I never wanted to buy a Canon camera.
Years ago, when I moved from Nikon to Sony, I never considered a Canon. I had heard too much about the Canon “cripple hammer,” as conspiracy theorists call it, and had decided in advance that they weren’t for me.
Two years later, here I am. Let me definitively say this: I was wrong. Canon’s new EOS R6 is my favourite camera that I’ve ever shot with. Period. Full stop. Bar none. (If you’re curious about why I moved away from Sony, I wrote about that as well.) Here’s my review after one month of shooting — and a generous smattering of photos I’ve taken with the camera as well.
The R6: A Mini 1D X III
A lot of people have already noted that the R6 shares its sensor with the 1D X Mark III, which is an incredible camera priced at $9,000 CAD. But outside the sensor, these cameras are markedly different. For one thing, the R6 is mirrorless, but it’s also much smaller and lighter.
The R6 has also been compared to the 6D series’ build quality and weather sealing. I don’t know where folks are getting their information from, but for what it’s worth, Canon have also told some reviewers that the R6 has the same weather sealing as the 5D. (I’m inclined to think this is true, since the R5’s sealing goes far beyond what the 5D offered.)
All this has created some confusion: is the R6 a replacement for the 6D or the 5D DSLR series?
In my opinion, it isn’t a replacement for either of them. Canon have a different product strategy for their mirrorless lineup. That strategy is simple: give you 1 DX levels of performance in a compact, comfortable, and reliable body at one third of the price.
It’s that simple.
Shooting with it
Of course, none of that matters if it’s not fun and easy to shoot with. After all, that’s the bug I had up my butt about my Sony gear: shooting with it was tedious and joyless. I am happy to report that’s not the case with the R6.
The R6 has a fantastic, generously-sized grip — exactly what you would expect from Canon. It feels like a DSLR, but it’s not quite as large as one. It’s very easy to carry the camera without a strap, even with a heavy zoom lens. I have done this for hours at a time. The camera is heavier than the a7 III, but because the R6’s weight distribution is so much better, it somehow feels lighter in the hand.
The buttons feel great, too. All the port coverings are labelled (unlike the Sony), and even the dual SD card slots have a very nice card eject mechanism. These are little niceties, but they make a difference. It’s like the old magnetic charger for MacBooks: these are tiny improvements that, once you’re used to them, are difficult to go without.
Another thing that I much prefer about the Canon: it’s so much easier to change lenses. The shutter closes by default when you turn the camera off, which helps swap lenses without getting dust on the sensor. The lenses are also clearly marked, and it’s easy to identify where they mount by feel if you’re in the dark. This is a killer feature.
I also love the flip-out screen. This is new to professional-level Canons; the 5D IV didn’t have one. I have used it almost every day; it’s one of my favourite features. The touch screen on the R6 is almost as responsive as my iPhone, which is high praise. While you’re shooting, nearly all the most important camera functionality is always available from the touch screen.
Here’s something that surprised me: I don’t think the menus are that great. Sure, they’re better than Sony’s, but that’s a low bar. As these cameras become more and more feature-packed, the menus are bound to get more cumbersome. So it comes down to the devil you know.
But still, some of the menu choices are downright bizarre. As an example, if you want to film at 120p, that’s in a different menu than all the other frame rates and movie modes. And once, I spent ten minutes trying to find an option in the menus that used an unnecessary short form (Exp. instead of Exposure). Here’s a good rule of thumb: if there’s space on the screen to display the whole word, these companies should do that. Both Sony and Canon are making the same menu mistakes.
But overall, I much prefer shooting on the Canon to shooting on the Sony. In actual usage, it’s not even a contest. The Canon is much more comfortable and way more fun. Over the past five weeks, I’ve eagerly shot with it almost every single day. I love it the way I love my iMac: it just works. Exactly as a tool should be.
How do the photos look off this thing, though? In a word: exceptional. I was a little nervous about losing dynamic range I could capture with the a7 III, but I’ve had nothing to worry about. Sony might claim more dynamic range on paper, but in practice, they’re basically identical.
That being said, I haven’t had the chance to try the R6 in a low-light event space yet (you know, because COVID). I have no idea how it will perform at ISO 3200 indoors because I haven’t needed to push it that high. But given how it performs at ISO 1200, I’m not worried.
The R6 also seems to be less reliant on ISO than my Sony. I frequently found that my Sony needed to be pushed to ISO 800 or higher, and the Canon rarely needs to get pushed as far. (It’s important to note that ISO isn’t really a universal standard, so this isn’t surprising — it’s just indicative of how hard it is to talk about and compare different camera systems.)
While I’m talking about ISO, this seems like a good time to mention Canon’s IBIS system. For stills, the IBIS is sensational. I can pretty easily get a one second or two second exposure handheld, even at telephoto distances. With a wide angle lens, I can take a four second handheld exposure. It doesn’t completely obviate the need for tripods, but it helps.
The R6 has a 20mp sensor, which is low compared to the competition. That being said, the files are incredibly sharp and surprisingly detailed. They appear sharper than the files I would get out of the a7 III’s 24mp sensor. It’s hard to say if that’s a result of the camera or the lenses, but I’d assume it’s a bit of both. In all honesty, while 20mp and 24mp sound different on paper, megapixel resolution doesn’t scale exponentially, so the difference is fairly minor — just a couple hundred pixels on either side.
The files are so sharp from the Canon, though, that I am often turning down sharpness. In Lightroom, I’ll put the Clarity and Texture tools at negative numbers on occasion — the photos are that sharp.
Autofocus has been excellent, at least on par with my Sony, if not better. The only time I ever had an issue was when I was using the Canon mobile app to shoot remotely. I assume that’s a bug that will get patched soon; this camera is still brand new, after all. (I also missed focus occasionally because of user error. Even this camera can’t fix my stupidity.)
Finally, I want to briefly touch on Canon colours. I don’t want to say they’re “better” than Sony’s, because colour science is often misunderstood. What I will say is that the colours are much more predictable in post. I can look at a jpeg preview in-camera and know how I’ll tweak the colours later. As you might predict, this has made my editing workflow much smoother. I’m probably saving anywhere from 20%-50% of the time I spend on photo editing now, and I can get much more consistent results.
So, in short: great image quality. Dynamic range is more than you’ll probably ever actually need, the colours look great and are easy to work with in post, and the autofocus nails it.
Is the image quality better than the Sony? It’s certainly not worse. It’s just different. I prefer it, but this is subjective. Your mileage may vary.
The RF system
Can I talk to you about lenses now? As far as I’m concerned, the RF glass is the best reason to switch to Canon right now.
The RF glass I own is simply sensational. I bought the trinity: the 15-35 2.8, the 24-70 2.8, and the 70-200 2.8.
The 24-70 is far and away the best I’ve used in its category. I don’t typically like this zoom range much, but this has become one of my favourite lenses. It renders sensationally. Canon also makes a 28-70 f2, which sounds amazing. I’ve been told the images it records make my 24-70 look like a child’s plaything, which I find hard to believe — but also, I want one.
The new 70-200 is also awesome. Unlike my Sony, it is sharp all the way through, from 70mm to 200mm. And it’s so small and chunky! I love it. I can stand it upright in my backpack (so long as I’m not also carrying a laptop), which saves me a ton of space. (I’ve heard Canon is working on a 70-135 f2 lens, which… drool.)
The 15-35 is interesting. In all honesty, I think I preferred Sony’s 16-35GM, which was a truly sensational wide angle performer. The Canon lens has an even stronger vignette in the corner, which makes the lens difficult to use for portraiture. (I once shot an engagement session entirely at 24mm on the Sony, and people love how it turned out. I don’t know if I would do that with this lens. I would absolutely use the 24-70 for this purpose, but maybe not the 15-35.) That being said, Canon’s take on this lens includes built-in lens stabilization, which is a nice addition for landscape, real estate, and architecture work (four second handheld exposures!).
While the difference between the two wide angle lenses is subtle, I much prefer Canon’s 24-70 and 70-200 lenses over the Sony equivalents. It’s night and day; the glass is substantially better. This isn’t even Canon’s best work; if you want to see what the system is truly capable of, the 50mm f1.2, 28-70 f2, and 85mm f1.2 are expensive, but supposedly unbelievable. Not only that, but the EF to RF mount adapters make it easy to use EF lenses with the new Canon cameras — and there are some classic lenses in their lineup.
Comparing the Canon R6 to the Sony a7 III
In my exit review of the Sony a7 III, I listed a few things that I didn’t like about Sony’s cameras. I thought I’d list out some of those issues, and directly compare the Sony and Canon on those fronts.
- Ergonomics: Every Sony I’ve ever is uncomfortable in my hand. For what it’s worth, my hands are probably the average size for my height (six feet exact), so it’s not that I have “huge hands” and can’t hold Sony’s gear. It’s literally that Sony’s gear is too small. Canon’s mirrorless offerings are night and day better; it’s not a contest, and I doubt you’re surprised. Sony’s recent announcement of the super-small a7C belies the fact that Sony doesn’t believe this is an issue. It is. There’s a place for small cameras, but it is so important that we make tools that are ergonomically sound.
- Changing lenses: Changing lenses is so irksome with the Sony that I listed it as a bug in their system. This is a non-issue with the Canon. Overall, the system I found it easiest to change lenses with is Nikon (back when I shot Nikon), but why would anyone shoot Nikon these days? (Please don’t send me hate mail about this.)
- Editing workflow: it’s so much easier to work with the Canon files. This is true in every app I’ve tried editing the files in. My editing time has shrunk exponentially, which means I’m shooting more.
- Shooting quirks: The R6 doesn’t need to be underexposed like my Sony. I can half-press the shutter button and continue to adjust my exposure settings without releasing the shutter button. I have not experienced a single bug or glitch yet (though that does not mean they don’t exist). Unlike my Sony gear, there has never been a situation where the Canon silently failed to record images to a memory card, or recorded everything to the card with a green overlay, or failed to recognize its own batteries.
- Flip-out screen: The R6 has one, and the a7 III does not. The only Sony cameras with flip-out screens are the new a7C and the a7S III. I am confident more flip-out screens are coming to their lineup, but shocked it took this long. Flip-out screens aren’t just for vloggers; they’re important accessibility features for people who are physically handicapped as well.
At the end of the day, almost all of my problems were about usability and workflow issues. These are things that you don’t read about on a spec list, but you do experience them over time. The a7S III’s marketing page includes a section about improvements for “workflow efficiency.” This is something Canon doesn’t typically need to advertise; outside of the Multi-function Touch Bar on the EOS R, their ergonomic blunders have been few and far between.
Canon’s image quality has been tested and proven time and time again. Sony’s image quality is also very nice, but until recently, they hadn’t been focused on usability and workflow at all. While I’m glad to see Sony is working on it, it’s an iterative process. It will take years for Sony to sort this out. I got tired of waiting.
For me, this has been like switching from Windows to a Mac, or an Android phone to iPhone. It’s been an instant improvement. The R6 mostly works the way my brain works, which helps the camera become a physical extension of my body. It lets me focus on the photo, and not the device I’m making the photo with. I couldn’t be happier with the move.
I never wanted to buy a Canon camera, but I guess I’m one of those Canon people now. It’s like being an Apple devotee (I’m also in this club), a BMW driver (who else drives like that?), or a New England Patriots fan (the most unfortunate). Never say never… but I don’t plan on going back.