Gear

Canon EOS 6D Mark I vs Mark II: Is It Worth the Upgrade?

Whenever there’s an update to a product that you own – or would like to own – it’s sensible to ask whether the new kid on the block is doing anything the old kid can’t. Here we compare the new Canon EOS 6D Mark II DSLR to the original 6D to see if, as an existing user, it’s worth you trading up, or moving onto a new Canon DSLR line entirely.

Canon’s original EOS 6D was launched in 2012 as the company’s entry level full-frame DSLR. It was well received, giving photographers great image quality at an affordable price. Now, around five years on, its predecessor has hit the shelves. That’s a decent stretch in digital SLR terms, so what’s changed, and will it make a difference to your photography?

Design and handling

Despite nearly half a decade of development time, there’s not much difference in design; but that’s not necessarily a bad thing – the 6D handled well, so why change what worked? Both the EOS 6D Mark II and its predecessor are small in terms of full-frame DSLRs, and nowhere near as large or heavy as cameras like the 5D range. If anything, both feel like large APS-C DSLRs, with the benefit of bigger chips. At 144.5×110.5×71.2mm for the Mark I and 144×110.5×74.8mm for the Mark II, and with weights of 755g and 765g (with battery and card) respectively, you can see there’s little to split them. In terms of ergonomics, the Mark I felt fine in the hand, and the Mark II does nothing to lessen that.

Button placement is almost identical with Canon’s familiar large rear and smaller front control dials. The most notable button change on the Mark II, is the inclusion of an AF Area mode button next to the shutter release (this actually illustrates the camera’s biggest improvement, AF, which we’ll come onto later). The biggest physical change on the body is the incorporation of a 3.0in touchscreen; this is of a vari-angle design, unlike the Mark I’s fixed LCD, but they’re of the same size and resolution. The new vari-angle screen certainly helps with high and low angle shooting, and it can be reversed to protect the display.

Both cameras offer a level of weather sealing, which is always welcome, but neither has a second SD card slot. When it comes to the viewfinder, the Mark II is fractionally improved, but still only has 98% (vs 97%) frame coverage. It would have been nice to get a 100% coverage on the new model.

The 6D Mark II uses a new battery (the LP-E6N, versus LP-E6), and this improves the number of frames before a recharge to a maximum of 1200 from 1090. The old batteries should fit the new camera, but won’t provide the same performance. However, if you’re thinking of upgrading and want to use your existing battery grip from the 6D (the BG-E13), unfortunately the 6D Mark II requires a new one, the BG-E21.

Performance

The EOS 6D Mark II uses Canon’s Digic 7 processor (as opposed to the original 6D’s Digic 5+), so generally performance is improved. When it comes to speed of shooting, the EOS 6D Mark II offers 6.5fps, versus the original’s 4.5fps. A 2fps increase might not seem like much, but it’s almost a third faster, and you’ll definitely appreciate the extra pace. You can shoot at this speed for up to 150 Jpegs or 21 Raw files (the original 6D could shoot considerably more Jpegs at its 4.5fps, but fewer Raws, at 17). Either way it’s plenty for most subjects.

Continuing the trend of increased speed, the 6D Mark II’s AF system has seen a decent upgrade. Instead of the original’s 11 phase-detect points, only one of which was of the more sensitive cross type, the Mark II has a 45-point array, all of which are cross type, so you can expect, quicker more accurate, and flexible focusing, especially from slower lenses, away from the middle of the array. The extra points are allied to new expanded AF area settings and improved tracking modes; it’s perhaps here that the most significant upgrade will be felt by existing 6D users, especially if they shoot sports, action or erratic subjects.

The EOS 6D Mark II also uses the Dual Pixel AF system found on higher spec Canon DSLRs; the main benefit of this is found in improved speed and accuracy when live-view focusing. The other claimed benefits of Dual Pixels AF, such as post-processing of the focus point in Raw I’ve found generally unconvincing. In terms of available shutter speeds, the new camera’s setting is still capped at 1/4000sec. To hit 1/8000sec you’ll need to go up to the 5D range.

Image quality

The EOS 6D Mark II uses a higher resolution full-frame sensor, moving up from the 6D’s 20.2Mp chip to 26.6Mp (5472×3648 vs 6240×4160). Again it’s not a huge increase, but enough to add extra detail to images, and provide more cropping options if required. Both cameras use a traditional optical low-pass filter; therein fine detail is sacrificed to avoid moire patterns. Pictures from the 6D Mark II show a great level of detail and you can make large prints without interpolation.

As you’d expect, the new camera has an expanded ISO range, but not by much; the 6D’s runs from 100-40000 (increased from 100-32000), but on both cameras it can be expanded to 102,400 at the top end. Both also have a expanded Low setting of 50, but like all cameras this has the risk or reduced dynamic range. Noise performance isn’t significantly improved over the older body, probably due to the increased resolution, and several sources report dynamic range to be underwhelming for a full frame chip. That said, ISO performance from both cameras is very good in isolation.

Video

Again, there’s only a small upgrade in the video options. There’s no 4K video from the 6D Mark II, just Full HD, though there is an improvement in the maximum frame rate from 30fps to 60fps. 4K can found in the Mark II’s specification, but only for time-lapse movies; still, they do look pretty amazing. Finally for video, the 6D Mark II sees Canon’s 5-Axis image-stabilisation added and this will smooth out your handheld movies a treat.

Verdict

If you’re an existing 6D user there’s plenty to be said for the new model, though really it’s more subtle evolution than barnstorming revolution. The biggest improvements are in the AF speed and performance, frame rate, tilting touchscreen and increased resolution. If these are areas where you feel you’re bumping your head on the ceiling, then it’s worth the upgrade. Handling is virtually identical, and the Mark II is still impressively small and light for a full-frame DSLR with weather sealing. A 4K video option would’ve made a more compelling case for movie shooters, but it’s sadly absent.

The other thing to consider is a more significant upgrade: the 6D Mark II is a definite improvement on the original, but it’s also still at the bottom of Canon’s full-frame DSLR range. For a more tangible jump in quality, it’s well worth considering the an outlay towards the 5D Mark III or 5D Mark IV. Though it’s a generation older, the 5D Mark III can be found for a similar price to the brand-new 6D Mark II, and sports a better viewfinder, more AF points, larger (though fixed LCD), dual memory card ports, and improved construction, though it is a bigger heavier beast.