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Canon’s EOS R5 and R6 will dominate mirrorless — and kill the DSLR

Canon is done holding back. Its full-frame EOS R5 and R6 won’t just be its best mirrorless cameras, they may well be the best cameras of this generation — of any brand and any type. Maybe it wasn’t Canon’s stated goal, but these cameras have what it takes to end DSLRs for good. This isn’t a reason to be scared, but excited.

A DSLR pioneer, Canon didn’t appear comfortable with this idea before now, but the inevitable death of the DSLR seems to be something the company has finally come to embrace. The EOS R5 and R6 represent a revolutionary leap for Canon, and they’re going to make it near impossible to recommend a DSLR to just about anyone.

If you’re still clinging to yours, it’s time to let go.

EOS R5

Canon’s first attempt at a full-frame mirrorless camera, the EOS R, didn’t step on too many toes. It was a strong enough contender but left plenty of room for rivals Sony and Nikon to move about the ring. It also didn’t do too much to give Canon DSLR owners a reason to move to mirrorless.

The EOS R5 is a different beast. Shipping in late July for a body-only price of $3,899, it is the new flagship model in the EOS R line and Canon’s second-most expensive camera after the $6,500 EOS 1D X Mark III, a DSLR. While its powerful video mode was previously detailed — 8K RAW, 4K at 120 frames per second — we now know that its still photo features will be equally impressive.

It uses a newly-designed Canon 45-megapixel sensor paired with a Digic X image processor. ISO range spans 100 to 51,200, very respectable for such high pixel count. Continuous shooting speed is astounding: 12 frames per second with the mechanical shutter, 20 fps with the electronic shutter. To support that speed, it offers dual card slots, one for standard SD cards, and the other for the new CFexpress format. CFexpress boasts very fast transfer speeds and allows the R5 to shoot 180 full-resolution RAWs in a single burst.

In addition to RAW and JPEG, the R5 will also let you shoot in HEIF (High-Efficiency Image File Format). First introduced in the iPhone, HEIF produces smaller file sizes than RAW, with better compression and color depth than JPEG. The R5 can record 280 HEIF photos in a single burst using a CFexpress card.

The CFexpress card will also be a requirement for 8K video, whether in RAW or h.265. If 8K isn’t your style — and it’s probably not — you can still shoot oversampled 4K processed from the full 8K resolution in a special “4K High Quality” mode. RAW video, however, is only available in 8K, as is the wider DCI aspect ratio. 4K is limited to 10-bit Canon Log and Ultra HD 16:9.

But we haven’t even talked about what may be the most impressive feature: The R5 is Canon’s first camera with sensor-shift in-body image stabilization (IBIS), a feature that is shared with the R6. Remarkably, on both cameras, Canon claims this system is good for up to 8 stops of shake reduction when paired with a compatible optically stabilized lens (the maximum will be 6 stops with other lenses). This outperforms all other IBIS systems, including the 7.5-stop system in the Olympus OM-D E-M1 X, which was supposedly limited only by the rotation of the Earth (at least that was Olympus’ marketing description).

The R5 also introduces Canon’s Dual Pixel Autofocus II (DPAF II), with 100% frame coverage from 1,053 AF areas. It now can now track a subject’s eyes, face, or head in the case of human subjects, or the eyes, head, or body of an animal.

Physically, the R5 takes on a more professional form than Canon’s earlier mirrorless efforts, offering an autofocus joystick, top LCD information display, three command dials, and a higher-capacity battery. It also moves to a 5.7-million-pixel electronic viewfinder, matching that of the Panasonic Lumix S1R and Sony A7R IV. A new battery grip, the BG-R10, will also be available.

All of this comes together in a camera that is smaller, lighter, and cheaper than the EOS 1D X Mark III DSLR while offering higher-resolution video, double the megapixels for still photos, and near as much speed. The 1D X series will likely continue to appeal to its target demographic of pro sports photographers for its superior battery life and build quality, but outside of that niche, Canon’s DSLRs are starting to look antiquated.

EOS R6

While the cheaper of the two, make no mistake: The EOS R6 is not an entry-level camera. At $2,499 and arriving in late August, it squarely targets advanced enthusiasts and professionals, and it brings plenty to the table for these customers.

Physically, the R6 has much in common with the R5, including support for the battery grip. It does give up the top LCD display and makes do with a 3.69-million-pixel EVF, but photographers shouldn’t be left wanting when it comes to control.

The bigger issue may be the drop to 20 megapixels. I’m not sure if the sensor is a new design or borrowed from the 1D X Mark III, but either way, it feels a bit odd here given that even the much lower-end EOS RP has a 26MP sensor (albeit, certainly not Canon’s strongest in terms of dynamic range or noise performance).

Resolution, of course, isn’t everything, and the R6 has a lot of other specs to brag about, like a broad ISO range of 100-102,400, a stop higher than the R5. ISO values don’t always equate to a real-world difference after resolutions are normalized, but it appears the R6’s fewer but larger pixels help it eke out a low light advantage over the 45MP R5.

It also maintains the same shooting speed of 12 or 20 fps with the mechanical or electronic shutters, respectively. However, the R6 does not get the R5’s CFexpress card slot, instead using dual SD cards. Thanks to the lower-resolution sensor, however, it can shoot more photos in a burst — up to 240 RAWs or 1,000 HEIFs. Combined with DPAF II’s improved subject tracking, this should make the R6 a compelling sports camera.

But don’t think of it as a one-trick pony. The R6 also offers a solid video mode, shooting oversampled 4K from 5.1K at the full width of the sensor. If it weren’t for the R5, this would be Canon’s best video mode in a mirrorless camera. It can’t shoot RAW, but does offer 4K at up to 60p with 10-bit 4:2:2 color and Canon Log.

A reboot worth waiting for

While the spec sheets look great, we have yet to see how either of these cameras perform in the real world and there a few things I’m wary of. For one, I still believe the EOS R5’s over-the-top 8K video mode is beyond overkill for the vast majority of people. I would have preferred more flexible 4K options, but it’s hard to complain.

I’m also a little confused by the relatively low resolution of the EOS R6. No, 20MP isn’t functionally that different than the 24MP that’s standard on full-frame mirrorless cameras from Sony, Nikon, and Panasonic in this price bracket, but it is a perceived difference nonetheless. On paper, the R6 meets or beats the competition in everything but pixel count (and price), and given the 45MP R5 is equally fast, I don’t see the need for the R6 to drop to such a low resolution.

Further muddying the waters is the original EOS R with its 30MP sensor. From stabilization and video to continuous shooting speed and autofocus performance, EOS R owners have plenty of reason to upgrade to the R6 — but the thought of giving up 10MP of resolution may stay their hands.

This makes the R5 and R6 launch feel more like a reboot of the EOS R line rather than a sequel — but that might be just what Canon needs. Yes, these models push prices even higher and confuse the lineup somewhat, but they feel much more focused and dialed in, while correcting a number of missteps in their predecessors. These could easily be the new full-frame cameras to beat, and I expect any growing pains will ultimately be short-lived.

Importantly, the R5 and R6 also make it clear that Canon’s future is in mirrorless and give the Canon faithful a clear one-up over their DSLRs.

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