified, click for the unedited version. This image is from a beta sample of the Canon 6D Mark II. RAW file processed with a beta version of Canon Digital Photo Professional.

I shot mostly with the 100-400mm lens, which served me very well. I typically shot at the 100mm focal length. I had a 24-70mm f/2.8 with me, which likely would've worked well at the long end too, but I needed the polarizer to cut down on reflections and the 24-70mm takes an 82mm filter, which I didn't have.

Canon 6D II Review: Hands On -- Gallery Image
Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at 158mm, f/11, 1/100s, ISO 100.
This image has been modified, click for a full-size JPEG. This image is from a beta sample of the Canon 6D Mark II. RAW file processed with a beta version of Canon Digital Photo Professional.

With the amount of detail the 6D II's sensor can capture, a stable camera is very important. The 100-400mm lens doesn't have the best tripod foot, unfortunately, so I had to use a 10-second self-timer when shooting with the lens on my tripod. Another way to help reduce camera shake is to utilize Live View, which doesn't use the mirror.

Canon 6D II Review: Hands On -- Gallery Image
Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at 321mm, f/11, 1/30s, ISO 100.
This image has been modified, click for the unedited version. This image is from a beta sample of the Canon 6D Mark II. RAW file processed with a beta version of Canon Digital Photo Professional.

With a variety of telephoto shots captured, I wanted to attempt to capture the glory of the scene with the 16-35mm lens. It worked okay, but it was one of those classic moments with, which I'm sure we're all familiar, where a scene looks incredible to your eyes, but it can be monumentally challenging to represent with a good image.

Canon 6D II Review: Hands On -- Gallery Image
Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L lens at 35mm, f/11, 1/8s, ISO 100.
This image has been modified, click for the unedited version. This image is from a beta sample of the Canon 6D Mark II. RAW file processed with a beta version of Canon Digital Photo Professional.

Mammoth: Hot springs with the hot shot 6D II

After breakfast at a diner near the Grand Canyon, we took another long drive through the park to Mammoth, where there are tiered hot springs. Before I get to that, I want to note that the drive there was a rather eventful one. We saw some elk and I grabbed a few shots through the window before we had to continue our drive.

Canon 6D II Review: Hands On -- Gallery Image
Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at 248mm, f/5, 1/1000s, ISO 100.
Click for full-size JPEG image. This image is from a beta sample of the Canon 6D Mark II.

We also saw two black bears but were in no position to photograph them as there was no safe area to pull off and a park ranger was directing traffic. Nonetheless, it was neat to see black bears so close. The light wasn't favorable for shooting on the way to Mammoth, but just looking out the window and seeing the vast expanse of landscape and many bison was great.

Canon 6D II Review: Hands On -- Gallery Image
Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L lens at 31mm, f/11, 1/80s, ISO 100.
This image has been modified, click for the unedited version. This image is from a beta sample of the Canon 6D Mark II. RAW file processed with a beta version of Canon Digital Photo Professional.

Once in Mammoth, I attached the 16-35mm lens to the 6D II. The polarizer was necessary, but there was going to be a lot of walking up and down stairs, so I left the tripod behind. This allowed me to tinker a bit with the Auto ISO settings on the 6D II. You can customize Auto ISO functionality a bit by changing settings such as the ISO range, minimum shutter speed and how much the camera prioritizes shutter speed relative to the focal length of the lens. I assumed auto would work given that I'm comfortable with my hand holding technique and knew I'd be shooting wide much of the time.

Canon 6D II Review: Hands On -- Gallery Image
Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L lens at 35mm, f/14, 1/40s, ISO 100.
This image has been modified, click for the unedited version. This image is from a beta sample of the Canon 6D Mark II. RAW file processed with a beta version of Canon Digital Photo Professional.

The 6D II did a great job, in conjunction with the polarizer, of rendering the vibrant colors, such as the blue in the sky and the orange, pink and green hues in the foreground elements. I was impressed with not only the exposure metering, white balance metering and color rendition, but also the sharpness of the sensor and how well it captured the very fine details in the environment.

Canon 6D II Review: Hands On -- Gallery Image
Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L lens at 35mm, f/14, 1/125s, ISO 100.
This image has been modified, click for the unedited version. This image is from a beta sample of the Canon 6D Mark II. RAW file processed with a beta version of Canon Digital Photo Professional.

Fire Hole River and falls: S curves galore in the valley

Our last shooting expedition was to Fire Hole River and the waterfall. While we didn't make it to the large waterfall, we did shoot the river as it wound and weaved its way through the rocks. I wish there had been less water flow, as the stream basically looked entirely white, but it was still a pretty scene. This is also another situation in which I heavily relied on the tilting touchscreen display for easier composition in the field.

Canon 6D II Review: Hands On -- Gallery Image
Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L lens at 24mm, f/16, 1.3s, ISO 100.
Click for full-size JPEG image. This image is from a beta sample of the Canon 6D Mark II.

Shortly after leaving the river, we ran into a traffic jam. In what I understand is not a particularly rare occurrence within the park, it was induced by a large herd of bison. Not only were there a lot of massive adults in the herd, but also a few calves. The adorable furry young bison were much better looking than the adults, which, much like the moose in Maine, look mottled this time of year, with a lot of shedding fur as they recover from the long, harsh winter.

We put our vehicle in park and waited for the bison to walk past. And by past, I mean literally right past the vehicle. They were close enough that If I had stuck my arm out the window -- don't do this! -- I could have pet them as they walked by. Instead of bringing home a souvenir scar, I used the 16-35mm lens to capture some shots of the bison as they strolled leisurely past us.

Canon 6D II Review: Hands On -- Gallery Image
Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L lens at 16mm, f/4, 1/30s, ISO 160.
Click for full-size JPEG image. This image is from a beta sample of the Canon 6D Mark II.

I had put on continuous autofocus and Auto ISO, but I left the camera in aperture priority mode by accident. I had previously set Auto ISO up to have a minimum shutter speed of 1/500s, but while at Mammoth I had changed it to automatically select the minimum shutter speed based on the focal length of the lens. I didn't think to double check my settings so all my bison shots were captured at far too slow of a shutter speed to freeze them as they walked by. Fortunately, I managed to capture one shot that has some modicum of sharpness and I like the shot quite a bit. A missed opportunity, nonetheless.

Final dinner at the Old Faithful Inn: Saying goodbye to the Canon 6D Mark II

Positive first impressions for the Canon 6D Mark II

And with one final wildlife encounter in the books, it was time to pack up the gear, eat dinner with my colleagues and hand the 6D II and glass back to Canon. Having had time to reflect on the wonderful experience in Yellowstone, I want to point out aspects of the 6D Mark II that I like a lot and aspects I feel are underwhelming.

What I like so far:

  • Promising 26-megapixel image sensor
  • Comfortable ergonomics
  • Useful articulating touchscreen display
  • Fast autofocus, especially when utilizing Dual Pixel CMOS AF
  • Good overall performance

What I dislike so far:

  • The control dial around the directional pad didn't feel great when rotating
  • I don't like that the Quick Menu is different when shooting through the viewfinder versus when shooting using Live View
  • The autofocus system is fast and accurate, but the autofocus points cover a small portion of the frame when using the viewfinder.

Overall, the Canon 6D Mark II is an impressive camera. It is in many ways an incremental upgrade over its predecessor, which is a bit disappointing given the amount of time that's passed between the release of the two cameras. I would have hoped for some additional improvements, such as better video recording capabilities and perhaps a more impressive viewfinder autofocus system. But what the 6D II does bring to the table is the series' patented blend of performance and price. Its image sensor is very good, Dual Pixel CMOS AF is an excellent inclusion and the new articulating touchscreen display is very useful in the field. The new features the camera includes may not be enough to make all 6D owners want to upgrade, but for users looking for a great full-frame DSLR that won't break the bank, the Canon 6D Mark II may well be an excellent option.

Canon 6D II Video Compilation 1920 x 1080 video clips recorded with a beta sample of the 6D II.


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