Camera Review: Canon’s Full-Frame 6D Mark II
December 15, 2017
When Canon’s original 6D was launched in 2012, it was pitched as an easy on-ramp to full-frame photography or a less expensive second body for 5D owners. It was, by all accounts, a hit. Five years on, Canon is refreshing the 6D with a Mark II edition, but the world is a very different place since the original hit the scene. Where the 6D had to contend with competition from Nikon, the Mark II competes with Nikon, Sony and Pentax—to say nothing of the expectations of photographers primed by half a decade’s worth of technological progress.
As you’d expect in a Mark II upgrade, the second-generation 6D gets a number of improvements: more resolution, more AF points and some design changes.
The EOS 6D Mark II sports a 26.2-megapixel full-frame CMOS sensor with Dual Pixel CMOS AF and a DIGIC 7 processor. There are 45 cross-type AF points with a working range of down to -3 EV at the center. It offers a native ISO range of 100-40,000 with expansion options that push the ISO range from 50 to 102,400.
Unlike almost every other new camera at this price point, the 6D Mark II doesn’t record 4K video. It’s an incomprehensible omission given that action cams costing a fraction of the 6D Mark II’s price tag—not to mention smartphones and every mirrorless model at the 6D Mark II’s price point—can handle 4K recording.
There’s Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and NFC for connectivity and remote control.
The 6D Mark II is Canon’s first full-frame camera with a swivel LCD—a terrific improvement. Beyond the display, Canon shooters will be right at home with the design which is unsurprisingly comfortable and lightweight, despite its weather sealing. It’s significantly lighter than Pentax’s K-1 but a bit heavier than Nikon’s D750.
We did find our finger instinctively probing for a scroll wheel on the front hand grip—sadly, you’re relegated to a less-convenient multifunctional wheel on the back of the camera.
Patiño says he was miffed by the viewfinder’s 98 percent coverage where other Canon models, like the less expensive 80D, offer 100 percent. He was also less enthused that the camera used a slow USB 2 connection versus USB 3.
Patiño says shooting with the 6D Mark II at low ISOs produces solid, color-accurate images. Skin tones reproduced nicely and fans of Canon color science won’t be disappointed. However when pushing the camera into higher ISOs, Patiño says, the image quality tended to fall apart and dynamic range shrank.
The camera’s video quality was also something of a letdown for Patiño. “No 4K is a non-starter” for him, he says. “There’s full HD recording, but why couldn’t we at least get 120 fps?” Patiño wondered. You will enjoy full HD frame rates up to 60p and while there is a mic jack there’s no headphone jack for audio monitoring.
Patiño tells us the AF was responsive, though the camera’s AF points are fairly tightly clustered toward the center of the frame. Dual Pixel CMOS AF continues to offer the best live-view and video autofocusing we’ve seen in a DSLR, and the Mark II’s implementation is no exception.
The camera can burst at up to 6.5 fps with focus locked on the first frame. It does a nice job keeping moving subjects in focus, though you won’t have the extensive AF controls found on higher-end Canon models. Still, frame for frame, the 6D Mark II is as fast as Nikon’s D750 and speedier than both Sony’s a7 II and the Pentax K-1.
The battery life is also very solid at 1200 (viewfinder shooting) images, on par with Nikon’s D750, ahead of Pentax’s K-1 and miles ahead of Sony’s a7 II.
Notes from the TIPA Test Bench
PDN is a member of the Technical Image Press Association (TIPA) which has contracted with the testing lab Image Engineering for camera evaluations. Below is an excerpt from their lab report. The full report is available by clicking here.
Resolution and ISO Performance
The resolution remains consistently high to ISO 1600, where 92 percent of the theoretical maximum is used (1911 line pairs per picture height). Similar resolution quality between ISO 100 and ISO 1600 means the 6D Mark II user can shoot at ISO 1600 with the same confidence regarding resolution as at ISO 100. Image resolution is greatly improved compared to the original 6D.
Although the Canon 6D Mark II has an ISO range up to 40,000 (102,400 extended), the resolution is less good in images at higher ISOs (ISO 3200 and above). However, even here the resolution is strongly improved in comparison to the 6D. Visual inspection of an image captured by the 6D Mark II at ISO 12,800 of the complex, detailed black-and-white pattern of the Siemens star shows only a slight softening compared to ISO 100. However, resolution at the highest ISOs is noticeably poor (hi1, equivalent to ISO 51,200, and hi2, equivalent to ISO 102400); a user is unlikely to find these extended ISOs of much utility.
An examination of images made by the 6D Mark II of the test chart shows that both high- and low-contrast texture is captured well at ISOs ranging from ISO 100 to ISO 800.
Lab measurements show that more artifacts are present in images made by the 6D Mark II than its predecessor; this is to be expected with a larger sensor. Shooting at ISOs ranging from ISO 100 to ISO 800, high- and low-contrast texture is reproduced well. At higher ISOs, high-contrast texture is reproduced better than low-contrast texture. At ISO 1600, low-contrast detail is observably degraded by smoothing. At ISO 6400, low-contrast detail is largely lost, and at ISO 12,800, there is more noise in the image than recorded details.
Sharpness & Color
Canon’s tendency to be a bit heavy-handed with sharpening has been addressed in this model, and the sharpening curve shows only a moderate degree of overshoot and undershoot. This is a major improvement over the strong sharpening that could be seen in tests of the Canon 6D.
The automatic white balance delivers excellent results (between 0.4 and 0.8) at all normal ISOs and even hi1. The overall white balance performance is a great improvement over the previous model, the 6D, which produced test results showing poor automatic white balance at all ISOs (ranging from 4.6 to 5.5) and even higher values in the extended ISO range.
Color reproduction is good, with strong deviation from the reference color only with a few intense reds. Mid-tones and neutral colors were the most faithfully reproduced. At ISO 1600, however, the brighter skin tones become a bit washed out.
The 6D Mark II has a fairly good dynamic range of more than 9 f-stops at ISOs up to ISO 6400. This is somewhat smaller than the dynamic range of the 6D, which was over 10 f-stops.
Autofocus using the optical viewfinder takes 0.46 seconds in bright light. This is a tiny bit slower than the previous model, which tests at 0.35 second. Autofocus speed in low light, at 0.54 seconds, is also a bit slower than the 6D. The autofocus in bright light during Live View is greatly improved over the 6D’s slow 2.2 seconds.
The image quality in video mode is less good than in still photography, and the camera’s resolution is poorer at both high and low ISO settings. Texture loss is relatively large at both high and low ISOs, and visual noise is obvious in the darker parts of a video image at high ISO.
No one gets everything they want and, with the 6D Mark II, Canon faithful have some trading off to do. The Mark II has less dynamic range compared to the original 6D, slightly slower autofocusing but improved sharpness, Dual Pixel CMOS AF, more resolution and an articulating display.
If you’re casting a wide net for your next camera, $2,000 can get you a lot of functionality, particularly if you’re willing to opt for a crop sensor. If you are, then you have flagships from Fuji, Olympus and Panasonic to consider. All of those models record 4K video, offer faster burst modes, pack in more AF points and feature smaller, lighter builds.
If you want full frame, though, your options narrow. You’ll get a significantly higher-resolution sensor from Pentax’s less expensive K-1 with the added ability to get even higher-resolution images using its Pixel Shift Resolution mode. The K-1 is something of an ergonomic oddity with its tilt-shifting LCD and is bulkier than the 6D Mark II but also has in-body image stabilization. It also lacks the video quality and autofocusing chops of the 6D Mark II. Nikon’s older D750 is also bereft of 4K but delivers comparable shooting speeds and slightly more AF points. It lacks the 6D’s rotating LCD, too. Sony’s mirrorless a7 II is cheaper than its DSLR competitors with built-in image stabilization, but its battery life is woefully short, its shutter is thunderous and while it’s lighter weight, it lacks the 6D’s comfortable grip.
No one said this would be easy.
Canon 6D Mark II
PROS: Excellent build quality; Dual Pixel CMOS AF; flip-out display; improved sharpness; great battery life.
CONS: No 4K video; ISO performance trails rivals; poor dynamic range vs. predecessor; video quality and feature set underwhelms at this price point.
Lab Test: Canon 6D Mark II