Gear Up: Canon EOS R6 First Thoughts

I’ve been using Canon dSLR cameras for about 15 years now–I started with a Rebel XT (350D), moved up to the 50D, and then to the 7D and then 7D Mark II. Over those 15 years I’ve put together a reasonably good collection of lenses as well, from modern Canon and third-party EF-mount lenses, to vintage all-manual lenses that are usable via lens mount adapters.

So after getting my (amazing!) drone recently, I also got the urge for a new primary camera as well, something up-to-date and capable of shooting 4K video (like the drone) so I can do more video. Since my last camera purchase was several years ago, I was admittedly out of touch with the latest offerings. Being already invested in the Canon system, of course that’s where I started–and my interest was quickly drawn to the new R-series cameras.

The R series are what I call EVIL cameras–Electronic Viewfinder, Interchangeable Lens. I guess the more mainstream (but less fun) name is mirrorless dSLR. As both names imply, these camera bodies replace the prism and mirror of old-school SLR cameras with an electronic screen viewfinder, which shows the view through the lens via the sensor. That removes some bulk and weight from the camera, and allows for more speed and some other nifty advances. Sony pioneered the technology with their Alpha series, with Canon really just getting into the space with their 2018 EOS R model. Last summer they introduced the R5 and R6, with the primary difference between the two being sensor resolution (45MP on the R5, 20MP on the R6). I decided on the R6, the less expensive of the two. I’ve only had it for a day or so, but I thought I’d share some initial thoughts!

The R-series cameras employ a new lens mount, Canon RF. As luck would have it, the mounting adapter I need to use my modern EF lenses was backordered, so I haven’t received that yet. That means I can’t yet speak to autofocus performance. Instead, I was able to get an adapter to use my old manual-focus lenses, so that’s what I’m doing for a start. The photos in this post were taken on a quick walk in the woods near home yesterday.

First Impressions: I was honestly a little underwhelmed by the R6 in terms of its build. It’s somewhat smaller and lighter than my 7D cameras, which is nice for my aging back. But even apart from size and weight, the 7D just feels more solid, somehow. I believe the R6 has a metal chassis, but the exterior materials feel less sturdy than the 7D–all plastic instead of rubberized metal.

That said, ergonomically the R6 is fantastic. It fits the hand well, adds more (fully customizable) controls, with buttons and dials at easy reach. It also adds a fully-articulated rear screen, which is wonderful for shooting at angles that would otherwise be difficult (selfies, for example!). The rear screen is a touchscreen as well, which makes menu navigation and adjustments very quick and intuitive.

And there are a LOT of options in those menus! Out of the box, the camera is perfectly usable, of course–but the menus provide scads of adjustments and performance tweaks to make the camera fit your specific needs.

I’d been reluctant to move away from traditional dSLR cameras–the idea of replacing an optical view through the lens with a pixelated electronic screen never appealed to me. But like my drone, that technology has come a long way, and I’m happy to say the viewfinder screen is sharp, bright, and larger than that of my old cameras (another bonus for aging eyes). Plus, being a digital screen, it enables display elements that weren’t possible through optical viewfinders, like exposure simulation, live histograms, and focus peaking (which highlights the area of the image that’s in sharpest focus). Very neat and extremely useful!

The R6 has a 20 megapixel sensor, about the same as my trusty 7D Mark II. But unlike the 7D, it’s a full-frame sensor rather than a cropped APS-C sensor. My first full-frame digital camera! That translates to better bokeh and less image noise at high ISOs. Speaking of high ISOs, the R6 can go from 50 to a whopping 204,800. That high end is way too noisy to be useful in my eyes, but it looks like higher ISOs than I ever used to utilize might become useful with this camera–and there’s a dedicated wheel to quickly adjust ISO on the fly, which is new for me as well.

Again, so far I can only use the R6 with my old manual lenses–but the focus peaking feature makes them so much easier to use. I found exposure simulation in the viewfinder to be extremely helpful as well; sometimes stopping down a manual lens’ aperture could fool the metering system and lead to unreliable results. With the R6, I just dial in the ISO and shutter speed that give me a good RGB histogram for the aperture I’ve set, and then what I see is what I get.

Also useful for these old lenses: The R6 has in-body image stabilization, which makes every lens a stabilized lens. That’s a real help when using this old glass, and I see it being very handy when using non-stabilized modern lenses as well, and adding an extra stop or two of bonus stabilization to stabilized lenses.

But what matters most for any camera is image quality, of course. I’ve only shot a few dozen frames (winter isn’t too photogenic just now!), but so far I am very pleased. Can’t wait to see what I can do with my modern lenses once the adapter arrives, and try some HDR brackets. And video!

So that’s some first thoughts on my newest photographic toy. The bottom line for me is that like any tool, a camera should get out of the user’s way as much as possible, providing an easy and intuitive way to accomplish the end goal. The R6 looks to deliver on that score. A big thumbs-up and strong recommendation from me so far, if you’re considering a new semi-pro camera yourself. Can’t wait to put it through its paces as I roam around in the future.

If you have any thoughts or questions, feel free to leave a comment!

Note: I’m just a guy with a hobby, so any reviews on this site are independent and uncompensated–just my opinions.

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