The Canon R6 in sports photography.

In a strange way, I decided over Christmas, together with some aggressive email marketing helping me, to have a look at the mirrorless set up that Canon are now offering. They have labelled it as the 'R' Series with the R, RP, R5 and R6 in the current line up. My curiosity has been drawn to the R6 as it would be the most obvious choice for a sports photographer, given that's what I enjoy the most shooting.

The R5 is the top of the range line up but at 45MP and over £4K, that's out straight away.

I didn't really want to just go ahead and buy an R6 so decided to hire one out first hand. WEX Photographic are currently offering a weekend rate for the cost of a day so I ordered one this Monday (4th Jan, 2021) for the weekend. I don't have a game this weekend so the test would be for 'real world' shooting and I would have to use this time to try out the features.

The good news is that it arrived on Wednesday so I have it until Monday when it is collected to go back to WEX. I've also given WEX first refusal on the place where I would buy it, if I decide to go ahead.

I should point out at this point that I paid the full price and have had no financial incentives to use WEX. I would pay full price for any purchases in the future and most importantly, these are my own, personal opinions.

OK, so after unboxing the Peli case in which it was sent, I've attached my trusty 70-200 f2.8L Non-IS lens on it and taken some shots. I had a half hour conversation with a very good Wedding Photographer I know who has the R5 but as the menu structure is almost identical, he showed me how he has it set up which would be very similar to my own setup.

This camera would indeed, replace one of my 1-DX Mark 1's which I'm sure, if necessary, could hammer nails in. It is EXTREMELY robust, weather sealed, has a fantastic frame rate, great sensor (I could go on) so this needs to be a step up for it to be a viable option.

Out of the (peli) box, it is not the same build quality as a 1-DX. Not by a country mile. Canon market it as 'weather sealed' and although I have no reason to doubt this, I'm a little reluctant to get this one even damp, leave alone wet. It shouldn't, however, impact on its' use as I use rain covers even for my 1-DX, from showers to downpours. Most, if not all sports photographers will get wet at some stage in their career and I have been soaked on many occasions, especially down West in Carmarthen...

Switching on the camera lights up the viewfinder and the fold-out screen makes it very easy to see the subject. After changing all the settings to Grahams similar R5, I took the camera out in our garden to just see how it felt in my hand. Another point I should make is that I hired the EF adapter so all my current kit can be used. I have no intention of changing any of my lenses to the RF versions; it just isn't suitable.

Anyway, once in your hand, you feel how much lighter this setup is. Whereas the lens/camera combination of the 1-DX and 70-200 is balanced, the R6 is very lens heavy. The 1-DX weighs 1,560 grams when empty whereas the R6 is only 688g or 796g with the adapter fitted. This would make a significant difference in an afternoon shoot. My short term intention would be to use it with the 70-200 as a second body as the main 300mm is on a monopod.

Technically, this camera is in a different league to the 1-DX. The autofocussing is beyond good. I had customised one of the buttons to switch between eye tracking and single shot but the reality is that the eye focussing doesn't miss a beat. Every single photo was in focus, not 90%, not even 95%, EVERY one was tack sharp.

If the viewfinder cannot find a face - I did shoot a plain brick wall to look at the natural colour balance - there are a 'clump' of boxes within it which will almost follow your eye as to what will be focussed. It is uncanny how it knows where you are looking. Pressing the shutter means a fast capture of 12 frames per second. Graham mentioned that the electronic shutter can possibly show banding at 20fps so he sticks to the mechanical shutter. I will certainly try and look for this distortion over the coming days.

The camera writes to two cards, both SD cards. Some reviews are disappointed that there is no CF Express card as there are in the R5 but as I don't own any CF Express cards, this is no real drawback for me. I couldn’t fill the buffer in what I would call a normal frame capture (such as after a goal is scored or when play comes towards my side/end of the pitch).

Day 2

Today is Thursday 7th January, weather is very cold but sunny. Today I shot with my extremely sharp EOS 135mm L Series f2, with my daughter (when she got warm) and my dog. I live quite near a park so used the eye focus tracking from a distance that I would normally see from the touchline.

The results were very impressive, I have to say. All I was testing today was the autofocus tracking and to be honest, I don't think it missed even one frame. It shot off at the maximum frame rate and followed both my daughter's face and my also my dog. When the subject turned away, it even followed the back of the head (and interestingly enough, my dogs a*** when it was walking away from me). Running from the side and towards me, tracked every one and focussed perfectly.

I've since come home and viewed them on my laptop and promised to send some to my wedding photographer friend, Graham. Having imported them, viewed, exported and sent them, I noticed the file size was quite small, given that it is a 20MP sensor. No review I have seen on YouTube or Forums mentions the fact that there is a C-RAW file version which is a Compressed RAW one. The resolution is the same, however, it is compressed, giving something like a 40% reduction in file size. This is new to me but there does not appear to be any visible difference in visual quality. This was the default setting on the camera so after a few searches changed it to full size RAW. This will be the default for tomorrow's shoot where I will have a look at colour rendition (I forgot to take my grey card with me today...).

Overall, the focussing will not be a drawback in changing to this camera. It is fast and extremely accurate, even from a distance. I barely needed to change any settings once I was at the field, it is so easy to use. Plus point.

Day 3

Colour rendition. I remembered my grey card today to the session should be as close to my eye view. It was minus 2 degrees, so I wore my usual shooting gloves and the camera was very easy to use with the gloves on. Bear in mind that you have to do very little once the camera is set, it shouldn't really be problem. This isn’t a Pride banner, it’s my dog’s lead, colours are straight out of camera:

Again, I shot my dog running in our local field. It caught the face with ease and almost every one was in focus. I used the 70-200 today to mimic how it would be used in a game. There was someone else exercising their dog too (hence the spaniel photographs) and this dog I would estimate that it was at least 50 meters away. This would be comparable to being half way across a rugby or football pitch. Again, it seemed to make the focussing easier as it had more substance to focus on.

As I walked home I saw a bird on a hedge. This highlighted a small flaw in the focussing of the R6. I still had face focussing selected but it kept picking up the hedge and not the bird. I didn't want to move and scare the bird off so switched to single point focus (using the M-Fn button I had previously set up). Once this was selected it went back to it's usual 99% success. I've put some of those images in their too.

 Day 4

Low Light shooting. Our Village has a Church that is lit beautifully in the night so I ventured out with a tripod. I'd set it to Shutter Priority to give the maximum 30 seconds and the results were very good. Again, using gloves made it very easy.

What made it much easier, however, was the flip out screen. Gone were the bending down checking focus and exposure. Just flip it out and turn it upwards and it is there in front of you. Again, something the 1-DX doesn't have. Not on everyone's must haves I appreciate but great if you do need it.

Day 5

The return and verdict. The physical difference in the two cameras is so noticeable. The R6 is approximately half the weight of the 1-DX which, given that it would be a second body, would be a significant back saver.

I couldn’t really test the battery life but I suspect one battery would see you through a football or rugby match. A second one would be a worthwhile investment or wait until the third party companies make a reasonable battery grip.

The technology between the two is also cavernous. The R6 is beyond a real comparison for tech, as the release date is almost 10 years apart.

Here is the link to the gallery of sample pictures I took.

Should the investment be in an R6 or a second hand 1-DX Mark 2 or even 3? Today (10/1/2021), there are a number of second hand Mark 2's on, the cheapest being around the same as a brand new R6. What should I do?

Thanks must go to Graham Davies Photography and Len Kowalski for their valuable input.

I think I should invest in some fast SD Cards. There's my answer...

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