01 June 2021

Canon EOS R6 First Impressions and Sample Images

Vernon Chalmers First Impressions : Canon EOS R6

Canon EOS R6 - Image Credit: Canon USA

Field / First Impressions Report: 'Canon EOS R6 / RF 600 / 800mm f/11 IS STM Lenses for Birds in Flight / General Bird Photography' for Canon South Africa

I received a phone call from Roger Machin, Product Marketing Manager, Canon South Africa, asking if I would be interested in field testing the then recently launched Canon EOS R 6 and two Canon RF lenses. Roger made it very clear from the outset that there are substantial improvements in (at least) the Autofocus System (speed and tracking) and Shooting Modes (Frames per second  / shutter application). 

The Canon EOS R6, together with the EOS R5 World Wide launched on 9 July 2020. Media Release

We discussed my testing objectives and a few weeks later the Canon EOS R6 body and two Canon RF lenses where delivered by Ashik Essop, Account Manager-Pro Dealer, Canon South Africa in Cape Town, to my training studio opposite Woodbridge Island, Cape Town. As per delivery:
  • Canon EOS R 6 Full Frame Mirrorless Body
  • Canon RF 800mm f/11 IS STM lens
  • Canon RF 600mm f/11 IS STM lens
  • SanDisk Extreme PLUS 64GB 80MB/s SD Card

Field Review / First Impressions Goal and Disclaimer 
As with the Canon EOS R 2019 Field Review / First Impressions the overall goal of Canon EOS R6 and RF lens review is a first impressions overview of how the equipment was applied and ultimately experienced in the genre of Bird in Flight  / General Bird Photography (in relation with my experience with a variety of other Canon EOS bodies and EF lenses). This is not a pure technical / empirical evaluation of the Canon EOS R6, listed  RF lenses against various Canon EOS bodies and EF Lenses.  

Field Review / First Impressions Objectives
It was discussed with Roger that as a Birds in Flight (fast action) photographer I would work with the EOS R6 and the new RF 600mm / 800mm f/11 IS STM lenses for a week and see how the different pairings would perform in:
  • Birds in flight (fast action) photography
  • General birding (mostly perched birds)

Canon EOS R6 Brief Specifications: View Here

Canon RF 600mm / 800mm f/11 IS STM M Lenses Brief Specifications: View Here

Difference between Canon EOS R6 And EOS R5 Canon South Africa

Canon EOS R6 / RF lenses 'out of box' Impressions 
I received the evaluation body and the two RF lenses well packaged. Very similar to any new Canon EOS body and / or lens. With years of experience with the Canon EOS semi-professional and professional DSLR's the ergonomics felt immediately smaller, but did not look much different than the bigger EOS DSLRs. It really does not take long to become comfortable with the EOS R6 in hand. 

The familiar Canon EOS menus operates smoothly with the flip-out vari-angle LCD touchscreen interface and / or the traditional non-touch  procedure. One major menu addition to the EOS R6 over the the EOS R is the extensive Auto-Focus (AF) Menu settings. More about the impressive AF System later.

Canon RF Lenses
When Ashik opened the first lens box and handed me the RF 600mm f/11 STM lens I was surprised to see a 600mm lens smaller, lighter and shorter than my Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L USM lens. Same with the RF 800mm lens - in reality not much longer than the RF600mm lens, but still matching the weight of my relatively light EF 400m f/5.6L USM lens. I did, of course, rise an eyebrow of the fixed f/11 aperture (on both lenses). 

For both lenses to fully operate on the EOS R6 a locking ring on the lens must be turned and some part of the barrel fiscally pulled out for extending the lens barrel. The camera will note operate without this procedure. 

Weight Comparisons: Against equal focal length Canon 600mm / 800mm L lenses
  • RF 800mm f/11 IS STM 1,260g // EF 800mm f/5.6L IS USM 4,500g
  • RF 600mm f/11 STM 930g // EF 600mm f/4L IS III USM 3,050g

Weight Comparisons: Popular Canon 400 / 100-400mm L Prime / Zoom lenses
  • EF 400mm f/f.6L USM 1,250g // EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM 1,570g

Canon EOS R6 AF System (with Eye / Face / Fast Animal Detection)

The EOS R 6 (as with the EOS R5) uses Canon’s advanced Dual Pixel CMOS AF II System which utilises up to approximately100 percent coverage of the AF area and EOS iTR AF X incorporating AF tracking algorithms using deep learning technology and enhanced readout speed of the CMOS sensor and processing speed due to the DIGIC X image processor. The 1,053 automatically selected AF Zones are made even more potent by the ability to detect the human eye, face or head as well as the eye, face or body of animals such as dogs, cats and even birds. (Source: Canon South Africa).

Important Note: Due to the new AF System it is immediately apparent that the EOS R6 is a more advanced EOS R than the original EOS R with a substantially configured AF Menu.

AF Menu Tab (5 Sub-sections providing opportunity for configuring a number of options):
  • AF 1: AF Operations (7 functions) // AF 2: MF peaking settings et al (3 functions)
  • AF 3: Servo AF - Cases (7 functions) // AF 4: Lens Electronic MF et al (7 functions)
  • AF 5: Initial Servo AF point for tracking options et al (4 functions)

Available AF Modes Settings:
  • Spot AF / 1-Point AF / Expand AF Area / Expand AF Area: Around
  • Zone Area / Large Zone AF: Vertical / Large Zone AF: Horizontal

Shutter Drive Methods / Frames Per Second (fps):
  • Mechanical shutter (12 fps)
  • Electronic first-curtain shutter (20 fps) 
  • Electronic shutter (20 fps)
Grey heron with Canon EOS R6 / RF 800mm f/11 IS STM Lens : ISO 640 / 1/2500s
Grey heron with Canon EOS R6 / RF 800mm f/11 IS STM Lens : ISO 640 / 1/2500s

Birds in Flight / Bird Photography Test Settings and other Default Criteria

With the Canon EOS R6 I followed my normal testing approach and although I opted to be as objective as possible within my personal frame of reference during testing it was with both the Canon EOS R6 in mind and the current crop of high-performance EOS DSLR bodies it's 'competing' against - right up to the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III.  

Weather Conditions During Testing
The first week of testing was almost impossible due to inclement weather in Cape Town. The second week I had three relatively crisp Birds in Flight / General Birding conditions with clear skies and minimal wind. 

Using the Canon EOS R6 in the field (Woodbridge Island / Table Bay Nature Reserve)
I spent five outings using the camera around Woodbridge Island / Table Bay Nature Reserve from which derived my various overall impressions, likes and challenges from the various outings I used the camera. I used both lenses for more / less the same time in flight / static bird species - exactly as I would normally use with my Canon EOS 7D Mark II / EF 400mm f/5.6L USM lens and other pairings.

Setting up the EOS R6 Autofocus System
My objective was to set-up the AF System as similar as possible to all the other Canon EOS bodies I have used with advanced 61-point / 65-AF systems. 

My EOS R6 Autofocus (AF) Setup for Birds in Flight / Birding Photography

Birds in Flight / Bird Photography Test Settings and other Criteria

Over the testing period I used the following configurations and settings with the Canon EOS R6 and both the RF 600mm / 800mm f/11 IS STM lenses.

Canon EOS R6 AF Settings Used
During the few days I worked with the EOS R6 I did not experiment / explore all AF options, but kept my average AF Setup close to the default settings (as I always do with a new EOS camera). For the purpose of this report I used the following main settings:
  • Servo AF
  • AF Case: Case 1
  • Subject to detect: Animals
  • AF Modes: Used both the Zone Area and the Large Zone: Horizontal
  • Shutter: Mechanical Shutter / Electronic Shutter
  • High-speed continuous shooting + (H+)

Exposure Settings
  • Manual Mode
  • ISO 500 - 640
  • Aperture: f/11
  • Shutter Speed: 1/2500 - 1/3200s

Other Settings
  • RAW Image Processing
  • Lens Image Stabilization on 

Cape Shoveler Duck with Canon EOS R6 / RF 800mm f/11 IS STM Lens : ISO 640 / 1/2500s
Cape Shoveler Duck with Canon EOS R6 / RF 800mm f/11 IS STM Lens : ISO 640 / 1/2500s

General In Field Application / First Impressions

I have never captured Birds in Flight at f/11 with any telephoto lens and was quite interested in how this would play out at 600mm / 800mm. My own reference on 300mm to 400mm (depending on the light would always be f/4 - f/6.3 - with an average of  f/5.6 (+- 90% of the time). This was also an opportunity for testing the camera in different light conditions, but mostly it was about its fast action performance, image quality and ISO performance at higher shutter speeds.

Ergonomics / Weight (also with the RF 600/ 800mm IS STM lenses)
The Canon EOS R6 body and both lens pairing felt quite comfortable in my hands and I managed to capture +- 1200 images per birds in flight / general birding outing. Pairing with either the RF 600mm / 800mm IS STM lenses felt comfortable in-hand and it was definitely the lightest Canon Full Frame body and super-telephoto lens pairings I have ever used. Low weigh combinations due to Diffractive Optics covered in a hard plastic black barrel rather than metal used in professional L lenses will enable photographers to carry either body / lens pairings for long periods of time. 

In- Body IS (IBIS) for up to 8 shutter speed stops' Image Stabilisation
With IBIS you should be able to leave the tripod at home. This could then become ideal pairings for the photographers who wants to travel light and have super-telephoto lens reach for fast moving and static / low light shooting opportunities.

Mechanical Shutter vs. Electronic Shutter
Hearing the mechanical shutter firing off at 12fps is a very sweet sound for me to such an extent I predominantly used the mechanical shutter vs the super-fast and very quiet Electronic Shutter at 20fps. I also opted for the mechanical shutter due to the perception of slightly less shutter lag and the fact that I don't need 20 images of the same bird filling the SD card up.

Buffer / Burst Speeds
The average consensus is that the EOS R6 can maintain bursts of over 1,000 JPEGs or 240 RAW per burst in continuous mode. This also depends on the speed of the SD Memory card used. I used the 80 MB/s card from Canon SA and it was adequate for my purpose. Occasionally the camera would pause slightly during a burst - but by that time I had more than enough images of the current subject.

Yellow-billed duck with Canon EOS R6 / RF 800mm f/11 IS STM Lens : ISO 640 / 1/2500s
Yellow-billed duck with Canon EOS R6 / RF 800mm f/11 IS STM Lens : ISO 640 / 1/2500s

AF System Field Application / Impressions

Critical for Birds in Flight Photography

AF Tracking and Detection
When Roger Machin from Canon SA initially contacted me with the proposition for testing the EOS R6 I was a bit sceptical of his enthusiasm - as I had in my mind the original EOS R's all round AF / Shutter lag performance - but, as I read elsewhere / and experienced first hand this is Canon's most advanced AF System for tracking, retaining and following fast moving subjects.

After the few outings I had with the Canon EOS R6 I most definitely share Roger's enthusiasm and can without doubt state the Dual Pixel CMOS AF II System with intuitive Tracking and Detection will become a formidable standard for all new EOS R bodies - and I don't believe you will hear many complaints from the fast shooters (in any field).

AF Method / Mode used
From the 6 AF Methods / Modes I only used Zone AF and Large Zone AF Horizontal. I personally preferred Large Zone AF Horizontal (due to a relatively low risk of possible environmental obstacles i.e. trees and buildings). Both methods worked satisfactorily and made tracking and detection easy - even for faster and smaller flying birds.

It took one or two outings for configuring of the AF to have a similar responsiveness and tracking as per modern professional EOS bodies (61-point / 65-AF systems). I have not worked with the EOS-1D X Mark III, but the understanding is that the New EOS R5 or R6 should at least perform on similar levels.

The EOS R6 was in a different class compared of the original EOS R, especially when using the shorter RF 600mm f/11 IS STM lens and I felt much closer to my Canon EOS 7D Mark II / EF 400mm f/5.6L USM lens. Keep in mind that with both the RF 600 / 800mm fix aperture lenses operating at f/11 will be slower than the f/5.6 I'm used to.
Click to Enlarge
Pied Kingfisher in Flight Canon EOS R6 / RF 800mm f/11 IS STM Lens : ISO 640 / 1/2500s  Specked Pigeon in Flight Canon EOS R6 / RF 600mm f/11 IS STM Lens : ISO 640 / 1/2500s
Canon EOS R6 / RF 800 / 600mm f/11 IS STM Lens : ISO 640 / 1/2500s

Paired with the RF 600mm / 800mm IS STM lenses
I was quite surprised with the AF tracking, the Dual Pixel CMOS AF II system in tandem with the new DIGIC X image processor, with its deep learning technology performed exceptionally well in tracking even the smallest of small birds in flight here - the pied kingfisher! It locked on with ease, especially when using the RF 600mm IS STM lens - the tracking felt on par with my Canon 7D Mark II / 400mm f/5.6L USM lens birds in flight setup and in my opinion, with the animal tracking option enabled, is definitely the most advanced AF System I have worked with up to now. 

The animal tracking function - once it locked-on the subject will form a solid blue outline around the entire subject - and maintain this during a fast-burst continuous shooting session. Should it lose the position it may connect again depending on the bird's position / flight direction movements. 

I could not really achieve this so well with the RF 800mm IS STM lens, but the technology applied is quite a phenomenal step forward in user-assistance in acquiring and continuous tracking of fast moving subject. Its not going to work so well on a bird suddenly entering the frame and moving out again, but with careful planning and anticipation of flying subjects the photographer should get this assistance in most continuous bursts.

Click to Enlarge
Lesser Swamp Warbler Canon EOS R6 / RF 800mm f/11 IS STM Lens : ISO 640 / 1/2500s    Cape Canary Canon EOS R6 / RF 800mm f/11 IS STM Lens : ISO 640 / 1/2500s
Canon EOS R6 / RF 800mm f/11 IS STM Lens : ISO 640 / 1/2500s

Perched Bird Photography Woodbridge Island
As always there is an opportunity for capturing perched birds, I would not change much in the camera settings to get a few perched birds into the in-flight mix. The reason for no change is really the fact that there is not a lot of time between the odd perched bird and the predominant Bird in Flight objective. 

For this, all I really did, in Manual Mode, was to lower the shutter speed for lowering the ISO - if the ISO was set to Auto-ISO. With the EOS R6 and the rather long 600mmm / 8000mm RS lenses Auto-ISO did not perform exceptionally well at f/11 and I used pre-set ISO's between ISO 500 - 800. Not a problem - just an adjustment if the Aperture is that high (at f/11),

Other Important First Impressions

Image Quality with the RF 600 / 800mm f/11 IS STM lenses
I have never been much of a pixel-peeper, but saying this I expect quality results in terms of the expected (professional) standard of kit in my hands - therefore I should do everything possible to enhance the best outcome in terms of the gear, light conditions, exposure settings and AF setup. The EOS R6 (with the two RF lenses I used) rendered acceptable in-flight images / perched bird images comparing to images created with even the EOS 7D Mark II / EOS 7D / 5D Mark IV paired with professional L-designated 300mm / 400m lenses. Here I must stress that Exposure Settings / quality of light will have an significant impact on the final Birds in Flight Image. 

Background Blur
Both lenses provided for more / less the same high quality Bokeh as I would achieve with my 400mm at f/5.6 on both my Canon EOS Full Frame or Crop bodies. This will very much depend on distance between camera and subject - and then subject to background. As an experienced photographer around Woodbridge Island know by now where the best background blurring opportunities will be - so a lot of achieving a satisfactory  Bokeh is to plan for it.

Shooting at a fix f/11 Aperture (RF 600 / 800mm f/11 IS STM lenses)
Not an ideal aperture when considering I have been using f/5.6 at an 90% average on most other Canon consumer / professional prime and zoom telephoto lenses for birds in flight  the last eight tears. It took me one outing to get the gist of an absolute fixed f/11 Aperture. It took me one outing to make the necessary adjustments. With good light it is much less of a challenge, but you have to keep your eye on high shutter speeds vs ISO performance.

ISO Performance (RF 600 / 800mm f/11 IS STM lenses) 
As said above, it was quite challenging to work with a fixed f/11 for birds in flight / fast action photography and it was required to adjust from my default Auto-ISO to a fix ISO. In low light conditions Auto-ISO would shoot up to ISO 3200 at a shutter speed of  2500 / 3200. I used manual ISO's 500 - 640 most of the time. With this setup I left the ISO as is and kept going focusing on finding fast flying subjects. Interesting in various Canon documentation  it is claimed that the EOS R6 handles darker scenes better than the EOS R5. Auto-focus is possible between EV-6.5 (dark) and EV +20 (light).

 Battery Life
The official battery life rating is about 510 shots with the LCD and about 380 shots with the viewfinder.
On each outing I captured +- 1200 images and there was probably still between 10 -20% of battery power left. One advantage is that the new Canon LP-E6NH battery used will be backward compatible with LP-E6N and LP-E6 battery packs. 

Grey heron with Canon EOS R6 / RF 800mm f/11 IS STM Lens : ISO 640 / 1/2500s
Grey heron with Canon EOS R6 / RF 800mm f/11 IS STM Lens : ISO 640 / 1/2500s

Other / Optional features I liked about the EOS R (for Birds in Flight / Perched Birds)

Dual Memory Card Slots
Dual UHS-II SD card slots with Auto-switching

Compatible with EF and EF-S lenses (With optional RF Lens adapter)
This is quite high on my list of preferences. The compatibility with all current EF and EF-S lenses is a major feature and will be for many enthusiast and professional photographers with these lenses. It could very well be one of Canon's Unique Selling Points (USP's) down the line for photographers buying into the EOS R system due to their current selection of EF / EF-S lenses. It makes a lot of business and consumer sense for me. 

RF 1.4x / 2xLens Extenders
Both the 600mm / 800mm IS STM lenses are compatible with the new 1.4x and 2x RF lens extenders.

Shutter Durability Rating
300 000 actuations (clicks)

Challenges while working with the Canon EOS R6 / RF 600mm / 800mm IS STM Lenses

Shutter Lag?
During my Field Report / First Impressions Testing while working with the Canon EOS R in 2019 the biggest challenge experienced was an substantial shutter lag of the mirror body while out doing my birds in flight testing. With the EOS R6 this is practically nullified and I only experienced lagging using the Electronic ViewFinder, but after the second outing / and using the Electronic Shutter (and a fine-tuned AF System) I forgot about it. So no real issue for me.

f/11 Aperture with 600 / 800mm IS STM lenses
I would describe both these lenses as enthusiast lenses as they are not constructed to the level of professional L-designated telephoto lens standards. At 600mm / 800mm at f/11 there will be some challenges in the field. Both lenses performed slower than my average f/5.6 - which will slow the AF down and this could have an impact on effective tracking. At f/11 the photographer will also have to keep an eye on exposure settings (especially at higher apertures and low light conditions). But, for the weight and the price it should be an effective value proposition for the enthusiast wildlife photographer requiring longer focal lengths and a lighter traveling pairing. With experience, adequate skill and good lighting these lenses should deliver good to excellent results.  

Updated post-processing software for CR3 RAW files

Prospective buyers of the Canon EOS R6 should take note of this. A few updates will have you sorted in no time if your editing software is not updated to read CR3 RAW files.

Canon Digital Photo Professional (DPP) 4 users: CR3 files will only work with DPP 4.10. This is a free upgrade from Canon. I opened the CR3 files with DPP version 4.12. 

For Adobe Lightroom Users: The updated Adobe Lightroom 9.2 is fully compatible with EOS R6. 

My processing was done with Lightroom Classic 9.4 

Transferring images from camera to computer
I used both my Lexar Professional Dual-Slot USB 3.0 and Transcend TS-RDF8K USB 3.0 Multi Card Readers for transferring CR3 images without any issues.

Click to Enlarge

African Oystercatcher Canon EOS R6 / RF 600mm f/11 IS STM Lens : ISO 640 / 1/2500s African Darter Canon EOS R6 / RF 600mm f/11 IS STM Lens : ISO 640 / 1/2500s
Canon EOS R6 / RF 600mm f/11 IS STM Lens : ISO 640 / 1/2500s

At the conclusion of my Field Testing / First Impressions Report on the Canon EOS R I wrote "After spending a few weeks with the EOS R I am optimistic and fairly convinced that Canon will deploy substantial future resources in the development of the R System" 

Canon executed this with the launch of both the Canon EOS R5 and the EOS R6. The new EOS R6 is a feature-rich Full Frame Mirrorless EOS body that should appeal to a variety of photographers - including fast action / Birds in Flight  photographers.

The most outstanding feature for me is the new Autofocus System that is now defining the way forward for a wide variety of genres / applications - including tracking and detecting fast moving animals - even some of the smallest and fastest birds in flight.

 Click to Enlarge

Reed Cormorant Canon EOS R6 / RF 800mm f/11 IS STM Lens : ISO 640 / 1/2500s Speckled Pigeon Canon EOS R6 / RF 800mm f/11 IS STM Lens : ISO 640 / 1/2500s
Canon EOS R6 / RF 800mm f/11 IS STM Lens : ISO 640 / 1/2500s

Personal Opinion and Recommendations (for Action / Birds in Flight Photography)

The EOS R6 arrived as a big improvement in terms of shutter lag, AF application (with the new tracking and detection functionality) and made quite an impression on me compared to the EOS R and all other modern EOS DSLR's with 61 to 65-Point AF systems.

In 2019 I concluded the following on using the original Canon EOS R for Birds in Flight Photography ''The current EOS R is in my opinion not ready for replacing the Canon EOS 7D Mark II, EOS 5D Mark IV et al for shooting dedicated (only) action / birds in flight to meet many (almost) instant AF-focusing or continuous burst mode expectations."

The new EOS R6 easily overcame the high-action photography limitations of the EOS R and I would recommend the EOS R6 for fast action photography / Birds in Flight photography. With an improved* version of the EOS-1D X Mark III image sensor (latest flagship DSLR camera) it is clear that the Canon EOS R System development strategy is now starting to show real high-performance maturity. I personally believe that Canon arrived at a time where the EOS R System paradigm has shifted to an imminent advantage over the traditional EOS DSLR. I'm saying this with utmost respect towards most modern EOS DSLR's - of which I own quite a few. * Canon ASIA

Canon RF 600 / 800mm f/11 IS STM lenses
For most enthusiast photographers any of these two super telephoto lenses even at f/11 will perform well for general wildlife and the occasional fast action / birds in flight photography. The shorter 600mm lens performed better (AF performance) in my shooting conditions - although the longer 800mm focal length is tempting, it will be important for the future buyer to decide between focal length, application, general lighting conditions, light weight and relatively low cost. 

More Information about Canon EOS R6 from Canon South Africa

Download the Canon EOS R6 PDF User Manual Here

© Copyright Vernon Chalmers for Canon South Africa

Little Egret with Canon EOS R6 / RF 800mm f/11 IS STM Lens : ISO 640 / 1/2500s
Little Egret with Canon EOS R6 / RF 800mm f/11 IS STM Lens : ISO 640 / 1/2500s

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