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Involuntary Evolution to a New Camera and Glass (Canon R6)

Well, I ran over my 80D and favorite lens with the Tacoma. It wasn't pretty and I wasn't happy, but it happened, and you can read about it in Tragedy in the Tablelands. I'd already been pining after a new, full-frame mirrorless camera, but of course, with a perfectly working setup, I was unlikely to get one.

Ultimately, I used this opportunity to pick up a brand-spanking-new Canon R6, and two lenses - an RF 24-240mm f4-6.3 IS USM and a wide angle RF 15-35mm F2.8 L IS USM. It was an expensive day, to say the least.

Candy store.

How I Decided on the R6

Before we get into how I like everything so far, it's worth looking at why I went with the gear I did. There were several aspects I was considering, including brand, full- vs. cropped-frame, and mirror vs. mirrorless. Oh, and cost, sort of.

Let me cover brand first. I knew I wanted to go with Canon again, for two reasons. First, I've owned Canon and Sony cameras in the past, and I never really liked the color profile on a Sony, where I've very much enjoyed the color profile on a Canon. I know that's completely tweakable in post processing, but it is what it is for me. Second, I found that I really liked the in-hand ergonomics of the Canon 80D (Note: I'd get a Canon 90D now if I were just going for "replacement"), and the Sony bodies are so different that I didn't really want to make that change.

Sony A, and Canon R series, overlaid on my existing camera (80D) for reference. Understandably, the Canons are more similar; the Sony seems too small to me.

There were a couple other minor things with the Canon. First, I felt like in the traditional DSLR market, Canon and Nikon are the two big names (at a reasonable price point). In the mirrorless market, Sony has been the big name but the Canon R5 and R6 were suddenly giving Sony a run for its money. So, that puts Canon in a "leader" role across both markets; something I liked. And, I admit, is an opinion.

Next, cost. I knew this was going to be an expensive proposition, and while I wanted to keep cost down, that was mostly because I didn't want to have an accident and run over a new multi-thousand dollar camera setup, given my recent experience! Having decided on Canon, I'd basically limited myself to one of the following bodies: Canon 90D if I wanted cropped frame, Canon 5D Mark IV if I wanted full frame, and either the Canon R5 or R6 if I wanted mirrorless full frame.

Three cost tiers I was considering. 1DX Mark III included for reference only.

I recognize that the cost difference between the lowest and middle tiers is 100%, but the absolute difference didn't bother me as much as the cost difference between the middle and top tiers, which was another 100% (or 4x the low tier), so I began favoring the middle tier price point.

Next was cropped- vs. full-frame sensor. This wasn't much of a decision for me - I figured that if I was buying a new camera, I might as well go full frame. It would give me better low light performance for things like star photos, sunrise and sunset, the interior of cabins, and the views out of mine shafts. The drawback as that it would mean going with all new lenses, since my existing EF-S lenses were crop-sensor. Given that I'd run over my most expensive lens at the same time as the camera body though, this was a no-brainer. So, now I was down to the 5D Mark IV or the new R-line.

The last decision point was whether I should go mirrorless or not. I think I knew at the time - but didn't realize the extent to which - this was biggest and most impactful decision. Not because of the varying cost of bodies, but because this decision would determine which line of lenses (EF or RF) I ended up investing in. Knowing that the lens decision will (hopefully) have a longer time horizon than whatever body I ended up with, I ultimately decided I should go with the newest Canon had to offer - the RF line.

My process then narrowed me down to the Canon R5 or R6, and I began weighing off those two cameras, or really, weighing off two aspects of the two cameras: sensors and cost. The sensors are the same physical size between the cameras, but the R5 squeezes 45MP onto the sensor while the R6 uses a 20MP sensor. For reference, my 80D used a 24MP sensor.

Comparing the Canon R6 resolution (20MP) to the R5 (45MP, and my previous 80D. Lots more ability to crop with the R5.

The newly designed 45MP sensor on the R5 would allow for more cropping in Adobe Lightroom, but could make for cumbersomely large file sizes. Additionally, cramming more megapixels onto a sensor has - historically - meant introducing more noise in low light situations. The 20MP sensor on the R6 wouldn't allow the same cropping capabilities, but would generate more manageable files and might have better low light performance, since each receptor on the sensor is larger and absorbs more light. Also, while not as new as the R5 sensor, it is the same sensor Canon uses in its highest end camera - the 1DX Mark III - so it had that going for it.

So in the end, I opted for the Canon R6 due to its cost and my hope that I'd be happy with its great sensor, and that I wouldn't miss the ability to crop quite as much in Lightroom.

Lens Choice

I've been extremely happy with my Canon EF-S 18-135mm IS USM (with a 1.6x crop sensor, this is effectively a 27-216mm lens) as a walk-around lens, and I wanted something similar for the new setup. Being relatively new, the RF line of lenses doesn't have quite as much variety as the EF series, but I was happy to see that there was a Canon RF 24-240mm F4-F6.3 IS USM lens that I thought would work quite well. In fact, I wondered if I'd be able to use it for all my shooting - even wide angle - because it was slightly wider than my previous setup.

I'd find out after a single trip (Right Back to the Owens Valley) that I still needed a real wide-angle lens, and this is where the RF lens lineup showed its limitations. The only wide-angle zoom option was the Canon RF 15-35mm F2.8 L IS USM lens - part of Canon's trinity - which being an F2.8 L, cost nearly as much as the R6 body.

Arrival, Unboxing, and First Impressions

To say I was giddy with excitement when boxes started showing up would be an understatement. Everything was well packed from Canon, and it was like Christmas in January, which is sort of just like extended actual Christmas now that I think about it. First impressions:

  • R6 body: seems great. Pretty much just like the 80D and feels good in my hand. Some of the controls are different, so I'll have to learn those; no big deal.
  • RF 24-240mm lens: seems great. Pretty much just like the 18-135mm lens, except a bit longer and heavier which I'm OK with because I feel like that just means it has better glass.
  • RF 15-35mm lens: holy shit this thing is big. Not at all like my 10-18mm EF-S lens, which I liked to slip into my pocket, and I wonder if its going to be a problem carrying this monstrosity around.

One thing was for certain - I was going to need to use all this stuff for a while to see how I liked it for real.

Real World First Impressions

I've used the new setup for about a month now. Over the course of three trips, I've been on the trail for 15 nights and taken about 6000 photos. And just to be clear, that's not necessarily quality photos - there have been far fewer of those.

Let me start by saying that the photos that come out of the whole setup are great. Anyone considering the R6 body and either of these two lenses doesn't need to worry about photo quality - it is tremendous. Here are some of the things I really like:

  • Ergonomics. I expected to like the ergonomics, since they are so similar to my previous setup. I'm happy to say that they are, and while I have to learn a few different actions with various buttons/controls, it's incremental and I can tell that I'm going to like the new setup better once it becomes muscle memory.
  • Autofocus. The autofocus system on the new Canon cameras has been touted as amazing, and I agree. There are so many more focus points, they focus faster, and the resulting images just seem sharper.

Dual Pixel CMOS AF II features 1052 selectable focusing points, which cover approximately 100% of the image frame.

  • Focus point selection. On the 80D, when the screen on the rear was activated, I could tap in a location to focus there and take a photo. The R6 takes that a step further - when using the viewfinder, the back screen becomes a "focus trackpad," and is exactly where my thumb rests, so I can quickly move focus around in the frame and then let the amazing autofocus take over.
  • Low light. As I'd hoped, the full-frame sensor is great in low light. Mornings and evenings, as well as night (star) shots are great. Two big differences over the previous setup: shutter speed is faster, and noise in the resulting image is reduced. I never really considered Milky Way shots in the past, but I'm going to start figuring some out now.
  • Exposure Preview. As a mirrorless camera, the R6 has an electronic viewfinder. That means that when you look through the viewfinder, you're actually looking at a screen instead of looking out the lens. One benefit of that is that any settings you change are immediately reflected in what you are looking at - the viewfinder shows you the exposure you'll get in the end result.
  • Bluetooth and GPS. This has been a nice surprise. The 80D also had Bluetooth communication with a phone, but only for shutter release, and establishing/maintaining a connection was tedious and unreliable. The Bluetooth on the R6 is great. Pair it with a phone running Canon's app, and it will automatically (and quickly) re-pair any time the app is running. Then, the phone can be used for shutter control, settings control, and will send GPS coordinates to the camera for each photo. Now that's cool. Note: Maintaining this connection uses much battery, so I use it sparingly.
  • Lens overlap. What I mean by this is that the lenses overlap in the 24-35mm range. It turns out I take quite a few photos in this range, since I shoot a lot of landscapes. That means I can use either lens for a lot of my shots, which reduces the number of lens changes I need, and in certain situations means I can carry one lens around where I may have carried two previously.
  • Shutter speed of the RF 15-35 F2.8 L USM lens (esp. in low light). Wow. I was told prior to purchasing the 24-240mm F4-F6.3 lens that I should get something "faster," and I didn't really understand what that meant. Now, with the F2.8 L, I do. This lens is magical from a shutter speed perspective, allowing handheld shots in near dark conditions. It's amazing. I find myself wishing there was an F2.8 version of my 24-240mm lens now.

There are of course, things I don't love about the new setup, too. Let's start with my biggest complaint:

  • Power management. This is really the management of the camera's power state and is due to the interaction between battery life and the electronic viewfinder. With the 80D, I rarely turned the camera off. When I wasn't depressing the shutter button, the system was essentially in some deep sleep mode, using almost no power. With the R6, because the only way to "see" anything is to illuminate the back screen or electronic viewfinder, the camera has to be "on" much more. In fact, a sensor below the viewfinder turns the viewfinder on any time something comes near it (presumably your eye, but in practice, anything). Because of the way I hold the camera when I'm hiking, my hand is constantly passing over the sensor, so the viewfinder turns on. I didn't realize this on the first day I was using the camera, and the battery died after a two hours - just before I reached the destination of my hike! The solution is to turn the camera off between shots (when I'm walking around), which is just a new workflow I'll have to get used to. Frankly, I'm already starting to get used to it.

Then, there are other things that are less than ideal, but really just annoyances:

  • Battery life. After my first battery died after half a day, I wasn't sure I was going to keep the camera - it was that bad. Compared to the 80D, where I could go 3-4 days and maybe 1200 photos on a single battery charge; on the R6, I have averaged about 1.5 days and 400 photos, though this has started to climb as I've started to modify my workflow to turn off the camera between shots. In the end, as long as it lasts a through a day of shooting, this is probably no big deal.
  • Electronic Viewfinder. While I like exposure preview, I don't like that I have to have the camera on to see out the viewfinder - it's disconcerting to put the camera to my eye having just taken off the lens cap and see "black." And, no screen can update as quickly as clear glass, so panning around takes getting used to as well. I'm sure I'll get more used to it over time, but I don't think I'll ever love it.
  • RF mount lens caps. I don't know what Canon was thinking here, but the caps that cover the end of the lens that connects to the body can only engage the lens in a single orientation. With my EF-S caps, they engaged in maybe 4 positions, so I didn't have to get them lined up perfectly, which was great for sightless operation. With the RF covers, concentration is required.
  • The size of the RF 15-35mm F2.8 L USM lens. My old wide-angle lens was 2.4" wide x 2.8" long and weighed 8.5oz, easily fitting in my front pants pocket. The new wide angle is 3.5" wide x 5" long and weighs nearly 2lbs. Those sizes may not seem like much, but they are significant.

Old vs. new wide angles. The new lens is not pocketable.

And, a couple things I'm not sure about:

  • Megapixels. There have been a couple times already where I've wished I could "zoom in" more in Adobe Lightroom post processing. As in, places where my 24-240mm lens wasn't quite long enough, and so even zoomed in all the way, I still need more cropping than I'd like when I edit. So far, this has happened twice. Probably not worth the additional $2,500, but hey, it's only money, right?
  • Battery life and star trails. I haven't had a chance to setup the camera for star trails yet. I do wonder if the reduced batter life will mean that I can't capture as many exposures as are needed for long trails. Time will tell.
  • Necessity of lens profile correction for the RF 24-240mm lens. there's some pretty crazy corner vignetting that happens with this lens at 24mm. It's by design for the lens (which actually shoots slightly wider than 24mm and is then corrected in Lightroom or Canon's DPP app to a 24mm equivalent, but it's a little disconcerting when you see it the first time.

So, overall, I'd say that I'm optimistically happy for now. There would have been less friction moving to a Canon 90D or 5D Mark IV - since the battery life issue is my biggest complain - but I think in the long run, moving to the new R line is a smart choice. The RF mount is Canon's bet for the future, and I'm sure that over time I'll become accustomed to the differences in the setups.

Plus, it's hard to argue with the quality of the results.

 

Curious about my approach to photography? A bit tongue and cheek, but I always tell people If You Take Enough Photos, Some Are Bound to be Decent. Of course, I also find that the saying, the more I practice, the luckier I get also applies.

 

 

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