Sony and Canon are locked in a pitched battle for the full-frame mirrorless camera market, and Canon’s latest salvo is the $2,500 EOS R6 II. It’s not just a key rival to Sony’s like-priced 33-megapixel A7 IV, but gives Canon the opportunity to rectify overheating flaws in the otherwise excellent EOS R6.
The new 24-megapixel sensor promises more resolution and image quality than the 20-megapixel R6. It also offers faster shooting speeds, improved 4K video specs, an improved viewfinder and more. The competition in this category is getting tough, though. Panasonic also recently announced the $2,000 Lumix S5II and $2,200 S5IIX, its first cameras with phase-detect hybrid autofocus.
I saw the R6 II last last year in prototype form, but I’ve now got my hands on the final version. Can it keep up with the competition, and are the overheating issues solved? I tried it in a variety of shooting situations to find out.
Body and handling
Canon has experimented with the controls of past cameras, introducing things like a touch bar, but users didn’t like it. Fortunately, the R6 II uses Canon’s tried and tested form factor, with buttons, dials and the joystick right where you’d expect to find them. The grip is big, comfortable and has a rubber-like material, giving a sure hold with no discomfort even after a day’s use.
There are a few welcome changes over the R6, though. The power switch is now at right for easier access, with a “lock” setting that prevents accidental control activation (you can specify which controls to lock out).
Canon also introduced a dedicated photo and video switch. Flipping it changes all the settings for each button, as well as the main and quick menus. If you flip from photos to video, though, it uses whatever is set on the mode dial (M, S, A, P, etc.), so you have to remember to change that. All other settings, though, remain separate.
As before, it has a fully-articulating 1.62-million dot display that makes the R6 II useful for vlogging, selfies, etc. And Canon has updated the EVF from 2.36-million to 3.67-million dots, matching the A7 IV and getting rid of one of my biggest complaints about the original R6. It’s not quite as sharp as the 5.76-million dot EVF on the X-H2S, for instance, but it’s relatively sharp and fast with a 120 fps refresh rate.
Where the R6 had a single fast UHS-II card slot and a slower UHS-I slot, the R6 II now has two UHS-II slots. Unlike the A7 IV or Panasonic GH6, though, it lacks any kind of a CFexpress card slot which does affect burst speeds and video capture options.
It uses the same LP-E6NH battery as before, but endurance is up significantly from 510 shots max on the R6 to nearly 760 on the R6 II. I’ve taken well over 2,000 shots in a day (with a mix of electronic and mechanical shutter), and shot video for nearly two hours.
Naturally, it has microphone and headphone ports, along with a “next-generation” 21-pin digital interface at the hot shoe (Canon has shown images with the Tascam XLR2d-C audio interface and its newly launched Speedlite EL-5). Sadly, it uses a fragile micro instead of a full HDMI port. That’s unfortunate considering the RAW video output, as micro HDMI cables (and ports) tend to be fragile and finicky.
In terms of connectivity, you can run the camera off the USB-C via the power delivery feature. It also offers Bluetooth 5 and 5GHz Wifi, and you can use it directly as a PC or Mac webcam over USB-C using the built-in industry-standard UVC and UAC video and audio drivers built into Windows and MacOS.
As I saw in San Diego while shooting sports, the R6 II is fast. It can fire bursts at 12 fps with the mechanical shutter, which is already a touch faster than the A7 IV. However, switching to electronic mode brings that pace up to a frenzied 40 fps, making it the sportiest full-frame camera in this price category by far.
Using electronic mode means you’ll shoot fewer shots though (it also impacts the quality, but more on that shortly). You can get about 75 compressed RAW/JPEG frames before the buffer fills, and fewer with uncompressed RAW. In mechanical shutter mode, by contrast, you can shoot around 1,000 compressed RAW/JPEG frames before it stops, or about 140 uncompressed RAW photos.
Speaking of the buffer, an interesting new feature is the Pro Capture mode. If you activate that setting and half press the shutter button, it will continuously record and store several seconds worth of photos in the buffer. Then, when you full-press the shutter button, you’ll capture a few seconds of action that occurred right before you did so. The idea, of course, is that if you weren’t quite quick enough, you’ll still get a shot.
Rolling shutter is well controlled, about half that of the original R6 and significantly less than the A7 IV, as you can see in tests performed by Gerald Undone. I’d hesitate to use it for fast-moving sports at full-frame, but it’s very minimal in cropped 1.6x mode.
The Dual Pixel autofocus on the R6 II is also quicker and more reliable than the R6. Using it in single-point mode with no face/eye detection, it could keep up with the 40 fps burst speeds, missing just the odd shot. In 12 fps mechanical shutter mode, I rarely had a shot out of focus. In this aspect, it’s nearly on par with the EOS R3, which uses a stacked sensor.
There are 4,897 focus detect positions for photos and 4,067 for video, with up to 100 percent coverage depending on the lens. That means you can track subjects even at the edge of the frame. Selecting a subject is relatively easy using the multi-controller joystick or touchscreen.
On top of face and eyes, the R6 II can detect people’s bodies, plus animals and vehicles, including motorcycles, cars, trains and horses. It also comes with a new auto-select mode that lets the AI choose the subject type. It can also track user-selected subjects not in those categories.
While it can occasionally get confused by the background, the R6 II is good at locking onto human faces and eyes. It’s a bit less dependable for animals and other subjects. Tracking fast-moving subjects works well, though I had to dive into the settings to boost speeds for quicker movement. Touch to track works well if the subject is well defined, but isn’t as reliable as face tracking.
In general, autofocus is excellent and second only to Sony. As mentioned, I shot thousands of images per day at Canon’s shooting sessions (on a prototype camera), and most of them were in focus, with very little fiddling required on my part.
The new 24-megapixel sensor (neither backside illuminated nor stacked) is the biggest improvement in this camera, offering improved image quality, better low-light sensitivity and more. Images are of course sharper, but Canon has also boosted the dynamic range, allowing for improved image quality as well.
JPEGs have good levels of detail without excessive sharpening. Color accuracy is good and skin tones more pleasing than other cameras I’ve tried recently. If you want to boost quality a bit but not shoot RAWs, you can also shoot using the 10-bit HEIF (high efficiency image file) format, which offers a wider color range and less likelihood of banding.
With an ISO range of 100-102400 (50 to 204800 expanded), the R6 II is actually better than the original R6 in low light, despite the extra resolution. I had no qualms about shooting at ISO 12800 using some light noise reduction, and even ISO 25,600 images were usable if I exposed correctly. Anything above that had low usability, however.
RAW images retain extra detail, especially in shadows. That makes images easier to edit should you underexpose them. It has perhaps a bit less dynamic range than Sony or Nikon full-frame cameras, but it’s still very good. Beware that dynamic range drops in electronic shutter mode, though, as the R6 II shifts from 14-bit to 12-bit capture – so that extra speed does come at a slight loss in dynamic range.
The EOS R6 II offers supersampled, full-frame 4K video all the way up to 60 fps. By contrast, the A7 IV and Panasonic’s S5 II both crop 60p video. Much like the A7 IV, 10-bit quality is available only in C-Log3 mode, with 8-bit in the regular video modes. That’s too bad, as regular 10-bit video provides extra headroom in shadows and highlights, without the hassle of applying LUTs or doing other color correction. All resolutions are available in 1.6X crop mode, with just a slight loss in sharpness.
You can do super slow mo in 1080p at up to 180fps, though the footage is barely usable. It’s more acceptable at 120fps, which still slows the action way down. And finally, you can shoot up to 6K in 12-bit ProRes RAW to an external Atomos Ninja V+ recorder. That delivers the best quality and easiest-to-edit video, if you don’t mind the hassle.
With the original R6, heating issues were a showstopper for many. You could shoot no more than 40 minutes of video at 4K 30fps, or 30 minutes at 60p. On top of that, you had to wait at least 10 minutes for it to cool down, and then you could only shoot for another 10 minutes or so.
Fortunately, those problems are largely gone. I shot supersampled 4K 30p video for nearly two hours until the battery died with no heating issues. In 60p supersampled mode, Canon says you can shoot for up to 50 minutes and get back to shooting again more quickly and for a longer time.
Those numbers are actually conservative, as I was able to shoot 4K 60p for over an hour (albeit, in 50 degree F temperatures). If you start and stop 4K 60p capture, there are no problems. If you really need continuous 4K 60p video, get another camera, but otherwise overheating issues are largely gone.
Quality is excellent, with sharper video than the competition at 4K 60p. Dynamic range in CLog3 mode isn’t quite as good as Sony’s A7 IV or the Panasonic S5 II, though. Much of that is lost in shadows, so it’s better to slightly over than underexpose when shooting C-Log3. It’s nothing you’d notice for regular non-log video, though.
Low-light video is good at ISOs up to 6400 and you can get away with 12800 if you’re careful with exposure. If not, boosting shadows can create some serious noise. Still, it’s one of the better full-frame cameras in low light, making it useful for things like concerts or plays.
One unfortunate omission compared to rivals is the lack of easy-to-edit intra-frame (all-intra or ProRes) codecs. That makes it pretty much mandatory to convert to ProRes or another format afterward, as even fast editing systems don’t like LongGOP. Sony’s A7 IV, meanwhile, supports all-intra capture at up to 600 megabits per second, which is one reason it has a CFexpress Type A card slot.
Video autofocus is a strong point for Canon. With single-point autofocus for run and gun shooting, interviews and the like, I rarely had out-of-focus shots. Human face and eye-tracing is incredibly reliable for videos. It stays locked on the subject and keeps them in focus as they move, though again, Sony’s A7 IV is slightly quicker.
As with photos, it also offers reliable animal and vehicle tracking, with the same “auto” mode that lets the camera’s AI choose the subject type. Overall, the R6 II is another reliable Canon camera in terms of video autofocus – something I think is really important for most video shooters, especially vloggers or documentary filmmakers..
Canon beats all rivals in rolling shutter. It’s noticeably better than on the Sony A7 IV, even in fully-downsampled mode. In 1.6 crop mode, it’s barely detectable, even if you whip the camera around. Like bad autofocus, excessive rolling shutter can ruin shots, so for me this is another key feature.
In-body stabilization is fine for stationary handheld shots or small movements. Anything more can be jerky, even in enhanced digital IS mode, however. The R6 II is about the same as the A7 IV in this regard, but Panasonic’s new S5II has massively improved stabilization designed for video and looks like it will beat both cameras.
Finally, Canon has introduced a digital focus breathing feature, much like Sony has on the A7 IV. This allows you to “rack” focus from one subject to another without either changing in size, by essentially using digital zoom to counteract the optical zoom. It works well, but only with a handful of lenses for now.
Canon’s $2,500 EOS R6 II is a formidable hybrid mirrorless camera, with fast shooting speeds, accurate autofocus and strong video capabilities. The overheating issues have largely been fixed, unless you really need to shoot continuous 4K 60p full-frame video. The main downside is a lack of dynamic range compared to rivals.
Sony’s $2,500 A7 IV has more resolution but slower shooting speeds, particularly in electronic mode. Rolling shutter is a more serious issue on that camera as well. On the plus side, it offers slightly better image quality and autofocus that’s a touch faster.
Panasonic’s $2,000 S5 II has slightly better video specs, but it remains to be seen if autofocus can keep up. The S5 IIx, coming in May, looks like a better mirrorless camera for video and it’s less expensive at $2,200. And finally, if you’re willing to drop down to an APS-C sensor, the $2,500 X-H2S has a stacked sensor and better video chops, but slightly inferior autofocus. If you shoot both photos and video equally, I’d choose the EOS R6 II over all those models.
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