Canon EOS M6 Mark II initial review: Mirrorless evolution
It’s been interesting to watch Canon’s approach to the mirrorless market: from the early days its EOS M series cameras failed to impress us, while in 2018 it launched a brand new full-frame series, the EOS R. Learning from its early weaknesses in the M line-up, however, has seen the company evolve its offerings, with the M6 Mark II expanding its design for easier use.
That’s not all, though. For 2019 Canon is going all-in when it comes to resolution, with the M6 MkII packing in the same 32.5-megapixel CMOS sensor as the also-just-announced EOS 90D DSLR. That’s a whole lot of pixels. Is it a whole lot of success?
What’s new? M6 vs MkII
- M6 II: 32.5 megapixel CMOS sensor / M6: 24.2MP
- M6 II: Up to 11fps burst shooting / M6: 7fps
- M6 II: 4K video capture / M6: 1080p60 max
- M6 II: Adds dual function dial & AF/MF switch
- M6 II: Larger grip design
First, let’s wind back a little bit of time. In 2017 the original M6 arrived, being the first M series camera that we thought “Ok, this is almost a success”. That was high praise given how we couldn’t get on board with the EOS M5. As such, the Mark II M6 is a re-rub of the original’s design, with additional features. So what’s different?
The majority of changes are under the hood, with that high-resolution sensor leading the charge. That’s an almost 30 per cent boost compared to the original M6. It’s a new world as resolution is concerned, then, with Canon confident that it can relay quality while upping the count.
Thanks to a newer processor paired alongside – the Digic 8, which is one generation ahead of the Digic 7 in the original – the Mark II is also able to capture 4K video (the original maxed out at 1080p60). The newer camera doesn’t crop into the sensor either, so you get like-for-like ratios, i.e. a 50mm equivalent will produce the very same frame as it would for stills.
That new processor also brings added speed, with a 14fps burst shooting mode, even with autofocus activated. That’s double the rate of the first-gen model. As a point of comparison, the M6 Mark II is faster than the just-announced 90D (which is 11fps), showing that Canon is becoming less shy of allowing its mirrorless models to be ‘better’ than its DSLR equivalents.
Autofocus is Dual Pixel CMOS AF, which as we’ve seen from other Canon cameras is impressively quick – assuming it’s not too dark, anyway. That, we must say, is one area where the sensor-based system – despite claiming sensitivity to -5EV – can’t cut it compared to the viewfinder-based setup of the DSLR, such as the 90D.
Not all of the M6 II’s changes are invisible, though. There’s a much more pronounced grip to the front for a better hold, while two new dials have also appeared: a dual Dial Func button (where the exposure compensation used to be on the original) for doubling-up the controls, and an AF/MF switch to the rear for quick auto/manual focus adjustment.
This new design is more in character for more advanced users. It also points to the typical shortcomings of the EOS M’s former layout, where controls could feel too buried. It’s a welcome change, although we still find the need to press a button to, say, adapt the ISO sensitivity, a bit long-winded – especially compared to the EOS 90D.
Design & Performance
- Dual Pixel CMOS AF autofocus for all modes
- 5,481 positions for precise autofocus
- Tilt-angle LCD screen, no viewfinder
- Microphone input (1x 3.5mm port)
- 14fps burst shooting max
- Wi-Fi and Bluetooth
The M6 Mark II doesn’t feature a viewfinder, so it’s all about using it via the screen – well, unless you attach a finder accessory (sold separately). That screen is mounted on a movable bracket, so it can face forward for selfies, or at 45-degrees downward for waist-level use. It’s not a fully vari-angle screen, like in the 90D, but this design keeps everything nicely compact.
What’s best of all about the screen, however, is its touch-sensitivity. It’s responsive, with sensitivity options within the menu allowing for responsiveness adjustment to your preference, which is something other manufacturers ought to take into consideration. Either a tap on the screen or a press-and-drag will move the autofocus area with ease, making the M6 II about as easy to use as a smartphone.
However, the autofocus options are a little more restrictive than you’ll find elsewhere. Sure, the system is the same 45-point Dual Pixel AF setup as the original M6 – which delivers on-sensor phase detection autofocus paired with contrast-detect autofocus – but you only get a handful of focus options – for 1-point (at varying sizes), zone and tracking.
While these work fine – and there are almost 5,500 precision points – it’s just lacking the same complexity of its competitors. Something from the Panasonic G series betters it in every regard in our view.
As we touched upon above, dark conditions also confound this focus system. As we’ve tested the D90 and M6 II side-by-side in the same conditions, it’s clear that the DSLR’s viewfinder-based focus is the better of the two, more capable to latch onto focus in very dim conditions.
Some of this is lens dependent, however, so the better the glass on the front the more success you’ll see. The EF-M mount doesn’t have loads of lenses yet, but the 18-135mm we initially used was rarely capable of shooting in dim and contrasting conditions at any focal length. We switched for the 35mm f/1.4 and that was far better. So there’s a lesson to be learnt there: it’s not all about the body, the lens paired alongside is just as, if not more, important.
Image & Video Quality
- All-new 32.5-megapixel CMOS sensor
- 4K video (24/25/30fps)
- Digic 8 processor
- ISO 100-25,600
When it comes to image quality, it’s perhaps no surprise that megapixel counts are on the increase. Larger images give greater flexibility for large prints or for heavier cropping – the kind of things you can’t even nearly do with a phone camera (not that we’re realistically comparing the two).
We’ve largely been shooting in dim conditions with the M6 MkII, so any grain and apparent processing in our gallery of images is an inevitability given the all-four-figure ISO settings. In a sense it’s testament just how well this camera performs – assuming it can focus in such conditions in the first place, which was a bit of a battle.
The increase in resolution does dictate how you’ll need to handle the camera somewhat though. Beyond-30MP mark does mean that any tiny physical movements will be amplified in results. As such you’ll likely want to adapt for faster shutter speeds to ensure perfect crispness.
How grand will shots appear at the lowest ISO settings? Well, just as we said of the 90D, we don’t know yet. But we have usually high expectations. Canon is adept when it comes to realistic colour, smooth gradations and well-balanced exposures – and we’d expect no different here.
The other major part of the M6 Mark II puzzle is video. It can capture 4K at 24/25/30fps, or offers Full HD 1080p capture at up to 120fps. There’s even a 3.5mm microphone jack to cater for recording (but no headphones monitoring). In that sense this is a potential powerhouse on the video front, and a great sign that Canon is finally on board with Ultra-HD capture from its fuller range of consumer devices.