Review: The 2017 Canon EOS M6

With the release of the Canon EOS-M5/M6, perception towards Canon’s mirrorless system has changed. Both the M5 and M6 use the same APS-C 24 Megapixels image sensor and dual pixel AF system as Canon’s high-end APS-C DSLR, the 77D, Thanks to Canon Malaysia, I have had the new Canon EOS-M6 to shoot with for the past week. I understand that the M6 is not a new camera and has been on the market since April. Some of you may already have one. I am doing this review purely out of curiosity: to find out where the M6 fits in the almost never-ending choice of mirrorless cameras now.

Canon was late to the mirrorless interchangeable lens camera system party. Other camera manufacturers such as Fujifilm, Olympus, Sony and Panasonic have matured and refined their mirrorless cameras to even match the performance of DSLR cameras. The previous releases of Canon EOS-M, M3 and even the M10 left universal complaints about poor autofocus, sub-par image quality and overall camera performance lagging behind the competition. With the M5 and M6, Canon seems to be taking their mirrorless game seriously.

The Canon EOS-M6 is almost identical to the M5, minus the electronic viewfinder, a slightly smaller body as well as a lower resolution back LCD screen. Here are some feature highlights of the M6:

  • 24 Megapixels APS-C image sensor (same sensor used in 77D and M5)
  • Dual Pixel on sensor AF, Phase Detect
  • Tilt Screen, with touch operations, and touch shutter (tap to shoot)
  • 4 independent dials on body – dedicated exposure compensation dial, twin dials (front and back) and thumb wheel
  • 1080/60p video

For full specifications, you may visit Canon’s official product page here.

Please note that this is an independent review, we (MT and I) have no affiliation to Canon and the loan unit will be returned after the review. This review is based on user experience and is likely to be subjective. All images shown in this article (except the first two product images) were taken with Canon EOS-M6 and 15-45mm F3.5-6.3 kit lens. I was not provided with any other lenses or an adapter to use Canon’s EF lenses. All images were shot in RAW and post-processed in Capture One Pro version 10.2. If you wish to view the exif data of the images, you can find them in the image gallery here.

Many have complained about the lack of an electronic viewfinder in the M6 and called it a deal breaker. If EVF is that important to you, you can always go for the M5, which is identical to the M6, with the EVF. There are plenty other mirrorless cameras from other manufacturers with and without EVF. So putting the M6 down just because it does not have an EVF is like complaining that black coffee doesn’t have milk in it.

I must be honest here: the only mirrorless Canon cameras I’ve tried are the original EOS-M and the M3, and both disappointed me with their poor, unreliable AF performance. There was no way around it, the AF was just downright unusable for me. The M6 however, surprised me with the lightning quick, yet super accurate, autofocus!

Shooting the M6 using the LCD screen, I touched the screen to move the AF point and the camera responded immediately. I have had situations where I saw an interesting moment about to occur in the next 2-3 seconds and I’ve managed to turn on the camera (was defaulted to off to conserve battery since I had no spare), frame the shot and nail it. The dual pixel phase detect AF works efficiently, and I was happy to see the M6 perform so well during my usual street photography sessions. Finally, Canon has got their AF performance on par with the rest of the mirrorless crowd.

Note that I only tested the camera on Single AF, since that is my most comfortable shooting technique. I don’t use Continuous AF.

Handling is very good on the M6. The beefy grip has sufficient depth for comfortable handholding. I didn’t use a neck strap this time, and just held the camera all along. I was walking for at least 4 hours and the camera was small and light enough for me to ignore its weight. The M6 and kit lens combo is a good balance and I had no issues using it for long hours. I wish many mirrorless cameras would adopt such a grip.

The camera build quality is sturdy, and has a premium feel to it (unlike the entry level Sony mirrorless cameras that feel plasticky and cheap). The buttons and multiple dial placements on the M6 make sense and are easy to get used to.  I like that I have a dedicated dial that I can use to adjust the ISO immediately without needing to press a combination of buttons. My only complaint is the exposure compensation adjustment which is quite slow to react. For every adjustment of exposure compensation from the dial, there is a noticeable, annoying half-second lag. Since everything else in the camera was smooth and lag-free, I would have expected the exposure compensation to work flawlessly.

My friend, Matti Sulanto from Finland. Canon skin tone is pleasing, and warm.

Sample wide angle shot, at 15mm, stopped down to F5. Even not at wide open, the image shows the unforgiving flaws of the lens.

Center frop from previous image. At the center, sharpness is good

Edge crop from previous image. At the corners and edges, softness is a problem.

I was pleasantly surprised by the Canon EOS-M6’s image output. Maybe I have lower expectations given my previous Canon mirrorless attempts (before the M5 of course) were rather mediocre.

The M6 delivers vibrant and pleasing colors, with faithful skin tones and beautiful overall rendering. I did not tweak the colors at all – besides adjusting the white balance, what you see in the images is straight out of camera. I believe Canon fans will quickly recognize and appreciate the colors. This camera is well-suited for newcomers to photography as you don’t have to do much to get rich, beautiful colors.

Although I was only using the 15-45mm F3.5-6.3 kit lens, the M6 sensor managed to pack in plenty of fine detail into the images (with reservations, primarily surrounding the lens, explained in the following paragraph). At the center of the image, I noticed high levels of sharpness and good contrast. While 24 Megapixels is not leading the pack, there is still plenty to go around, whether you are using the M6 as a secondary body to your Canon DSLR system (since you can conveniently adapt your Canon DSLR lenses to the M6), or as a standalone camera for casual, everyday use. In optimum conditions with good lighting and use of low ISO settings, the Canon M6 can deliver impressive results.

While I generally have no issues with the camera, it is limited by a lackluster kit lens. Canon has included the best APS-C sensor they have at the moment, with a capable AF system, and crippled all of it with a sub-standard kit lens. The kit lens exhibit all kinds of lens flaws that you can think of – soft edges and corners at all focal lengths, bad distortion control, serious chromatic aberration issues and flare problems. I understand that entry level users may not necessarily mind these flaws, and I have been the champion of using your kit lens first before upgrading to better lenses, but if you are serious about getting the best out of your Canon M5 or M6, please consider the other lenses available for the camera.

ISO200, 1/2 second shutter speed, hand-held. Kit lens has image stabilization, which helps in such difficult situation. 

I continued to push the M6’s performance in extreme low light conditions. I shot Nadir, a local singer songwriter’s performance under difficult stage lighting. I usually have my trusty F1.8 prime lenses when I use my own camera to mitigate the use of unnecessarily high ISO, but I did not have that luxury since I was stuck with the uninspiring 15-45mm F3.5-6.3 kit lens.

Considering my positive experience so far, with the M6’s fast AF and great image quality in good light, I had high hopes for the high ISO performance. While the M6 produced high ISO images with a good amount of detail and decent suppression of noise, I did not find it surpassing what I can typically achieve with a Micro Four Thirds system. I could possibly achieve slightly cleaner results with my old Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark II. Canon isn’t winning any points in high ISO performance here. Nonetheless, for a 24 Megapixels sensor (higher pixel density) it did a respectable job.

Personally, I find the limit of the M6 to be ISO3200. I could not tolerate the quality of ISO6400 files from the M6, no matter how much noise reduction I apply in post processing.

Autofocus was not an issue in low light, and the M6 continued to consistently nail accurate shots one after another. The only difficulty I had while shooting the live music performance, was inconsistent metering. I set the metering to pattern/evaluative, but the camera has a tendency to jump exposures dramatically and over or underexpose an image. It did not happen frequently enough to warrant a problem, but was annoying when it did happen. The slow to react exposure compensation dial didn’t help matter either.

The live view on the LCD screen can get a little laggy in very low light conditions. The lag happens when the camera is acquiring metering and focus. Once the camera has decided both metering and AF, the live view frame rate improves significantly. I did not observe this issue when using any Olympus, Panasonic or Sony mirrorless cameras before. Most newer mirrorless cameras have smooth live view operation.

ISO1600

ISO3200

ISO3200

ISO2000

ISO640

ISO3200

The battery life of the Canon M6 is very good and at about 750 shots, the battery indicator still showed full. This was also due to me turning the camera off whenever I was not using it. I only had one battery to work with and had to conserve battery life.

I am not the best person to comment on the video capabilities of the camera, but you may view a sample video that I took in quite challenging stage lighting conditions, of Nadir performing their song, Ikan Kekek. Video was shot in 1080/50p, hand-held, with image stabilization on of course. Audio was recorded separately by an external microphone.

What is my final say on the M6?

The Canon EOS-M6 is a mirrorless camera capable of delivering excellent images. It left me impressed with the speedy AF performance, pleasing Canon colors and overall shooting experience. The kit lens however, needs vast improvement, and if you are using the Canon EOS-M5 or M6, please look for alternatives. There really is nothing much to complain about, Canon has successfully delivered a rival-worthy mirrorless camera that newcomers can truly consider an option in their entry level camera system shopping list.

In the face of stiff competition, the M6 may not stand out from its mirrorless peers especially without 4K video, in body image stabilization, or an EVF. However, if you are looking for a solid performer for casual every day shooting, an easy to use camera and don’t care too much about high-end features, the M6 checks all the right boxes.

The Canon EOS-M6 is available from B&H

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Images and content copyright Robin Wong 2017 onwards. All rights reserved

Comments

  1. Kristian Wannebo says:

    “Olympus using yesteryears image sensor ..”

    Robin, do you refer also to the newer 20 Mpx sensor (with/without hybrid AF)?

    Some really nice photos!

  2. No wonder you’re so fat. Look at the crap you eat!

  3. I don’t need and want 4K now. File sizes are humongous and it takes ages to edit my videos with my setup. 1080p is quite enough for me for another 3-4 years.
    15-45mm looks better than Sony’s 16-50mm but looks worse tha m43 kit lenses (at least in the corners). I am very happy with GM5 and 12-32mm as my to-go-anywhere camera. 16MP is pixels aplenty.

  4. Robin, I believe that you are correct that Canon’s current mirrorless are completely viable cameras. The M3/M6 body shape also feels great in the hand with the 22mm pancake. Canon does however have a real problem to overcome in making the spec sheet followers on many internet sites believe this. In particular we are in a world where smartphones are the baseline and all the decent ones now have 4k. On that basis alone Canon may suffer in the consumer market for the failure to bring 4k across the range over the last year.

  5. Got the m5 with 18-150 & 11-22 lenses, can only say very very happy.

  6. Hi! I am so impressed with the photos here. Are all these the actual picture quality upon shooting? Or you apply a little bit of Photoshop retouching? I have an 8 year old Nikon D60 here but since I bought it, I always retouched with Photoshop to make the images look more stunning…. This camera is cool man!

    • Robin Wong says:

      As I have mentioned in the beginning of the review, all images were shot in RAW and post-processed in Capture One Pro version 10.2. Not much adjustments applied, except white balance correction, exposure compensation (if necessary) and contrast boost.

  7. I am actually impressed by the colors and sharpness of the kit lens…
    I can still see the robin wong style caries over to canon.

    Specially the Nadir shots… I could easily mistake it for Olympus Shots you made in the past.

    I specially like Mattis Portrait…Gray Background helps the camera to meter properly… 🙂

    • Robin Wong says:

      Thanks for the kind words. The Canon colors are very close to what I usually get from Olympus colors, but a bit warmer. Olympus is leaning toward the neutral side. That is why you found the images similar.

  8. Very nice review. A very personal preference of course but I’m actually not liking the colours, the reds seem to be quite over-powering…?

    • Robin Wong says:

      Personal indeed. These are the typical Canon lover’s claim of wonderful Canon colors. they look great on skin tone.

  9. 6 months ago I bought Panasonic GX80/85 with 12-32 kit lens, for 600€. So I have EVF, IBIS, 4k for 250€ less… As you said… only canon users will buy this camera…

  10. I am wondering how the built-in mic perform when recording live performance as above. By the way, my most favourite photo will be this one!

    • Robin Wong says:

      Tian Chad!
      Find me la when free. Still have the camera! The mic isn’t so great for live music, because too loud usually. For normal use should be ok.

  11. I got a chance to play with this camera and in terms of build quality Robin you’re right on the money its impressive. But sadly I feel Canon is still holding back at the development of the EOS-M system while Sony despite its limitations still on the native APS-C lenses has carved out its lineup overall accessories and lenses for 3rd parties. Also pricing at $849 its tough to swallow unless your a loyal Canon user when Sony offering the A6300 at less than 1K and Fuji X-T20 and of course the E-M5 MK2

    • Robin Wong says:

      I think Canon is being very conservative and it may seem like they are holding back. However I think that they made the right decision in including their latest image sensor and AF system. Yes it may not have other features like 4k video or 5-Axis IS but as a camera, I believe it isn’t falling behind much anyone else now! That is encouraging seeing Canon taking their mirror less game more seriously. I’m sure they will only get better.

      • Hi Robin, could you honestly let us know is there any feature this Canon model can offer which Sony, Fujifilm or Olympus are lacking, seriously…..Otherwise it may look like just another “nice try yet failed attempt” from the Canon Marketing to please their existing users from switching to mirrorless system. Practically, it does not make sense to introduce this model knowing there are already better models to choose from current market.

        • Robin Wong says:

          Saying that it is a failed attempt is too harsh, and unjustified. To me, I ask these questions: am I satisfied with the image quality (in terms of high ISO, dynamic range, sharpness, contrast, etc), that was a great yes from me. Am I happy with the AF performance? Did I manage to capture critically fast moving shots, and did the camera fare well in challenging situations? yes, and yes, as evidently proven in the sample images. I am not saying that the Canon is better or worse than any other cameras, it is on par, or at least close to what everyone else is offering. It is definitely not class leading, but at its price point, I am not expecting it to do any miracles.
          M6 is a camera that works. While other brands have equivalent cameras, some fall short in one area or the other (Sony with the plastic build, horrible controls, battery life, etc, Olympus using yesteryears image sensor and technology). There is no one perfect camera, and we can complain on and on. My point is, the Canon is not as bad as people think it is.

          • It may be that Canon have better continuous autofocus than the competition, but Robin’s not tested that. C-AF has long been an issue for mirrorless systems although is improving all the time.

            • Robin Wong says:

              Unfortunately I did not have the right lens to do much AF tracking. we did have the Para SEA (South East Asian) Games happening during my review period but what do you expect me to shoot with a kit lens in a stadium from the spectator’s seat? If only I had a longer lens to work with.

Trackbacks

  1. […] when I thought my temporary flirtation with the Canon EOS-M6 was over, Canon Malaysia came back to me with the EF-M 22mm F2 STM lens which I was very interested to try […]

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