Full-frame: the holy grail of DSLR cameras. The term describes a sensor size equivalent to a classic 35mm film frame. And in 2017 it's a market more accessible than ever before, rather than just something for heavyweight pros to handle.
Which is what the Canon EOS 6D Mark II sets out to achieve, as the replacement of 2012's 6D. Sure, we've seen sub-£2K full-frame cameras before now – we're looking at you Nikon D750 – but the 6D Mark II adds yet greater flexibility with its vari-angle touchscreen.
This is Canon adapting, as it's the first time we've seen such a feature in its full-frame cameras. It's also Canon positioning multiple DSLR product propositions for different customers. When the 6D launched we thought it felt like it was holding back; the Mark II model, however, exists in a kind of more manageable resolution sweet spot, at 26.2-megapixels, allowing the 30-megapixel 5D MkIV and 50-megapixel 5DS to cater for ultra-high resolutions (at far higher asking prices).
With such even-more-pro-spec DSLR cameras and lighter, more accessible mirrorless cameras already on the market, however, does the more affordable 6D make its mark in its second-gen form?
Canon 6D Mark II review: Design
- 765g body for the lightest full-frame DSLR to date
- Vari-angle LCD with touchscreen controls
- Built-in viewfinder with 98 per cent field-of-view
- Dust and drip resistant body
- Canon EF lens mount
One of the things the 6D MkII's spec sheet sells hard is that it's the lightest full-frame camera every made. Not just within Canon's range, either, but by any company – it's 75g lighter than the Nikon D750, for example.
Although that's an achievement in one direction, it's not a point to make a massive fuss about, really, given how heavy top-notch full-frame lenses are. Plus, we've become so accustomed to using mirrorless cameras like the Panasonic Lumix GH4 and Olympus Pen F that the EOS 6D II feels massive by comparison, frankly.
Compared to the original 6D, the Mark II is also a few millimetres less deep. Although you might not notice that in the hand, it's more of an achievement than it sounds thanks to the newly appointed vari-angle LCD monitor. Finally, Canon is embracing screen-based work in a full-frame camera – the kind of thing that's not only ideal when out on the go, but also a feature some will find useful for still life studio work too.
Better still, the screen is touch-responsive, meaning you can press to focus and make adjustments. This is Canon embracing the smartphone era and adapting its technologies accordingly – which we've been waiting to see properly implemented in a full-frame DSLR for a while. It works really well, too, despite not being as snappy as a mirrorless camera, it's faster than Nikon's equivalent offering.
Up top there's the same optical viewfinder as found in the earlier 6D. It's got a 98 per cent field-of-view rather than a full-on what-you-see-is-what-you-get 100 per cent frame. That's not the end of the world, but it's a bit of a kick in the side at this price point to not see that outermost two per cent of the frame during shooting. We suspect this is an intentional move to try and push those even more pro users towards the pricier 5D MkIV.
Canon EOS 6D MkII review: Performance
- 45-point all cross-type AF system (focus to -3EV)
- Dual Pixel AF for on-screen autofocus
- Digic 7 processor (first for Canon in full-frame)
- 6.5fps burst shooting (4fps in live view)
- Wi-Fi, NFC, Bluetooth LE and GPS all built-in
Not only is the 6D MkII's screen touch-sensitive, the sensor it's paired with has autofocus pixels on its surface, which Canon terms as Dual Pixel AF technology. In short this means focusing using the screen is quick – every bit as good as you'll find in the EOS 80D.
Which is a great reference point. The 6D II also pools in the 80D's equivalent focus system when using the viewfinder. Capable of low-light focus to -3EV, and comprising 45 autofocus points, all of which are cross-type (27 of them are sensitive to f/8, nine of which are cross-type sensitive to ensure heightened sensitivity if you're using, say, a slower lens or zoom extender) there's a lot of clout here.
Now, that's a great autofocus system, but it's not quite as advanced as the 61-point system you'll find in the EOS 5D IV. Again, Canon adding a point of separation between these two cameras to keep them both relevant. Plus, wind your mind back to the original 6D, which had a far more basic 11-point AF system and, well, the Mark II model is a considerable improvement. It's not just about the numbers of points, it's about their spread across the frame and sensitivity, which find a happy balance here in our view.
With the latest and greatest Canon processor at the heart of the 6D II – that's the Digic 7 chip – there's plenty of oil to keep this full-framer motoring on. It can shoot at 6.5fps (frames per second), which is pretty speedy. Funnily enough, however, it's half a frame per second slower than the 5D IV – a camera that's also higher resolution – so, clearly, that supposedly faster processor isn't being used to the maximum. Again, this feels as though it's about segregating the 6D II from the 5D IV.
To the side of the 6D MkII is a card slot for an SD card (UHS-I max). Just the one of them, too, as a second slot has been swerved – presumably on account of cost and size – which is a shame for a camera that can shoot both large stills and sizeable video files.
Canon 6D Mark 2 review: Image quality
- Brand new 26.2MP full-frame CMOS sensor
- ISO to 40,000 (expanded ISO 50-102,400)
- 7,560 pixel metering sensor
On the image quality front, the 6D II introduces a brand new full-frame Canon sensor. It's a 26.2-megapixel one, which we think is a savvy choice – if anything it's the perfect all-round balance in terms of pixels.
The 30-megapixel 5D IV, by comparison, doesn't sound like it has a great deal more resolution to handle – but anything greatly over 24MP, we find, introduces certain complications to consider with shutter speeds (due to capturing movement, resulting in less-than-perfect sharpness) and greater file sizes. Even with the 6D II some images would appear sharp on screen, but then we would see the slightest of movement apparent in the 100 per cent scale shot – which we only began to counter for by raising the shutter speed and upping the ISO sensitivity.
Canon is clearly confident with this sensor, however, as it can shoot up to ISO 40,000 as standard. When dabbling in four-figure ISO settings the results are still very clean indeed – we've been shooting portraits upwards of ISO 3200 in evening light and the results have been perfectly good.
If you're feeling especially brave the sensitivity can be extended to ISO 102,400 for ultra-dark lighting condition work – not that we've found such a setting to be useful in any camera before now, really – which may have some limited value for low-resolution output. At least it's not the mad headline grabbing seven-figure ISO settings of the Nikon D7500, as the top three sensitivities there aren't even usable. No such issues with this Canon.
We began to use the 6D II at a product shoot and found the 7,560-pixel RGB+IR sensor did a really good job of shooting a black object on white background without having to make too much adjustment. The evaluative metering is linked to the centre spot, however, so when we then went to shoot outside we found skies and sunkissed areas of scenes would quickly blow out into white overexposure. So keep an eye on what you're shooting – and at the very least shoot raw in addition to JPEG so there's some headroom to claw back detail.
One of the biggest benefits of using full-frame is just how pronounced scenes can become thanks to enhanced shallow depth of field. With the 24-70mm f/2.8 lens used for this test, shooting at f/4.0 gave layers of depth between subjects that can only be achieved in conjunction with such a large sensor. You'll need to select aperture choices wisely, therefore, but get things right and full-frame continues to shine.
The only thing that felt slightly off in terms of image quality was more on account of the focus system. Using the viewfinder system gave solid feedback of when a focus point had locked on. In live view mode, however, there were times when a shot was confirmed as in focus – but the rather generalist focus area had focused slightly behind the perfect point, which isn't something that happens in advanced mirrorless cameras.
Canon 6D Mark II review: Video
- 1080p 60fps max video (no 4K)
- Headphones socket, no microphone socket
On the video front, Canon continues to go light with its offering. The 6D Mark II can shot 1080p at 60fps max, avoiding the current 4K trend – something Canon is keen to reserve for its higher-end C-series video-focused DSLR cameras, such as the C300.
That is, quite simply, the way things are in Canon's camp. Even the new Nikon D7500 offers 4K capture – and we expect its forthcoming larger-sensor cameras will follow the same suit.
If you are keen for full-frame with 4K then point your eyes to Sony's full-frame SLT and mirrorless options as one alternative. Despite terrible battery life, these are becoming a choice option for such capture.
Overall the Canon EOS 6D Mark II is one of the most balanced full-frame propositions on the market. We find its new sensor to be just about the perfect balance of resolution, while the vari-angle touchscreen is a huge benefit that lacks from so many other similar cameras. All of this sees it as a big step-up over the original 6D model; a camera that makes far more sense in the face of the 5D Mark IV and 5DS models.
It's not quite perfect, though. The live view, while fast, isn't as pinpoint perfect when it comes to focus as an equivalent mirrorless camera. Then there's the viewfinder's 98 per cent field-of-view, which for a near-£2k camera seems like a bit of a kick in the side to not be able to see the outermost edge of the frame during composition. Oh, and there's no 4K movie capture, which is no surprise from a Canon DSLR, but puts it a step behind some competitiors.
- Best DSLR cameras 2017: The best interchangeable lens cameras available to buy today
- Best mirrorless cameras 2017: The best compact system cameras to buy today
Nonetheless, if you've been thinking about buying a full-frame DSLR but have been waiting for some of the more modern technologies – touchscreen control, a vari-angle screen, Wi-Fi sharing and so forth – then the 6D Mark II does a grand job. For many it will fulfill every need at a far lower price than buying a 5D Mark IV, which gives this full-framer considerable appeal.
Alternatives to consider
Canon EOS 5D Mark IV
If you want more resolution, more autofocus ability and can forego the vari-angle screen then the 5D IV is a step up in every way.
Read the full article: Canon 5D IV review
Sony A99 Mark II
A very different proposition, Sony's SLT (single lens translucent) has a super-fast burst mode, plus 4K video smarts that see any of Canon's equivalents put to shame in this department.
Read the full article: Sony A99 II review
Canon EOS 80D
Ok, so it doesn't have the full-frame sensor of the 6D II, thus making this a whole different prospect, but ignoring the sensor size the 80D is otherwise a very similar camera in a smaller and far cheaper format. That might make a lot more sense if you don't want the full-frame sensor's benefits and quirks.
Read the full article: Canon 80D review
Time can have a considerable result on how products sit against one another. The D750 isn't as all-round versatile as the Canon, but as its 2014 age can attest, it could be a great full-frame option to buy for a cut of the price. Especially if you don't have Canon allegience due to previous lens purchases.
Read the full article: Nikon D750 review