It might be hard to believe, but it has been almost five years since Canon introduced the EOS 6D. The downsized, full-frame camera appealed to enthusiast photographers who wanted the quality of a 35mm sensor without the complexity (and price) of the higher-end 5D series. But Canon finally unveiled the long-awaited 6D Mark II ($1,999, body only). So the question is, was it worth the wait? To find out, Digital Trends spent two very full days in Yellowstone earlier this month alongside renowned nature photographer and Canon Explorer of Light Adam Jones, testing a pre-production unit for our Canon EOS 6D Mark II hands-on review.
Canon supplied near-final models of the camera – complete with black electrical tape covering up the “6D Mark II” logo on the front – to each member of the media present at the event (editors’ note: we were guests of Canon, but all opinion are our own). From sunrise in the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone to sunset at Old Faithful, and the occasional bison traffic jam in between, we had free rein to use Canon’s latest DSLR as we saw fit. Canon representatives explained that the products we held in our hands were very near the final version, but as they were technically still preproduction models, we can’t definitively judge image quality at this time.
As expected, nearly everything is new
What we can speak to are the new specifications and the improved user experience. Beneath the similarly shaped, weather resistant body, the camera is built around the Digic 7 processor and a totally new, 26.2-megapixel full-frame sensor. That’s a six-megapixel improvement over the original 6D, but despite the higher pixel density, maximum ISO has also been increased from 25,600 to 40,000 (which is even higher than the EOS 5D Mark IV’s 32,000).
Burst rate has also seen a dramatic improvement, from just 4.5 frames per second (fps) to 6.5. That comes in just shy of the 5D Mark IV at 7 fps, but is very respectable for a camera at this level and makes it much more effective for shooting wildlife and other types of action. As with the original 6D, a GPS is built in for automatic geotagging without requiring a mobile app, which will be useful for travel and documentary photographers who need accurate location data with their images.
Beyond the added resolution and speed, what impressed us most is the new autofocus system. While the original 6D made due with an 11-point AF system, the Mark II gains a 45-point, all cross-type AF sensor that is very similar to the version found in the EOS 80D and Rebel T7i. In those cameras, we found it to be one of the fastest and most consistent dedicated phase-detection AF systems we’ve ever tested, so this is a big improvement over the 6D.
The camera is built around the Digic 7 processor and a totally new, 26.2MP full-frame sensor.
Moreover, the new imaging sensor also features Canon’s excellent Dual Pixel autofocus (DPAF) technology. This is great news for live-view and video shooters, as DPAF erases focus hunting and is much faster than contrast-detection-only autofocus. A new articulating three-inch touchscreen (1.4-million-dot resolution) further improves flexibility for videographers (and also makes possible full-frame selfies).
However, when it comes to video, there’s one thing that will definitely leave some users feeling let down: there’s still no 4K. That’s right, despite a four-plus-year-long development cycle, the 6D Mark II’s video resolution remains unchanged from the original. It can now shoot 1080p at 60 fps (up from 30), so that’s nice, but the lack of 4K will likely limit the camera’s appeal to videographers and filmmakers.
Of course, with dedicated Cinema EOS cameras like the C200 extending Canon’s reach into high-end video production, there is a decreased need for such features in the company’s DSLRs (the 5D Mark IV has 4K, but it’s rather limited). Still, video remains an area where Canon has now dropped behind rival Sony, which offers 4K and other professional filmmaking features across a broad swath of its camera lineup.
The 6D Mark II can, at least, do in-camera 4K time-lapse sequences, but we definitely wish Canon would have put more effort into this camera’s video mode – especially if it’s supposed to last another 4.5 years. According to Canon, on a camera like this, 4K requires a lot of image processing, but it is “a conversation” that Canon is having internally.
A solid user experience
When it comes to still photography, we found nothing to complain about. Physically, the camera feels very comfortable. It’s slightly heavier than the original (by about 5 grams), but it still feels noticeably more compact and lighter than the 5D-series. Performance was also very good, and while it may not quite match the resolution of the 30MP 5D Mark IV, we doubt most photographers will appreciate the difference.
From what we could tell, image quality is very good, with accurate colors and ample detail in both highlights and shadows. Again, we will reserve final judgment until we have a retail version of the camera in hand, but at first glance, the sensor inside the 6D Mark II looks to be one of Canon’s finest. (It also didn’t hurt that we had the experience of Adam Jones guiding us.)
One thing that may annoy current 6D shooters is that while the Mark II uses the same battery, it does not use the same battery grip. So if you have the grip with an original 6D, you won’t be able to take it with you if you upgrade to the Mark II. Instead, you’ll have to shell out more cash for the redesigned grip that Canon is producing for the new camera.
While our time with the 6D Mark II was relatively brief, we feel safe in calling it a worthy upgrade over the original – at least for still photography. Hybrid stills and video shooters may be let down by the lack of 4K resolution, but if you’re fine with 1080p, the articulating monitor and DPAF go a long way to making the Mark II a much better video camera. Compared to the original 6D, the technology in the the Mark II is a stark contrast.
However, it’s nothing we haven’t seen already in other Canon cameras (with the exception of the image sensor, which is all new). We’re excited to take a closer look at image quality when we get a final version — will it make our list of the best DSLRs? — but at least until then, there’s nothing revolutionary about the 6D Mark II.
After waiting some four-and-half years, it would have been nice to see the 6D take a bigger leap forward, rather than just play catch up to the rest of the product line. That said, it’s still another solid Canon product, and it should quench the thirst of 6D users who have been patiently waiting for an upgrade.
The Canon EOS 6D Mark II is scheduled for release in late July 2017, starting at $1,999 (body only). It will also be available with a Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM II lens for $3,099, or a Canon EF 24-105mm f/3.5-5.6 STM lens for $2,599.