The Canon take on the mirrorless camera market has been interesting (you can read that as generally disappointing): having lackadaisically introduced the sub-par M-series system in a bid to - and this is how we see it - avoid undercutting its own DSLR business, it had taken Canon years to establish a more viable M-series camera. That happened in 2016 with its M5.
Move into 2017 and the Japanese maker is concentrating its moves in mirrorless, with the step-up EOS M6 further enhancing the line-up with a more comprehensive control system and minus the built-in viewfinder. It's altogether less DSLR-styled.
As we said of the M5, Canon has finally reached a point where its product is competitive. Albeit, at a point in time when its competitors are often a step ahead in terms of focus ability, design and lens range.
Can the M6 change that? We got to briefly play with the compact system camera ahead of its official unveil to see if Canon is on point in the viewfinder-free sub-sector.
Canon EOS M6 preview: What's new versus M5?
- No viewfinder, includes hotshoe (for optional viewfinder accessory)
- Adds stacked control dial layout
- Latest 24.2MP sensor and 45-point autofocus
The main difference between EOS M5 and M6 is their physical design, the M6 cutting out the viewfinder compared to the M5's built-in solution. The M6 also adds in a stacked control dial, which is a feature we've seldom seen from Canon (think of the G7X compact and the like).
The look of the M6 is rather high-end, dressed in a shiny silver-colour finish on the sample camera we saw. However, there's no denying that Olympus does this overall look better in its Pen and OM-D cameras - because it uses more tactile materials that simply feel better in the hand.
Interestingly, Canon has avoided the Guided UI - which is designed to assist relative newcomers to understand what each shooting mode does, represented in a visual form - on the M6, unlike the also-announced EOS 800D DSLR.
Up top of the M6 is another notable feature: a hotshoe. Just because this mirrorless has done away with the built-in finder, doesn't mean it removes the possibility of that. The brand new EVF-DC2 is also being released in tandem with the camera body, which is perfect timing - plus it is compatible with other Canon cameras such as the PowerShot G1 X II.
Canon EOS M6 preview: How does it perform?
- 45-point Dual Pixel AF autofocus
The M6's autofocus system is the same 45-point Dual Pixel AF setup as you'll find in the earlier M5 (plus EOS 80D, 77D and 800D (ignoring their through-the-viewfinder setups)), which means speedy autofocus thanks to on-sensor phase-detection pixels.
And it genuinely works well - just as we said of the M5. It's quick and doesn't need to hunt excessively to find focus. Canon has figured out how to make its M-series cameras work properly.
But there's a caveat: the three focus options - 1-point, zone and tracking - lack the complexity of the competition, such as the Panasonic Lumix G80. Given the EOS M6 is £730 and isn't compatible with Canon's (EF/EF-S) DSLR lenses without an adapter, there's a good argument to lean towards Panasonic if you're looking for a mirrorless model.
Canon EOS M6 preview: Screen and optional finder
- 3-inch, 1,040k-dot, tilt-angle LCD touchscreen
Another slight difference in the M6 compared to the M5 is the way its screen is mounted on the variable bracket: it can't flip around to face forward for selfies, but we don't think that's any major loss.
Besides, this tilt screen is really useful to handle with its touchscreen prowess - as that's the ultimate way to use this camera.
If you're really keen for a viewfinder then, well, it'd be cheaper to consider buying the M5 instead if that's your only investment. The EVF-DC2 is only likely to make sense if you have other compatible Canon compact cameras. But it's a feature that we'd rather have than not, so no harm done there.
The DC2 does deliver 2.36m-dots of resolution over its 0.39-inch panel and weighs next to nothing at 29g.
Canon EOS M6 preview: Image quality
- 24.2MP sensor, Digic 7 processor
On the imaging front the M6 is made in the M5's image: it's got a 24.2-megapixel sensor, paired with the latest Digit 7 processor.
The camera can handle a decent burst rate of 7fps in continuous autofocus, increasing to 9fps at a fixed focus point. With the right SD card on board the buffer is significant too, avoiding clogging-up after taking just a handful of images (it can shoot 26 JPEGs at 9fps consecutively). It's not as speedy as a Fujifilm X-T2, but it's mighty fast.
Because Canon uses a larger sensor than most of its mirrorless competition, it has that advantage. There might be fewer lenses in the EF-M mount lineup than, say, Micro Four Thirds, however, so without top-notch glass the overall capability - if you're the kind to hunt out specific optics - isn't as extensive as some of Canon's own range and, perhaps, the competition.
On the movie-capture front the M6 is just the same as its interchangeable Canon cousins: 1080p at 50/60fps is maximum, without the option for 4K.
The Canon EOS M6 makes a lot of sense if you've been eyeing-up the M5 but don't want a viewfinder (or don't immediately want one anyway - the DC2 can cater for that later down the line).
As mirrorless cameras go it's capable, approaching its competition in terms of abilities. Thing is, and just as we said of the M5, the M6 doesn't ultimately better that competition in autofocus complexity, build quality or price point.