Canon EOS M6 Mark II Field Test Part I
Canon EOS M6 Mark II Field Test Part I
A real-world test for the M-mount speed demon!
By Mike Tomkins | Posted: 10/02/2019
It's been a little over seven years now since Canon first launched its EOS M mirrorless camera line with a camera of the same name. And although I've handled and shot with several models in the series, I've never field tested one -- until now, that is. But boy, did I ever luck out with my first EOS M-series review, with the recently-launched Canon EOS M6 Mark II.
Announced just barely a month ago as I write this, the Canon M6 II looks to be a solid answer to the performance concerns of some earlier models. In fact, not only does Canon look to answer critics of its earlier mirrorless offerings with the burst capture speed and autofocus performance of the M6 II, it's actually looking to best even enthusiast-grade DSLRs like its own EOS 90D, with which this interesting little camera shares its imaging pipeline.
Plenty of performance for sports and wildlife shooters, as we showed you recently
With an impressive 14 full-resolution frames per second burst capture with or without autofocus adjustment between frames, there's no question that the EOS M6 Mark II is a swift camera. (And even more so if you enable its 30 frames per second raw capture mode, which can even pre-buffer a half-second's worth of shots to reach back in time to a little before you pressed the shutter, if your reflexes aren't as fast as you'd like.)
With so much performance on tap, the M6 Mark II looks to make a very compelling option for sports and wildlife shooters in particular. And indeed, when we first published our M6 II preview, we also included a look at how it performed in a sports shooting scenario. Senior editor William Brawley shared a raft of his shots from Canon's launch event at the Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta circuit, where he got some great shots of high-powered sports cars practicing the fine art of drifting.
You can get Will's impressions from that event in the video above, but given that we'd already covered the M6 II from a sports shooting aspect, I wanted to start off with some non-sports shooting for a sense of its image quality with less active subjects.
The M6 II is quite nicely balanced, even when shooting with longer lenses
Before I do so, though, I want to discuss the M6 II's body and handling for a moment. As we noted in our preview, although it looks pretty familiar the M6 II's body design is actually brand new, and both a third-inch wider and half-ounce heavier than before. It's also just a tiny bit deeper than before. You're not likely to notice that difference much unless you're comparing it with the original M6 side by side, however.
At 6'1" tall, I have pretty large hands, but I nevertheless found the M6 II to be fairly comfortable to shoot with, especially when I had smaller and lighter lenses mounted. (It helps that all of the lenses are pretty light, and so most of the weight is concentrated in the body itself.)
With the longest and heaviest lens I had on hand -- the EF-M 55-200mm f/4.5-6.3 IS STM, which is the second-heaviest and the farthest-reaching model in the EF-M lens lineup -- the combination is heavy enough that I preferred a two-handed grip to reduce wrist strain, but it's still quite nicely balanced. (And far smaller and lighter than a similarly-equipped DSLR, mind you.)
The hand grip feels very secure, but also a little bit cramped for larger hands
The hand grip, while reasonably generous in its depth, is very narrow, though. Coupled with the relatively narrow gap between grip and lens mount, this meant that rather than wrapping around the grip, all but my index finger had to be angled downwards, with the bottom fingers curled beneath the bottom of the grip a little, and the camera's weight largely supported by its base pressing into the pad beneath my thumb.
While this works just fine, I felt it did get a bit tiring to hold for longer periods, and my middle finger tended to bump up against the side of the lens. When walking around, I found myself preferring to pop the camera back into a bag or to let it dangle from my hip on my Spider camera holster if I had a longer lens mounted. (Or I'd just swap back to a shorter, lighter lens when roaming around looking for subjects, popping a longer lens on only as my subjects dictated.)
Canon's native EF-M mount lens lineup is rather limited, and the zooms overlap
Incidentally, now seems like as good a time as any to discuss Canon's EF-M lens lineup. And I have to say that if the M6 Mark II has an Achilles heel, this is where it's to be found. We're fast approaching a decade since the launch of the original EOS M, yet Canon still offers just eight EF-M lenses in total, with five of them being zooms, and the remainder being prime lenses.
Together, these eight lenses cover everything from an 18mm-equivalent wide angle to a 320mm-equivalent telephoto, but there's some significant overlap between the coverage offered by the zooms. If you're looking to carry the least possible gear without limiting your options, you can cover the full range with as few as three models -- the EF-M 11-22mm f/4-5.6 IS STM, EF-M 18-150mm f/3.5-6.3 IS STM and EF-M 55-200mm f/4.5-6.3 IS STM.
The EF-M 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM and EF-M 15-45mm f/3.5-6.3 IS STM, meanwhile, are a good bit smaller and lighter than the two tele zooms, but the entire range of both is already covered by the aforementioned trio of lenses, and they don't net you a brighter maximum aperture for their shorter reach, either.
The compact prime lenses offer brighter apertures and macro possibilities
As for the primes, you have the EF-M 22mm f/2 STM, EF-M 32mm f/1.4 STM and EF-M 28mm f/3.5 Macro IS STM to choose from. The 22mm is a 35mm-equivalent lens that's arguably a pancake, and so very compact indeed while offering a significantly brighter maximum aperture than you'll get from any of the zooms.
The other two primes are a bit bulkier, but not unduly so. At f/1.4, the 32mm is your brightest option, and with a 50mm-equivalent focal length will make for pleasing portraits with nicely-blurred backgrounds. And while the 28mm prime is no brighter than the zooms, it makes up for this with both a 1:1 reproduction ratio and a built-in, two-segment LED ring light for macro shooting. (You'll need to get right up on your subject, though, as its most powerful macro effect comes at a distance of just a little under four inches.)
During my own time with the Canon M6 II, I'll have access to three of these lenses, incidentally, all of them zooms: The 11-22mm, 15-45mm and 55-200mm. (That gives me coverage of all but focal lengths from 45-55mm, but sadly not to an aperture brighter than f/4.5 for most of the zoom range, and nor to a very powerful macro.)
Lens adapters and third-party optics help to fill out an otherwise limited lineup
As well as the first-party, native lens options for EF-M mount, you'll have some other possibilities as well. Firstly, there's Canon's Mount Adapter EF-EOS M, which will allow you to mount the company's EF and EF-S DSLR lenses on the EOS M6 II body. That will greatly expand your possibilities, as Canon has released literally dozens upon dozens of full-frame EF lens models over the past several decades, plus a good dozen or so EF-S models aimed specifically at the M6 II's smaller APS-C sensor size.
The drawback here, though, is that none of these lenses will offer the size advantage inherent to native EF-M mount lenses. In fact, not only will the lenses themselves be just as bulky as when using a DSLR camera, but the adapter itself will also add about an inch in length and almost four ounces in weight to the lens you're adapting to the M6 II, thereby negating some of the size and weight advantage of the camera itself.
And finally, there are your third-party options. Japanese optics manufacturer Sigma recently revealed that it is preparing to adapt several of its existing lens models to the EF-M mount, and a fair few other options are also available from the likes of Bower, Kipon, Meike, Opteka, Rokinon, Samyang, Tamron, Venus Optics,Yasuhara, Zhong Yi and 7artisans. Most of these will have been developed for other mounts, however, and so will not necessarily make the most of the EF-M mount's size and weight advantage. Most will also be capable of manual focus only.
The quick control dial and function button are incredibly versatile, but a bit complex to configure
With that elephant discussed and returned to its room, let's turn back to the Canon M6 II's handling. (And specifically, to its updated controls, which I think are a significant improvement upon the previous generation.)
Firstly, the dedicated exposure compensation dial on the top deck is gone, replaced by a new quick control dial whose function varies, and can quickly be changed by pressing the dial function button which sits at its center. By default, the dial function button lets you switch between ISO sensitivity, drive, autofocus, white balance and flash exposure compensation modes in still imaging, while the only options for movie capture are ISO sensitivity (if using manual exposure control) and white balance.
But that's just the default; you can separately configure up to five options each for still and video capture, and choose which order you want them to appear in. As well as the aforementioned options, you have a choice of enabling exposure compensation, autofocus targeting method, metering mode and picture style for stills, and for movies you can add exposure compensation, AF targeting method, picture style and movie digital image stabilization options.
And that's not even close to all: You can assign even more to this new control
And nor is that the whole story, either. If you prefer, you can instead choose from one of 40 different options to assign to the dial function button, from really obscure options like folder creation to things like focus peaking, touch-and-drag AF, depth-of-field preview and more to this button, and it will then be used to control only that specific item. It can even be configured to serve as a movie shutter button, or to reset exposure variables when using flexible program autoexposure, turning it into something akin to the green button on Pentax cameras.
And again, you can configure this separately for movies and stills, so you could have a choice of, say, your favorite five options for still imaging, but a single fixed function for the button in movie mode. There are really only a couple of downsides, and neither of them really strike me as a big deal. Firstly, it's quite complex to configure. (Or, for that matter, to describe.) In fact, button customization alone takes up no less than six pages of the user manual, although admittedly that also includes configuration of almost a dozen other buttons for still and movie imaging.
The other minor drawback is that the change does mean you'll need to check the display or (if you've bought it) the optional electronic viewfinder to see if you've got an exposure compensation value configured, instead of just being able to glance at the top of the camera body. But the payoff for this is a far more versatile control which can help keep you out of the menu system for many more operations.
The new rear-deck focus control is a great addition, but some buttons are still to hard to distinguish by touch
The other significant control change is on the rear deck, where the Canon M6 II adds a new focus mode selector switch with central AF on button. The switch is self-explanatory, simply switching autofocus on or off altogether, while the AF On button can instead be separately configured for still or movie capture with a single function from the same list of 40 different options. And since this is a new control, its addition didn't negate any existing functionality from the original M6, either.
And that's about it, as far as control changes go. That sadly does mean that the M6 II, like its predecessor, does suffer from some buttons that are too hard to locate by touch, and could really use either a slightly higher profile, varied shapes, and/or a surface texture or protrusion of some kind that would make them easier to feel, a concern we also raised with the previous generation. (The worst of the bunch, hands-down, is the top-deck M-Fn button, just to the right of the shutter button, but some of the rear-panel buttons including the one which defaults to movie capture can also be a bit tricky to locate by touch.)
The accessory viewfinder is pricey and a bit bulky, but could prove helpful in direct sunlight
I mentioned the accessory viewfinder which Canon offers for use with the EOS M6 Mark II just now, incidentally, but it's worthy of a little more discussion in its own right. It's the exact same EVF-DC2 viewfinder accessory which was offered for the earlier M3 and M6, and is a fairly pricey purchase with a street price on the order of about one-quarter the price of the camera itself. (As of right now, it's retailing around the US$200 mark.)
Not only is it a fairly expensive option whose price you'll want to factor into the equation if you're comparing the M6 II to viewfinder-equipped cameras, but it's also pretty bulky when mounted to the camera itself. While you can, of course, remove it and easily slip it in a pocket, once attached to the camera it stands proud of the top deck by a good inch and change, making the overall package rather more ungainly. It also blocks the flash hot shoe when mounted, and prevents the LCD monitor from being flipped up into selfie mode, too.
The rear-deck display is bright, crisp and fairly versatile, but prone to glare
Thankfully, the M6 II's built-in LCD monitor is fairly bright, so in most conditions it's pretty easy to see outdoors. It is very reflective and prone to glare, though, which sometimes makes it trickier to see under full sunlight without using your left hand to shade it. On balance, so long as you're not troubled by the more modern, arm's length shooting style, I'd recommend passing on the viewfinder accessory.
And while I'm discussing the LCD, it's articulation mechanism is the same as in the M6. That means you can flip it upwards 180 degrees for selfie shooting, and tilt it downwards 45 degrees when shooting over your head, but it's less versatile than side-mounted, tilt/swivel screens because its articulation is really only relevant for high or low-angle shots in landscape orientation. If you're shooting in portrait orientation, it'll still work fine for selfies but can't be angled towards you for over-the-head or from-the-hip shooting.
A new, more capable Bluetooth remote control adds remote AF support
There are a couple more hardware things I want to address just quickly, before returning to image quality as I promised earlier. Firstly, there's the remote control situation. The sharp-eyed amongst you may already have noticed -- or read in my preview -- that the M6 II no longer has an infrared receiver near the top of its handgrip. In the earlier M6, that was used to support Canon's optionally-available RC-6 remote control.
The new BR-E1 remote available for the M6 Mark II at a list price of around US$40 switches up the technology from infrared to Bluetooth. Although the claimed range of 16.4 feet (five meters) is unchanged, the new technology should make the updated remote more capable than its predecessor. As well as the earlier remote's standard or two-second delayed release options, the BR-E1 remote also supports movie capture, and has a button to trigger an autofocus cycle remotely.
There are also buttons for zoom control, but obviously these won't work with the M6 II's native EF-M mount lenses, since they lack support for power zooming. As far as I know, these buttons only function with a rather pricey PZ-E1 power zoom accessory which itself only works with the Canon 80D DSLR and EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM zoom lens. I don't have the necessary hardware to test it with my review camera, however, so can't be certain it won't work with that lens mounted on the EF-EOS M mount adapter.
In-camera USB charging that might just as well be proprietary
Oh, Canon. I wanted to give you some kudos for this one, I really did. A positive change made since the original M6 is that while there's still a dedicated charger in the box with the EOS M6 II, you can also charge batteries in-camera via USB-C. That's the best of both worlds in my opinion, because it gives you the ability to go out and shoot while leaving a second battery on the charger (and without nickel-and-diming you for a separately-purchased charger), but also lets you leave the charger at home and rely on USB charging when you want to travel light, saving you carrying so much gear.
At least, that's the theory. Sadly, in practice it won't work out unless you're lucky, because the M6 II is rather finicky about what chargers it will accept. Officially, in-camera charging is only supported with Canon's own PD-E1 USB power adapter, but that rather defeats the purpose of in-camera charging in the first place, since you still have to take a dedicated adapter and cables with you everywhere you go, instead of a dedicated charger.
I tried several different USB-C cables and a variety of chargers of my own, and wasn't able to get the charging lamp to illuminate with any combination I tried. And we've heard the same thing from others, too on other cameras supporting the PD-E1 USB adapter such as the G7X Mark III. Thus far, the only charger other than Canon's own that I've seen reported to work is that for the MacBook Pro.
I can understand why a beefy charger might be needed if you want to charge the battery and use the camera at the same time, but to me it completely defeats the purpose if you are severely limited in terms of which chargers will work even just to trickle-charge your battery overnight while you sleep. The whole attraction of USB charging for most of us is that it lightens our load, but unless you're lucky enough to have a charger that happens to be compatible, the M6 II's in-camera charging won't scratch that itch.
Consider it to be proprietary or not even a feature of the camera, and you won't be disappointed. (And if you turn out to be lucky, well, you'll end up with a feature you weren't expecting to get!)
Time for some daytime image quality testing!
And with all of that out of the way, it's time to talk image quality -- in the daytime, at least. (Night shooting will come in my second field test, which I'm hoping will follow in the next week or so, so watch this space.) And as well as the images I've sprinkled throughout this field test, note that you'll find even more shot both by myself and William Brawley in the gallery, which you can find here.
Oh, and since I recently compared Canon's standard and lossily-compressed raw formats in my recent Canon SL3 field test and found them to be essentially indistinguishable save for file size, note that I've predominantly shot C-Raws for this review so as to save on file size and download times.
The increase in resolution is smaller than it might seem, but low ISO quality's good
To kick off my image quality testing, I headed to nearby downtown Knoxville, Tennessee for some shooting... only to realize when the camera died in short order that in my rush to get out the door, I'd grabbed the wrong battery pack off the wrong charger, and accidentally brought a near-flat battery from the SL3 with me, since both cameras use the same pack. Whoops!
A day or two later, I headed out instead to Gatlinburg, Tennessee in search of some colorful and interesting subjects. And I have to say that at or near base sensitivity, I was quite satisfied with the EOS M6 II's image quality. I don't know that the step in resolution from 24.2 to 32.5 megapixels really feels necessary to me -- and nor as it as significant as those numbers might suggest, as even on paper we're only talking about a 16% increase in linear resolution -- but I don't think it significantly hinders image quality either, at the lower end of the sensitivity range.
With that said, some noise does become noticeable by ISO 800 and 1600-equivalents. At those sensitivities it's fine-grained enough that it didn't trouble me in the least, but the few shots I've captured thus far at even higher sensitivities suggest that noise levels increase noticeably by ISO 3200, and some noise reduction artifacts start to become noticeable as well. Rest assured that I'll be rolling up my sleeves and digging into this for my second field test.
A slight, fairly consistent (and easily corrected) tendency towards overexposure
Thus far, my only real concern with daytime image quality has been a slight but noticeable tendency to overexpose images just a tad, for my tastes. This is easily corrected by just dialing in a third-stop of negative exposure compensation or shooting in raw, so you can pull back any clipped highlights, but it's worth being aware of.
And while I've thus far only shot with relatively static subjects, I have to say that I found performance (both in terms of burst capture speed and autofocus speed / accuracy) to be great in the daytime. Thus far, the M6 II hasn't troubled me with AF hunting or accuracy issues, and nor has it ever felt like I had to wait on the camera.
Watch this space for Part II of my Field Test!
For my second field test, I'm planning on seeking out some more active subjects myself to get a better feel for performance, though. I'm also intending to get some portraits and try out the M6 II's updated face / eye detection and tracking features. I'll also be taking a look at night shooting, both from a long exposure and high ISO perspective. And to round things out, I'll also be trying out the My II's overhauled 4K, Full HD and slow-motion video recording features.
Watch this space for part two of my field test, coming soon!