Which would you choose? Shooting the Canon EOS 90D and EOS M6 Mark II in Atlanta

Introduction

Small camera with a big lens, being filmed with a big camera with a moderately sized lens, all photographed with a big camera with a moderately sized lens.
Out of camera JPEG with the Canon EOS 90D.
Canon EF-S 18-135mm F3.5-5.6 @ 42mm | ISO 100 | 1/640 sec | F4.5

Due to the basic fundamentals of how the ol’ Internet works, if you’re into digital cameras, you’ve likely already heard of Canon’s newly released crop-sensor duo. We all know that the EOS 90D and EOS M6 Mark II both have 32.5MP sensors, fast burst shooting and crop-free 4K video. The former is a DSLR and the latter comes sans mirror.

But during my time spent sweating through my cotton v-neck at Canon’s Atlanta pre-launch event for the two cameras, I found more than few novel differences that aren’t necessarily obvious from a quick spec-sheet or design-ethos rundown. It’s not quite as simple as ‘EVF vs. OVF,’ ‘big grip vs. small grip,’ and so on.

‘Have it your way’

Lenses aside, the EOS 90D and EOS M6 Mark II should produce identical image quality.
Out-of-camera JPEG on the EOS 90D
Canon EF-S 18-135mm F3.5-5.6 @ 135 mm | ISO 100 | 1/80 sec | F14

As I began to think through this article, I couldn’t help but mentally write ‘Whether mirrorless or DSLR, Canon lets you have it your way,’ before remembering that we already had an article with an awfully similar title. Good grief, how much of the English language is doomed to cliché thanks in part to the thinning of popular culture among the rise of infinite and disparate sources of web-based entertainment? Anyway, I digress.

In keeping with the afore-linked tradition, Canon continues to give us the ingredients for broadly comparable image quality in two very different configurations. From a business perspective, it makes immense sense, at least in the United States. Here, DSLR cameras continue to be popular and Canon’s mirrorless presence has, well, room to grow.

I was prepared to prefer the EOS M6 II over the 90D, but that isn’t exactly what happened

And I have to admit, even as a former high-end DSLR user, that I’ve enjoyed the advantages that mirrorless cameras have brought to the market. Good touchscreen interfaces can make up for fewer physical controls, an electronic viewfinder makes it easy to check images in playback under bright daylight, and my back continues to thank me for a generally lighter overall kit.

So I was prepared to greatly prefer the EOS M6 II over the EOS 90D on this pre-launch event. But that isn’t exactly what happened.

First, bursts

Fast burst speeds mean it’s more likely I’ll have a decent image from a pan – so long as I don’t fill the buffer up first.
Out-of-camera JPEG with the EOS M6 Mark II
Canon EF-M 18-150mm F3.5-6.3 @ 76mm | ISO 100 | 1/250 sec | F9

I generally think of myself as a car guy, but even so, I didn’t realize that the lifecycle of a drift-car tire is best measured in seconds, not minutes. And with those very fast (10-14 fps) burst speeds, both the EOS 90D and EOS M6 Mark II have buffer life that measures in at far fewer seconds of life than even drift-car tires.

So although the burst rates on the spec sheet may communicate that these cameras can replace your older double-grip sports DSLR, the reality is that you’ll run out of buffer and miss shots unless you dial your speed back, your image quality back, or both. At least the new C-Raw option (which gives you 30-40% smaller Raw files) won’t have a huge impact on image quality for most users, and extends the buffer noticeably.

But buffer depth isn’t all. Yes, let’s delve into EVF vs. OVF.

Viewfinder experiences

The add-on EVF on the EOS M6 Mark II is good, but fast-action aficionados will likely still prefer the OVF on the EOS 90D.
Out-of-camera JPEG with the EOS 90D
Canon EF-S 18-135mm F3.5-5.6 @ 135mm | ISO 100 | 1/60 sec | F14

The optional electronic viewfinder on the EOS M6 II doesn’t come with the largest magnification on the market (Canon does not disclose the actual figure), but it does offer a good refresh rate and great contrast. At 14 fps on the M6 II, you get a slideshow of the previous images – drop to 7 fps, and you get a live view between shots. I found 7 fps to get me plenty of keepers, plus I was able to easily follow fast-moving cars, and not-so-fast-moving models. And, I was able to use Canon’s Face + Tracking mode: an option only available in live view on the EOS 90D.

The EOS 90D’s iTR tracking accuracy is leagues ahead of the older EOS 80D

Switching over to the optical viewfinder on the EOS 90D, I exclusively used Canon’s iTR tracking through the viewfinder. It’s not as robust as Canon’s Dual Pixel AF in live view – there’s a much smaller AF area, for starters – but I found accuracy and tracking tenacity to be leagues ahead of the older EOS 80D, probably thanks to Canon’s new metering sensor. We’ll be taking a closer look in our full review.

The 90D’s new ‘face detection’ option in the viewfinder is honestly hard to evaluate, as it was hard to tell if it was tracking a face simply because I placed my initial AF point over it and it was tracking color or depth, as opposed to really recognizing a face. There were times when I placed my initial AF point over a face, initiated tracking, and the system jumped to an adjacent face. I’d wager that, at this point, the system just isn’t as reliable as Dual Pixel’s face and eye detection in live view.

Video-centric, stills-centric

Full disclosure – I didn’t shoot any video with these cameras, but I did work alongside a man shooting video with these cameras. We were hoping to have him trade back-and-forth between both the 90D and M6 Mark II while shooting our DPReview TV episode, but fun fact, the 90D is the only camera of the two with a headphone port. Rather than risk losing entire takes due to bad audio, we opted to use the 90D for almost all of our video shooting so we could monitor the microphones Chris and I were using.

For stills shooters, 32.5MP should be plenty for almost any purpose.
Out-of-camera JPEG using the EOS 90D
Canon EF-S 18-135mm F3.5-5.6 @ 35mm | ISO 400 | 1/60 sec | F4.5

Audio features aside, the 90D also has a crop mode that improves detail capture in video, and of course, the fully articulating touchscreen which many video shooters prefer over the tilting screen mechanism on the 6D Mark II. This makes it by far the more useful video camera of the two – despite the fact that it comes with a mirrorbox that is totally unnecessary for video capture.

Meanwhile, the EOS M6 Mark II has a 30 fps Raw Burst mode, which is distinctly aimed at stills-photography shooters. Additionally, its short flange-back distance encourages the adapting of non-native lenses, and there’s not a mess of glass and hinges obstructing the sensor if one did want to launch their way into capturing moving pictures.

Most perplexing is that neither camera shoots 24p video at any resolution

But most perplexing for us on staff is the fact that neither camera shoots 24p video – at any resolution. For the average consumer, and indeed, most people who are looking at cameras around this price point for shooting video, it isn’t a deal-breaker. But it’s also simply a software choice – if the camera can record 30p footage, it can certainly record 24p footage. So for those looking at (particularly regarding the M6 II) a small, easily mountable secondary camera for a larger production, you’ll have to pony up the extra cash for a higher-end Canon camera (or a cheaper camera from another brand) that does natively offer this.

The wrap

Out-of-camera JPEG with the EOS 90D
Canon EF-S 17-55mm F2.8 @ 20mm | ISO 1000 | 1/80 sec | F4

So, which did I really end up preferring? In case it isn’t obvious by now, I like each camera for different reasons.

The EOS M6 Mark II is very quick, but the DSLR still has an advantage in terms of absolute immediacy, helped in no small part by the optical viewfinder. But I just can’t trust viewfinder autofocus the way I can trust Dual Pixel AF. Turns out, though, the bigger and weightier EOS 90D made panning much easier for me, and I consistently got more keepers at lower shutter speeds than I could on the M6 Mark II – and at F9 and up, absolute autofocus accuracy is pretty moot.

But perhaps most telling, I largely prefer the overall selection of images I got from the 90D. Of course there’s no real quality difference – but I used the 90D during the second half of the day and the EOS M6 Mark II during the first half, so maybe I was just more warmed up photographically.

For most other people… the EOS M6 Mark II is probably the better choice

In the end, the EOS 90D is really best suited for those with larger hands and larger lenses, or those traveling in inclement environments, thanks to its tougher weather-sealed body. For most other people, though, the EOS M6 Mark II is probably the better choice. Thanks to its small size (which belies its huge capability), you’re more likely to carry it with you and make more photographs with it as a result. And that’s what really counts.

Oh, and the EOS M6 Mark II is $250 US cheaper regardless of what kit option you choose. So, that counts too.