Canon R6 & RF 100-500mm Field Test
Dec 20 - Jan 21
There’s no doubt that in the years to come most of us will be upgrading our camera systems to mirrorless, it’s where technology and innovation is leading us. I’m like a lot of others out there, in being lured to shiny new equipment thinking it will improve my hit-rate and in turn increase the number of successful images obtained. This in part is true, new technologies do help but only when in the right hands, we all know the person with all the gear and no idea, the poor soul that has fallen for the hype that they can be the best just by owning the best gear. All of us that are serious about photography are on a journey of discovery, both technically and emotionally. Once we get past the technical element of photography we develop a range of styles that will eventually become our ‘signature’ style, for me it’s shooting at a super low perspective, basically eye level and with clean uncluttered backgrounds. Why? Because I like it, it’s what pleases me the most, I don’t care if it’s not ‘in vogue’ or not the fashion especially when it comes to photography competitions. I take pictures to please me and no-one else, as arrogant as that may sound it’s important not to second guess what others will think of your imagery, this stifles your creative flow and personal development. Don’t think for a second I’m advocating that there is one way to take photographs (my way), I admire many of my compatriots’ work which is so different to mine, everyone to their own. On a personal level I’m not at all motivated by landscape or macro photography but I love looking at images of both these genres.
Crested Tit - R6 + RF 100-500mm - ISO1000 - f8 - 1/1600th
This blog is about my findings when using the R6 and 100-500mm, it’s not an extensive technical test, more of a pure ‘in-the-field’ test. I went about putting this kit through its paces by pretty much going about my workflow exactly as I would normally. I also used a 500mm f4L Mk2 and the 100-400 Mk2.
Leaping Red Squirrel - R6 + 500mm f4 Mk2 - ISO1600 - f5.6 - 1/1000th
My thoughts on the system
I’ve been a Canon user since the mid-eighties so the general layout of the controls and menus were very much as I expected and came to me intuitively.
The Canon 1DX Mk2 and Mk3 are my everyday workhorses so it was a bit strange at first using a camera with a smaller body, I prefer to have the option of a vertical grip which I believe is an option with this system. The materials seem to be robust for his level of camera, how it would cope with some of more demanding conditions I shoot in, I’m not too sure. Obviously I didn’t push this demo model too hard, as I don’t think my friends at Ffordes Photographic would be too pleased if I handed back a camera that was battered and bruised. I’m notorious for the demands I put on my equipment, shooting in heavy rain and driving snow will challenge equipment to the limit.
Redpolls Fighting #1 - R6 + RF 100-500mm - ISO8000 - f7.1 - 1/1250th - Topaz Noise Reduction
In the field findings.
I initially went through the menus and set them up to my personal preferences, these high-end cameras take time to fine tune. The live view took a few hours to get used to, it’s very handy to get a live view of your exposure through the viewfinder or even better on the back screen. I had the info set to show the histogram on the back panel just to make sure I was going to get the results I was striving for.
Let’s move on to my finding and thoughts, please bear in mind this wasn’t a technical test, you will find loads of those on YouTube and on the internet, this is how I found the system worked for me.
One thing I should mention is that I had this kit in December 2020 and January 2021. Where I live in the Highlands of Scotland the days are short and the light challenging during these months, this first test was really going to show any issues this system may have shooting in low-light. I’m pleased to report there weren’t any major concerns.
Pros & Cons.
Silent shooting - I love this, to be able to rattle off 20fps with no sound is incredible, this would be a huge advantage when shooting shy and spooky animals like Pine Marten or Otters.
Eye recognition - This feature alone is selling the virtues of the R5 & R6, and a mighty impressive tool it is, it will certainly help an budding wildlife photographer with their hit rate and for the more experienced photographer it will give you images that before would have been much harder to achieve. This feature works really well when the light is behind you, not so good when shooting backlit subjects, not surprising considering most DSLR cameras struggle with this scenario. During this test there are images I captured that I probably wouldn’t have without the eye-recognition and a few that I lost. All in all it’s a great leap forward and one I wish I had on my 1DX Mk3 (Canon are you listening?).
Running Red Squirrel - R6 + RF 100-500mm - ISO10,000 - f7.1 - 1/1000th - NO NOISE REDUCTION USED (for illustration of noise) - EYE RECOGNITION FOCUSING
High ISO noise performance - This blew my socks off, as I mentioned earlier in the blog I was shooting at the time of year with some of the dullest conditions I work in. I would, and did shoot at up to ISO 5,000 without using any external noise reduction software, 8,000 and above and I’d run the image through Topaz but with a minimal noise reduction setting. The way this camera handles noise is mightily impressive and to me is a major selling point.
I've run a few of the images on this blog through Topaz at lower ISO's when I felt it would benefit the image.
Tilt and rotate screen - I’m sure many of you reading this already have camera bodies that have this feature, for someone like me that uses just pro-bodies it was a novelty, great for when I was shooting low-level shots of our resident Fieldfare in our garden.
Fieldfare - R6 + RF 100-500mm - ISO400 - f7.1 - 1/800th - EYE RECOGNITION FOCUSING
20fps - This is just fabulous, to be able to rattle off twenty frames per second greatly increases the chance of capturing ‘the shot’. this worked really well for me whilst photographing Redpolls fighting. It happens in the blink of an eye, having the high frame rate ensured I nailed some cracking images.
Redpolls Fighting #2 - R6 + RF 100-500mm - ISO8000 - f7.1 - 1/1250th - EYE RECOGNITION FOCUSING
Battery Performance - I’ve heard a lot about the poor battery life in mirrorless systems, I had no issues with this at all. A fully charged battery would happily last me a full day’s shooting circa 2000 activations. Shooting using live view did deplete the battery life faster than by using the electronic view finder.
Red Squirrel Superman - R6 + 100-400mm Mk2 - ISO4000 - f5.6 - 1/1000th - TOPAZ NOISE REDUCTION
Loss of focus on backlit subjects - This isn’t specific to this camera but an inherent problem across all camera brands, I have noticed since swapping back to my 1DX Mk3 that it most definitely out performs the R6 in this situation, then again it would be unfair to compare the R6 with one double the price. This was only a minor irritation and one I could live with.
Redpoll Sunset- R6 + 600mm f4 Mk2 - ISO1600 - f6.3 - 1/2000th
There’s no denying that the R5 & R6 are the future of Canon’s digital camera system, packed full of tech and built in the usually high quality we’ve come to expect from a leading manufacturer. If you’re looking to make the leap to a mirrorless system I would say this is a good time, the technology is now more advanced in the mirrorless cameras than the DSLRs, and with technology that works and will improve your photography, and after all, that’s what we want isn’t it?
Canon RF 100-500mm f4.5 - 7.1 L IS
A beautifully made and constructed lens that feels beautiful in the hand, optically superb and super fast at focusing. Having the flexibility of being able to shoot up to 500mm gives the majority of wildlife photographers all the reach they are most likely to ever need. For me the smaller aperture (f7.1) at 500mm did cause me a few headaches on duller days, my ISO would shoot up but as I mentioned earlier this is mitigated by the R6’s high ISO performance. Also I’m sure very few of you reading this and considering this lens/camera combination will be shooting in the depths of winter in the Highlands of Scotland on a regular basis. Therefore the extra 100mm of reach over the 100-400mm Mk2 is an advantage to most users.
R6 - 8/10
Would I recommend it -Yes
Would I buy one - Yes
Will I buy one - Yes as a replacement for my 7D Mk2, not to replace for my 1DX Mk2 & Mk3.
RF 100-500mm - 9/10
Would I recommend it - Yes
Would I buy one - Yes
Will I buy one - Eventually, not in the short term as its its too similar to my trusty 100-400 Mk2 to justify the change.
Crested Tit - R6 + RF 100-500mm - ISO3200 - f6.3 - 1/200th - UNPROCESSED - NO NOISE REDUCTION
BELOW - 100% CROP OF THE IMAGE ABOVE TO ILLUSTRATE THE NOISE HANDLING AT ISO3200
Thank you to the good folks at Ffordes Photographic for the opportunity to put this gear to the test.
Please contact the team at Ffordes for any purchasing enquiries.
Please DO NOT contact me with any technical questions relating to this equipment.