Initial impressions

Canon's RF system has had a somewhat inconsistent start. The original EOS R was unusually avant garde in its control system, especially by Canon's rather conservative standards, and we weren't alone in finding it a little difficult to adapt to. Meanwhile, the RP was much more conventional but it had a small battery and capabilities commensurate with its status as the least-expensive full-frame digital camera ever launched. Both seemed rather out of step with a lens system being populated with high-end, L-branded optics: there wasn't an obvious way for enthusiasts or pros to get to enjoy these lenses.

Spending some time with the R6 has helped to smooth out these apparent discrepancies. Much more than the existing models, the EOS R6 is outright enthusiast friendly. Crucially, it's also a camera I believe most Canon DSLR users will adapt to almost immediately.

Three dial UI

The first thing to notice are the primary control points: the R6 has the on-switch and twin top-plate dials familiar to R and RP shooters but it also has the large back-plate dial that's been a feature of Canon SLRs dating back into the film era. The result is really quite nice.

Canon has a history of well thought-out ergonomics and I found all three dials comfortably accessible. It took me a while to remember which dial was doing what (and that's without having another stab at using the holistic 'Flexible Priority' way of shooting), but the sense of having everything at my fingertips was immediate.

I found setting the shoulder button to exposure comp and the rear dial to ISO worked well: the camera uses the front dial for either Av or Tv, depending which exposure mode you're in.

This being a Canon, a lot of the camera was immediately familiar: I knew where to find things in the menus and, equally, knew which settings I needed to change to get the most out of the camera. I'm not sure I'll ever understand why Canon makes cameras with joysticks but has them disabled by default, but with that setting changed and the option set to choose an initial AF point in continuous Face+Tracking mode turned on, I had a camera I felt was ready to do most things.

Promising specs

I've been shooting with the R6 for a bit but don't want to rush to any premature judgement. But I've certainly not noticed anything to make me question the very promising specs of the autofocus and IBIS systems.

I left the camera in tracking mode and continuous AF and found it would reliably stay glued to whatever I'd pointed the AF box at as I half-pressing the shutter. On occasion it would select the object as a whole, rather than the specific detail I'd pointed it, at but usually it would track the region I'd indicated very precisely.

Obviously there's the option to use a smaller, single point or spot AF area for occasions you need to be very specific in your focusing, but it's a promising start (albeit with generally static subjects, so far). The joystick offers a good balance between speed and precision, despite the R6 offering over 6000 selectable AF positions and you can tune this if you want.

Using the joystick meant I never felt the need to turn on the option to use the rear screen as a touchpad when shooting though the viewfinder. And an occasional tendency to set the AF point to the corner far corners as I folded the screen in or out even left me tempted to turn the touchscreen off altogether, at least when shooting stills. It's only the loss of touchscreen control over menus that stopped me doing so.

Between this and the image review on LCD option, I found the R6 shooting experience remarkably DSLR-like, which I don't for a moment think is unintentional on Canon's part.

HDR capabilities - waiting for the world to catch up

Personally I've been impressed with the camera's preparedness for a world in which HDR content is accessible. Having just bought myself an HDR TV, I can assure you that the results are impressive. The delicate glow of sunshine through a rose petal, so difficult to capture and recreate in SDR photography, just looked real.

Some smartphones might be able to show R6 HEIF images if you can get the original file to them, but currently the most reliable way to get see the HDR images in HDR is to plug the camera into a compatible TV

Unfortunately, for now, all I really can do is assure you of this. Because, while I can happily share a HEIF image with you, but there are very few methods of being able to reliably view the files. Windows support for HEIF and 10-bit displays is distinctly shaky, with Mac OS apparently demanding the use of Apple's most expensive monitor, so the main way of displaying the images at the moment is by connecting the camera to the HDMI port of an HDR TV. This is clearly not very practical.

The video side of the picture is a little better supported and, in principle, the camera's HDR PQ footage should be recognized by YouTube and served accordingly (with heavy compression) to 'smart' HDR TVs that can connect to it.

For now, then, it's a feature for the future, rather than today. But the future has a habit of arriving sooner than we expect, so I'm hoping the utility of the camera's lifelike HDR features gets boosted as it becomes easier for people to see the results.

A well-balanced camera

The EOS R6 boasts some pretty impressive video specs, even if it doesn't have the headline-grabbing 8K capabilities of the R5, but for now I've focused on shooting stills. One thing it's nice to be able to report is that the R6 seems to be a decent step forward, whether you're interested in video or not.

Stills shooters get what's currently the best-rated stabilization in its class, along with the fastest continuous shooting and a very promising-looking AF system, all in a body that feels comfortable, well-built and well thought-out. Video users get near-full-frame 4K/60p with some decent encoding options and also benefit from the stabilization and AF.

It's early days, of course, but the EOS R6 makes a much more consistently positive first impression than the EOS R did. And, while 20 megapixels isn't going likely to be overly demanding on Canon's high-end RF lenses, this feels like a camera that finally gives enthusiast photographers a way to enjoy them. It means that this whole RF business suddenly makes a lot more sense.