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It’s called product differentiation, and it’s how a model range is planned to avoid any cannibalisation of sales across price points. It’s a bit of a balancing act and it can be hard to get right, but the key objective is to prevent a less expensive model being perceived as a better buy than its pricier siblings.
Canon’s big concern with the first EOS 6D was that it didn’t lure buyers away from the hugely profitable EOS 5D Mark III. After all, it was a much more affordable Canon EOS D-SLR with a full-35mm sensor, but that was essentially where comparisons ended. Canon’s red pen put a line through so many features and specifications that the 6D was effectively hobbled and not just compared to the 5D III, but also Nikon’s much better equipped D600 (and later D610).
Yet despite this, the EOS 6D was still a fine camera and gained a loyal following among users who were prepared to work around the many omissions in return for having a bigger sensor. With the EOS 5D Mark IV having been promoted up-market and priced accordingly, there’s now room to move with the next-gen 6D. Lots of room.
Of course, there are still some key differences between the two models which may or may not convince you to spend the extra dollars, including a tougher body (mostly alloy covers compared to GRP), dual memory card slots, more AF points, a faster top shutter speed, faster continuous shooting (albeit only marginally) and 4K video. With the 6D II not far away from being half the price of the 5D IV, you’d expect it to be down-specced in most key areas, but what’s different now is that you aren’t being overly penalised for taking the budget route into a Canon full-35mm D-SLR because the main feature set is now more generous and important features – such as an adjustable monitor screen – are provided.
The Mark II camera looks much the same as its predecessor and is very similar in size and weight, so it’s still the most compact and lightest Canon full-35mm format D-SLR.
As before, it lacks a built-in flash (as, of course, does the 5D IV), but as just noted, gains a monitor screen that’s adjustable for both swing and tilt which, incidentally, is a first on any full-35mm EOS D-SLR. Although the panel size and resolution remain the same, touch controls are provided and this implementation is quite extensive, including menu operations and the ‘Quick Control’ screen. The external covers are all glass-reinforced polycarbonate with sealing to prevent the intrusion of dust or moisture with, according to Canon, the same level of protection as is provided on the 5D IV (so no penny-pinching here then).
By The Numbers
The sensor is an all-new, Canon-made CMOS device with a total pixel count of 27.1 million and effective count of 26.2 million, giving a maximum image size of 6240x4160 pixels. It retains an optical low-pass filter and has a native sensitivity range equivalent to ISO 100 to 40,000. As before, the extensions are down to ISO 50 or all the way up to ISO 102,400, but with the latter now being slightly more realistic thanks to the new sensor design (which improves efficiency) and more efficient noise reduction courtesy of Canon’s latest-gen ‘DiG!C 7’ image processor. This also delivers a faster continuous shooting speed of 6.5 fps which is a full 2.0 fps snappier than before and only 0.5 fps slower than the 5D IV. There’s a bigger buffer memory which allows for up to 150 maximum-quality JPEGs or 21 RAW files when using an UHS-I speed memory card. The single card slot still doesn’t support the faster UHS-II speed devices, but it probably doesn’t need to given there’s no 4K video and the still image resolution is still under 30 MP so file sizes aren’t excessive.
There’s been some tweaking to the image settings on offer with the addition of a 1:1 aspect ratio – joining 3:2, 16:9 and 4:3 formats – but with one less image size in each for JPEG capture. As before, RAW files can be captured in large – also at 6240x4160 pixels – medium and small sizes. RAW+JPEG capture can be configured in any way you wish as far as image sizes and JPEG compression settings are concerned. RAW files are captured with 14-bit RGB colour and lossless compression.
The in-camera processing options for JPEGs has been upgraded to the current standard for higher-end Canon D-SLRs, starting with a choice of eight ‘Picture Style’ presets which include Auto and Fine Detail. Likewise, the adjustable parameters include more control over sharpness via the Strength, Fineness and Threshold settings. These work in a similar way to Photoshop’s Unsharp Masking – Strength controls the amount of sharpening, Fineness determines the size of the details which will be sharpened, and Threshold sets the contrast level at which an edge will be subjected to sharpening. Auto ‘Picture Style’ adjusts the processing parameters according to analysis of the subject using AF, AE and white balance data. Three customised ‘Picture Styles’ can be created and stored in-camera. The in-camera lens corrections are also expanded to include distortion and diffraction as well as vignetting and chromatic aberrations.
Canon’s long-serving ‘Auto Lighting Optimiser’ and ‘Highlight Tone Priority’ processing functions are provided for contrast control and dynamic range expansion respectively. Alternatively, the 6D II has multi-shot HDR capture which operates over three frames with the exposure adjustment manually set to +/-1.0, +/-2.0 or +/-3.0 or automatically adjusted according
to the brightness range detected in the scene.
An auto image align function is available along with the option of saving all the files or just the final merged HDR image. There’s also a set of four creative effects – called Art Standard, Art Vivid, Art Bold and Art Embossed – which vary the colour saturation, brightness, tonality and boldness of the outlines. Also on the menu is a multiple exposure facility (for combining up to nine frames with either average or additive exposure regulation), an intervalometer (for up to 99 frames), noise reduction for both long exposures and high ISO settings, automatic flicker detection, and a bulb timer. Flicker detection is designed to deal with the rapid switching characteristics of gas-ignition light sources (i.e. fluorescent tubes) which can affect both exposure and colour balance when shooting at faster shutter speeds. The anti-flicker capability detects the frequency of a light source’s blinking and subsequently times the shutter release to minimise the effect, even with continuous shooting. The bulb timer can be set for long exposures of up to 99 hours, 59 minutes and 59 seconds which you probably won’t need too often, but for shorter durations, it eliminates the need for a remote trigger to manually lock the shutter open and then close it. Very useful for night photography.
All this is pretty close to what’s on offer on the 5D IV, with neither model having any frills such as special effects or in-camera panorama stitching, but all the basics are available and more…
so no penny-pinching here either.
In The Zone
For autofocusing the poor old original 6D got lumbered with something Canon had had lying around in the back of the cupboard… just 11 measuring points (and only one cross-type array) versus the 5D III’s 61.
The Mark II model steps up to a much more sophisticated 45-points system and they’re all cross-type arrays with the central point being a dual cross-pattern array that’s sensitive down to -3.0 EV (at ISO 100). A total of 27 measuring points are still active with lens speeds as slow as f8.0 which, of course, means a telephoto with a teleconverter fitted. Switching between the single-shot and continuous AF modes can be done manually or automatically when ‘AI Focus AF’ is selected. The area modes comprise single point selection – with a yet more selective Spot option – Zone (a nine points cluster), Large Zone (three 15-points clusters) or the full array (i.e. automatic point selection).
The focus tracking can be fine-tuned via adjustments for sensitivity to obstacles (from Locked-on to Responsive) and the sensitivity to changes in the subject’s speed (i.e. acceleration or deceleration) which can be set to one of three levels. AF micro-adjustment is available to deal with lenses which have slight front- or back-focusing characteristics.
For autofocusing in live view or when shooting video, the 6D II joins Canon’s ‘Dual Pixel CMOS AF’ club and maintains phase-difference detection measurement via the imaging sensor’s dual-pixel architecture. This technology is now well proven in many of Canon’s current-generation D-SLRs and, of course, mirrorless cameras. These sensors employ a pair of photodiodes at each pixel point which are read separately (to give the required offset) for phase-detection autofocusing and together for image capture. In live AF there’s the availability of face detection with auto tracking plus Smooth Zone and Live 1-Point area modes. The Smooth Zone area mode again uses a nine-points cluster for wider initial subject detection with subsequent fine-tuning using fewer points. Courtesy of the touchscreen, you can simply tap on any desired point to achieve focus and, if activated, automatic shutter release. Manual focus assist in live view is via a magnified image at either 5x or 10x, but once again, there’s no focus peaking display… which would actually be more of a help.
Exposure metering in live view uses 315 measuring zones with the options of selective area or spot modes. When using the optical finder, metering is via a dedicated 7560-pixels ‘RGB+IR’ sensor which provides 63-segment multi-zone metering with the option, this time, of selective area, spot or centre-weighted average measurements. The program and semi-auto exposure control modes are supplemented by an AE lock, up to +/-5.0 EV of compensation and auto bracketing. AEB can be set two two, three, five or seven frames with up to +/-3.0 EV adjustment. The shutter speed range is 30-1/4000 second with flash sync up to 1/180 second.
Fully automatic shooting is available via the camera’s ‘Special Scene Mode’ which gives access to the standard subject modes such as portraits and sports, plus some more specialised scenarios including Group Photo, Kids, Food, Candlelight, Night Portraits, HDR Backlit and Handheld Night Scene. These last two are multi-shot capture modes to deal with, respectively, contrast or noise.
Auto scene recognition – which is essentially divided between portrait and non-portrait subjects – is performed in the ‘Scene Intelligent Auto’ mode. The 6D II also has the ‘Creative Auto’ mode that’s on the enthusiast-level ‘APS-C’ Canon D-SLRs and which still provides fully automatic control, but with some basic overrides enabling AF point selection and drive mode selection plus settings called ‘Ambience’ and ‘Background Blur’. There are nine Ambience settings comprising Standard, Vivid, Soft, Warm, Intense, Cool, Brighter, Darker and Monochome. They’re all adjustable which, in the case of Monochrome, means a choice of sepia, neutral or blue toning effects. Background Blur is adjustable between Blurred and Sharp over a short scale and is obviously changing apertures to alter the depth-of-field.
As per all Canon’s recent new D-SLRs, the white balance controls include the choice of ‘Ambience Priority’ or ‘White Priority’ modes for the automatic correction. The latter aims for neutrality while the former is a development of ‘keep warm colours’ correction, but works with whatever colour cast predominates in a scene. Alternatively, there are six lighting presets, one custom preset, fine-tuning, auto bracketing (again over two, three, five or seven frames) and manual colour temperature setting over a range of 2500 to 10,000 degrees Kelvin.
In The Hand
Externally, the EOS 6D Mark II is largely unchanged from its predecessor in terms of shape or styling and the control layouts are identical with some minor ergonomic tweaks here and there. The handgrip has been reshaped so it’s a little more substantial, but otherwise, if you’re transitioning from Mark I to Mark II, you won’t have to relearn anything. What this status quo does mean, however, is that the 6D II doesn’t have the joystick controller which is provided on the 5D IV and -1D X II for more efficient focus point selection and as an alternative navigator. Both these duties are performed via the eight-way ‘Multi-controller’ pad which sits within the rear input wheel or ‘Quick Control Dial’ as Canon calls it, which lacks feel and is also a bit cumbersome to use.
All the important capture-related functions – such as ISO, white balance, metering pattern, drive modes and AF area selection – have dedicated external controls and a small selection of buttons are customisable, although the scope here is fairly limited compared to what’s possible with most mirrorless cameras.
As is the case on all the higher-end Canon D-SLRs, there’s a monochrome read-out panel on the top deck and it’s supplemented by a ‘Quick Control Screen’ displayed on the monitor which is rather more extensive in its contents. Being a control screen, it enables direct access to functions, either via the conventional means of navigation or, better still, by simply tapping on the appropriate tile. This allows for really fast changes to settings and will make touchscreen converts of even the most dyed-in-the-wool traditionalists.
The optical viewfinder uses a proper glass prism and is nicely bright as a result although, curiously, it only provides 98 percent scene coverage (which is still marginally better than the previous 97 percent).
The focusing screen is now fixed, almost certainly because few, if any, 6D users ever changed from the standard one. The viewfinder displays comprise the focus points, a grid guide, a dual-axis level indicator and a basic set of exposure read-outs, including a compensation scale. A dual-axis level display can also be shown in the monitor screen and is additionally available, albeit reproduced much smaller, with live view along with a real-time histogram, a grid guide (there’s a choice of three this time) plus various info read-outs. A trick for newcomers is that the menu entries for live view are only available when live view is actually operating.
A ‘Quick Control’ screen is also available in live view, but with the various function tiles displayed along either side and the bottom edge of the image area so you can still see what’s going on. The sub-menus are then superimposed over the centre of the image which obviously isn’t a problem as these will now be your priority, but touch control again allows for very rapid setting changes to be made.
Image review screens can be either via a full image – with or without basic capture data – or a thumbnail display accompanied by a brightness histogram. The lower section of this screen can subsequently be cycled through a selection of seven sets of info, including RGB histograms, lens data (including the actual focal length used), main capture-related data, the lens correction settings, the ‘Picture Style’ parameter settings (over two pages), the white balance settings (including any fine-tuning) and the noise reduction settings (plus the selected colour space). Additionally, the AF point (or points) used at capture can be shown superimposed over the image – either the full screen display or the thumbnail – and there are the options of a grid guide and highlight warning for both too.
The replay options include thumbnail pages with four, nine, 36 or 100 images, zooming (up to 10x); and a slide show function (with adjustable image display time, transition effects and background music) and ‘Photobook Setup’. The touch controls really come into their own with image browsing and the 6D II implements the two-fingered pinching action to progressively access the thumbnail pages or a spreading action to move in the opposite direction and onto the image magnification settings of 2x, 4x, 6x, 8x and 10x.
The in-camera editing functions are mostly limited to the basics (such as cropping or resizing), but there is Photobook Set-Up and RAW-to-JPEG file conversion. A superimposed ‘Quick Control’ menu is again available as an alternative to the conventional menu and with the convenience of easy selection via the touchscreen.
As on other recent new Canon ILC models such as the M6 and EOS 77D, the 6D II’s WiFi is supplemented with the Bluetooth LE ‘always on’ connectivity which adds to the wireless set-up options with a paired smartphone and eliminates the need to continually re-establish a WiFi connection. When you use WiFi from the camera, there’s the convenience of quick NFC-enabled connections, and the Canon Camera Connect app (which supports both Android and iOS devices) provides considerable remote camera control functionality with live view and even the transfer of settings changed at the camera. Additionally, the 6D II has a built-in GPS receiver so, whenit’s activated, all images are geo-tagged and you don’t have to rely on using a mobile device running the Canon app to record this information.
Speed And Performance
Loaded with our reference memory card – Lexar’s Professional 2000x 128 GB SDXC UHS-II/U3 speed device – the EOS 6D II captured a burst of 138 JPEG/large/fine frames in 20.535 seconds which represents a speed of 6.72 fps, slightly exceeding Canon’s quoted spec. The test file sizes averaged around 10.9 MB, and the buffer emptied very quickly.
The autofocusing performance is noticeably improved over the previous model, although the frame coverage is comparatively small as the AF module is essentially the same as the
one used in the ‘APS-C’ format EOS 80D. Ir
onically, the ‘Dual Pixel CMOS AF’ in live view – when the 6D II is essentially functioning as a mirrorless camera – has much greater coverage and remains impressively fast with reliable operation maintained in very low light situations. Frankly, using live view for viewfinding is now much more of a realistic proposition with the 6D II thanks to the fully adjustable monitor screen, especially when the camera is mounted on a tripod. The down side is that the maximum shooting speed is reduced to 4.5 fps.
Image quality was the original 6D’s big selling point given its affordability at the time, but things have changed over the last five years so firstly, the cost of full-35mm cameras has come down a bit and, secondly, there are more higher-resolution models. This means the Mark II model is both less of a novelty and also faces stiffer competition, both from D-SLRs and mirrorless cameras. Maximum quality JPEGs exhibit plenty of nicely-resolved detailing with smooth tonal gradations and excellent colour fidelity (with the Standard ‘Picture Style’ preset). These all represent small improvements over the 6D’s performance, but the dynamic range is actually much the same, if not slightly less, which is a bit of a surprise given the Mark II’s sensor is an all-new device (but maybe related to the smaller pixel size) and could be an issue for RAW shooters when there’s a need to deal with underexposure either globally or selectively. Not surprisingly, with even lighting everything is just fine, but in contrasty situations, the highlights take a hit so it’s necessary to underexpose in order to preserve more detail in the brighter areas, but then the shadow areas can get noisy when brightened post-camera.
The limited dynamic range also means there’s less latitude for ‘pushing’ exposures before noise becomes problematic.
The original 6D is an excellent low light performer with the key elements of image quality – sharpness, contrast and colour saturation – all holding together very well up to ISO 6400. The Mark II does better again in terms of contrast and colour with a finely-poised balance of noise reduction processing and sharper definition. Canon’s extra in-camera controls for adjusting sharpness – Strength, Fineness and Threshold – can also be very beneficial here.
If you’re thinking about getting serious about shooting video with a Canon D-SLR then head straight over to the EOS 5D Mark IV because the 6D Mark II isn’t the camera for you. It’s much, much better than its predecessor because it has the ‘Dual Pixel CMOS AF’, an adjustable monitor screen with touch controls, built-in stereo microphones, electronic image stabilisation and Full HD recording at 50 fps (PAL standard), but there are many key omissions too. At the top of this list is 4K video (although you can make time-lapse clips in 4K), but also absent are an uncompressed HDMI output, a headphones connection, time coding, format and compression regime choices (which, curiously, the original 6D did have), zebra patterns, a focus peaking display and, of course, dual memory card slots.
If you only want to dabble with video-making then the 6D II does a reasonable-enough job with the main plus points being the autofocusing performance, and the extensive touchscreen controllability.
Full HD video can be recorded at either 50 or 25 fps, but there’s no 24 fps ‘cinematic’ option and you’re stuck with MP4 files using the IPB compression regime. The NTSC speeds are available. A stereo audio input is provided and sound levels can be adjusted manually, plus there is both a wind-cut filter and an attenuator (which automatically reduces levels to avoid distortion). The electronic image stabilisation gives five-axis correction, but also results in a crop to either side of the image and a slight loss of sharpness.
Unlike the intervalometer for shooting stills, which is pegged to 99 frames, the time-lapse movie mode allows for sequences of up to 3600 frames in the 4K resolution of 3840x2160 pixels with Motion JPEG compression or at 1920x1080 pixels with ALL-I intraframe compression. Playback is at 25 fps. There’s also an HDR Movie mode which gives an extended dynamic range (by simultaneously recording brighter and darker frames at 50 fps into clips which are replayed at 25 fps) and a ‘Video Snapshot’ mode which records short clips of two, four or eight seconds that are subsequently joined together to create a single movie.
Continuous AF operation – which Canon calls ‘Movie Servo AF’ here – is available with both face recognition and subject tracking, the latter again fine-tuneable for sensitivity. The focus transition speed can also be adjusted over ten steps from slow to fast. Manual focus assist is via a magnified image only. Exposure control can be either fully automatic – including with auto scene mode selection – or fully manual. Exposure compensation can be applied while shooting. Most of the functions for still photography are also available when shooting video, including the ‘Picture Style’ presets, the lens corrections for vignetting and chromatic aberration, the grid guides and the ‘Auto Lighting Optimiser’ and ‘Highlight Tone Priority’ processing.
There’s certainly enough here for anybody who is just starting to explore video-making or who wants to make the occasional clip to supplement their still photography, but just about any mirrorless camera (and many D-SLRs) offer a whole lot more and, consequently, the capacity to advance should you ‘get the bug’.
The EOS 6D Mark II is much less of a mixed bag than its predecessor, particularly in terms of its feature set which is now what you’d expect on a full-35mm D-SLR priced in the order of $2500. You no longer feel that you’re just getting a bigger sensor, but not much else. Consequently, the 6D II is a much more attractive alternative to its ‘APS-C’ format cousins which are all much better equipped than the 6D. But, as noted earlier, there is now much more competition in the
full-35mm category – in terms of both pricing and performance – including Nikon’s D750, the Pentax K-1 and both Sony’s A7 II and A7R mirrorless models.C
anon has done a lot to keep the EOS 6D Mark II in the race, but it’s no longer enough just to be affordable so the added attractions are the tilt/swing monitor screen, excellent touch controls implementation, the ‘Dual Pixel CMOS AF’ performance in live view, wireless connectivity, heavy-duty weatherproofing and excellent JPEG IQ, especially at higher ISO settings. There’s little question faithful 6D users will be persuaded to update to the Mark II – it is comprehensively better everywhere – but for everybody else, it needs to be considered as being greater than the sum of its parts.. and, thankfully, there are now many more parts.
For full specs, see PDFs of the original magazine pages here.