Autofocus and performance

The camera's face and eye detection is very good.

Canon RF 24-70mm F2.8 L IS USM | F3.5 | ISO 1250 | 1/100 sec
Photo: Richard Butler

Key Takeaways:

  • Autofocus is very good, especially with human or animal subjects
  • You need to change a menu setting if you wish to manually pre-position the AF point used for tracking
  • The camera lets you fine-tune the AF behavior
  • Face detection works very well in all but the lowest light
  • You need to drop to 8 fps shooting to get live updates in the viewfinder with the mechanical shutter.
  • E-shutter gives 20fps shooting with live view (but with 12-bit readout and a rolling shutter that takes 1/50 sec to close, risking distortion of fast-moving subjects)

The EOS R6 features the latest version of Canon's Dual Pixel CMOS autofocus system. The interface is essentially the same is it previously has been but it gains a couple of additional options in the menu for fine-tuning its behavior.

There are 8 AF areas available and the choice of whether eye detection should be active in Face + Tracking mode.

There are eight different AF area modes, which can be selected via the Q.Menu or assigned to a button. You can customize which of these options is available, to make it quicker to select them, as you're shooting.

In addition there's a Face AF + Tracking option which, as the name suggests, focuses on faces and attempts to track a subject that moves around the frame. By default there's no way of specifying where your subject is but there's a menu option to provide an initial AF point in C-AF (Servo) mode on page 5 of the menu's 'AF' tab.

If you find yourself regularly switching AF modes, you can configure a button to switch to a registered AF mode, with a choice over which AF parameters (AF area mode, tracking sensitivity and Accel./decel. tracking) are recalled.

Face, eye and animal recognition

The R6 uses a subject recognition system that's been trained by machine learning. This means it has algorithms that can identify characteristic patterns in a scene that relate to faces, eyes and certain types of animal. You can specify which subject it should prioritize (which might imply a degree of overlap in what the algorithms identify, hence the need to specify which takes precedence).

The camera can prioritize people or animals as it looks to choose a subject, or you can specify no preference.

It works very well a lot of the time, with the camera able to doggedly track people even when they're wearing face masks. Shooting birds against a similarly-distant background, the camera was very good at solely focusing on the bird, even when using the fairly non-specific 'Zone' AF region. This made it possible to use Zone AF for shooting birds in flight and when they alighted on branches, rather than having to constantly switch modes.

Beyond these settings for which type of subject to prioritize, the R6 includes options to tune the AF response to match the movement of your subject. These are essentially borrowed from the company's flagship sports camera, the EOS-1D X Mark III. It lets you tell the camera whether the subject is moving at a (predictable) even speed or is prone to accelerating or decelerating, and also lets you specify whether it should jump to subjects that pass between the camera and the original subject, since there are situations in which you do want this to happen and others in which you don't.

Continuous shooting

The camera has a variety of continuous shooting modes when using Electronic First Curtain or full Mechanical shutter. H+ mode gives the highest burst speeds (12 fps) but displays show a slideshow of images you've just captured in the viewfinder (making it difficult to follow motion). Dropping to 'H' mode (up to 8 fps) and engaging 'Camera Tab | Page 7 | [Cont.H] High Speed Display' provides live view refreshes between each image capture.

Electronic shutter mode delivers 20 fps in all continuous drive modes and provides live view updates, to make it easier to follow a moving subject. The electronic shutter has a shutter rate of 19.3ms (~1/50 sec), meaning fast-moving subjects may become skewed and you risk banding appearing if you shoot under artificial lights.

Autofocus Performance

We conducted our standard AF tests, first using a single, central AF point to check how well the camera is able to assess the distance to an approaching subject and drive the AF group to the correct distance. We tested this in both mechanical and electronic shutter modes, using the RF 70-200mm F2.8 L IS running the latest firmware.

Electronic First Curtain Shutter (12 fps)
Electronic Shutter (20 fps)

Even running at 20 frames per second, the camera's doing a good job, here, keeping the shirt (under the AF point) perfectly in focus.

We then test the camera's tracking mode, to see how well it can recognize and stick to a selected subject. This is more challenging for the camera, as it has to decide where to focus as well as at what distance. We tested the default 'Case 1' behavior as well as 'Case 4,' which is designed for subjects that accelerate and decelerate unpredictable.

Because Face detection and AF Tracking are a combined mode, the camera has tried to track the subject's face in this instance.

Electronic First Curtain Shutter (12 fps) Case 1
Electronic First Curtain Shutter (12 fps) Case 4
Electronic Shutter (20 fps) Case 1

Case 1 performs slightly better than Case 4, despite the subjects slowing and accelerating. There are a couple of moments where the camera hasn't quite delivered perfect focus, but it's only obvious when you compare a mis-focused image to a pin-sharp one. This is an impressive performance for a mid-range camera.

Low light performance

We also check how well the camera's face detection works in low light by trying to shoot a series of portraits of a moving subject. These are shot with the subject front-lit, back-lit and evenly lit.

This test is at the edge of what the R6 can do. In some instances the camera would lock onto the nearest eye, which it would then lose as the backlit subject turns away from the light. In these circumstances, we had to wait for the subject to face back towards the light for the camera to re-find an eye to focus on. Very occasionally it would lose the face and eye as it focused, resulting in a totally out-of-focus image.

Summary

The need to change the initial AF point mode, and all the options to fine-tune the AF system might make it sound complex, but a lot of the time you can just leave the R6 at its default settings and it'll do a really solid job of focusing on whatever you ask it to. The extra complexity lets you fine-tune that response if you're shooting in a scenario with a particular type of movement where you want the best possible hit-rate, but most of the time you can just trust the AF system to do its job.