Trialling The Canon EOS 6D Mark II

Usually when I’m shooting with a DSLR (astro or otherwise), I use either my modded 450D or my stock 60D, both of which have APS-C sensors. But I’ve always wondered about the difference between an APS-C sensor and a full frame one and if it’s really as big a deal as I hear others make out.

Thanks to London Camera Exchange in Gloucester, I’ve been trialling the Canon 6D Mk II with 28-80mm F/3.5-5.6 and 17-40mm F/4-5.6 lenses. I have to say I’m pretty excited at having the opportunity to do this. I don’t do reviews as a rule, I’m quite happy to leave that to other, more capable, photographers, but when the opportunity came up, I couldn’t resist.

I won’t cover all of the features, especially as I’m more focused on shooting astrophotography and a lot of the features will just be redundant, so I’ll cover a large part of the ones that we as astrophotographers are more interested in.

The 6D Mk II that I’ll be using hasn’t been modified, so I’ll be using it as it comes. I intend shooting some widefield Milky Way to take full advantage of the full frame.

I’m not intending using this just for astrophotography either. Given its full frame format it’s also ideal for landscape etc, and this is something I want to get more into, as well as making a return to the more traditional photography that I used to do, ie landscape, portrait and wedding/engagement.

Taken from Tyndale Monument looking towards the Severn Bridge. 80mm 1/500 @ ISO 100, f/5.6
St David’s Cathedral near Haverfordwest. With only 1600 inhabitants, St David’s is the UK’s smallest city. The cathedral itself is quite magnificent. Also found the BEST ice cream ever…which I didn’t take a picture of…because we ate it!! 17mm, 1/80 @ ISO 100, F/8

Out of the Box

From the outset this camera feels good and chunky and able to withstand a major seismic event. Obviously I don’t intend subjecting it to such an event, but it feels like it could withstand one.

Powering up feels quick, and you immediately get the standard Canon menu system. Personally I like this, although it’s not for everyone. I do enjoy both it’s articulated screen and the touch control incorporated into it. The touch screen I found to be very responsive and accurate, and I’m sure that this will be a huge benefit when dealing with astrophotography.

Looking through the menu system reveals multiple connectivity options, including NFC, Bluetooth and wireless, which means that I should be able to control the camera via my smartphone and Canon app, a really handy thing out in the field, especially with regards astrophotography where we strive to touch the equipment as little as possible.

Initial setup of this I found to be a little hit-and-miss but it felt more to do with my lack of experience using the technology than anything else. But once I got it connected to my phone, the connection itself felt rock steady and I was able to both control the camera functions and view images with no discernible lag. How much this will eat into battery life remains to be seen, but I have yet to try it under a live fire situation.

Specs

This is usually the boring bit, so I’ll keep it relatively short. The 6D MkII uses a Digic 7 chip, which means that connection via APT using the older mini USB cable is possible, as APT has Digic 7 support. Quite why Canon went for the mini USB as opposed to a newer type is beyond me. The camera came out in summer 2017, so there’s no real reason it couldn’t have incorporated newer and faster USB technology. It becomes more confusing when you consider that most professional photographers and astrophotographers shoot in the RAW format, so the faster transfer speeds of newer USB technology would’ve been a no-brainer in my opinion.

The sensor is a respectable 36 x 24mm which gives it it’s full frame capability, and a large 6240 x 4160 resolution, meaning that it comes in at a very nice 26.2 megapixels. The flip side of this is that it also eats into your storage space. This isn’t a problem if you have a reasonably sized hard drive, but let’s break this down a bit more. Rounding down, let’s call it 25mb per image. That’s 4 per every 100mb. Multiply that by 10 and you have 40 images per 1gb of space. It won’t take long to devour even a 1tb drive, especially if you do a lot of photography. Is it worth shooting in RAW and eating your storage like that? For me that’s a given…absolutely yes, because you want the image data to be lossless in order to be able to edit them to the fullest extent if needs be.

The ISO range is a whopping 1-40,000, which is expandable up to an insane 102,400. Again, I’m not sure exactly why we would need to go that high, but I fully intend trying this out and seeing what the noise levels are like, and whether they can be calibrated out in the usual way of stacking frames.

Astrophotography

Whilst away, I didn’t just use it for astrophotography, although that was the main reason I had it with us. I also shot some landscape as well whilst out visiting ancient burial sites and stone circles.

The Pente Ifan burial site, nestled just below the Preseli Hills. Over 5,000 years old, the cap stone weighs in at around 15 tons, and is balanced on three other stones. How did they manage to lift something so heavy when neolithic man was supposedly so “primitive”?

We’re in class 3 skies in Pembrokeshire, and I have my SkyWatcher Star Adventurer with us as well. It may be our first proper holiday away together but it would also be a bit rude to not take advantage of skies like this.

In all we had two nights that were clear enough for astrophotography, so I was able to get out and make use of the 6D Mk2, capturing huge swathes of the Milky Way and also a couple of widefield images incorporating various deep space objects. Because I wasn’t able to find a way to program a sequence of images, like you can with the 60D, I had to keep pressing the button. Maybe I just didn’t look deep enough into the menu system or in the app, but it would’ve been nice to have programmed in even just 10 shots.

I was able to create a stable connection between my phone and the camera, so once it was setup on the mount, I didn’t need to touch the latter. Where we were staying was literally in the middle of nowhere, so the sky clarity was beyond superb. I still had to put a dew heater on the lens with us being so rural. In fact the dew was actually quite brutal, but the camera and lens coped extremely well and gave zero issues.

Single frame with the 6D Mk2 at 17mm. ISO 3200, 30 seconds taken in class 3 skies in Pembrokeshire. Quick and dirty edit.
5am at 17mm. Orion and Pleiades rising out of the pre-dawn. Single 20 second frame at ISO 1600
Single frame with the 6D Mk2. 17mm, ISO 3200, 30 seconds

The one thing I couldn’t find, and it may just be me in fairness, was the ability to program in the number of exposures you want to take. The 60D can do this, up to a maximum of 10 images. I didn’t find a way to do this with the 6D Mk2, even in the mobile phone app. At home this can easily be overcome by plugging in to APT (or your sequencing software of choice), but out in the field, away from your laptop, it may not be so great. That said, if you’re using the ASIAir, then you should also still be able to utilise shooting a sequence with this camera. I just found it strange that you couldn’t do it from within either the camera or mobile app.

That said, if that’s my only gripe with this camera, and it pretty much IS, then it would be far from a deal breaker for me.

Final Impression

The 6D Mk2 is a superb camera. It excels in low light situations, and the higher ISO noise, even at long exposure times, doesn’t seem especially over-bearing.

Even the remote connection through the phone didn’t appear to kill the battery life like one would expect and I found this to be quite an added benefit. When out shooting astrophotography, what you don’t want is the battery to be dying midway through the evening.

The question of whether I’d buy it is a simple one to answer – yes I would. It feels solid and dependable, and has enough functions to keep me happy without overwhelming me with options. I want a camera to help me take the best images possible, NOT make me a cup of tea.

The moon and the Pleiades at 5am. Single frame, 25 seconds at ISO 3200, 17mm F/4

That about wraps up my trial of this pretty awesome camera, and I’d again like to extend my thanks to LCE in Gloucester for allowing me to try it out in the field.

Thank you for taking the time to read my first mini-review, and if there’s any constructive feedback then by all means give me a shout.

Clear skies all

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